Whistling Past the Graveyard

No Telling

I‘m hot on the trail of a mystery of sorts. Last weekend I went to a lovely wedding in Fayetteville, Arkansas. I’m unfamiliar with the city, having only been there years ago for Advanced Placement Workshops. Pretty place – all Ozarky and such up in the hills. The University of Arkansas in Fayetteville is the Home of the Hogs, in case you’re confused. WooPigSoooey and all that.

The wedding took place just outside of town at a sweet place called Stone Chapel. It’s apparently quite the hotspot for young graduates and other locals to marry off and to each other. The quaint chapel was built ages ago by some moneyed man who wanted the perfect place for his daughter’s wedding. That’s all the story I could get from anyone, and they all seemed satisfied with that being plenty.

Don’t you hate it when someone gives you half a story?

So once I arrived, I poked around a bit. We arrived almost two hours early, so I guess you could say I poked around a lot.

Click on the website and what you won’t see is a jungle-thick acre of land somewhere off to the left of the chapel. Parking was up next to the rusted barbed-wire fence that held it tight and we had to carefully avoid hitting stones as big as lidded cake-plates to squeeze next to the fence.

No big deal. Folks who live out in the country always have an unsightly side of the house. It’s like buying fresh Christmas trees (if anyone does that anymore), they’re always a little wanky and you have to redirect all your tinsel to the good side.

The tinsel at Stone Chapel was a huge, lovely covered reception area. Tables and flowers and toddies and such – it was delightful. So delightful, in fact, that I walked halfway around the overgrown acre without paying a lick of attention to it.

But two hours is a long time, folks.

I talked to just about everyone in and out of the wedding party within an hour, so I began talking to the big security guy who stood like a mountain on the periphery of the jungled fence and watched everyone behave perfectly. Interesting fella, really, but not as interesting as what I finally noticed behind him.

That picture above is, of course, taken with my sorry cell phone camera. You can still make it out, though. There, just beyond the large security man and on the other side of the barbed wire, was a seven-foot headstone. My new friend and I tried like hell to read the name on it, but the inscription was facing the large tree. In fact, it appeared that someone had planted it there on purpose. The tree’s base had grown around the bottom of the headstone in an eternal hug.

Beyond that – and it was mighty thick in there – I saw two more headstones just as tall. That little acre was an old cemetery, right there in the middle of everyone’s wedding and a stone’s toss from the reception toddies.

Now, I wasn’t dressed for giving this acre a proper going-over. Not to mention the barbed-wire business and that friendly but no-nonsense security fella. I don’t worry about my family, they’re used to my little oddnesses, but I didn’t want anyone bailing me out of the pokey on my cousin’s special day.

With about forty-five minutes until marital blast-off, I began stalking the perimeter. Those big rocks we’d avoided when parking? They were ancient unmarked gravestones, worn lopsided and pitted by weather. We had parked, if you can believe it, up against a wall of overhanging limbs sheltering a sort of mini-burial place. The growth was so thick that it took me quite some time to make out ornate iron fencing that marked off a 10′ by 20′ rectangle within the larger acre. I counted nine small headstones, but there could have been more.

A children’s plot. The rusted iron fencing looked for all the world like a discarded crib.

I gathered myself together and went back to my people, stood and sat when I should, smiled for photos, and cried just like everyone else when the young couple made promises to one another. Weddings are hopeful events, and this one was more hopeful than most. Afterward, we all ate and danced and admired the newlyweds.

The seven-foot headstone watched the whole reception from behind the security guard, as I’m sure it does almost every weekend there at Stone Chapel. Wedding after wedding, and no one the wiser.

Note: I’ve contacted the Washington County Genealogical Society and they have no record of the cemetery. No one knew it was there. But they’re looking at it now, and should get back to me soon to tell me the other half of the story.

30 thoughts on “Whistling Past the Graveyard

  1. I love old lost cemeteries. My husband and I were out driving, trying to get the baby asleep, and found one just near the house I grew up in. It was tucked back into a hillside, and you had to be going west to see it.

    Great story, can't wait to hear the other half!

  2. What a story. I love the image of the stone watching the weddings from the perspective of the cemetery. Oof.

    My parents had an abandoned civil war cemetery on their land and they had the devil of a time finding out anything about it. I used to love poking around it, trying to prize up the stones and wondering if there were ghosts.

  3. Wonderful story – I can't wait to read the rest of it! There were a lot of private cemeteries, especially in the South, weren't there, before being buried became so regulated and official?
    It's like here; can't throw a stone without hitting the past.

  4. I've often wondered why old cemeteries are so intriguing, me being one that finds them that way. I think it is because I try to imagine the lives lived. Hope you are successful in getting more information. 🙂 M

  5. I can't help but think this will all be easier to see in the winter when the green had died back. I don't know – so many fallen limbs and trees in there. I'm guessing NanU's right and it's a forgotten family plot hidden in plain sight.

  6. How fascinating! I love a story inside a story. So many people would have just enjoyed the wedding, but you discovered an old cemetery just waiting to be explored. Enjoy my dear, I hope to hear the rest of the tale soon.

  7. See the cultural differences …here in Scotland a cemetary is always but always attached to a church. And only the unbaptised, suicides and infants would be buried OUTSIDE of it.
    On the East (devil's) side BTW.

  8. That's weird and amazing. Out here we have ghost towns…you can go out in the middle of the woods somewhere and there will be street signs and sunken areas in perfect rows, where the foundations used to be. Places that got abandoned hundred or more years ago, and the world just took them over.

  9. What a find! I can't wait to hear the rest of the story.

    I have completed my Kreativ Blogger exercise but have a question. How the heck do you link to your site in the comment box? It stumped me. Thanks again for the award!

    Zen Mam

  10. How interesting to stumble across these old grave stones. I would be interested to hear the outcome.

    I, too, am drawn to cemeteries, old ones in particular. We stop and visit many of them in our travels. On our recent trip up the Natchez Trace we saw the graves of 13 unknown soldiers from the Civil War who had walked the Trace. Very Moving.

    Also the first known slave graveyard. Very touching.

  11. My dad, who is with the Newton County historical society, dragged my brother and me out one Saturday morning to map a cemetery out in the middle of nowhere. (You get to Redrock and keep going). Only a few of the graves had proper markers, though. The rest had creek rocks. And some of them had nothing. Evidently someone moved a bunch of the unmarked rocks so they could mow.

    No church anywhere around. But up in Newton County, church buildings and trained preachers were often hard to come by. But the dead? They still needed burying.

  12. I love how you're hunting this story down. I love it even more that the story contains a burial site. I have a thing for graveyards. Please don't think I'm macabre, because I'm not. And if I were, I would not admit it. But reading old gravestones is, for me, akin to reading ancient journal pages. So much unrecorded history! As usual, you've got a great post here.

  13. Gypsy, other cousins would have been better guest than I was, I'm afraid.

    Macy, the whole burial plot was on the Devil's side. Now I need to go back for sure and see what was on the other side.

    Don't you love things like this, Stephanie? I've checked my mail like a fiend all day hoping to hear something.

    Calamity, the Washington County historical Society didn't know about it either. The plot thickens.

    Joy, there's many a Friday afternoon when I've considered throwing it all away and moving to Eureka Springs. It's the closest place to heaven that I know. No other like it.

    GunDiva, I'm going to die of impatience waiting to hear from these folks. Might as well gas up the car now.

    Ghost towns! Julia, down here we find the outlines of house-places – a crumbling chimney and a the outline of a house in thick daffodils – but never a whole town. How lucky you are!

    I'll let you know the very minute I get the email, Steven. I can't stand the excitement!

    Whitney, that's beautiful.

    Zen Mama – here's a helpful little piece of simple html. Just type this – the words you want to link and it should work like a charm. If that looks wanky once I post it, let me know.

    Pat, that sounds like a fascinating trip. Where was the slave graveyard?

    Soon, I hope, Kanmuri!

    That unmarked and barely-marked grave situation is a real problem out in the counties, Laura. I remember fourwheeling with my husband when we were both pups and running across all manner of unknown stones in the middle of everywhere.

    You're mot macabre, MJ. I think most of us have a natural hunger for history, even if it isn't ours. It's hard to imagine people living out whole lives and dying just to become the one or two lines on the headstone.

    Janie! PLEASE go out there and take a look. It's not far out of town at all. It's worth the short drive.

  14. Carol Radziwell said in her book “What remains is a story….maybe that's all there ever was”
    I have kept that line and pondered on it many times…

    can't wait to hear the rest of this story

  15. Jayne, come on down and bring some big boots and cammo, gal. We might have to sneak in.

    What a lovely line, Sally.

    Oh, Pat! What a roadtrip. I'll bet the experience is with you all the time. I'd love to visit.

    No kidding, Katy. I have it on good authority that something's coming on this soon…

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