“I knew that the pandemic we were facing was not unprecedented.”
“The last few months of my work on What Lies Beneath, Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards were during the time of the Covid-19 pandemic,” wrote noted Texas author Cynthia Leal Massey. As I was completing the book, I became very cognizant of how history repeats itself.”
“A few hundred years before Christ was born, in the Book of Ecclesiastes, King Solomon observed, ‘What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun.'”
“All the talk of ‘unprecedented times’ solidified my belief in the importance of the knowledge of history,” Massey, a resident of Helotes, northwest of San Antonio, continued.
“Steeped in the 19th century, writing about cemeteries, memorials, and the people interred—basically writing about death—I knew that the pandemic we were facing was not unprecedented. In fact, epidemics, pandemics, and plagues have occurred with deadly frequency over the centuries and so have various forms of “shutdowns,” and even resistance to such measures.”
“In the 19th century, long-standing diseases such as smallpox (see what instigated the Laredo Smallpox Riot mentioned in this book), typhus, and yellow fever turned into epidemics several times over the course of the century.”
“Cholera spread worldwide in six pandemics in the 19th century. There was even a bubonic plague pandemic that originated in China, spreading worldwide in the 1890s.”
“Scientific advances in the medical field and the recognition of the importance of sanitation made such pandemics rarer and less lethal in subsequent centuries,” Massey noted.
“Many of the cemeteries included tell the stories of individuals, some known and many unknown, who succumbed to epidemics (diseases that affect a large number of people within a region) and pandemics (diseases that spread over multiple countries or continents). In fact, the mortality rate was so high during the 19th century that there was an entire industry of funerary rites and customs developed to help the bereaved.”
“The sentiments engraved on many tombstones give expression to the anguish suffered when a loved one died,” she said.
Massey “was born and raised in Texas, and so was steeped in Texas history from an early age. Nonetheless, many of the individuals covered in this book were new to me. Even those I knew of were illuminated in ways that made them more real and impressive. How they were memorialized in death also tells a story.”
“An example is General Sam Houston, the first president of the Republic of Texas, who today is iconic in Texas history. Years after he died, a magnificent memorial by renowned Italian-American sculptor Pompeo Coppini was commissioned for his gravesite, but at the time of his death, he was vilified because he refused to support the Confederacy. Few people, except close family members and friends, attended his funeral in Huntsville.”
“While the gravesites of children, many marked by intricately carved babies and toddlers reclining on small pillow beds, were poignant, the graves with markers for “Unknown” or “Known Only to God” were also moving.”
“Several sections at the Fort Parker Memorial Park Cemetery have rows of such markers—small square concrete tombstones inscribed with the word, UNKNOWN—a sobering reminder of our fate in years to come.”
“…. Cemeteries are important repositories of our history and humanity. While the memorials, statues, and monuments to the luminaries of Texas history are breathtaking, the graves, both marked and unmarked, of ordinary individuals are also worthy of reverence and remembrance.”
Cynthia Leal Massey
Excerpt from Author’s Note of What Lies Beneath, Texas Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards By Cynthia Leal Massey
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