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James Puz: Visit a cemetery for a history tour

James Puz: Visit a cemetery for a history tour

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Cemeteries of one kind or another have been around a long time, probably from the time people started to die. Caves, crypts, holes dug into hillsides, mountainsides and the very ground we walk on have served this purpose.

I’d venture to say virtually every community, large or small, on planet Earth, has at least one final resting place, many allocated to particular religions, others known as potter’s fields. In the end we have church cemeteries, community cemeteries, military cemeteries and so on. But have you really paid attention to them?

While living in Sierra Vista, Arizona, my wife, Mary, and I ventured to check out two of those near us; one was on Fort Huachuca and the other in Bisbee, the county seat.

Strolling past the headstones in those solemn areas of final repose one gets to know a bit about the local history. There are names and dates of birth and death. Yet, often there is more.

One thing of particular note at the fort’s cemetery was the large number of children buried there in the late 19th century (the post was established in 1877) with numerous infants resting there. Apparently infant mortality was high even for a major army post and seeing so many markers, sometimes with a lamb as part of the design, with ages like 3 or 4 or 6 months at the time of the child’s death, brought to mind the stark reality of the harsh military life in the Southwest. And as I remember, diphtheria was a prominent culprit in those premature deaths.

In the Bisbee cemetery (the town was incorporated in 1902), one finds the graves of many men and boys with Polish, Serbian, Croatian, Russian and other middle European surnames etched into their headstones with dates from the early 1900s.

The area was noted for gold, silver and copper mines and the years given for the many miners’ deaths (and often only an estimated age), showed just how hazardous it was to dig for precious and valuable metals around the turn of the 20th century. Mine safety laws had yet to be established and a great many men and boys perished, their backbreaking and dangerous efforts affording them minimal wages while at the same time increasing the wealth and maintaining the opulent lifestyles of the mine owners.

Yes, if you have an opportunity to visit a local cemetery, especially one that’s been around for several years, take advantage of the time. It will be time well-spent as you get to know a little about the people, men, women and children, who perhaps once resided not far from where you live now.

And on your own personal historical tour you’ll undoubtedly see a variety of surnames that serves to show just how far (and with great peril) so many of the early residents traveled to find a new and better life ... a chance for a fresh start.


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