Friday, June 22, 2012

Christiansted Cemetery-Like the Good Old Days

131My grandparents, Ludvig Conrad (1894-1972) and Olga Conrad nee Lagonterie (1899-1986), are buried in the Cemetery in Christiansted.  Their grave is in the Danish Consulate’s Historic Danish Cemeteries list for the Danish Cemetery in Christiansted.  They are located in Grave #131. The consulate has a photo of the tombstone on their website. In 2000, I visited St Croix with my wife and my son.  Although this was long before I developed any interest in genealogy, I nevertheless visited the cemetery to pay my respects to my grandparents. 

The cemetery was clearly unkept, with grass growing untrimmed and weeds unchecked.  In fact, it took considerable searching to locate the grave.  My wife was astounded at the sad state of the cemetery.  We lamented the obvious decay that the cemetery had suffered over the last few decades.


A couple of years later, in 2002, I was reading online on the St Thomas Source an article entitled “Cemeteries Overrun with Weeds, Senator Says”, in which columnist Lynda Lohr stated:
“Groups that traditionally put flags on veterans' graves for Memorial Day will find the task difficult this year as they try to make their way through the heavy growth, she said. And family members who maintain individual plots face an uphill battle because weeds from surrounding graves quickly find their way to the well-kept ones.” 
Senator Norma Pickard-Samuel was quoted as saying:
“In years past, she said, the cemeteries were well-maintained. Saying she is ready to do whatever it takes to get the cemeteries in shape. She said she favored the formation of a ‘friends of the cemeteries’ group that would improve conditions at the territory's public cemeteries.”
Now I don’t know if such a group has ever been formed and how the cemetery looks today, but I’m beginning to wonder about the Senator’s comment.  Was the decay a recent occurrence? Maybe, maybe not.

In fact, I have a letter, written in 1920 to my grandfather Ludvig Conrad from his older cousin Eva Colbeth nee Pentheny (1869-1948) in New York discussing this very thing [emphasis mine]:
Dear Ludvig;
  image  This is just a line to ask you to have some thing done to the dear mother's grave for me for Xmas. I just want one single row of konk conch shells put around it, and beach stones on it to keep the grass away, have a cross made of wood and her name set on it, you know what it should be. This is only temporary, as I will send out a head stone just as prices get normal. Glad to say they a coming there. I had planned coming out in January and bringing the stone and having this done myself but as Milton expects to be married in February I will have to put off my trip until later.  Of course you will charge this expense to the house account. I would also ask you to see if you can get the gang to clean that old grave yard some time. It will cost a few dollars of course, but I hate to think of its being left that way. It was certainly a very foolish superstition that caused us to be so disrespectful to our departed relatives. I think Mr. Colbeth is trying to write you to-day. Thanks for the papers I enjoy them very much. I think you should have Mrs. Hagermanns store plastered and washed as it needed it when I was there. Thanking you for attention to these items best regards from us all to you
yours sincerely
cos Eva

Tell Claudina she must write a verse for me to put on the grave

M. J. van Beverhoudt
departed this life
July 16th 1919 - born Oct 25 1834
imageSo, it would appear that the cemetery situation was exactly the same in 1920, and it appears to have had a long history of neglect.  I don’t know what the superstition about cleaning a cemetery is about (let me know if you do), but it doesn’t sound recent.  So, I’m wondering when the cemeteries were “well-maintained”.

Mary Johanna van Beverhoudt (1834-1919) was Eva’s aunt, two years older than Eva’s mother Amey.  Amey and her husband William Augustus Pentheny died within a month of each other when Eva was only three years old.  Eva was raised by Mary Johanna until she married Arthur Colbeth, a US citizen, in 1893. MJ never married and never had children of her own, but eventually fostered another child, Amelia Cummings.  Eva never knew her mother, but she must have been very close to MJ.

I have not been able to locate MJ’s gravesite, like most of my ancestors in Christiansted. It is possible that the graves may have been removed and reused.  If anyone has information on the practices at the Christiansted cemetery, please let me know.

By the way, the Claudina referenced in the letter was Ludvig’s sister, Claudina Conrad.  I have a book of poetry from her and will periodically post them.  I posted a poem of hers on April 15 entitled “On the Loss of the Titanic”.

4 comments:

  1. Arnold van Beverhoudt Jr.June 22, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    The upkeep of the graveyards on St. Thomas are also a problem. Although the V.I. government has a crew that's supposed to keep them clean, surviving relatives often have to pay extra for them to cut the bush around family members' graves. Also, the survivors have to hire someone to fix up and paint the actual crypts from time to time.

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  2. What struck me so was that the very same problem was lamented in 1920. It appears to be a long-standing issue. Back then you still had to hire a "gang" to tidy up the graves.

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  3. My mother and I also went to St. Croix in 2000, and were similarly upset at the state of the cemetery there. When we went back a few years later, we were pleased to find it had been cleaned up considerably! We found very few of our graves, though.
    We were told, and I don't know how accurate this is, that space for graves was a hot commodity so families had to pay a fee of some kind to keep a grave there permanently. Otherwise, someone was just buried on top of that person and the stone replaced. Have you ever heard that?

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  4. I actually hadn't heard that, but I'd believe it. My mother said that her aunt and her mother's family were buried there, but according to the consulate website there are no such graves at the cemetery. Sounds about right.

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