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15 April, 2013

Grave Stones

Occupants of last post's family plot rest on a hillside the upper reaches of which cradle this grave. There is no fence, just a low stone wall. Instead of groomed grass, there's ivy bare to the ground in one spot and crambering over the slab in others. The headstone slab and footstone are not marble, and are strewn with a few random cobbles. No family evident, and the grave is dug through the residue of the previous occupants, who were slaves of yon president, themselves occupying what had been a wash house. 

If this grave is what archaeologists would call intrusive--excavated through prior layers--that's nothing compared to the stream of visitors passing inches away, looking down on it if they acknowledge it at all, but more often gazing over it at the distant horizon and ignoring the grave. But I covered desecration last time, and this time instead let's just look.

Or maybe not just look. Look like anthropologists, who assign great significance to burials. 

This grave is not so monumental as some in the family plot (on the hill's west slope, the sundown direction being good ground to plant the dead in many cultures), but it does hold higher ground with a commanding view, and the markers are fine enough to be sure that this is not the resting place of a slave or even a middling farmer. The inscription tells us this is the resting place of Rachel Levy, marked by her son Uriah, Virginian naval luminary. The Levy family bought the place from the president's heirs, who were among his white progeny.

The name is probably familiar to most readers as a Jewish one, and sure enough Mrs. Levy may have been born in 1790, but she died in 5591. Around the turn of the Millenium, Southern Christians took to the Jews as partners in bringing about the end times, but decades ago "Jew" was a slur in those parts, and it probably surprises a lot of people (including Virginians) to know that Jewish people could waltz their way into hallowed gentry grounds, or be commodores, but Richmond has one of the nation's oldest Jewish cemeteries, and for that matter the Confederate Secretary of War was Jewish.

Meanwhile, back at the grave, we can look at the small stones on the grave differently now, right? Seems to me there is a Jewish tradition of putting rocks on graves. Since there are not many on this one, it makes me wonder if the grounds crew removes them periodically. Do they know what's going on? What do they do with rocks they "clean" from the grave? Could they ever be persuaded to stop removing offerings of stones, and if so would the grave become a stone mound? 

Also, what's with the gothic arched stones? A nod to Christians, or just the style of the day?

I guess I'm too shiftless to apply myself and find the answers. It's getting late, and that's enough half-assed anthropological gazing for now. So I guess it's time to say Shalom, yall.

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