Walking in a graveyard can be intimidating, but it can lead to valuable reflections of the past for new insights. I visited a graveyard West of the Cornell campus and most of the tombstones dated back to the 1800s. I began to imagine what it must have been like to live in Ithaca at that time.
The people witnessed so much significant history. Cornell was founded in the 1860s and was the one of the few American Universities to admit both women and men. In a broader context, these Ithacans lived through the American ideas of manifest destiny, westward expansion, urbanization, industrialization, mass immigration, and the devastating civil war that helped end slavery. I wondered what the perspectives of these people may have been, and how Ithaca may have changed as a society over the past 100 years.
I walked through the graveyard and noticed that some tombstones had greater visibility than others. The large maroon obelisk in the photograph was remarkably larger than other tombstones. It may have been larger because a family was buried underneath. Although the people buried underneath have been resting for over 100 years, the tombstone is still in very good conditions. The names and dates of all family members are still visible and anyone who walks by can pay their respects. It is unknown whether this tombstone has been re-constructed, but it may have been. I also walked by other tombstones that were small with initials, and also some with no visible text. I wondered who these people were. I was sad to see some tombstones knocked over because the people became more anonymous to me. In my hour at the graveyard, I didn’t see anyone visiting with flowers, and wondered if people often visit to pay respects. I saw one family tombstone that had dates as recent as 1980s, which suggests that people may still visit respectfully, but I am unsure.
As I walked, I carefully watched my steps to avoid falling, but I slipped down a small hill that had ice and snow. I quickly got up and realized soon realized that the land was not altered to become a graveyard setting with green, flat land like the graveyards I’ve visited in Los Angeles. The small hills are integral aspects of the graveyard land and represent Ithaca as a hilly landscape. The oldest tombstone I saw dated back to the 1760s. It is interesting to notice that colonization and ideas of controlling the land didn’t necessarily mean that the land was altered to be most convenient for human use. The large “slope” on West Campus, the Buffalo St. hill, and Prospect St. hill all continue to be parts of Ithaca’s natural landscape just like the graveyard.