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The Bone Orchard

This is the time of year that cemeteries and graveyards get popular. Let's face it, Halloween, Fall, All Hallows Day, this changing of the sun from long days to cool nights brings with it the mix of fear and curiosity that always comes with those of us fascinated with the final earthly resting place of so many people.

And do we have some interesting spots. The Old Burying Ground in Beaufort is famous not only for its age, but the decided mix of people that call it home. Some graves are so old that they rest above ground, covered in brick, so the storms won't wash them away, and marked originally with wood, because a stone carved marker was just too difficult to bring in. One of the most famous residents is simply known by her fate. The Little Girl Buried In A Keg Of Rum. The sad loss and strange burial practice came from the girl begging her parents to go to England on her father's ship. Knowing the sail would be taxing, he promised to his wife to bring their daughter back. Sadly, she fell ill and died aboard. True to his word, the captain/father sealed the girl in a vat of ship's rum, in order to preserve the body. She was brought home as he promised, and buried inside the keg.

And this is why I find these places interesting. Some like to just go to look, maybe hope to spot a zombie, I don't know, "They're coming to get you, Barbara!" Or just see the local names, spot the ages, see how many lived too short a life. But some graves tell a greater story. Like the poor little girl, above, or her neighbor in the graveyard, Otway Burns, who was entombed with a cannon on his grave. The weapon was from his ship. Though he had given up piracy and gone into politics, a possibly lateral move, he was well liked by those he served. In honor, the residents gave him a tribute.

Of the many creepy graves, there are several throughout NC that are just parts of bodies, famous for the markers that bear a description of just legs or a hand. One that tells a real story, and a sad one at that, is the markers of Charles Silver. His name is unimportant except to mark his graves, of which there are several. He was the victim of Frankie Silver, his young wife. When married at a young age, the two seemed at first to be a fit pair. But soon Charles began to be abusive to his wife. When she had a baby, she was worried he would hurt the child, too. So she took matters into her own bloody hands and killed her abusive husband with an ax. After burying what they could find, bits of the guy kept turning up in the fireplace and around the cabin where they lived. So his family buried them, too. His marker has several extra spaces for his body parts. For her part Frankie was ultimately found guilty, and hanged. Her father tried unsuccessfully to return the body to his family cemetery, but the heat took its toll. The distraught father had to bury his girl in an unmarked grave behind a tavern near Morganton. While the approximate location may have been determined, no one knows exactly where she rests. All this paints a strange and sad picture of the times of the day, when an abusive man gets a better grave than a poor girl roped into a bad marriage. One grave I was really interested to find was the grave of the Fort Fisher Hermit. Robert Harrell was probably murdered, though the perpetrators were never caught, and buried on Pleasure Island, near, but not in, a dedicated cemetery for a local Methodist church.

I went to find his grave, as his story had really moved me. When I first started writing Did You See That? I wanted the book to only have like a page or two per chapter, something brief about the spot I was telling. But when it came to do the bunker where the Hermit lived, I just couldn't tell his story in a page. It had to be long enough. You can tell in the book, how the chapters before it are all pretty brief, but then you get to his chapter, and it's several pages long. So, yeah, I needed to see where he rested. I think he was originally interred in a pauper's field or something like that, but a local was able to bring him to his family land. If you look at the picture, you can see a bit of a fence there. The fence separates the church cemetery from the old house land. There's nothing left but bits of foundation, by the way. But I found it surprising, and discouraging, that here was a perfectly good cemetery, and even with his fate, and all the love most people had for him, Robert Harrell wasn't included. Now, there may be a good reason. It might be full, I really don't know. I'm just saying this was what I felt at the time. He rests, alone, just outside, while the other souls are bunched together. Someone could say it was apropos for a hermit to be near so many, but then so isolated. I don't think I would. I know many people go to cemeteries to look at the dates. It's all they can really get. And I know that the dash in between is what really matters. It represents all the life of a person in a tiny hyphen. But to me, the result, what happens at the end, where we finally rest and how we are placed, says a lot about the times we had. How we treat those places now says a lot about who we are today. Robert Harrell gets coins on his grave. The little girl gets toys. She also got a fire. If you look at the photo, you can see how someone set the marker on fire in a drunken fit. We need to do much better than this. The last story is the permanent one. Those graves tell our stories as much as they tell the deceased.

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