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The Bone Orchard

Imagination is needed to see the fascination with cemeteries and graveyards. It's not a morbid curiosity, but more a feeling of "There but for the grace of God go I." We like the feeling of being remembered, that we did something well enough to earn eternal rest, as well as the comfort of others far off into the future. So we remember their past as we pass by all these graves. Yes, it is spooky, admittedly. Halloween comes from the time of Samhain, a period of time when the living and the dead could cross paths, in a spiritual and spectral sense. Add to that the nagging fears of modern day romantic horror, that something will reach out or rise up from a soft grave, and we begin to whistle through the graveyard.

They're coming to get you, Barbara... North Carolina as a lot of fascinating graves, but I also want to think about the people, and their spirits, planted in the final resting place, the Big Sleep. I mentioned this in a post I did on my book's Facebook page, about the shipwreck Nouva Ottavia, where nine Italian crewmen were interred somewhere in the land of Corolla, far away from their Mediterranean home. I thought it was sad, some poor hardworking sailors who lose their lives through no fault, and they will rest forever on a far distant shore. But I also thought of how they at least have a beautiful beach, soft sand, a forever calm and still bed, even when the tempests rage above them. It may be the best they would get. Others got far worse.

Old Diver, Augustus Abner McGuire, died offshore but his body was brought to Ocracoke, and locals found him a home on a place he never set foot, at least when he was alive. The original marker was wood, and long gone now, so he is buried somewhere near the current marker. He also now walks the land. Legends tell of how locals will see him, a horrendous sight, still in his full diving suit, big brass helmet, heavy cloth suit and gloves, weighted boots, plodding slowly but inexorably down the sandy paths near his grave. His ghost must be a terrible sight, but it could be he is just happy to be on land.

Solomon Furr, Dr. Solomon Furr, once Solomon Furr, CSA, spent too many rainy nights under a useless cloth during the Civil War. He and his buddy, both miserable in the rain, made a promise to each other that when the first one dies, the other will build a roof over their grave, so that they would never have to sleep in the rain again. When Furr died, his friend carried out the promise.

Other graves have more serious history. Frankie Silver is buried on a farm near Morganton. She was famous for both her crime and her execution. She killed her husband Charlie Silver and chopped him up, burning some of his body, and hiding other parts. She was arrested and hanged for the crime. Frankie was thought to have killed her husband as he had become abusive to her, and she feared he would harm their new child as well. Her father attempted to bring her remains home, but had to bury the girl behind a tavern. Until recently, her burial location was only approximately known. She finally has a marker at her site. Her husband's graves are more remarkable and memorable. After burying what they found of Charlie Silver, more bits of him kept turning up, so he actually has a central grave and several smaller markers around it for the rest. I always thought it was somewhat unfair that he got all the attention while poor Frankie rested in anonymity. I have to figure that her father did the best he could.

Robert Harrill was more well known as the Fort Fisher Hermit, a popular figure and stop for tourists in the 60s. He was murdered at his home, a small bunker near the beach. Having no family nearby to claim him, he was originally buried in a pauper's graveyard, until a spot was found for him near a family cemetery on the soundside of Pleasure Island, near Kure Beach. When people would come to visit, they often gave Harrill some change in return for his company. His grave has continued the tradition with a small pan and handfuls of coins along the grave. It seems to be a more peaceful resting place for an unhappy end.

The phthisic foot of an angel is a telltale sign of a famous book written about Asheville by Thomas Wolfe, whose father was a sculptor and provider of gravestone markers in the area. He lost a bet with Samuel McCanless in a poker game, and the elder Wolfe paid up with a statue. While not the famous Look Homeward, Angel statue, this is one of William Wolfe's statues. It sits on a grave in Old Fort. That's the story. Samuel McCanless placed it over the grave of his first wife, Hattie. McCanless had remarried to his wife's sister, Geneva. She once got mad and accused Samuel of loving Hattie more, because he gave her that nice statue. The fact that Geneva wasn't dead didn't seem to enter into the discussion. Hattie is buried directly under the statue, while Samuel is slightly down from her, and Geneva is further down the hill, the latter two in unmarked graves. It's a weird and different world, isn't it, where the living and the dead meet. The graves tell the stories of the dead when they lived, if we know how to look and listen just right. Halloween is a good time to pay attention. It makes the fun parts scary, and the scary parts fun. I hope we can keep telling more stories, keep preserving these people. Halloween's zombies and monsters are about the dead rising from the once living, but the rest of the year, maybe we can do the other side, tell the story of the living from the dead.

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