Mary Washington’s grave and the Gordon Family Cemetery, Fredericksburg, VA, June 2017

The entrance to Kenmore Park/Memorial Park on Washington Avenue.  The obelisk itself is the grave of Mary Washington, George Washington’s mother; right behind it is the Gordon Family Cemetery.  Although George’s father died when he was just 11 years old, his mother saw him ascend the presidency.  She died in 1789.

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Looking east from the park’s entrance, you can see First Christian Church, on the intersection of Washington Avenue and Pitt Street.

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Washington Avenue looking south.

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Gordon Family Cemetery.  The Gordons lived at Kenmore; the gravestones date from 1826 to 1872.

If you were a Mary Washington College student returning from a party downtown in the 1990’s, you could pass the cemetery on your way back to campus at night.  I saw a group of high school kids inside the cemetery one night; they scattered in a panic when they realized I’d noticed them.  (To my knowledge, no Mary Wash kids were involved in shenanigans like that here.)  I believe it is illegal to enter a cemetery like this at night … and I have it on good authority that Southern cops take such an offense very, very seriously.

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Behind the cemetery is Meditation Rock.  This was an occasional destination for college students out for a walk.  Shortly after I arrived at Mary Washington in 1990 from New York, a patient group of upperclassmen “adopted” me and kindly resolved to keep me out of trouble.  (One of them is still my “big brother” today.)  This is one of the first places they showed me when they gave me a tour of the town.

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Am I a weird guy if I suggest that images of Meditation Rock can have Freudian undercurrents?  Is that wrong?  There is a whole “Picnic at Hanging Rock” vibe here.  (The sad thing is, I was actually studying Freud at about the time I first saw it, and it never occurred to me then.)  The juxtaposition with the nearby images associated with death and godliness is aesthetically striking.

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The Kenmore Apartments are still across Kenmore Avenue on the other side of the park.

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Happy Fourth of July!!

I am spending it with some terrific friends here in Mount Vernon.  They actually live on property that was once owned by George Washington — the road out front is one he probably traveled on so long ago.

I am such a terrible photographer that I haven’t even mastered my camera’s zoom function.  But if you squint really hard, you can just about make out a deer at center by the woods in the last photo.

 

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“Those were the dark days of America’s infancy.”

Following up on yesterday’s blog post about Nathan Hale for July 4th —  I actually wrote briefly about Hale and New York’s revolutionary history in “The Dogs Don’t Bark In Brooklyn Any More.”  It was background information about Brooklyn’s Prospect Park; the novel’s story, of course, takes place in a fictional future.

I actually made up the “local legend” about Hale’s ghost brooding around the arch.  I have no doubt that the park has its share of ghost stories, but this one was only a bit of poetic license on my part:

“[Prospect Park] is a haunted place. Many men have died in the vicinity of its gently rolling hills, though the occasion of their passing predates the park’s mid-nineteenth century creation. The area around Prospect Park is the site of the Revolutionary War’s first and largest major battle, fought in the waning summer of 1776, not two months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. 

“The fledgling United States fielded its first official army there, with heartbreaking results. The Battle of Brooklyn was a disaster for America, whose sons were outnumbered two-to-one by 22,000 English and Hessian soldiers. George Washington, flush with his victory at Boston, found his forces routed. He barely escaped to Manhattan in a desperate, stealthy evacuation of more than 9,000 troops. On the morning of August 30, he and his retreating men were met along the Brooklyn hills with a miraculous surprise – a dense morning fog that concealed their perilous exit. To Washington and his war-weary comrades, it must have seemed like nothing short of divine intervention. 

“Those were the dark days of America’s infancy – Nathan Hale would not long after be captured on a mission of espionage in Manhattan, disguised as a Dutch schoolteacher, and would be hanged, after his immortal lament that he had but a single life to give for his country. The defeat in Brooklyn also cleared the way for the Crown’s capture of all of New York City. The Great Fire of 1776 would ravage Manhattan. And the city would remain in England’s hands until the end of the war. 

“Ironically, the park’s principal monument is devoted to another war entirely – one in which America turned upon itself. This is the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Memorial Arch, a massive structure dedicated to the Union Army during the Civil War. If there is an afterlife, then perhaps it might break Washington’s heart – and Hale’s – to see the Arch as it stands today, a memorial to Americans killing Americans. Indeed, a local legend holds that Hale’s ghost occasions the site of the Arch and hangs his gaze upon it, glum with the knowledge of a nation divided and torn.”

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