Acres: Unknown… a LOT
Design: Garden Style
NRHP: Yes #351163
Topo: Rolling areas/steep to mild
Neighbors: Not so very sketchy
Gear: Flip flops NOT recommended
So here it is… our first official crawl together. Walk with me.
I first visited Bellevue and the adjacent Immaculate Conception and St. Mary’s cemeteries (we’ll take a closer look at the latter two in a future blog) on a viciously cold, New England fall day in 2008. I, mistakenly, thought it might be a short trip… wrong. You can’t imagine the vastness of this place unless you’ve seen it. I don’t know how many acres it spans overall, but each small(!) section is, in itself, seemingly endless. It crosses the road in two different areas, and extends deceptively farther back than one would guess.
Within Bellevue proper, I’ll call it, each hill crested leads to more. Sadly, the ground is littered… with stones, treacherous holes and… you guessed it… litter. Pucker brush abounds. Once, it must have been breathtaking. Carefully laid out garden-style atop gently rolling hills, with terraces, stairways, and meandering drives. In the summer, gentle breezes would have rustled through a myriad of colorful landscaping and, in the fall, the trees would have blazed with color. Gazing slightly up and out from the summit, across the horizon, the view goes on forever.
Lower your gaze though, if only slightly, and the illusion is shattered.
Now, it is windswept, desolate, and neglected. The sadness and abandon is palpable and, inexplicably, so is the silence. Though bordered, now, by cramped housing, graffiti, and traffic, it is unnervingly quiet but for the wind, skittering leaves, and creak of the dead or dying trees. Some stones can barely be seen, and cannot be reached… now lost to the untended wilderness. Of the accessible stones that still stand, many are overgrown and choked by vines. Touch them, and they seem to vibrate a bitterness at being forgotten… the granite coarser and colder than it should be. I wonder, now, if each whisper of wind by my ear didn’t carry voices of the past… crying out sadly to be remembered. Or angrily… at the vandalism and disregard.
I didn’t know where to begin.
I decided that, given the expanse and the frigid wind, I would keep my head up and focus on the glaringly evident rather than down in search of hidden surprises as I occasionally walk. After almost falling into an open manhole, though, (one of three I found), I found a comfortable balance of the two. I had to curb my desire to roll up my sleeves and clear away the overgrowth… training my lens on it instead. I spent the first hour in the old section, before the heaviness of it became unbearable. Curious… for me. I love abandon. I love neglect. I love anything that would, indubitably, be spine-tingling in the dark. In the stark light of day… it just weighed on me. I needed to move away to the other sections.
Again, vast expanse, yet somewhat better tended. How many tens of thousands rest here, I wonder. How many unmarked, forgotten souls linger in the pauper section…with those whose eternities are marked by twisted, corroded crosses? How many veterans with their stark white stones and tattered flags? How many?
I’ll return to Bellevue, before fall returns, in hopes that I find it tended to… if only a bit. You’ll find it at 170 May Street. Leave your flip flops at home in favor of some puckerbrush-resistent boots. Trust me! Visit the City of Lawrence web page for hours and contact information.
Next time – Valley Cemetery in Manchester NH. In the meantime, crawl with care… and here’s a few more pics for your viewing pleasure!