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Living With the Dead


South Berwiock Maine,  Manilton Tomb /

"When the British closed the port of Portsmouth," Colburn says as if recalling the days himself, "it put Hamilton out of business. When he died, the whole thing fell apart. The family wasn't able to keep going. They just abandoned the place, and there hasn't been a Hamilton back since about 1825."

1825? This grave has been bloodless all that time. That's nearly two centuries without a living hand to clear the cobwebs and patch the stone.

"It's a very real problem to deal with," Louise Tallman explains. "The older the site, the less the funding, but the greater the historic importance."

The solution, it seems, is a blood transfusion. Genealogy aside, we share a common history with these dead. We share each other's space, like traveling companions in a time machine. Louise proposes a variation on the Adopt-a-Spot campaign used to beautify public lands. Here, instead, the living adopt the dead. I can, for example, become the guardian of a long-dead writer's tomb, or find a damaged grave to mend.

The idea has appeal. I owe the dead a lot -- for their stories, for their lessons, for a lifetime of wandering through their peaceful turf. How hard can it be to keep a couple of tombstones healthy? Just a little muscle is all it takes, the energy of blood to bone.

The world of the dead, after all, extends far beyond the cemetery walls. We live in their abandoned towns, navigate roads that bear their names, read their books, enforce their laws, attend their churches and schools, resell their old possessions and restore their former homes. So it’s us or nobody. The region’s historic cemeteries stand or crumble at our command. Those who have already crossed the one-way river of blood can only wait, and sometimes -- when the wind is right -- whisper a low welcoming moan.

Copyright (c) J. Dennis Robinson. All rights reserved.

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Wednesday, January 17, 2018 
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