Wednesday, June 16, 2010
Sacred Vacation of 2010 - Day 1
As you recall, this road trip had purpose. It is thesis related. I wanted to travel through the heart of the Midwest visiting rural cemeteries designed in the late 19th century. I wanted to experience this particular cemetery typology to get a feel for those characteristics that define a park-like, rural cemetery. I believe that when we walk the landscape, our experiences as we pass thru that landscape can be spiritual, mystical, educational, sensual, and oftentimes, transforming. There were landscapers, landscape gardeners, landscape designers, and landscape architects during those years when rural cemeteries were popular who believed that these designed landscapes could and should provide such experiences. They devoted their entire career, their whole life, trying to capture in their designs that genius loci, or "spirit of place".
These rural cemeteries that I visited over a five day stretch, and I think I counted 15 in all, definitely have that "spirit of place", but some more than others. One of the smallest rural cemeteries I visited in a little town in the middle of Illinois, a documented design of Landscaper Architect HWS Cleveland, nailed it. It did it for me. The experience was life-altering, I swear.
My post from yesterday shows I left home around three in the afternoon and headed east to Clinton, IA for my first overnight. I had been to Clinton two weeks ago for an two-day State Historic Preservation training session which covered tax incentive info and historic research. Excellent workshop. I was surprised how much I had learned from my Architectural Preservation class this past spring semester.
Clinton was a jump off point for me so my drive into Chicago to visit Graceland Cemetery would be two rather than six hours. Also, I wanted to visit Prophetstown, IL where HWS Cleveland lived and taught school as a young man who ventured west from the East Coast around the late 1830's. I had read his letters to his business partner in later years, his "Dear French" letters where he wrote of hunting with the Boys. It was before the railroad came thru; his travels were on horseback. He described the "sloughs black with muskrats, and cranes, too, and swans and eagles and coons...and other shellfish" (letter dated 9/26/1871).
I wanted to see that landscape that he walked. Really I wanted to see if that landscape still existed. Once I got off the main highway and cut cross-country, I smiled. There were wetlands as far as the eye could see. Nothing was black with wildlife, but there were soggy sloughs everywhere. I crossed the Rock River before heading into town. The aerial foto flashed in my head; I remembered tracing with my finger on the laptop screen those looping meanders of the river just before it emptied into Miss River.
This was a nice personal connection. Not really cemetery-related, but this man wrote with passion. His writings are lengthy and so very Victorian, but his descriptions of the landscape strike a chord that resonates deep within, touching that same chord that made me want to become a landscape architect.