Friday, June 18, 2010

Sacred Vacation of 2010 - Day 2

This road trip was laid out so I could visit Midwestern rural cemeteries that were designed in the late 19th century. This leg of the trip took me to Graceland Cemetery, situated on the northern edge of downtown Chicago. At the time of its establishment in 1860, it was two miles from Chicago's city limits, thus a "rural" cemetery.

Looking back over my earlier post, Day 2 was a long, but productive day. I drove into Chicago to visit Graceland Cemetery, then headed out to Indianapolis via South Lakeshore Drive. The drive followed the shoreline of Lake Michigan, Chicago's greatest landscape. The traffic was fast on a road with lots of twisties for the MINI. The shimmering water offered a spectacular backdrop on this beautiful summer afternoon.

Two landscape architects were responsible for the design and the natural beauty of this cemetery. HWS Cleveland (1814-1900) was the first prominent LA hired to design the original 80 acres of Graceland Cemetery in 1870. His plan laid out the paths and plots in his signature design style. OC Simonds (1855-1931) followed Cleveland when he was hired to help with drainage at Graceland. In 1881, he became superintendent of the cemetery and held that position for the next 18 years.

Rural cemeteries seem to be all the rage these days, or perhaps I am just becoming more focused on my thesis topic, which happens to be a smaller rural cemetery in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Oak Hill Cemetery was designed by both of these prominent landscape architects as it grew in size over the decades - Cleveland in 1869, and again in 1880, then Simonds in 1910. Because of the connection to Graceland through these two men, and the fact that so much has been written about Graceland Cemetery, I had to visit this designed landscape and experience it for myself.

Simonds devoted an entire chapter to cemetery design in his 1920 book Landscape Gardening. Wilhelm Miller (1869-1938) praised OC Simonds and "his landscaped cemetery as an American phenomenon" in his 1915 book The Prairie Spirit in Landscape Gardening. Miller used fotos of Graceland Cemetery to make his case for the "prairie style", the unique, regional landscape design style of the Midwest with its use of hardy, native vegetation and the "long view". Christopher Vernon's forthcoming book Graceland Cemetery explores the layers of designed landscapes within this rural cemetery. The 2010 annual issue of View, a journal of the Library of American Landscape History, carries three articles pertaining to, or referencing, Graceland Cemetery. And finally, this month's Landscape Architecture magazine features an article on cemeteries.
Graceland is a beautifully designed historic landscape, known as the "Cemetery of Architects". The monuments are truly works of art. I was most captivated by the effects of the morning sun shining through stained-glass windows set into the back wall of many of the mausoleums. Walking by each of these structures in the cool morning air, I experienced these fiery explosions of color lighting the interior of these funerary structures.

The landscaping crew was out enforce and they were meticulous in their tasks. Every blade of grass was cropped to exacting length. Groundcovers never strayed. Shrubbery held its perfect form. OC Simonds' most famous landscape in this cemetery is Lake Willowmere. The plantings around the lake and on the Island in Lake Willowmere are stunning. The Willows at water's edge are dramatic in their effect to suggest bereavement. As I walked, then drove, the major pathways, I could sense the design of HWS Cleveland in his layout of the curving drives. The elegant, paramecium-shaped plots reminded me of the layout of Oak Hill Cemetery back home in Iowa.

It was a beautiful morning in a majestic landscape, but it was time to head out to Indianapolis. I got on the road about 12:30 and drove for three hours to the city that had the most stops on my Sacred Vacation of 2010 checklist...Crown Hill Cemetery, of course; Indianapolis River Promenade, designed by Angela Danadjieva; and Brookside Addition, designed by HWS Cleveland with business partner "Dear French". I checked into the hotel situated along the river, unloaded my fold-able Dahon bike from the MINI, and headed east to find the Promenade. I learned of this designed landscape in the November 2008 issue of Landscape Architecture magazine...ICONS Revisited.

A quote from the article, "Danadjieva has given us an enduring lesson in the simple, repetitive use of materials, durable and organic." For me, this place has given new meaning to the term Indiana Limestone, a native stone I often find mentioned in a variety of design work. The Promenade is elegant beyond all words; a simple landscape that evokes "quiet wonder".

Crossing the pedestrian bridge spanning the river, I happened upon a celebrity baseball game at Victory Field. Life doesn't get much better than a night at the ballpark with a cold beer and a bag of salted peanuts. I stayed through the 4th inning, then headed back to my hotel, riding along the White River, into the glow of the setting sun.

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.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

The Mother of All Road Trips

I have been home now for over a week from my Sacred Vacation of 2010 and, in a word, it was, well, sacred. Actually life-changing. Yesterday, after I recounted where I had been, what I had been up to since the end of spring semester, my professor friend asked me if my trip was motivating. Good question.

Originally, the purpose of this road trip was related to my thesis. I would travel to Indianapolis to attend a monument preservation workshop at Crown Hill Cemetery. A branch of the National Park Service promotes and offers practical hands-on learning in a...cemetery. I met Robert Milne, Superintendent of Crown Hill Cemetery, last October when I flew to Nashville for four days mid-semester to attend a NCPTT (google it, please) cemetery preservation conference. We were treated to power point lectures, poster presentations, and then field trips to local cemeteries.

I am 'working on my thesis' this summer, so I decided to kick off this academic adventure/triathlon in cultural landscape reports and treatments plans with a road trip to the NPS-NCPTT Crown Hill workshop. My husband asked if I wanted to fly, rather than drive, and I said 'no way!" This was my Sacred Vacation of 2010, my road trip of all road trips!

Last November after reading my horoscope (see 'Cosmic Luck' post, Nov 19, 2009), I made a list of all those places/landscapes I wanted to visit in 2010. It was all pretend back then, but the wheels started turning when I happened upon the flier announcing the workshop. I dug out my list, penned in olive-green permanent ink with a ultra fine-point Sharpie. My Sacred Vacation! It was meant to be, and it was less than 2 weeks away. Should I do it? Could I pull this off? Would I be able to drive that far by myself?

You bet! I wouldn't think, I would do. And I did. And it was everything and more than I dreamed my Sacred Vacation of 2010 to be.

So back to my professor friend's question...was this road trip through the heart of the Midwest visiting rural cemeteries designed in the late 19th century a source of motivation for me to get cracking on the writing of my thesis?

You bet! And it starts here and now with this post. I need to put down on this virtual paper my scribbled notes that document the road trip.

June 2, 2010, Wednesday, 3:14 pm 63,820 beginning mileage $180 atm
Pine Hill Cemetery, Wheatland, IA north of Hwy 30; gas
Ringling Bro. circus train, salted peanuts in diet coke
Clinton, IA over-nite - pizza, Blue Moon w/orange slice
GAR-Lyndon Twp. Cemetery, Lyndon, IL
Riverside Cemetery, Prophetstown, IL
drive west of Morrison, IL - allee of trees arching over old Lincoln Hwy

June 3, 2010, Thursday, 7 am drive east over Miss River
allee of trees in morning lite - tunnel of shade
Dixon, IL Oakwood Cemetery. gatehouse, mausoleums, bench, morning lite.
HORRIBLE bandstand strx!!!!
north central IL - Wal Mart distribution center
Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, IL
gas, salted peanuts in diet coke, Lakeshore Drive S. along Lake Mich.
Indianapolis,IN hard rain - Indianapolis River Promenade, Victory Field,
baseball, ride along river on foldable

June 4th, 2010, Friday, 7 am Lilly House and Gardens. filtered morning lite. mist
Crown Hill Cemetery; workshop x 9 am - 4:30
TGFGoogle but still missed the exit and ended up on i-70E/ gas - buster bar 4 frustration!!!
Cincinnati, OH - found Spring Grove, gates locked. St. Bernard, cemx2

June 5th, 2010, Saturday, 7:30 am. Spring Grove Cemetery. breath-taking. LOL! Holy Grand-Daddy of Rural Cemeteries!!!!
long drive ahead Greenburg,IN w-mart/memory card, battery for Canon, gas
Clinton, Il Woodlawn Cemetery
Lincoln, IL, Old Union Cemetery HWS, gas, salted peanuts and diet coke

June 6th, 2010, Sunday, Jacksonville, IL, Diamond Grove Cemetery
Quincy, IL Riverview and Madison Park HWS/ gas, salted peanuts and diet coke
Nauvoo, IL x 2
Aspen Grove Cemetery, Burlington, IA
6:49 pm ending mileage 65,367

Posts over the next few days will provide a more descriptive travel log with fotos from the road that I traveled for my Sacred Vacation of 2010. The writer's block is clearing and I am ready to let the motivation do its magic.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

A Clean Act to Follow

After we finished delivering papers yesterday morning, Tess and I talked about an ongoing battle we had had the last few days. It ended with me banishing her from the use of my car until her bedroom was CLEAN! Obviously, she has been upset, no, pissy with me. She struck a deal with her father that she could order some summer clothes (shorts, bathing suit, and t's), but had to clean her room b4 they arrived. Well, that did not happen, so she put the new clothing items back in the box and in her father's office on his desk.

She wasn't in much of a rush to finish the chore her room because she did not need the clothes. But then she made plans to go to the new pool with friends, and of course, wanted to don the new bikini. She got busy with the cleaning, but it rained that afternoon, so she made the choice to not finish sorting, folding, hanging, dusting, and vacuuming.

That was three, no, four days ago. The car sat in the garage and the piles just simmered. Tess' best friend just left for China, so she wasn't so hot to go out anyway. But then someone called and she made plans. It was eight o'clock at night and the vacuum suddenly pops on. She is running up and down the stairs to the laundry room, the Salvation Army box, and the pile of tights, sweaters, skirts, and bags/purses for the little girls in the neighborhood. I walked into her room to see what was up and by golly, she was done. I could actually see the carpet and the stacks of books and school papers around the perimeter of the room almost looked neat. The closet floor was now occupied with everything that had been spewed on the floor of her bedroom, but this was a smaller, neater pile and the doors would close. So I did just that - close the doors- and then went to find her. I wanted to be positive and to congratulate her for a chore well done...finally.

On my way to the basement looking for her, I passed by the back door and noticed the car was GONE! It is truly amazing how one suggestion of the loss of that freedom she has discovered since turning 16 has given me a new tool, a very successful lever, that seems to move her 16 year-old world. ; }