Friday, October 30, 2009

The Convergence: Take Two

El Campo Santo Cemetery in Old Town, San Diego.

Cins knows how to read minds.

It's true, and vaguely hilarious, especially when I'm thinking about wang and she does it.

I had actually planned to post the same thing she did below, and then what do I see? Her post! I'm gonna start thinking filthy thought about Pinhead at her.

After we laughed over this bit of mental acuity I was encouraged to post my remembrances of the cemetery we went to this past July.

As mentioned below, Cins and I have been trying to go on the Ghosts and Graveyards tour through Old Town in San Diego. Every time we fail because someone on the other end fails to give us complete information; I think this is God's way of pointing out that we have more fun in a small numbers than the large groups could ever hope for. It's true, too: we almost got spanked once at Disneyland, and I'm not even kidding a little. (Please be patient; I'm typing this with a small black cat roaming my cleavage and purring. He is not like a window, despite what he may believe.)

So first we decided to go to the Creole Cafe, an AWESOME and authentic Creole restaurant that is literally in the backyard of the Whaley House, another of San Diego's haunted hot spot. It was a group of five: me, Tanya, Cins, Max, and Cap'n. After eating in a haunted dining room (which was awesome, by the way) Max and Cap'n held back whilst the fearless threesome headed off to this tiny Spanish cemetery Cins told us about, which my Google-fu tells me is named "El Campo Santo Cemetery", though we didn't know that at the time.

The New Orleans Creole Cafe in the Whaley House's backyard in Old Town, San Diego. Seriously some of the best food in California. Get the crawdad etouffee, and tell 'em we sent you!

It was a short walk, and we were all happy and joking as we proceeded, weaving to avoid the drunk tourists and giggling at some of Cins' stories of working in Old Town (for starters, you're apparently required by city ordinance to dress in period costume to work in Old Town. I love antique costuming, but I'd be pretty pissed off if I had to put on a bustle and crinoline to work at an ice cream parlor.) Then we walked into the cemetery, separated from the loud streets and packed sidewalks by nothing more than a low brick wall, not much more than waist high. By the time we entered the cemetery the sun had gone down completely.

Entering the cemetery was a whole different world, like a bubble of silence in the middle of the bustle and noise of Old Town, which is a very, very touristy area. I noticed several large bushes with glossy leaves, and I have a witch's nose and pull for herbs; to my delight I discovered it was rosemary, growing in the biggest bushes I had ever seen. This was exciting because my home is much further to the north; I have to bring in my rosemary in the autumn or it will die in the cold of winter. But in southern California it's frequently used as decorative planting because it thrives very nicely in the even, warm climate. As I was sniffing the plant (rosemary smells so good!) a thought popped into my head: "Rosemary is for remembrance.". They had planted rosemary in the cemetery to remember the dead here. For some reason I really, really felt that I needed a sprig of this rosemary to take with me; rosemary growing in a cemetery seems to me like an important thing, though I can't tell you why. So I asked permission to those who lingered, waited a moment and felt no negative emotions, and pulled off a small branch. I would absently smell it as we roamed the graveyard.

This graveyard was, for me, a very solemn place. It was fine at the front of the cemetery, next to the dividing wall, but the further back you went, the angrier I became; this graveyard was not maintained. It's a historic site, and it's falling apart. I was angry that no one cared that people slept here.

We all kind of wandered alone, but the graveyard is so small that no one was ever out of eyesight. I was excited to find the grave of Yankee Jim, a man convicted in a kangaroo court and hung in the yard that would in a few years become the Whaley House; Yankee Jim is said to be one of the house's many specters. Not only was he falsely convicted and murdered by a court of law, the person responsible for tying his noose fucked it up; instead of breaking his neck as it was intended to do, the noose was too long, and he was forced to choke to death with his toes brushing the ground. This man has several very legitimate reasons to haunt, in my opinion.
Yankee Jim's head marker.

It's an interesting cemetery as well because several of the area's founders are buried there; I'm a history major, so reading about the exploits and accomplishments of people who died a long time ago is interesting to me.

Then the tourists started to pour in, identified by colored glow in the dark bracelet to which haunted tour group they were with. I could have cheerfully slapped several of them. They were loud, they were rude, several were drunk, they proceeded to run around the tiny cemetery like someone had let all the damn spider monkeys out of the zoo and dropped them off here. Several of the grave sites have tall picket fences around them; I don't know why some have them and others are completely accessible, but apparently some of the assholes took that as a personal affront and tried to climb them. Let me repeat that for you: grown adults who presumably were raised with other humans and not in a fucking CAVE tried to climb over the fences surrounding actual graves. There are no words.
Does this even remotely resemble a jungle gym? I don't see it, personally.

To add to the stupidity, the cemetery is comprised of very fine, dusty earth; not a lot of grass in here, it's mostly bare dirt, like silt. It kicks up dust all over the place just by walking across it; race across it like you're on fire and it raises in clouds. People started to take pictures and excitedly claim that they had orbs in their pictures! Well no shit? It's called "dirt reflecting the flash", morons. If I sneeze and then immediately take a picture afterward I can see orbs; that means there's something in the air (in this case moisture), not that my nose is haunted.
Still not the playground at McDonald's. You can because there are fewer primary colors and more dead people. Plenty of clowns, though!

Around this time Cins stared to have camera troubles; she tried to snap a photo of a flower arrangement she liked on one of the exposed grave (not sure, but it might have been the little girl's grave? You remember, Cins?) and her camera failed. It actually turned itself off, despite the fact that it had fresh batteries, and was not a buggy camera. When she stepped away it would turn on obediently, but as soon as she approached that same grave it again shut down. She apologized and walked away, and had no further problems. She didn't try and photo that grave again; obviously someone didn't like it.

By now Max (or Mr. Cins, if you will), had joined us, which surprised me as Max isn't into the ghost thing like me, Tanya, and Cins. He wandered with us, and we all felt when the mood began to change in the cemetery. It got very despondent; Tanya came over and rejoined us; she had been off doing her own thing. The tourists thankfully shut the hell up, and shortly there after left in their groups. Several appeared nervous, and they all poured out of the graveyard in one amorphous rush. I was happy to see them go, their bracelets glowing like they were off to their Old Town rave by way of the dead.

Cins and I are an interesting inversion of each other; she attracts freaks but only when alive; I tend to experience the dead while I frighten the living. Works for me; the dead are usually quieter. I'm not saying I'm psychic or anything, but a friend of mine described me as a ghost magnet. All I know is that I pay attention to things, and I tend to listen hard to people I feel are upset. Max is aware of the restless dead, and was commenting to Cins about things. All I could feel was an increasing anger; anger that people thought it was okay to treat a cemetery with such disrespect, angry that no one was taking care of these graves, angry that people would use the popularity of the site to make money, but couldn't be assed to try and maintain the graves, many of which had no name on them anymore. Even more graves, especially to the back, were literally falling apart and being consumed; the wooden crosses have fallen over, and several of the grave sites are being swallowed by wild rose bushes.

We all of us began to feel a sense of despair, emanating from the back of the graveyard. I felt heart broken, and we all realized that the sensation seemed to be coming from one blank grave, almost completely engulfed by the rose bushes. I strongly felt like this sense of desolation, of hopelessness, like everything was horrible and I no longer had the strength to even rage at it. All I could do, I felt, was grieve.

I started to cry. Honest to God above, I have never had a reaction like that before. I tried to reign it in, because it felt like if I didn't control it, it would quickly turn into outright sobbing. We all stood around that grave, me, Tanya, Cins, Max, and just.. felt. All I can tell you is that to me it seemed to be a young Spanish woman, and she was heart broken over the same things that had been making me angry. Her grief was like the emotional equivalent of a wail, and we all felt it.

The rosemary in my hand felt heavy, and the hypocrisy of it was wrong. Rosemary is for remembrance. No one remembered or cared about these people. It was just a place that lured in the tourist dollar; who gave a fuck that people were sleeping here? Who gave a fuck if no one remembered their names? Who gave a fuck that some of them were heart-shatteringly young when they died, or were murdered, or died ill, or buried loved ones here and wept and wept and wept? No one. No one but us.

I did it because that was all I really could do at that time. I tore off part of the rosemary. I had a ribbon scrap in my pocket that I had stuffed there absently before I even left Washington. I wrapped it around the sprig and carefully teased a bow out of the snippet. I kissed the greenery, and balanced it carefully on the left side of the blank marker, no name to say who this had been. Rosemary is for remembrance. I would remember her, and I would ache for her. She was nameless to me, but not forgotten. Never, ever forgotten.

The mood lifted.

We walked once more around the cemetery, and the sadness had receded abruptly; it was a little melancholy, but on the whole peaceful. It's a beautiful, heart breaking place if you just hold still for a little bit and listen. There are children buried here, there are pioneers. There are wives and husbands, and loved ones and the murdered. But it is people, and I will always see it as such.

It was a wonderful experience, and one I'm grateful to have experienced. We walked back to the car, and just before we left I asked for permission to take a little more rosemary. No one seemed to mind, and it's hanging on the wall in my bedroom right now, tied with a red ribbon.


Nojh said...

Its really cool to hear you both tell the same story. You really have a different flair for how you cover stuff. And that was really sweet of you with the rosemary and ribbon.

I haven't really been in very many graveyards now that I think about. I admit I don't really see the appeal but I'm not a ghost hunter. :) But it sounds like you two did good there so I guess there is a reason to go.

Hmmmmm. I wouldn't mind being served ice cream by a woman in a bustle and crinoline. Although it might depend on the ice cream.

Stac said...

Thanks, Nojh, and blame Cins for reading my mind. ;)

I like graveyards, but since I'm ultimately planning to become a mortician, it kinda makes sense. :)

LOL! COme to California while I'm visiting and we can probably oblige you. ;)

Cins said...

Luckily I did not have to wear a bustle since you only saw me from the waist up in the box office. No, i had to wear a shitty shirt and vest combo that was used by everyone else I worked with...oh did I mention management never washed or cleaned said shirt and vests? The shirt I snuck home to launder.

The grave I tried to take photos of was unmarked unfortunately. It was one of the ones near the back. Actually, I assumed it was a woman's grave.

zombiestomper said...

That was a very, very touching story. I think sometimes on ghost tours or things that are supposed to be spooky people forget that a graveyard is still a graveyard and deserve respect and that's sad.

Stac said...

ZS: I agree 110%. I think if done right (like one I took in Seattle) they're wonderful and creepy but above all respectful. Then there are douchenozzles with glow in the dark bracelets.