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Aging like a fine whine

By Emmett Burnett
I whine a lot because I’m good at it. Actually I am beyond good; in the art of whining, I am Picasso with a pouty face.

Remember the TV show Hee-Haw when several guys lounged around singing “Gloom despair and agony on me?” The show was canceled; the tune is immortal, because whining is everywhere.

I once witnessed a college graduation exercise where a retired University of Alabama professor deplored his school’s 1960’s segregation history. The teacher did not deplore it enough to quit his job there of 30 years – including the segregation era. But he felt compelled to share his misery with the senior class, none who were born during the time cited.

I’ve never spoken at a graduation service (I whine too much). But if I addressed the Class of 2010, I’d relate a story about a place that made me reconsider self-induced pity. Welcome to Church Street Cemetery.

Walk with
me Class of
’10 through
“City of the
Church St.
Cemetery is
a place of
heartbreak and devastating sorrow.

“What graveyard isn’t?” you ask.

True, but this one is a bit different. For in the mid-1800s, most were victims of yellow fever. Death was a welcomed relief.

Before starting post graduate life, behold the headstones of those who didn’t. Like the marker over a young mother that reads “Come with me my family three, prepare for death and follow me.” Notice the dates on many of these stones? They are infants. Perhaps more babies are buried here than almost any other graveyard in America. The youngest on record died at age eight hours. Entire families died often within months of each other.

In the next few years, Class of ’10, many of you will have times of discouragement. A job offer will go to someone else. The girl of your dreams shall marry the boy of her dreams – and it ain’t you. But you will not have a Civil War doctor’s diagnosis: your child has yellow fever, make the baby as comfortable as possible, and contact Church St. Cemetery. Hundreds here did.

During the cruel disease’s reign, this graveyard witnessed 250 burials a month. There were not enough hearses so bodies were piled on horse drawn carts for their final earthly trip.

A caretaker told me no one knows how many graves are here. It could be thousands. For every site visibly marked, 10 may be unmarked. There simply was not enough time or materials to carve headstones for everyone. The Grim Reaper worked overtime.

I’ve been here a few times, for various news assignments, and today’s visit is a beautiful day. But no matter how sunny the weather, Church Street Cemetery always resembles a black and white photograph. There is no color, just shades of gray granite.

So how’s your day? I’ve had some rough ones but so far not as bad as the residents of ‘The City of the Dead.” Let’s leave this place. Step outside the mossy brick walls encapsulating circa 1800’s. We now resume 2010 already in progress.

Before we go, senior class, turn around for a last gaze through the gates of Church St. Cemetery. This graveyard is forever the past – just like our whining should be. For if anyone had a reason to whine, these folks did. We don’t.

(Burnett has been a freelance writer in Mobile for more than 20 years. For more information, visit his website.)
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by Emmett Burnett
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