True story: When I was a child, my mother took me to do “grave rubbings” at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Columbia, S.C. (Yes, yes, thank you, I know they have a wonderful organ there.)
A grave rubbing is a form of art, in which you place a piece of paper atop a gravestone, and then stroke the paper with chalk or wax to get an image of the inscription there. It’s art for the artistically challenged, like me. To passers-by, however, the act can look alarmingly like vandalism, so please seek permission from the cemetery office before doing this with wild-eyed abandon.
Anyway, one of the graves we visited was that of the poet Henry Timrod. And, amazingly enough, a few days later, the hosts of a morning radio show – I think it may have been Bill Benton and Gene McKay – asked a trivia question to which the answer was … wait for it … the late, great Mr. Timrod.
Pulsing with excitement, I called in, anticipating fame, glory and fabulous prizes. This transpired:
McKay: “And here we have Jennifer, who thinks she knows the answer to our question: Who was said to be the poet laureate of the Confederacy?”
Me: “It’s Henry Timrod!”
McKay: “Henry Timrod it is! Now, Jennifer, you sound pretty young. How do you know the answer to that question? Do you know a lot about poetry?”
Me: “Yes. Well, no. I learned that when my mother took me grave rubbing.”
McKay, startled: “Say that again?”
Me: “Over the weekend, my mother and I did grave rubbings.”
McKay: “You went grave ROBBING?”
It was a short stay in custody, from which I emerged completely unscathed.
Now, of course, I live in the suburbs of Boston, where I’ve had the opportunity the visit some truly amazing graves, in particular those of Henry Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott, all resting in peace at Authors Ridge at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Concord. This is a bucket-list pilgrimage that every writer and reader should take.
Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a grave to rub, or rob, this Halloween week, here’s a wonderful website I stumbled upon, where you can find where everyone who was anyone is buried.
(Fun fact for my family and Charleston friends: Henry Timrod’s most famous poem was Ode: Sung on the Occasion of Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead at Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, S.C., 1867.)