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Texas Folk Cemeteries--Part Two

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  • Susan Rektorik Henley
    This is the second installment of information pertaining to folk cemeteries and the customs pertaining to them. The information is excerpted from the book,
    Message 1 of 6 , Sep 24, 2001
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      This is the second installment of information pertaining to folk cemeteries and the customs pertaining to them. The information is excerpted from the book, Texas Graveyards: A Cultural Legacy, by Terry Jordan, and published by the University of Texas Press, Austin, in 1982.

      Scraping

      [In true Southern folk cemeteries ALL the ground is scraped, there is no grass anywhere.]

      “The first glimpse of such a cemetery truly startles the unsuspecting visitor. Throughout the burial ground, the natural grasses and weeds have been laboriously chopped or “scraped” away, revealing an expanse of read-orange East Texas soil or somber black prairie earth, sometimes decorated with raked patterns, At each grave, this dirt is heaped in an elongated mound, oriented on an east-west and anchored by a head and foot stone. (Jordan, page 13)

      …Perhaps no feature of the southern folk cemetery begs more for interpretation than the practice of scraping. I have at several “workings” asked men who were laboriously chopping out grass and weeds from their family plots why they did so. Most paused, leaned on their hoes and appeared to consider the question for the first time in their lives. Some opined that it was “customary” or “looked nice” and few saw it as a practical way to eliminate mowing, seeming oblivious to the fact that scraping was more work. My own grandmother, a woman with ancestral roots in Alabama and the Carolinas, merely declared that grass on a grave was “disrespectful to the dead.” Folklorist Fred Tarpley got a similar answer when he asked the same question in Northeast Texas: ‘Grandpaw killed himself keeping the weeds out of his cotton, and we are not about to let them grow on his grave now.’…The origin of scraping and most other practices related to the traditional southern cemetery was much to ancient to remain in the memory of present- day practitioners. The reasons had been forgotten countless generations ago in faraway lands.

      Archival evidence was more helpful. It pointed to Africa as the likely source of grave yard scraping. Near equivalents to bare earth cemeteries can be found in the traditional practices of the West African slave coast…I believe the scraped wrath cemetery is an Africanism and goes hand-in-hand with the typically southern and African swept-earth yard surrounding dwellings. Indeed southern folks typically refer to their cemeteries as ‘yards.’ Grass, in Africa and the South, was an unwelcome intruder. Respectable people kept it chopped out of yards, fields, and burial grounds. Some rural Anglos in Texas even refer to scraping as “plowing.” The Ultimate African reasons were possibly the danger posed by grassfires and the proverbial snake in the grass. Removal of the grass also kept loose livestock from grazing (and defecating) in yards and cemeteries. Or, perhaps, scraping came south across Africa to the slave coast long ago with Islam. In that case, the laborious scraped Texas graveyards could be an effort to re-create, in a humid climate, the long-forgotten desert desolation of the Sahara and Arabia, where Moslem dead lie beneath the bare sand. (Jordan, page 14)

      Fences and Lichgates

      The large majority of southern folk cemeteries are enclosed in a fence, in contrast to Midwestern, New England, or even Kentucky graveyards…The lack of such an enclosure, or its poor repair, can be an embarrassment to the local community or the family, and fund-raising drives are often held to build or improve fences. Even individual graves or family plots within a typical southern cemetery in Texas are sometimes fenced. This compulsion to enclose the burial ground apparently derives from the British tradition, for enclosing walls are ancient to Britain possibly dating to early Celtic Christianity. The Church lent its support to the custom in 1229, when an English bishop required all cemeteries to be walled and forbade the grazing of livestock in the church yard. I have observed the same revulsion towards animals in the cemetery among rural Anglo-Texans.

      Also common both in Britain and Texas is the Anglo-Saxon lichgate, or “corpse gate,” a ceremonial entranceway to the cemetery spanned by an overhead arch. The funeral procession passes beneath the lichgate, while everyday visitors to the graveyard enter by way of smaller, unarched gates. In Britain the lichgates are often rather elaborate, containing a gabled rood but in Texas and the South they usually consist of a steel or wooden span or wooden span, to which is normally affixed a sign showing the name of the cemetery. The original reason for employing a lichgate is unclear, but they be symbolic of departure from the world of the living . Among the Georgia coastal Blacks, the funeral procession stops outside the gate while the leader asks the dead for permission to enter. (Jordan, pages 38 and 39)

      In the Praha Cemetery, we have a fence, a lichgate, and several smaller gate entries. These are all characteristics of the Southern Folk Cemetery. Inside, the rows of graves face the center of the cemetery where a statue stands in the center. This pertains to the German lay-out of the cemetery. I believe that there is also one section that faces East.

      There are no plot fences within the cemeteries; however, most all the older graves have curbing. Also, I did not see signs of fresh scraping but there is a lot of concrete and grave covering graves.

      I stopped by the St. John cemetery before I went to the Praha cemetery. There, many of the graves were freshly scraped and the soil mounded in the center of graves.

      I find it of great interest how different each cemetery is.

      Susan

    • Nancy Sugarek
      Susan, Thank you for your wonderful information. I recently visited the Praha cemetary and was interested in the concrete, etc. over some graves. I was also
      Message 2 of 6 , Sep 24, 2001
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        Susan,
        Thank you for your wonderful information. I recently
        visited the Praha cemetary and was interested in the
        concrete, etc. over some graves. I was also taken by
        some of the lovely old markers... both stone and cast
        iron. I too, find a beauty and fascination for
        cemetaries and have been drawn to their peace, beauty
        and history from the U.S. to England and the C.R. (Odd
        for a person who doesn't particularly feel a need to
        visit the graves of people that I have known and
        loved... that however is more of a religious thing and
        my interest in burial sites is more one of historical
        interest) Thank you for all of your wonderful research
        and writing.
        Nancy Sugarek


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      • RAY J. BACAK
        Just joined the Texas Czechs group, and not sure what transpired earlier, but can report that the Praha cemetery was being mowed last week. Ray Bacak, Moulton
        Message 3 of 6 , Sep 24, 2001
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          Just joined the Texas Czechs group, and not sure what transpired earlier,
          but can report that the Praha cemetery was being mowed last week. Ray
          Bacak, Moulton
          ----- Original Message -----
          From: Nancy Sugarek <nsugarek@...>
          To: <TexasCzechs@yahoogroups.com>
          Sent: Monday, September 24, 2001 11:49 AM
          Subject: Re: [TexasCzechs] Texas Folk Cemeteries--Part Two


          > Susan,
          > Thank you for your wonderful information. I recently
          > visited the Praha cemetary and was interested in the
          > concrete, etc. over some graves. I was also taken by
          > some of the lovely old markers... both stone and cast
          > iron. I too, find a beauty and fascination for
          > cemetaries and have been drawn to their peace, beauty
          > and history from the U.S. to England and the C.R. (Odd
          > for a person who doesn't particularly feel a need to
          > visit the graves of people that I have known and
          > loved... that however is more of a religious thing and
          > my interest in burial sites is more one of historical
          > interest) Thank you for all of your wonderful research
          > and writing.
          > Nancy Sugarek
          >
          >
          > __________________________________________________
          > Do You Yahoo!?
          > Get email alerts & NEW webcam video instant messaging with Yahoo!
          Messenger. http://im.yahoo.com
          >
          >
          > To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
          > texasczechs-unsubscribe@egroups.com
          >
          >
          >
          > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
          >
          >
        • george patrick
          Susan, I read your cemetery info with great interest. I was born in Bell County of solid Czech ancestors on my father s side. However, my family moved to
          Message 4 of 6 , Sep 25, 2001
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            Susan,
             
            I read your cemetery info with great interest.  I was born in Bell County of solid Czech ancestors on my father's side.  However, my family moved to South Texas when I was very young and I was not able to spend as much time with my Belll county relatives as I would have liked.  We did find time to visit cemeteries in Bell county where most of my father's kin are buried.  Sorry to say I can't remember cemetery names but I do recall that most of them were east of Temple--I think. I've always wanted to ask someone about a couple of things I found odd.  Perhaps you can enlighten me.
             
            My father, Rudolf John Petrek, was born in Bell County in 1909.  His father, Frank, and his grandfather, Andre, are buried in seperate cemeteries east of Temple.  Ome of my questions in related to Andre about whom I know very little and about whom a cloke of mystery seems to exist.  My dad said he knew very little about him and noone else seemed to want to talk about him.  Perhaps his grave holds somes clues?
             
            Andre has a very large grave stone, at least 8 feet tall and as wide as his grave.  The writing is Czech and the letters are 4 or 5 inches tall.  Although my grandmother spoke Czech fluently, she was never with us when we visited the grave site.  The tombstone has angels or cherubs statues on either side and a large cross on top.  The tombstone is so much larger than anything around it that it seems odd.
             
            The grave is enclosed with a concrete border.  All around his grave site is lush, well-tended carpet grass with lots of trees and schrubry.  However, his grave has been freshly scraped of all grass with the exception of what appeares to be a single stalk of wheat.  It was this way on at least two occassions I remember visiting.
             
            His wife, if he had one, is nowhere to be found in the cemetery.  Noone seems to know anything at all about her.
             
            I am fairly certain that my other great grandfather, Martin Stepan and his wife, Mary, are buried in this same cemetery.  Martin and his wife seem to be buried in a normal grave site with rather bulky but normal headstones.  The headstones had pictures secured in the stone at one time but someone has taken them.  There is a border enclosing the site.  The part that I found somewhat odd is that there is a female's grave, Johnitta Bartec, at Martin's feet, halfway inside the bordered enclosure.  Noone seems to want to talk about Johnitta.
             
            One oral family tradition (or myth) is that both Martin and Andre left Texas back in the 1800s and returned to Europe where they were involved in something that earned them a considerable sum of cash.  Both Martin and Andre bought farms for all of their children .  Martin had 12 childrem including my grandmother, Mary.  I can't recall how many children Andre had but it was a considerable number.
             
            Can you give me a tip or two on how I might go about finding more info.
             
            Thanks and I appreciate you sharing your hard work with us.
             
            George
            ----- Original Message -----
            Sent: Monday, September 24, 2001 11:30 AM
            Subject: [TexasCzechs] Texas Folk Cemeteries--Part Two

            This is the second installment of information pertaining to folk cemeteries and the customs pertaining to them. The information is excerpted from the book, Texas Graveyards: A Cultural Legacy, by Terry Jordan, and published by the University of Texas Press, Austin, in 1982.

            Scraping

            [In true Southern folk cemeteries ALL the ground is scraped, there is no grass anywhere.]

            “The first glimpse of such a cemetery truly startles the unsuspecting visitor. Throughout the burial ground, the natural grasses and weeds have been laboriously chopped or “scraped” away, revealing an expanse of read-orange East Texas soil or somber black prairie earth, sometimes decorated with raked patterns, At each grave, this dirt is heaped in an elongated mound, oriented on an east-west and anchored by a head and foot stone. (Jordan, page 13)

            …Perhaps no feature of the southern folk cemetery begs more for interpretation than the practice of scraping. I have at several “workings” asked men who were laboriously chopping out grass and weeds from their family plots why they did so. Most paused, leaned on their hoes and appeared to consider the question for the first time in their lives. Some opined that it was “customary” or “looked nice” and few saw it as a practical way to eliminate mowing, seeming oblivious to the fact that scraping was more work. My own grandmother, a woman with ancestral roots in Alabama and the Carolinas, merely declared that grass on a grave was “disrespectful to the dead.” Folklorist Fred Tarpley got a similar answer when he asked the same question in Northeast Texas: ‘Grandpaw killed himself keeping the weeds out of his cotton, and we are not about to let them grow on his grave now.’…The origin of scraping and most other practices related to the traditional southern cemetery was much to ancient to remain in the memory of present- day practitioners. The reasons had been forgotten countless generations ago in faraway lands.

            Archival evidence was more helpful. It pointed to Africa as the likely source of grave yard scraping. Near equivalents to bare earth cemeteries can be found in the traditional practices of the West African slave coast…I believe the scraped wrath cemetery is an Africanism and goes hand-in-hand with the typically southern and African swept-earth yard surrounding dwellings. Indeed southern folks typically refer to their cemeteries as ‘yards.’ Grass, in Africa and the South, was an unwelcome intruder. Respectable people kept it chopped out of yards, fields, and burial grounds. Some rural Anglos in Texas even refer to scraping as “plowing.” The Ultimate African reasons were possibly the danger posed by grassfires and the proverbial snake in the grass. Removal of the grass also kept loose livestock from grazing (and defecating) in yards and cemeteries. Or, perhaps, scraping came south across Africa to the slave coast long ago with Islam. In that case, the laborious scraped Texas graveyards could be an effort to re-create, in a humid climate, the long-forgotten desert desolation of the Sahara and Arabia, where Moslem dead lie beneath the bare sand. (Jordan, page 14)

            Fences and Lichgates

            The large majority of southern folk cemeteries are enclosed in a fence, in contrast to Midwestern, New England, or even Kentucky graveyards…The lack of such an enclosure, or its poor repair, can be an embarrassment to the local community or the family, and fund-raising drives are often held to build or improve fences. Even individual graves or family plots within a typical southern cemetery in Texas are sometimes fenced. This compulsion to enclose the burial ground apparently derives from the British tradition, for enclosing walls are ancient to Britain possibly dating to early Celtic Christianity. The Church lent its support to the custom in 1229, when an English bishop required all cemeteries to be walled and forbade the grazing of livestock in the church yard. I have observed the same revulsion towards animals in the cemetery among rural Anglo-Texans.

            Also common both in Britain and Texas is the Anglo-Saxon lichgate, or “corpse gate,” a ceremonial entranceway to the cemetery spanned by an overhead arch. The funeral procession passes beneath the lichgate, while everyday visitors to the graveyard enter by way of smaller, unarched gates. In Britain the lichgates are often rather elaborate, containing a gabled rood but in Texas and the South they usually consist of a steel or wooden span or wooden span, to which is normally affixed a sign showing the name of the cemetery. The original reason for employing a lichgate is unclear, but they be symbolic of departure from the world of the living . Among the Georgia coastal Blacks, the funeral procession stops outside the gate while the leader asks the dead for permission to enter. (Jordan, pages 38 and 39)

            In the Praha Cemetery, we have a fence, a lichgate, and several smaller gate entries. These are all characteristics of the Southern Folk Cemetery. Inside, the rows of graves face the center of the cemetery where a statue stands in the center. This pertains to the German lay-out of the cemetery. I believe that there is also one section that faces East.

            There are no plot fences within the cemeteries; however, most all the older graves have curbing. Also, I did not see signs of fresh scraping but there is a lot of concrete and grave covering graves.

            I stopped by the St. John cemetery before I went to the Praha cemetery. There, many of the graves were freshly scraped and the soil mounded in the center of graves.

            I find it of great interest how different each cemetery is.

            Susan



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            texasczechs-unsubscribe@egroups.com



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          • Susan Rektorik Henley
            Message 5 of 6 , Sep 25, 2001
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            • Shirley Polk
              Welcome aboard Ray! This is a great group! Shirley Polk
              Message 6 of 6 , Oct 1, 2001
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                Welcome aboard Ray! This is a great group!
                Shirley Polk

                "RAY J. BACAK" wrote:

                > Just joined the Texas Czechs group, and not sure what transpired earlier,
                > but can report that the Praha cemetery was being mowed last week. Ray
                > Bacak, Moulton
                > ----- Original Message -----
                > From: Nancy Sugarek <nsugarek@...>
                > To: <TexasCzechs@yahoogroups.com>
                > Sent: Monday, September 24, 2001 11:49 AM
                > Subject: Re: [TexasCzechs] Texas Folk Cemeteries--Part Two
                >
                > > Susan,
                > > Thank you for your wonderful information. I recently
                > > visited the Praha cemetary and was interested in the
                > > concrete, etc. over some graves. I was also taken by
                > > some of the lovely old markers... both stone and cast
                > > iron. I too, find a beauty and fascination for
                > > cemetaries and have been drawn to their peace, beauty
                > > and history from the U.S. to England and the C.R. (Odd
                > > for a person who doesn't particularly feel a need to
                > > visit the graves of people that I have known and
                > > loved... that however is more of a religious thing and
                > > my interest in burial sites is more one of historical
                > > interest) Thank you for all of your wonderful research
                > > and writing.
                > > Nancy Sugarek
                > >
                > >
                > > __________________________________________________
                > > Do You Yahoo!?
                > > Get email alerts & NEW webcam video instant messaging with Yahoo!
                > Messenger. http://im.yahoo.com
                > >
                > >
                > > To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
                > > texasczechs-unsubscribe@egroups.com
                > >
                > >
                > >
                > > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
                > >
                > >
                >
                >
                > To unsubscribe from this group, send an email to:
                > texasczechs-unsubscribe@egroups.com
                >
                >
                >
                > Your use of Yahoo! Groups is subject to http://docs.yahoo.com/info/terms/
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