Posts Tagged ‘Ernie Davis’

Ernie Davis GravesiteI was in Woodlawn Cemetery yesterday, visiting my mother’s grave for Mother’s Day.  I may have mentioned before that I am a big fan of cemeteries.  I like being among the quiet of cemeteries, walking through the varied architecture of the different stones and all the names.  The names.  I particularly like the names.  Some are just simple names but some are relics from the past, names you just don’t hear anymore.  Orlo.  Myrtle.  Elmer.  Alvinia.  Harlo, who resides next to my grandfather who is a simple Frank.

There’s a certain magic and power in reading these names, almost as though by just uttering the name a little spark of their life is ignited.  As though there’s a certain gratitude expressed back by the mere mention of their names.

Now, I’m not going to go all spiritual here because I don’t even know what I believe in that aspect.  To the best of my knowledge, I have never encountered ghosts or spirits.  Never been haunted.  I’ve had a couple of psychic readings which I’ve found kind of laughable because I’m always left with the feeling that these people were getting nothing from me and were struggling just to say anything that might trigger some type of reaction.  Let’s just say they didn’t make me a believer.  

But in the cemetery I have had a couple of coincidences that just make me wonder.  Several years ago, my wife and I were taking a stroll through Woodlawn, just walking along quickly  and periodically saying aloud a name that struck us from the stones we passed.  At a certain point, I was suddenly reminded of a young guy who I had went to high school with.  He wasn’t a friend, in fact I only knew him from passing nods in the hall at school.  He had lived a fairly hard life and many years before had broken into a closed factory, going through a broken window and in the process slicing his wrist so severely that he died within a few steps.  I hadn’t thought of him for many years and suddenly I wondered where a kid from a poor family like him might be buried.  Would his family been able to bury him in a place like the lovely park of this cemetery?  Within thirty seconds,the thought now evaporated, a stone that was at the back of the plot we were passing caught my eye.  The engraving had an interesting look, something I hadn’t seen before.

 I cut through the stones to get a look and stopped several feet from it, now being able to read it.  It turned out to be nothing special and as I turned to head back I looked down.  It was the grave of my high school acquaintance.  It had a simple plate that was flush with the ground, that could only be seen from above.  It gave me a little shiver.  Most likely pure coincidence, but what had made me think of his name that day, only moments before?  What made me notice and approach for the first time  a gravestone that I had walked by probably a hundred times before?  What had made me stop at this precise spot to read it?  I gave him a quick greeting and headed back to the road.

Yesterday, as I was coming back from my mother’s grave I cut through the stones to visit my grandparents’ gravesite.  As I walked, I thought of Ernie Davis’ grave in the same park.  Ernie was the first African-American to win the Heisman trophy and his tragic death from leukemia had been the subject of a movie this past year, The Express.  He was actually known as the Elmira Express but the Elmira was dropped to give the title more widespread appeal.  He has been hero of legendary stature in the Elmira area since I was a tiny child.  As I walked I thought of the Davis movie then I suddenly thought of Marty Harrigan, his high school coach and a big influence on his life.  He had also been my high school principle.  He had died a few years back which was probably the last time I had given him more than a fleeting thought.  

Within a minute I was at my grandparents’ gravesite and spent a few moments there.  As I turned to leave, I glanced to my right and there  it was.  Martin Harrigan.  I chuckled a little and said hello before heading back to the car.  

I don’t know.  Probably nothing more than a puzzling coincidence but it makes one wonder about how the world operates and if we are truly aware and subject to everything that goes on around us.  

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A Return to RootsI live in a part of New York state that doesn’t normally get a lot of headlines.  We’re somewhat rural with a few smaller  cities scattered across what is called the Southern Tier  that runs along the NY/Pennsylvania border.  

We have Corning which is known for its glass industry including a world-class museum.  There’s Ithaca with  Cornell and Ithaca College.  Then there’s my hometown of Elmira where Mark Twain spent his summers, writing many of his books from his study overlooking the valley, and is buried here.  Home of the late, great Ernie Davis.  We’re also known for our prisons.  I can barely contain my pride.

Then a little east there’s Binghamton.  

It was primarily known as the birthplace of IBM but after yesterday will be known in the national mind as the location of yet another murderous rampage.

14 killed.

I don’t know much about the assailant and I really don’t need to hear a lot.  I’m sure there will be all kinds of new info today and  in the week ahead, all profiling a troubled soul.  Unfortunately, we’ve heard it all before.  Too many times.

I don’t have any answers to the scourge of mass killings.  I have sympathy for the families who lost members.   I have empathy for those who witnessed and survived, many immigrants to this country.  Their terror and bewilderment that such a thing could happen in their chosen home is palpable.

And I have a degree of sorrow and empathy for the killer.  While I can’t understand how a person could be driven to such violence , I can imagine the alienation and rage that ran through his mind.  I don’t know his circumstances or what might have possibly tripped that final switch but he obviously lived in a troubled state of mind without the necessary coping mechanisms.  

That doesn’t excuse or justify his actions.  It only brings to mind the scores of people that live among us with that same anger, that same sense of separation.  The vast majority live this side of the line but more and more cross it and we’re left watching the news, horrified.

And you hope and you pray that this time will be the last.

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Seems Like a New SunThis piece, Seems Like a New Sun, is part of the show currently hanging at the Haen Gallery in Asheville, NC.  It’s a cityscape, a genre I enjoy mainly because of the abstract quality of shape and color that is formed by building up the structures.

At the opening for the show, someone asked if this painting was of a necropolis, a city of the dead or cemetery.  They cited the lack of windows and doors and said that it reminded them of those in Paris and New Orleans, where many of the graves are housed above-ground in beautiful small mausoleums.  This kind of took me  back a little because the idea had never entered my mind at any point in the creation of this piece but when I looked again it made perfect sense, in more than the obvious way.

I have always been attracted to cemeteries of all sorts and when we travel (a rarity these days) Cheri and I generally find a cemetery and walk around it, admiring the stones and mausoleums.  I read the names and epitaphs, trying to discern what sort of life they indicate.  Some find this morbid but I find it fascinating and very peaceful and in some ways, invigorating and reinforcing of life.  There is a lot to be said in the way a culture treats its dead.

We have a beautiful cemetery in our home area, Woodlawn Cemetery, that was created in the heyday of “burial parks” in the mid-19th century.  It has a rolling landscape with beautiful old growth trees and meandering roads. Very nice.  It’s home now to Mark Twain, Hal Roach, Ernie Davis and others.  Adjoining it is a national cemetery where there are the remains of a number of Confederate soldiers from the Civil War who perished in the notorious prisoner of war camp at Elmira.  There is history everywhere if we only look.

This is Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina, where Evita Peron is its most famous resident.  Quite a striking sight amid the sprawl of the living city.  Maybe there is some validity in the viewer’s question…Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

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