The Artwork of Grief

Evergreen Cemetery in Old Bisbee was established in 1892 and is on the National Register of Historic Places. It replaced the original site which was built on a higher slope and eventually drew concerns about contamination of water. The remains of those buried in the old cemetery were moved to the new site around 1914. Bisbee was a vibrant mining town from the late 1800s to the 1950s. Phelps Dodge, the mining company who owned the Copper Queen Mine, took care of the cemetery for many years. The final stages of closing the mine occurred in the 1970s, and the once-green oasis of peace began to crumble. There are no longer plots available for purchase.

Recently there has been a torrent of vandalism. The vandals break wings and heads off angels, knock down crosses, and smash the old-fashioned photograph insets on the headstones and destroy the irreplaceable old photos. The cemetery is the resting place for many immigrants who came to Bisbee for work. Russian, Swedish, Irish, Mexican names abound. When the mines closed many people moved away and the headstones were no longer cared for. There aren’t many residents left here of Russian or Swedish ancestry—why would they stay?

The articles in the local papers state that descendents of the deceased no longer live here or “just don’t care.” There are very few residents left here who worked the mines, if there are they are very old. I can’t think of anyone here who has a Russian surname. Most of the residents who actually live in Old Bisbee moved here later, when the town was sort of resurrected as an artists’ colony and LGBT haven in the ’70s. I live on the outskirts of town in a mostly Spanish neighborhood, closer to the Port of Entry of Naco, AZ/Mexico.

A group of people volunteer to maintain the cemetery, but they are older folks and can’t do the heavy work. The century-old Italian cypress trees are being attacked by a blight of bark beetles and are no longer watered. Recently there have been some repair attempts by the city, but years of neglect have taken their toll. I grew up in New England and spent many happy hours in ancient burial grounds scattered all over what’s left of the countryside, but never saw gravemarkers like these back home. Evergreen Cemetery is unique with its simple handmade iron or wood crosses, symbolizing hard lives and unspeakable grief.

Shame on all us who complain. Shame on the politicians, the Occupiers, the Black Friday frenzy, the Air Jordan mobs. Everybody says they don’t have any money but they’re willing to trample people and break down doors to get some stupid gadget or clothing. We wouldn’t last a day living a hundred years ago. No government handouts, no welfare, no foodstamps—no nothing but each other.

A good number of pictures follow, out of a hundred photos I took the other day, choosing ones to publish was hard.

Entrance to Evergreen Cemetery

Many infants and children are buried here.

Baby Ivers

Baby Prince

Tilia Kukuljan, 4 years old

My darling Lloyd, 1902-1905. "Just a tiny grave, But oh so dear, For all my joy and hope, Lies buried here."

Crumbling statue, the head is broken off and is placed on top of the body

This style of metalwork cross is seen all over the cemetery. This one is surrounded by broken posts.

Another cross made from pipes and embellished with metalwork, very common here.

A completely destroyed monument

Broken statue

Someone tried to repair this cross with cement

Simple wooden cross of infant

Simple cross made of pipe, there are many, many here similar to this

This simple handmade metal marker sums up the hard lives of the miners

Fraternal orders were popular. This is a plaque dedicated to a member of the "Loyal Order of Moose" (L.O.O.M) There is also a Masons' section, and they are still active here today.

Many of the men served in either WWI or WWII.

Many headstones consist of metal pipes, and there are beautiful iron gates everywhere, all in disrepair.

Madaline Gaid, 3 years old

Allen Gonzales, one year old

There are more recent gravesites, but no more plots are available

Another modern site

Of the the very modern headstones. A wife will join her husband here.

I'm not sure what language this is. Croatian maybe? Does ovdje pociva mean "here lies"?

Mamie McNelis, born in Ireland in 1880

A parents' beautiful sentiment to their 20-year-old son.

The dying cypress trees. Pretty depressing.

38 responses to “The Artwork of Grief

  1. What an amazing collection of photos … and thoughts … and memories for those left behind. Beautiful!!!!!

    • Thanks Barb. I also took a picture of a grave of an “unknown soldier” and it made me cry. I didn’t publish it because I thought I had too many already. I keep thinking about him—who was he? How could they not know?

      • This was a tearful journey into your heart, Debra. The stones of the graves hide in them many crushed hopes, broken dreams, tired bodies, and silent sighs. You brought them closer – a moment to reflect upon our existence, our purpose, our own path. I wish them peace – something so rare in our breakneck pace of hurried lives. Thank you for sharing the precious memories of unknown people…of different seasons and times.

        • Thank you Red, I wish them peace too. When people renovate the old miners’ shacks in the town, sometimes they uncover artifacts of hard lives, and sometimes a bit of old-time glamor. A piece of 100-year-old wallpaper with pink flowers, for example, as if the lady of the house was saying ‘I want more than this stupid ugly shack!’ Though I like my comforts, such as heat and hot water, I often think I would be comfortable living in those times—because living now is so hard.

          • Yes. Somehow all comforts of the modern world have made us more poor — no longer do we have time to appreciate the beauty of the world around us, no longer do we have time for our loved ones, no longer do we value what is really important in life — it has all turned into a rush hour, a trophy to be won, a milestone to be achieved. Like you Debra, I too find a deep connect with all things old (people, things, places: some preserved, some gone). For those still here, I thank the faceless people who made it for possible for me to touch that old-world charm, to smell the bygone prime; and for those gone, I feel a hollow pain. You feel this way if you’re an old soul — entrapped in a new world that doesn’t recognize you, and which you cannot comprehend. I have never seen a cemetery — but I know some can find true peace there.

            • I think more and more people are ‘morally’ poor. I like your line about being an old soul, I’ve felt that all my life. I hate how cheap and sleazy and bloody and corrupt the world is now, or maybe it always has been but we didn’t get it shoved down our throats 24/7 by the media, social or otherwise. It’s too much and we don’t know what’s true or false. Entrapped in a new world, yes. Wouldn’t it be lovely to live in a simpler world with fewer people?

              • A world that isn’t phony, or complex, or cheap, or morally corrupt, or suffocating — well, that won’t be allowed to exist. It will be stomped and crushed — nipped in the bud.

                So what could be the alternative for an old soul — I searched for long and was always greeted with disappointment. And then I realized that such a place cannot be found — it is within you: that sacred womb in our inner mind. At least that can’t be gnawed at by the ‘modern’ blight. There we can be what we are, minus the flimsy social fabric, the societal obligations — marriage and kids (I can see you nodding!), the pretense of the ladder-climbers.

                May be people like us create our own little worlds wherever we go — just the way you created one — you and your pack, and all the goodness inside of you. That’s why we never feel at ‘home’ with the outer world. For what we ‘value/aspire’ and what we ‘find’ are worlds apart…

                May be we don’t need a world, Debra.

                • We have to create our own worlds to save ourselves! But yet I still feel obligated to follow all these horrible news stories because it’s important to be aware. So these two worlds are constantly clashing, bringing more frustration and depression. Red, I sent you an email to the address you wrote in your first comment, the other address at yahoo bounced back to me. If you didn’t get it, please let me know the email address you normally use because I’d like to talk with you!


    It is croatian It means “here rests” The link above is to Google translate which is excellent for these types of things. 🙂

    • The first thing you have to do when using a translating site is determine what language you want. I researched the word “Godine” which looks like the birthplace, which led me to Croatia, but there have been so many wars and border changes over the past that even that wasn’t definite. Then I went to the translating sites, but could not find the word “pociva.” Thank you for finding it.

  3. Your comments and pictures pretty well sum up what is going on in our large cities….

  4. The more I read of your blog the more and more I feel you and I are on the same page with many of the issues of our times and our country. I am not very good with words but I am glad you are able to put my feelings down in just the perfect arrangement of words that makes it sound just like I feel. Awesome photos, too. They say as much as your words. Thank you.

  5. What a shame to see a part of the towns history in that condition. Surely there’s an owner to the cemetery that could be held responsible for the security. Who’s behind the volunteers, or did they just appoint themselves.
    I would think the ranks of the city/county offices would be more interested in maintaining their town and at least make an attempt to restore. However, if the owner of the property and/or the city doesn’t want the responsibility then I believe that will seal the towns fate – Next step , U.S. needs to draw a new border line and put the town all in Mexico. I wonder if that would get someones attention………….

    Great photos that depict a bit of history. It’s a shame that it might one day become nothing more an eyesore with unreadable headstones that no one cares about.
    I can hardly believe that there aren’t more relatives of those buried there that might be able to make a difference in how the cemetery is maintained.

    • Hi Cowboy, the city owns the cemetery and they don’t take care of it. The recent vandalism has prompted them to lock it at night, but what good that will do I don’t know. The volunteers are a group of older people. Sometimes they get help from the city, they had some cons (prisoners) help them lift a big monument that had been toppled, stuff like that, but it needs a complete overhaul and there is no money for that—they fix roads instead, which I hardly care about. (I like the potholes, it slows down the lunatics.)

      I like my comforts as much as the next person, but I often wish I lived here a hundred years ago when the place was rockin’, nobody whined, and before all this modern crap that ultimately will destroy us.

  6. It is so very sad to see a cemetery fall into such disrepair. Hopefully there are genealogists who have taken pictures and captured the information before it’s all gone. I love wandering through old cemeteries and wondering about the people who are buried there. Especially ones in the old west. Thank you or the beautiful pictures.

    • Hi Sandie, The Bisbee Mining Museum keeps good track of the history of the town and the people who lived here. You can really lose yourself wandering old cemeteries, they’re so magical. Kind of puts things in perspective, too, to know that a hundred years from now no one will know who we are. Thanks for writing.

  7. Hi D., I hope you are well.

    I really enjoy your ‘travelogues’ and pictures…you are a really good writer…please do more when you can. 🙂

  8. The monuments photographed here are so much different than what I am used to seeing in cemeteries! You write beautifully about this cemetery. Even before the photos I could picture it clearly. So many people from so many places all converging on one place to eek out a living. This is exactly how the foundation for our country was built. And you are correct, the foundation seems to be crumbling! Very interesting, Debra, I enjoy your writing so much!

    • Hi Bill, they are so different. No iron crosses were ever allowed in Connecticut, though the headstones were exquisite in their own way. This was a lawless place with no zoning regulations, etc. These were tough, hardscrabble people just like in New England, they just had a very different life. And all of these settlers were just glad to have work. Wish I knew what happened to them all, I would love to meet some people who share the same Russian ancestry as me. Thanks for writing.

  9. “an artists’ colony and LGBT haven” Am wondering what LGBT means. It has been on my mind to drop into that cemetery. We generally pay a visit to cemeteries in areas we travel. So much history on the markers and it’s a fine way to absorb the feelings for the way things were. The cemetery’s vandalism does not suprise me. Again, the increasing decline of our society’s youth is more apparent with each passing generation. It’s a simple reality which unfortunately, many choose to ignore. Too many people with heads buried in the sand living in their own little make believe worlds of self gratifying and unrealistic positive thoughts. Unfortunately, the vandalism in that cemetery will continue. The old guard of volunteers from a different era and sense of values will soon be gone. Who in today’s youth will voluntarily step up to the plate to pick up where the aging volunteers have left off. Who amongst them will take the time and interest to understand the importance of their past and those who have gone before them. It is a sad state of affairs the way things are going but for those who don’t want to think or deal with it…….just shove your head back into the sand!!

    • Hi Al, LGBT is a common acronym in the US for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. They too were (and still are) persecuted in their home towns and needed to escape. Evergreen is right after Shady Dell on the left, please do check it out before you leave. Despite the vandalism, it’s a fascinating look into history.

      I know there are good kids out there because I hear about them, and I know parents of successful, motivated, curious kids. But mostly what I see is a shocking lack of knowledge about the world and their eyes cast down focused on their phones or computers. I too fret about what will happen to the cemetery once there are no more volunteers to look after it. The city would need to get involved because trees need to be replanted, but the city is making cuts all over (they just cut the library hours, as they’re doing all over the US).

      Sometimes I think I want to live forever, but other times I’m glad I won’t be here to see the decay of our world that surely will get worse and worse until people who lived here pre-technology and political correctness will not be able to tolerate it.

  10. Despite the troubles embodied in those child’s graves and homemade grave markers, I often wonder if people were happier back then. Modern medicine has saved us from watching our children die (my oldest would have been one of them, and those child’s graves have me on the verge of tears), but other modern inventions are fracturing society and our humanity. One hundred years ago, I think people relied on one another more, and therefore respected and loved one another. Today, my next door neighbor would run me over in the street to get home five seconds faster.

    Before electricity, people went to bed early and got better sleep. Now we not only have light to keep us up, we have TV, computers, and video games. Time off from work was spent reading, knitting, visiting with family, friends, and neighbors. Now we watch movies and Youtube. With one, maybe two others, or alone.

    I dream of a life with the best of both worlds.

    • Kay, more and more I feel out of place in this era. I know most of humanity have led hard lives since the beginning of time, but is it really better now? Are we that much better off than the stone-age cultures that still exist? (Not the ones who bomb each other though—they have the deadly combination of misogyny, hatred AND technology). If it’s so much better now, why is everyone so miserable? 7 billion people squeezed onto this planet all fighting with each other—it’s like our capacity for destruction doubles every decade, along with electronic technology—but the part of our brains that consider the consequences fails to grow.

  11. Very moving pictures–especially with the desert in the background.

  12. Why does it bother me?

    I’ve never understood the thought process behind vandalising a graveyard. It beggars belief. We have some ancient places across the UK. It always saddens me when I see the headstones that have weathered with age so that you can no longer see who lies there. I guess it just means that the people who cared have also passed on.
    Its a massive shame that the local authorities don’t maintain these places.

    • Hi Ms. Gary, I don’t really understand politics or why there’s no money, maybe because we don’t make anything anymore. But a cemetery would be the last place a city would approve funds for. I would love to visit the ancient tombs of the UK. Families do die out…even Shakespeare’s family died out with his grandchildren who died without marrying. There would be no one to care for my grave, if I chose to have one, which I don’t. Aside from respect for the dead though, cemeteries are beautiful, peaceful places and I’ve never seen one in such disrepair as this one. I was just thinking about the ancient one I lived near back east (nothing like UK of course!), and it was beautifully maintained. Different world here, I guess.

  13. These gravestones touched my heart. There is so much history in cemeteries. I often visit them, and wonder about the lives of those who lay in the graves and their relationships with those who paid tribute to them. It’s a disgrace to see the vandalism that happens. We have some here, but not on the scale that you do.
    This was a thought provoking post, Debra. Thank you!

    • Hi Char, thanks. I think a lot of people enjoy visiting cemeteries. Maine must have some very old cemeteries because it was settled before Arizona, maybe not your area though. I used to go to a friend’s farmhouse in New Hampshire that had its own graveyard where the families who had lived in the house were buried for the past 200 years. Wish I had pictures. Some cemeteries here are awful.

  14. I think it is sad when there is no one left to care for a cemetery. But it is worse when the damage comes, not from old age, but from vandals.

  15. I don’t know how you fell off my list but I stumbled upon an older blog and saw your comment and thought, gee I haven’t been to Debra’s blog for a long time. Glad I did. I love old cemeteries and found this blog very moving. Like you I am moved most by the death of the very young and would love to know the stories behind them. Each death of course contains a life story. If only we could know.

    • Hi JL, I think about the parents and what they must have gone through. Those babies were probably born at home under rough conditions. Must have been hard especially on the mother. Wish I could interview them about their lives. Do you have similar cemeteries down under?

  16. Call me weird or call me wonderfully weird, but enjoy visits to a cemetery regardless where I am, so enjoyed these. They are so incredible revealing and interesting on so many levels. Favorite ones are those situated over looking the sea. Most impressive I think I have seen was in Havana. Haven’t got a picture (dimwit me accidentally erased while in the camera) see google image if you like

    • Hudson, it’s not weird, I think a lot of people love cemeteries for their peace. I would also love to live next door to one—the quietest neighbors you could have. Cool pic of Havana, they must do it New Orleans style.

  17. An artist friend of mine would only live next to funeral homes. An would never deviate from this. Never rented only bought. That said he never had problems when it was time to move on as it seems houses next to funeral homes come for sale often an the prices often reflected most peoples dislike for living in the vicinity of one. I wonder if a cemetery would attract or detract potential buyers. Ben was fascinated with watching the coming and going of people. He was I might add, quite reverent and sympathetic to those who came to mourn the passing of friends and relatives.

    Orleans/Havana -Similar as is in most hot climate areas with the crypt above ground, relying on solar cremation, allowing for continual burials in the same crypt. My understanding with New Orleans is that above ground burials came about due to the high water table. I thought the couple of large cemeteries I seen in Cuba were extremely well kept and maintained. If you want to see some interesting architectural details from varied influences a quick google search of the Colon Cemetery (full Spanish name Cementerio de Cristóbal Colón which is located in the Vedado neighbourhood) I think you will find as pretty neffty shtufffs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s