Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Harrison W. Bennett - division 11 Passy Cemetery

It seemed like such a small thing, so trivial and unimportant, and yet that's not how I see what happened to me recently. Nothing like this has ever happened to me before, at least not that I can recall and I wonder if such "connections" don't in fact occur more frequently, that we don't really see the small details that swirl and engulf our lives.

Here's the tale.

I've been spelunking around cemeteries in the United States and Europe for some years now. It started with a casually obsessive need to learn more about the lives of a particular group of civil war veterans in western Michigan and over the years the obsession grew, evolving, and I eventually found myself documenting some of the most exquisite funerary sculpture in Florence, Italy and then Paris, France -- in cemeteries ranging from the quiet and neglected rural burial grounds of the Midwest to the gardens of stone in France and Italy.

So, at a little before noon on February 26, 2012, I found myself in Hope Cemetery in Worcester, Massachusetts, wandering around section 4 looking for one Edwin W. Allen, formerly of Company D, 3rd Michigan Infantry. Now it so happens I know a fair amount about this man, and what's important for this story is that I knew he died on May 27, 1924, at the National Military Home in Togus, Maine, just outside of Augusta. I also had pretty good reason to believe his body was returned to the "family" home in Goffstown, New Hampshire where it was interred in Westlawn Cemetery. I just hadn't been able to confirm this last detail. However, it recently came to my attention that the Sons of the Union Veterans of the Civil War graves registration project had listed him buried in Hope Cemetery in Worcester, an easy drive from Providence.

So here I was braving the cold wind but appreciative of the strong sun as I searched high and low for Edwin. It was while I was searching section 4, in one of the older parts of the cemetery that I came across a headstone that immediately caught my attention, Harrison W. Bennett.

Having spent several months tromping around Paris Cemeteries snapping off thousands of photos I was naturally intrigued by the little note on Harrison's stone, but after shooting a handful of images I moved on to the task at hand. I should say that after about 20 minutes or so in section 4 I reviewed my information on where Edwin was buried and concluded that I had misread the location -- I really wanted section 23 and so off I went.

So I found an Edwin W. Allen indeed, in section 23 but as it turned out it was NOT the man I was seeking.

But it was a lovely day to be in a cemetery and as I pointed the gray ghost toward Rhode Island I felt the trip was certainly worthwhile. And so it was.

Once I got home I put the camera aside and it wasn't until the next day when I uploaded the images to my desktop and starting my reviewing and tagging process (I had taken a number of sculptures in Hope Cemetery that day as well) that something very curious indeed began to dawn on my feeble mind. Re-reading the Bennett headstone now on my monitor I was struck at once -- at last! -- by the singular realization that I knew this name! I quickly opened up my image archive drive and the closer I got to my folders of images from Paris cemeteries the more I realized I knew who this person was, or rather where he was buried in Paris.

Sure enough as I navigated to my collection of images I focused on Passy Cemetery in the 16th arrondissement, and there was Harrison W. Bennett, buried along with Prince and Princess David Tzouloukidze and Charles and Harriette Mattan. I had snapped the photos and moved on.

I'm not sure why I took the photo in the first place -- none of the names were familiar to me nor were any of them obviously famous like Manet or Debussy or Pearl White, also buried in Passy Cemetery. I hadn't come across any of these names in my Paris cemetery guides. There was no intriguing sculpture or unique stone marking the grave. But the collection of individuals buried together seemed somehow inriguing, and, I suppose the beautiful stone architecture and flowers at the grave caught my eye. Maybe I took the photo because I knew I was going to be in Hope Cemetery someday. Who knows?

Whatever brought me to that same man in those two very different places, thousands of miles apart yet inextricably connected somehow and someway, whatever led me to those places allowed me to experience something truly amazing; a connection that is, to me anyway, utterly incomprehensible but utterly fascinating.

Whether Harrison W. Bennett is the same Harrison W. Bennett who was a well-known opera singer in the late 19th century, I don't know, but I like to think so.

And the other names on the tombstone? Well,  curiously enough the princess, that is Emma Dunbar was, as I understand it, Harrison's wife; she remarried after his death. "Harriette" was Emma's daughter.

So many stories untold tightly packed into those stones.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Je taime Pere Lachaise