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Meet the Spirits of Our Past

Gravestones chronicle changing Annapolis

A friend of mine was fond of saying that cemeteries were pleasant places to walk. They’re also great places to reflect on local history and, especially this time of year, to feel the spirits of the past.
    The cemeteries of St Anne’s Church and the old City Cemetery near the heart of Annapolis are a pair of open spaces wedged between busy Rowe Boulevard and West Street.
    Historic St. Anne Church, rebuilt three times on Annapolis’ second-highest hill, is surrounded by a courtyard holding the graves of the city’s early colonial leaders. Benjamin Tasker Jr. and Sr., men involved in the government of the colony and the city for 40 years, and wealthy Amos Garrett, the city’s first mayor, are buried here. So are Maryland’s first and last colonial governors. The first, Nicholas Greenbury, died in1697; buried beside him is his wife Anne, who died in 1698. The last, Sir Robert Eden, died in 1784.
    Here, too, is the grave of Jeremiah Tournley Chase, chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals, born May 23, 1748; died 1828. Here is the Rev. Southgate, St. Anne’s pastor for 35 years. Laid here in 1910 was Dennis Claude, mayor of Annapolis. Nicholas Carroll, born in 1750 of a Catholic family, was buried here in 1812; no gravestone engraving describes him. Thomas Bell, president of St. John’s College, joined them in 1923. James W. Burch, architect, followed in 1954.
    Add in the Brices, Ridouts, Ogles, Sands, Duvalls, Claudes, and you have a virtual Who’s Who of the ancient city’s Episcopal elite.
    Sometimes bones of those whose names are now lost are found during road repairs on Church Circle. Volunteers digging to plant a tree discovered the Stephen Bordley family’s unmarked vault.
    St. Anne’s Cemetery was established in 1692 just beyond the City Gate, following the ancient Roman rule of burial outside of city limits. In Rome, mausoleums bearing the names and history of the deceased lined the famous Apian Way, the first military highway, started in 321bc. Much as I imagine they were along the Apian Way, side-by-side crypts line the path through St. Anne’s.
    The road loops around the bottom of the hill of monuments almost to College Creek before returning to Northwest Street at the caretaker’s house. Gravedigger Joe Morgue, deceased in 1836, frightened young boys by his aged, shriveled look, his grim nature and his voice that hissed Some day I will have you! So the story goes.
    On the south side of Northwest Street, your Halloween walk takes you to the old City Cemetery, founded in 1896 and later renamed Cedar Bluff Cemetery. Here are fewer crypts and monuments. Graves are covered by dirt mounds in the Roman tradition brought to England in 43ad, adopted by the Britains and passed on to Americans centuries later. Occasionally a gravestone adorned with a little lamb or angel catches the eye. The terrain is hilly, with views of College Creek making it indeed pleasant to walk among the dead.
    Bisecting the cemetery, a long drive leads to a distant tall statue. The monument is an elk, dedicated by the local chapter of the BPOE. Erected in 1909, it carries the names of deceased members through 2000 and is a “tribute, symbolic of our teachings, dedicated to perpetuate the memory of our brothers.”
    In ancient Rome, membership in funery clubs guaranteed burial among people of shared beliefs. Over the centuries, members of families were also buried near one another, continuing the memories of their relationship through time.
    Walking north on Clay Street to Taylor Avenue and south to West Street, you pass rows of white markers. Designated a National Historic Place in 1996, the cemetery is one of 14 established by President Lincoln in 1862. Each stone marks the grave of Union and some Confederate veterans. A monument honors the memory of the Unknown Veterans, those cremated, buried at sea or lost in other ways. A monument recognizing the French soldiers who gave their lives supporting the American Revolution is located on St John’s campus.
    Judge Nicholas Brewer, a Union sympathizer, gave the land for the veterans cemetery. Next to it, separated by a creek on the judge’s farm, is Brewers Hill Cemetery, where African Americans are laid to rest.
    Two memorials there mark our tragic past. A tribute to Henry Davis marks the last lynching, on Dec. 21, 1906, of an African American in Maryland. Nearby is the grave of John Snowden, executed by hanging on Feb. 27, 1919. His last words — proclaiming his innocence and blessing his supporters — mark his memorial.
    Mary Naylor spoke similar words in 1861, before she was hanged for a crime she proclaimed she did not commit. At the time, Annapolis was a major Civil War training and recruiting center, bustling with northern troops who often protected runaway slaves. But her life was not saved. Mary Naylor is buried in Brewers Hill in an unmarked grave.
    Despite the busy traffic these cemeteries, with St. Mary’s Cemetery across the street, are quiet places signifying healing and hope.