Calvary Cemetery Recordings

I had never considered the amount of information that we can glean from a casual walk around the cemetery.

Our group decided to record our data using a custom webform through the free app, NestForms. It was super handy. I took about 20 minutes to set up the webform to match our paper forms, and I was really happy with the results. It was much easier to fill out a pre-designed form on a phone than worry about wind and rain destroying the papers. It even recorded our GPS coordinates. When we got home, printing out a database was literally 3 clicks. All of the data is saved in the cloud. Go technology!

We also decided to stop in and talk with the cemetery staff when we got to the site. Some interesting tidbits that we got from speaking with them:

  • The Denny Regrade project of the early 20th century involved moving a cemetery. The catholics that were previously barried there, are now at the Calvary Cemetery.
  • There was a flu epedemic in Seattle in the 1920s which accounts for a large portion of the cemeteries inhabitants. Particularly the graves of many young people.
  • There was an entire section of burials that had been left unmarked. These were people who were unable to purchase large family plots due to unmarked graves. The Calvary Cemetery director recently created a monument for these people.
  • Many of Seattle’s famous families have burials in the cemetery, including the Nordstroms.

As others have mentioned, our sample size was so small that it is probably wrong to draw any conclusions from our findings. Alas, I will do it anyway.

Our findings suggest that males may be more highly valued, as their graves were nearly three times as large as the women’s, 5.6 to 2.2 ft tall. This seems to be especially skewed in the family plots where a family patriarch has a large monument while his relatives have smaller graves surrounding it. We saw this several times throughout our survey.

We also found that marble is by far the most common material used, comprising almost 50% of the graves. Our findings suggest that the use of marble has diminished in the last three decades however. Whether this is due to market forces or a culturally driven change is unknown.

Screenshot 2014-04-30 16.22.14

grave by material

4 thoughts on “Calvary Cemetery Recordings

  1. I think the phasing out of marble tombstones may have something to do with marble’s lack of durability. I used to walk around the Swan Point Cemetery in Providence, RI fairly often as an undergrad. This cemetery is a very early example of the 19th century suburban cemetery type, and remarkable for the lavishness of many of the monuments. Anyway, most of the early marble tombstones had eroded to the point where their inscriptions were barely legible. I remember in particular the marble sculpture of a child, the slight erosion of which gave it a very haunting quality. (Really, there are few experiences as Gothic as wandering around an old New England cemetery!) The erosion may have something to do with acid rain, as marble and limestone are uniquely vulnerable to acid degradation. The phasing out may also have something to do with the fact that industrial technology makes it easier and cheaper to carve harder stones like granite. I bet a bit of research could answer this question!

  2. Scott, thanks for bringing NestForms to my attention. That seems like a wonderful work-around and similar to what you’d use in the field today to record data. Would you say that this method cut your recording time significantly? It’s also interesting how similar your results are to those of my previous students, who recorded a similarly aged cemetery in Northfield, MN. A large proportion of the interred were also associated with the 1920 flu outbreak.

    • Sara,
      I absolutely think that NestForms made our time in the field much more productive. There is certainly a little bit of upfront work required to get the forms set up, but the program more than pays back this investment once you are in the field. I’m sure you would agree that you never have enough time in the field, this is just one way to make more! Because the data is in the cloud, multiple people in the field can work simultaneously, and all data is dumped into the same database without post-recording processing which also saves valuable time.

      The similar results of your students in Minnesota are interesting. I suspect that this trend is prevalent throughout the US. It would be intriguing to see how historical reports of the flu’s destruction is corroborated by evidence in cemeteries.

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