Friday, October 15, 2010

Inglewood Park Cemetery and The Ceremonial Pour Out

I had never bought a beer at 8:30 in the morning before today.   Despite my many self-aggrandizing assertions of coolness and less-than-tasteful sense of humor, underneath it all  beats the heart of a little goody-two -shoes.   I am nothing if not concerned with image presentation.  And politeness.  And good public manners.  Sure, I'll say the outrageous thing to get the laugh but that's just between us, right?   Walking into a 7-11 to buy a beer and an bottle opener before business hours, on a weekday no less?  This was way, way out of my field of experience   "Can you buy beer at 8:30 in the morning?" I asked my husband in bed last night.  "Is it even legal?" 

"Where do you think you live?" he laughed.

So, before most people had arrived at work this morning, I pulled up to the neighborhood 7-11 and cheerfully bought the big ol' bottle of Heineken while trying to appear as if I wasn't the type of person who needed a beer before breakfast.  And I bought the .99 cent bottle opener since I forgot that little detail.  I then headed up the 405 to the Inglewood Park Cemetery.  

I've traveled 3,000 miles to visit my the grave of my grandmother Rose, and her sisters Mary and Hannah, and her mother Hannah, but I still hadn't visited the grave of her brother Gerry Towle, who rests right up the street from me in Inglewood.  52 miles from door to headstone and I hadn't yet made the trip.  And if I owe anyone a cemetery visit, it's Gerry Towle.   I've been through so much with this guy.  He's been a challenge from the start, but if not for the time I devoted to unraveling him,  I wouldn't have come across all these terrific Towle, Pratt, Birdsall, and O'Connell cousins.  I just wouldn't have been that naturally motivated.   Every time I'd hit another brickwall with him, I'd just get all the more determined.  The frustration brought the determination, and the determination brought the people, the pictures, and the family stories.  You could say that Gerry Towle has been something of a genealogical personal trainer for me; mercilessly tough but I'm a much better genealogist because of him.

When planning the field trip, it occurred to me that I owed him a little something more than the customary cemetery drop-by.  Maybe I could bring some sort of gift?  What do you sort of gift do you give a dead person?  My great-uncle is  definitely not the cemetery flowers type - this much I know.  My cousin Mike Towle, Gerry's great-grandson has helped me along the journey; I thought it'd be nice if I could give him a little shout-out on the visit, too.   With these things in mind, I decided that I'd perform the time honored, pour-out ceremony for Gerry on his behalf.   I know Mike's favorite brand of beer; Heineken.   It would be a ceremonial gift for the living and dead.  Perfect.

By the time I arrived, my friend Teresa was waiting for me.  She was there to see if she could find the graves of the original owners of her former boarding school house.  She had spoken to the mortuary's secretary and the people she was looking for weren't there.  We did have a couple of other graves to find for mutual a friend.  Inglewood Park Cemetery is huge.  Even with the maps that the clerk printed out, we had our work cut out for us.  First stop, uncle Gerry.  

Keeping true to form, Gerry was tough to find.  Even with the help of one of the landscapers who was kind enough to stop and give us a hand, we weren't finding him.  We fanned out a little and searched the general area where he was supposed to be.   Getting more frustrated by the second, I said under my breath, "Come on Gerry.  Tell me where you are."  This isn't unusual cemetery dialog for me.  Rarely do I find people in cemeteries easily and in desperation, I'll try just about anything.  Petition the dead?  Sure.  Why not?  It doesn't usually pay off but this time it did.  I turned to my right.  A headstone covered in pine needles, three graves down immediately caught my attention.  I walked directly over to it, crouched down, and brushed away the needles.   Voila. Gerry.

We couldn't do the ceremonial pour with the landscaper guy standing there so we went off to find other people.  Among them, Gerry's wife Gertrude.  She wasn't next to Gerry but was close by; about 15 yards and a couple of rows down.  Unfortunately, the sun came out so I couldn't take a photo directly above the headstone without getting shadows.

Teresa and I would go look for a grave and then return to Gerry's section in hopes that the landscapers had left.  They hadn't.  One had started in mowing.  He kept going back and forth while we stood there, waiting.  By this time it was getting late and we both had kids to go pick up from school.  We'd have to make a move.  Now or never.  I opened the trunk and pulled out the bottle of Heineken and crouching behind my car, opened it.  I handed Teresa the camera and wrapped the bottle in my hoodie - her idea.   We waited until the lawnmower man looped past Gerry's grave and headed in the other direction.  We then made a beeline for the headstone.  I pulled out the bottle of Heineken and started pouring.  Teresa took the shot.

On behalf of my California Towles with love from your New England born niece.  Cheers.  And thank you.  

Friday, October 8, 2010

On That Civil War Court Martial Thing

I discovered that my great (x3) grandfather, Elbridge Gerry Towle was court martialed  for desertion of duty during the Civil War when I ordered his complied military record from the National Archives last spring.  At the time, I was busy tracking down the paternity of his son Gerry Towle, so I just filed away that nugget of information and put "Order EG Towle's Court Martial Record from NARA" on my genealogical to-do list.  The truth is, the longer it has sat on my list, the less inclined I've been to order it.

It isn't like I don't enjoy a good black sheep story on the family tree.  I do.  Very much.  I have a number of grandparents with interesting, if not perfectly wholesome stories to tell.  There's my grandfather Ebenezer Church who couldn't accompany his famous brother Benjamin on the raid that resulted in the death of King Philip because he was in jail on fornication charges.  There are the grandmothers accused of witchcraft.  There's the grandfather who just up and left Pennsylvania one day to begin his life anew in Maine without bothering to mention the decision to his Pennsylvania family.  There's the grandfather that avenged his father's death in a saloon in Freeport, Maine...and got away with it scot-free.  All are good yarns but this one...this one is different.

Maybe it's because I know how his story ends, tragically, within less than a year of his court martial.  Maybe it's because I can piece together information I've gathered on his family and easily conclude how his death affected the course of their lives.  My grandmother Rose was 6 years old when she lost her father.   The family lost the 100 acre farm.  There were multiple moves, a remarriage, and 4 children that appear eager to leave their childhoods behind with early marriages and move-aways.  Maybe it's because the government that court martialed him doesn't seem to know what they did with him after his death on board a hospital ship.  They can tell me all about his transgression, yes.  They can tell me that he's dead.  But they can't tell me where they laid him to rest after he gave his life for his country.  There is no medical record.  There is no grave. There is no small piece of granite anywhere memorializing the life of my grandfather.  And this bothers me to no end.

From what I gathered from his service record, his company had been given an 8 week furlough and were to return to Concord, NH to meet up again .  EG Towle did this.  He returned to Concord when his furlough was up and began the journey south with the rest of his company.  He got as far as New York City when he went missing, "on or about July 20th, 1863."   Did something happen in New York?  Did he get word of some dire emergency back home?  Did he simply spend the preceding days traveling, ruminating on deserting?  Or was this an impulsive decision?   Whatever the reason, it must have been a good one because instead of executing him  (the usual punishment), or dishonorably discharging him (the exceedingly kind punishment, in most cases with a Presidential pardon), they simply stripped him of his rank (Sergeant) and sent him back to serve with his company.  He was sent to Hilton Head, South Carolina and eventually onto The Siege at Petersburg; The Battle of the Crater, then to a hospital ship and 10 days later, a grave.  He was 34 years old.

But the fact remains: whatever good reason he had for deserting most likely isn't going to be a happy, pleasant one.  This is why I've avoided ordering the record.  I've watched this family take a beating for months now and while I've throughly enjoyed meeting the present day's been some painful research.

Today, I was tooling around the National Archives website and on a lark, put the name Elbridge Towle in the ARC search field.  Why yes, there is a paper record of a court martial concerning Elbridge G Towle in Concord, NH from the Nov 1863 files.   It's call number is LL-1833.  Would you like to order this?  $25, please.

I ordered it.  Yes, I'm ready to know.