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The Perfect Time of Year for a Cemetery Walk

All true stories begin and end in a cemetery.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Woodlawn Cemetery, Elmira

When you think about cemeteries, what comes to mind? The final resting place for loved ones, memorials, sadness, or even ghosts? Ever since I was young, when we would bury a loved one or place a memorial crock on a headstone, I would remark on the beauty and wonder I felt. I would become really curious about the lives of people long since passed. I would wonder how they lived their life, what they cared most about, if they still have family and friends that pay their respects. Somewhat morbidly, I would wonder how they died. Thankfully for me, some of the older headstones provided that information.

When I left for college, I actually sought out a cemetery when I needed a break from studying. If I’m not sounding strange enough, I recently visited a cemetery during a vacation to New Zealand! If you share the sentiment that cemeteries are worth visiting for a stroll–or anything in addition to a burial–you will be happy to know that we have some wonderful options right here in Elmiraland.  You can even make a plan before you head out by searching this website to find a cemetery or to search for famous graves.

New Zealand cemetery … I wasn’t kidding.

A few of my local favorites, below.

Woodlawn Cemetery is by far one of my favorites. The Friends of Woodlawn work hard to preserve the integrity of the cemetery, and it shows. Most recently they worked to install the Heller Cremation Garden which surrounds a new columbarium or alternative to in-ground burial. During Halloween the Friends offer a (typically sold out) Ghost Walk that I would encourage you to check out along with ongoing audio tours and other special events. Within Woodlawn is Woodlawn National Cemetery, which started as the final resting place for prisoners of the Elmira Civil War Prison Camp and is not to be missed. Exercise and history all in one!

Woodlawn Cemetery (Photo courtesy The Cultural Landscape Foundation)

Woodlawn was among the first cemeteries designed to have a park-like feel. Prior to 1831, Americans did not bury their dead in large cemeteries.  Around that time, however, we began creating large cemeteries that felt more like public parks and places to spend time outdoors. Because the US did not have many public parks at that time, families would flock to cemeteries for picnics or to carriage race among the beautiful gardens and sculptures. Woodlawn (est. 1858) certainly has this feel to it. Stroll along its winding roads and you’ll be sure to get some steps in. You’ll also notice some famous names who’ve made Woodlawn their final resting place including Mark Twain, John W. Jones, Ernie Davis, and a host of Elmira’s founding families (Diven, Eldridge, Pagett, Hendy). 

Saints Peter and Paul’s Cemetery on Elmira’s Southside is where my passion for cemeteries first grew. In the 1980’s, my parent’s owned the Convenient Food Mart on the corner of Broadway and Franklin Streets. While they were working, I’d hop on my bike and ride throughout the cemetery, sometimes for hours. (I was a slightly odd child but I’m OK with that).  I would ride and wonder, sometimes do some gravestone rubbing and always check to see if the mausoleum was open.

Saint’s Peter and Paul’s … ’nuff said.

A few years ago, I discovered the Webb Mills Cemetery while reviewing grant applications for work. This cemetery is in the hamlet of Webb Mills at the junction of Pennsylvania Avenue and County Highway 69. Community members have adopted the cemetery and volunteer their time to mow, fix fallen headstones, solve water run-off issues and so much more. It’s a really lovely place situated on a hill.

Webb Mills Cemetery, Town of Southport

There are so many other smaller cemeteries scattered throughout the City that often get overlooked like the ones on Fulton Street, Second Street, and upper Maple Avenue.  Most are lovingly cared for or at least mowed by a few dedicated people.

I encourage you to consider visiting one of these cemeteries or take a trip to be with your loved ones. Make sure you have plenty of time to pay your respects, reflect on life and enjoy the memories. Then, take a moment to gaze around at all of the headstones. Each one represents a life. We all try to avoid cemeteries but death is inevitable. You can give yourself some serious time to focus in on your future direction surrounded by a rather silent audience. All of our lives have meaning and purpose and the truth of the matter is that someday it will end. Cemeteries will surely remind you of that.

Sara Palmer

Elmiraland is a website, blog, and social media presence dedicated to everything Elmira. Taking time to enjoy what’s around us; always looking forward to what’s next!

Batter Up!

Hear that call! The time has come for one and all to Play Ball!

Clara Cook of Pine City

Who doesn’t love the early 90’s movie, “A League of Their Own,” starring Tom Hanks and Geena Davis? If you haven’t watched it, run out to your nearest video store (yes, I am one of those people who still rent DVD’s) … or take the normal route and download or stream it. Without giving too much away, the movie is a depiction of the early days of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) that Philip Wrigley founded after the start of WWII as a way to keep baseball alive while the majority of men were at war.

Watching the movie for the first time as a teen, I imagined being alive during WWII, wondering whether I’d be a Rosie the Riveter type or like Rosie O’Donnell’s foul-mouthed but hilariously funny character. Turns out I am neither of those today but instead am a grantmaker (definitely not foul-mouthed).

Fast-forward to around 2008 when I begin working for the Community Foundation of Elmira-Corning and the Finger Lakes. One of the first grants I remember reading was for the Southport Cinderella Softball League. The applicants intended for the grant help bring back the league after a hiatus of several years. Some committed volunteers from Elmira’s Southside didn’t want to let another year pass without a league for girls who want to learn how to play one of America’s favorite games.

As I read the grant, I couldn’t help but remember the movie, so I did a quick Google search to see if any local women had played in the first female professional baseball league. Success! Clara “Babe” Cook, an Elmira (specifically, Pine City) native, played for the 1943 Rockford (IL) Peaches, one of the league’s premiere teams. This was incredibly fascinating news!

Here’s what I learned: Clara took an early interest in the game and played sandlot ball with her brother and some friends. An employee from the old Remington Rand spotted Clara and urged her parents to let her play ball. After graduating from Southside High School, Clara worked for the Rand and organized a team for the company. It was at that time she was spotted by a AAGPBL scout who invited her to join the league.

One of the original sixty founding members, Clara “Babe” Cook was a lefty pitcher with a 3.40 ERA in 45 innings of work (1944). She played for the Kenosha Comets, Rockford Peaches and the Milwaukee Chicks from 1943 to 1944. While playing for the Milwaukee Chicks (below), Clara and her team mates won the 1944 league championship.

1944 Milwaukee Chicks

After playing for two years, Clara returned to Elmira and to her job at the Remington Rand. Ten years later, she moved to California, where she worked for an aircraft corporation. Elmira called her back home for retirement, where her passion and love for baseball continued. In Southport, she coached and mentored young women interested in baseball. In 1975, Clara was inducted into the Metro-Elmira Sports Hall of Fame (link to Chemung County Sports Hall of Fame). In 1988, she was part of the unveiling of the permanent display, Women in Baseball, at the Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

When I watch the movie now, I have a real sense of pride knowing that one of our own played in the league. One of our own helped to keep baseball relevant and alive for people and families who love the sport during some very dark days. One of our own worked to inspire so many other young girls who played in sandlots on long summer days. I do wonder from time to time about whether Clara was like one of the characters from the movie. (Geena Davis’s character “Dottie” was one of my favorites.) But then I think she was just a girl from Elmira who loved baseball and that is good enough for me.

Sara Palmer

Elmiraland is a website, blog, and social media presence dedicated to everything Elmira. Taking time to enjoy what’s around us; always looking forward to what’s next!