In Which We Visit Norris City Cemetery

On Sunday, September 10, my husband and I ran/walked at Norristown Farm Park. In our continuing exploration of the park and its environs, after we finished we drove over to the Norris City Cemetery, adjacent to the park.

I’ll mention that it is so adjacent that in an earlier run, I got lost (as I do so often and so easily and with so little ability to stop myself) and did a loop through the cemetery while I got myself back on track.

I’ll also say that once I run a route, I don’t get lost again. I did like the detour through this peaceful spot and I’ll do it again, on purpose.


All right, back to the topic. The cemetery is located on a hill next to an East Norriton township park. The township now owns the cemetery and maintains it (beautifully, I might add). We parked at the back of the cemetery next to the bocce courts and went in the rear entrance.

The cemetery was founded about 160 years ago. It was non-sectarian and seems to have been most used during the period 1880’s to about 1920.  It’s not filled up and I gather you could still be buried here, if you wanted.

(For all information on the history of the site I refer you to the cemetery’s really thorough website, which is where I got my information, Norris City Cemetery . There are also some great then-and-now photos of the cemetery. Thank you to the creators of this site.)

It’s a simple, open site. It flows down a hill, with plenty of room between the rows. We wandered down the hill.

There are not a lot of elaborate monuments here; this was the biggest one we saw.

Most of the monuments are marble or granite. As I’ve seen in other cemeteries, time has not been kind to the marble ones in particular. This stone was representative. To figure out the inscription you might be better with a rubbing rather than trying to decipher it.

But there is plenty to see, all the same. I’ll show you a few things that caught our eyes.

We noticed a bluish monument and took a closer look. I thought it might have been painted. But no; when I tapped it, it rang metal.

We didn’t know what to make of it at the time. We could tell it was hollow. Did that mean it was a container as well as a marker? My husband did some research when we got home and we learned that this monument was an example of a white bronze marker. (All information I mention on this subject is from A Grave Interest, “White Bronze – A Monument of Quality” – take a look, it’s fascinating.)

Long and short of it, the monument is hollow, does not contain anything, and is actually zinc. These markers were manufactured for only a short time around the turn of the last century and were a cheaper alternative to stone markers. Each one was custom made and therefore quite personal. Here is more of the Steiner monument:

Once we knew what to look for, we saw some more. This one:

This one, with a detail of the kind of information you could have included on your monument – the plates you chose were screwed into the structure:

And this one, which is big and elaborate:

All of these markers were in great shape. Apparently the manufacturer claimed these monuments would stand the test of time better than stone. From what I saw here, I would agree.


 

We saw some examples of cemetery symbolism: Lilies, for the resurrection of the soul:

And what looked like a dollar sign with too many vertical lines. (A dollar sign? A dollar sign? I thought.) Later research revealed it to be the IHS monogram (first three letters in Jesus’ name, in Greek.)

I’m glad this was cleared up, but not before I had some thoughts on “you can’t take it with you but maybe I’ll try…” I’m sorry, those thoughts just came into my mind and I couldn’t help it.

I had this thought about the life of Emma Louse Supplee – she lived one-half of her life on one side of 1900 and the other half on the other side. I liked that symmetry. I will need to live until 2042 to achieve the same.

We made our way down the hill. As we did, we noticed something I really liked: the view of the cornfield along one side of the cemetery. It’s part of the Farm Park.

We also saw remnants of stone piled along a section of the perimeter, in the brush. We knew that the cemetery had been derelict before the township took it over about 30 years ago. We figured these were broken/destroyed stones of various purposes and beyond saving. I say this because it is obvious that a lot of care was taken to rehabilitate all that could be, given the present look of the site.

Everything is transient, it says to me.

Here is a view from the bottom of the hill, near the front entrance of the cemetery.

I am glad we stopped and took the time to look around. There is a nice feeling to this location. The township park next door, with all the people and activity of today. The fields with their yearly cycle of growth and death and rebirth. The sky and the trees. The little American flags set on veterans’ graves. The care that today’s living are still taking for those gone long ago and to whom they have no connection other than living in the same city, decades and centuries apart.

Being remembered. It’s nice to think about.

 

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I Continue to Practice Handwriting

You may remember my no-longer-secret ambition to improve my handwriting.

Here are a few recent samples – these from June:

and August:

I’ve got some thoughts on handwriting and what this quest has meant to me. But first, I’ll show you some of my tools.

I have learned a bit about pens and inks, enough to realize there is a whole world of handwriting that has been hidden from me until now. I now peruse pen and ink sites and read books on handwriting, not just how to do it, but also on the history of it. My tiny ambition has opened a whole new subject to me.

In my corner of the handwriting world, I have settled on medium nib fountain pens and rollerball pens as my favorites. Fine nibs and points scratch and drag at the paper for me. I like a nice thick flow of ink. Here is my current set of friends.

Top to bottom: Pilot V-ball 7 rollerball; Pilot Metropolitan fountain pen, medium; 2 different Lamy Safari fountain pens, both medium nib; a new pen I haven’t tried yet as I just received it in the mail today, the Pilot MultiBall rollerball medium; and the Platinum Preppy fountain pen medium.

I also am very fond of one of the cheapest pens around, too – Bic Cristal is my everyday go-to pen.

You may wonder about those pages of handwriting. I have developed a habit of practicing handwriting while watching television at night – I take notes on the show I am “watching” (when I’m not working a crossword puzzle or reading. You can see why I say “watching”.)

Anyway, I started the practice for…practice. But I have found handwriting to be a soothing meditative activity. I take my time and work to form the letters in a nice manner rather than in my hasty scrawl of the past. Writing has become a pleasant activity in of itself, not just something I have to do to get my thoughts on paper. I love seeing lines of nicely formed letters and words emerge and I love using a good pen full of quality ink.

Here is my ink filling station. I keep my inks on a shelf in the cabinet in the dining room.

And here are the ones I am using now. I can recommend all three of these inks. Beautiful colors and thick, intense color. That is what I like.

I am glad that at this later stage of life (I learned cursive handwriting in 1966) I can learn something new, I can improve a habit I was not happy with, and I can still stumble into an unknown world and find excitement in exploring it.

Handwriting is art to me now. I use it in my art, literally; I find inspirations in my handwriting practice for my poetry-writing; I enjoy the look of a nicely-written grocery list. I’m glad I took the step to try this handwriting thing out again.

Orienteering and Doing It Somewhere You Might Not Expect

Last week on June 14 my husband and I participated in an orienteering event. I’m going to tell you all about it. But first, I’ll talk a little about the sport of orienteering.

Basically, orienteering is following a course from point to point using a map and a compass. You progress through the points in order and check in with an electronic device at the marker at each location. It’s a competition, with the fastest person winning, but winning is also relative.

For one thing, at events, there are different courses set up over the same ground with varying difficulty levels. So there’s a “fastest person” in several categories. And then there is the idea of the personal challenge – getting around the course at all (my goal), figuring out how to manage obstacles, completing the course in the most efficient manner…all these things are achievements. Last, the pleasure of being outside, in the woods or meadows, and the fun of climbing or scrambling around or running on trails…that’s maybe the best part of all.

We belong to the Delaware Valley Orienteering Association and we are rank amateurs, having started last year and done maybe ten events. But we really enjoy it and I can’t say enough about how friendly, helpful, and encouraging the group has been to us.

Anyway, I participated in the orienteering event in the recent Senior Games. And I’ll take this moment for an aside: my photo appeared on the cover of the 2017 brochure from my 2016 performance – I am in the upper left corner wearing the pink sweatshirt.

Anyway, while there, I learned about a Wednesday night series the DVOA was doing this summer. The idea was to go to a different location each week, offer two courses at beginner levels, and shoot for an event lasting about 2 hours at most. It sounded like a great way for me to improve my skills. My husband’s participation is dependent on the course; he is still recovering from his fall and rough terrain is not good for him.

A couple of weeks ago, we did the event at the Schuylkill Nature Center – two courses in a traditional wooded trail setting. I did both courses and my husband cheered me on. But then – we realized there was one coming up we both could do. And it was something unusual for the club as well – the location was the grounds of the Norristown State Hospital.

One of the buildings still in use. The grounds are open and green with trees and lawns and plenty of space.

This facility is a mental hospital, founded about 140 years ago, a large campus located about 30 minutes from our house. The Norristown Farm Park, immediately adjacent to it, and where I did orienteering in the Senior Games, is now a county park. It was originally the farm attached to the hospital, where patients worked in fields, a fish hatchery, and with livestock, as was common practice in the past.

The hospital now is almost entirely closed down. There are still some patients who live there; some of it is used for day programs; and there is a heavily guarded forensic section (we did not go near this part of the facility). The remaining residential patients are transitioning out. Most buildings on the campus are closed and some are being torn down.

 

 

All this means for our orienteering experience is that acres of landscaped grounds with an array of buildings are there, waiting for the challenge. And, since it is a “tame” landscape, nicely mowed, my husband could participate.

OK. We arrived at about 6 PM and got ourselves set up. I planned to do course #2 first and he took course #1. We clicked the start and got our maps.

 

 

The control points are numbered and straight lines connect them (not that you should follow those lines, indeed. It’s harder than that). There is also a key to the locations’ exact positions once you arrive in the general area – I use the one written out rather than the one done in symbols.

 

You are looking for these markers. When you find the one you want, you insert your clicker into it to register your arrival.

 

 

I won’t go into the details of my two sessions – just a an overview of things. And while I talk, I’ll show you pictures of the grounds as I go along. (I took them after the event, not while I was running.)

Keep in mind that unless I say differently, every one of these buildings is closed and mothballed, no longer in use.

First of all, you need to understand that I am a good runner, pretty fast and with endurance. Number two, I am terrible at relating the map to the actual landscape. Just terrible. My technique is sort of like water circling the drain – I get close, I go around and around, I run back and forth, and I finally come in to the control point with a big flourish and an internal sigh of relief.

 

I ran over these stairs several times on my way to control points. They traverse a semi-sunken passageway between buildings in the older section.

I also have a tendency to miss the plain and simple things the map is shouting at me and so I often end up very perplexed; when I review the situation suddenly it is clear, and I would have sworn the map had changed, in my hand. This tendency leads me to explore a lot of places I didn’t have to on my way to the control points.

 

I did have a nice talk with two workers on a break who wondered what we were doing. I stopped for a couple of minutes to show them the map and they helped me by pointing out the control point I was looking for behind a hedge. Remember, they knew nothing of orienteering before I came along, but they could read a map…

 

This building is in a newer section – it has an interesting circular auditorium inside the rectangle form of the building, or so it looked, through the windows.

 

But I digress. My husband, on the other hand, though a slower runner than me even at his best, can go directly from point to point. Hits the target every time. It all just flows for him. He was held back by his walking speed on this occasion.

 

Anyway, I finished the course I was on and he was already in. I decided to go out again and do the course he had done, while he rested. I beat his time (I’m running, remember) by about 15 seconds. Well, if you run in circles, this is what is going to happen.

 

I’ve got a better idea now of what I need to do to improve. First of all, I know I can’t go from point to point. I do better when I pick out intermediate points in between and work my way along. Second, before I start running off, I need to slow my thinking down enough to focus HARD on the map so as to try to anticipate the places I will get confused and what will signal me that I have gone badly wrong. Third, standing and thinking is ok. I don’t have to let the clock ticking in the back of my head urge me on before I am ready.

 

I got very mixed up in this area. I thought the control point should be in front of me, in the grass to the left. It was behind me, hidden by a hedge (which was of course on the map…)

 

Nonetheless, I really love the focus and the exhilaration of orienteering. I love running along with a goal in mind and meeting the challenges of each segment of the event.

I also found that the experience of playing a game in this particular location led to quite a bit of reflection. Not that long ago these buildings would have been full of people – a whole society existed here. As I ran along I imagined what memories these buildings, all silent now, hold in their bricks and concrete. I wondered if it were disrespectful to the patients and their suffering that I was running heedless through their walks and courtyards or jumping over stair railings.

 

 

I noticed, though, that the outside world is seeping in. There is free access to the site now, with an open gate. Near our start point a large crowd of brightly-dressed children were playing in a soccer game while their parents cheered, sat on lawn chairs, and ate dinner from coolers. There is a community garden with greenhouses, worked by members of the surrounding neighborhood (they have signs advertising their plant sale at the gate). I noticed quite a few people obviously out for an evening stroll or walking a dog – people from nearby making use of the lovely grounds.

As my husband said, it is a good thing that we can add happy memories to the history of this location. I think he is right. I am very grateful for being able to have the simple pleasure of doing an outdoor activity with other people, all of us enjoying ourselves.

twenty years

As they say, a lot can happen in twenty years.

Walking in Circles

Today is the last day of the Montgomery County (Pennsylvania) Senior Games, and that means it is time to walk.

This year, my plan was to accompany my husband on the course and go at his speed. We are celebrating his continuing recovery from his accident and knee surgery.

We arrived at Montgomery County Community College nice and early, about 8:15 AM. The day was cool but sunny, with clouds coming in for the rain tomorrow, but no precipitation today at all.

Montco, as it is nicknamed, is maybe 20 minutes from home and set on a spacious campus. I remember when the school was way out in the middle of nowhere, but 35+ years since I first saw it, it is now surrounded by houses and apartments. The event was taking place at the health sciences building, AKA the gym/fitness center. It’s recently been updated and it is beautiful.

We went inside for a few minutes, where the vendors for the expo were setting up.

Then we went back outside and got our names in for the event. The way things work, a group of contestants assembles at the start.

You take off down the walk, go out a bit (past the guy in the blue jacket to that lady in the green shirt, you’ll see her, just keep going), turn at the orange cone, come back, pass the start, go some more, follow that loop in the back of the building, and come back. Do that three times and the race is done. You went 1.5 miles. Oh, and to get your time, listen as you pass the finish line – the timer will call out the time. Remember that number and tell the scorer.

It’s all pretty casual, but it works. Here is my husband (left) waiting to start as a volunteer explains the deal to a latecomer.

Well, we got started on our way. I took this picture pretty near the beginning.

I am so happy and proud of my husband. All the hard work he has been putting in in therapy and in exercising on his own really shows. He was able to walk at a 17 or 18-minute mile pace, which I think is great. It is hard for me to believe that less than five months ago he was getting around with crutches and a brace, if he was able to move at all. Determination pays off.

Well, we finished. And then…you knew this story did not end here, didn’t you?

I had no intention of doing this, but I got to Montco and my competitive instincts kicked in. I can’t pass up a race. So before we went out on our joint tour of the course, I asked the officials if I could go around with my husband and then do one on my own. Sure, they said.

All right. My husband took these pictures. Here’s a quick commentary.

I went out with Group #2. Right from the start I identified my competition. And I don’t mean, for medals – there is no telling if these ladies are even in my age group. I just mean, right here, on this course. Let’s go. Here at the start it’s Pink Shirt, Blue Shorts, and me, in the black, behind them.

We zipped around the course. In Lap 2 Pink Shirt and I lost Blue Shorts. Here we are in Lap 3.

Well, I felt I could take this race and I planned my strategy. Soon as we came out of the loop, I put on some speed.

The drama builds. I’m ahead, but can I hold on? So much is at stake! The crowd is on its feet (there are only a few benches and they are filled up) and paying rapt attention (to the football throw going on in the next field, to the registration table, to the free shopping bags they picked up at the expo…you get the atmosphere). All right, my husband was paying rapt attention, and really, that’s all I needed.

At the finish, I prevailed. I have to tell you, I felt happy about it out of all proportion to the importance of the event.

Now, last year I practiced for this race. I had done none of that this year. Well, so what? It’s just walking. Now think about that and what a different context “just walking” is for me and for my husband. I have a lot of gratitude for what each of us can do in our individual ways.

Well, that’s the end of this year’s games. I have a lot of enthusiasm for next year, already!

(Take a look here for my other event in 2017, orienteering.)

 

couldn’t reach it.

couldn't reach it.

couldn’t reach it

The oracle, speaking. The artist trading card, just the messenger…???

Getting the Hurt Leg Fixed, Chapter Seven

My husband’s leg continues to improve. On Sunday, February 19, we went to a local park, Cisco Park, in Erdenheim, PA, to get in a little bit of a walk.

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Cisco Park is a modest little place that punches above its weight, as far as all the things to do there. It has a half-mile figure eight paved trail; tot lot; ball fields; picnic tables; a little dam; a creek; and a pond.

A pond that was full of geese on this sunny day. The scene reminded me of a marina full of boats at rest. Never mind what that sign says.

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This plot of land has an interesting history. I read up on it courtesy of the marker near the parking lot. Apparently it was a small amusement park about 100 years ago, another one of those built in the Philadelphia suburbs, accessible by streetcar, to attract business for the streetcar company. The roads, Hillcrest, Montgomery, Paper Mill, and Bethlehem Pike, are in the same positions today, but the tracks are long gone.

You can clearly see that this pond has been around for a while, because there it is on the map! As a personal note, my husband grew up near here and it was a popular ice skating destination back then (before the sign…)

The marker said that the building marked “Casino” was not a gambling establishment but rather a place for music shows and dancing.

Well, my husband walked a half mile, and I did about three (warming up for a marathon session of yard work later that day, something the nice weather made it a pleasure to do). The park was very busy – kids in the playground, dog walkers, people watching the geese, and walkers like us, getting out on a really nice day.
Hurt Leg Chapters from the past:

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Carwash Sign

This carwash is located next to the Pennypack Trail’s parking lot at Welsh and Terwood Roads. It’s closed today since they work on the weekends. The business does hand washing and detailing for cars. On a normal day you would see cars in various stages of being cleaned and lots of employees at work.

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Usually the sign out by the road says something like “A clean car is a happy car”. Right now, though, this is what it says.

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I could go on, but I don’t need to. The sign tells us the narrative the people at this business want us to know and to follow.

I Am a Genius

Yes, I am. And here’s why.

My husband needed some official sleepwear, to stop him from wearing his “regular” T-shirts. He’s not a pajama top guy although he likes the flannel pants and shorts I bought him some time back.

I am of the belief that there are purposes, or life events, or activities, and that there are clothes for each one of them. That thought fits my need for order in the world. After all, you wear a swim suit to swim, and so on. This line of thought reminds me of a skating skirt outfit my mother made me, in about 1968, to wear to a roller skating party. The skirt was blue on the outside with red gingham checked fabric on the underside, with matching shorts and top. When you twirled around the skirt would flare out and show the fancier fabric. I felt just right, though my skating skills really didn’t permit me to do any twirling. More like falling. But I was dressed for the occasion, that’s what made it all work.

So a person needs sleep T-shirts. I decided to upgrade my husband’s wardrobe and correct this deficiency, unaware of it as he was. I bought 5 black T-shirts.

Then, to stop him from wearing them as regular T-shirts, I stenciled them. Now things are as they should be, and the sleeping world is back in balance. Even better, my husband likes the shirts!

Off the Beaten Path

When we were in Reading, PA, a few weeks ago to visit the Goggleworks Center for the Arts, I noticed a small green building set in a tiny cemetery, right up beside the highway, as we were speeding along toward home. We’d never noticed it before, and we said – we have to try to take a look at that next time we’re here.

So, that next time was yesterday – we were visiting Goggleworks again, for their annual art festival. On the way home, we zipped off the highway exit and found the spot very easily – just a few yards down the road. We parked the car along the street and walked over – along a portion of the Schuylkill Trail that happens to pass by it.

 

Sure enough, there sat the brick building inside a stone wall along with an assortment of gravestones. Before we worked our way down the white-painted timbers that served as steps down the slight slope, we looked at the marker. Hmmm. Already we could tell this place had a story.

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The gist of it was this: the Fix-Gerber-Bittner families established this cemetery in the early 1800’s. It was much larger than the present plot when it started out. But as time passed, it almost seemed as if this little bit of ground had a bull’s eye on it. Industrial developments all took pieces away from it. Graves were moved, somewhat carelessly, too, it seems. This small place is all that’s left. It’s essentially ownerless, now that the families are defunct.

So we went in for a closer look, down the steep steps.

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We examined the building first. It had nothing to do with the cemetery – according to what I read later, it was built in the 1870’s or so by a friend of one of the families, to store dynamite (because it was outside city limits, where there was apparently a restriction on such a thing).

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I examined the walls of the building – the layers of peeling paint speak to a long time it has been sitting out in all weathers.

It seems incongruous, at the least,  for such a destructive agent as dynamite to take up residence in a place full of the hopes for eternal rest. I reflected on this idea a bit as we walked around the cemetery.

Another factor mitigating against eternal rest is the highway’s neighborly presence. Neighborly in the sense of – a loud intruding kind of neighbor.

We walked around. The cemetery has friends – it is being cared for by the Oddfellows in Shillington, PA.

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The grass is mowed and everything is neat. But the ravages of time are apparent. There are pieces of headstones separated from their graves, and my later reading told me that it’s suspected there are unmarked graves as a result of the carelessness of those who moved graves to accommodate the various canal and highway projects. Weather has also done damage – I have noticed that marble headstones do not stand up to the years as well as granite. Inscriptions fade and melt away.

This monument commemorates several people who served in the War of 1812 and the Civil War. I know this because I checked the dates on the flags – these flag markers specify the conflict served in by each veteran as they are being honored.

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This marker is the footstone to the grave of a very young person.

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We left the cemetery and climbed the small hill, back up to the road. This little place gave me a lot to think about. For one thing, how unimaginable this world of today would have been to the founders of this cemetery, and what sadness they might have felt at seeing their family resting spot, thought to be forever, so vulnerable.

But I hope that they might have also seen that there are still people who care. This cemetery has friends – the Oddfellows, and the Berks County Association for Graveyard Preservation.  The grounds are neat and veterans are honored. There is talk of highway construction that could affect the cemetery, but people are sticking up for it, according to a recent article in the Reading Eagle. That made me feel good. So much has changed in 200 years for this cemetery, but people still think it’s important not to forget those who were here before us.

 

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