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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Return to Competition

My husband and I started running in 2008, I think, as part of our weight loss/get fit idea (in which we lost a combined 200 pounds or so). It was his idea, but we both took to it right away, and that led to trying out the racing world.

Mostly we did 5K’s, although we did some 10K’s, the 10-mile Broad Street Run in Philadelphia (twice) and a half-marathon (once). I found I was pretty good at running and I consistently won awards in my age group (50-59, me being at the time at the low end of the numbers).

Then, starting in 2012, things happened, and you have probably read about them if you have followed this blog: a fall, injuries to various body parts including my hand, an antibiotic resistant infection, two hand surgeries, four eye surgeries, hearing loss, a broken foot, complications from antibiotics, and so on. Each time, I would recover enough to start back to training but each time a new problem would arise, stopping me.

Nonetheless, I kept running, though not racing, until this last winter. When my husband had his fall at Christmas, 2016, that pretty much scrambled even getting to the gym; the final blow was a month-long giant bad cold in April, 2017.

Well, the point of all of this story is to say that my motto is never give up. I am one stubborn person. Once I got well in May, I decided to make returning to running a priority. But I needed to be realistic.

I am older now, I have some deficits from my various experiences, and I no longer have the motivation to run 6-8 miles a day, never mind if it would even be good for my bones and joints and… But, I think I’ve got some good races still in me; I just have to pick out my goals.

So, I worked out a week-by-week running plan based on walking/running. Started out with 2 minutes walking and 2 minutes running for about 2.5 miles. I am now up to 1 walking/9 running for 4 miles. I plan to keep that rest interval and get myself to 5 miles; then I will work out where I want to go next with it.

So far so good. I focus on persevering and not so much on speed (though I can’t help it, just a little). I want to stay injury-free and enjoy myself. But – I do like competition. That brings me to the subject of this post.


About seven or so years ago, we participated in a July 4 5K held at Norristown Farm Park (look here  and here for other events, such as orienteering, I’ve recently done in this park and its locality). I’ll tell you right now I won an award and did the course in 25 minutes something. And the course is a hard one – hilly, exposed to the sun, requiring endurance and speed.

This photo is from the Senior Games at Norristown Farm Park, not this race, but you get the idea.

Well, I got to thinking about that race last week, and I said, let’s look it up and see…Now, I had no business trying a 5K, not having run 3.1 miles straight in four years or so. So…

 

We arrived at the race site a little before 8 AM today, July 4. I had some stage fright about the whole thing. My husband is not able to run yet, so he took all the pictures.

I picked up my number, my swag bag, and my race T-shirt (I so love a 5K t-shirt!). Here are some attempts at an official race portrait.

Let’s try an action shot.

Remember that cheerful expression and compare it to the actual race photos later on. All right. The race starts at the entrance of Norristown High School, crosses into the park, makes a big square, and finishes right in front of the school. My first goal was to run the whole way, no walking.

And, I was hoping to do 33-35 minutes and I felt it would take every bit of pacing I had in me to make it work. I lined up at the back of the crowd (the first place finishers do about 16 minutes, for some perspective, so I needed to hang back, oh, yes).

The weather was about 75 degrees at 8:30 AM and very humid. Another reason to pace myself.

OK, we started the race to the sound of a police car siren. I’m the lady with the orange arrow chasing her.

No pictures from inside the race. I needed all my strength to run! We started off bunched up and then I got some space around me. My past experience told me that quite a few people would start off fast and fade, and that is what happened here. I was able to pass people all through the first part of the race, a little at a time. That’s how I used to run these things, I thought, feeling pretty good.

Everything held together until about the 2.5 mile mark. Then I started to feel it. In the past I had had the resources to speed up at the end. Today, I was measuring out the last little bits of energy. I crossed out of the park and across the street into the high school’s entrance. Only a few hundred yards to go, shouted the policeman holding back traffic for me.

Now I reappear on the radar. The orange arrow is back to highlight me.

I make it up that last hill and around the curve. The orange cones are what I am looking for.

It seems to me that inspirational music ought to be playing as I come to the finish, with crowd shots of cheering people, maybe with tears in their eyes. But then, it would not be real; it would be a television movie. I would not be running along and feeling very bad about now.

In real life, I heard my husband cheering for me; that was plenty good enough. I keep going and I get to the orange cones.

I keep going. By the way, I am wearing a brand-new pair of running shoes and they did themselves proud.

I’m going to finish this race, it looks like.

Well, a few years back I would not have believed I could run so slowly. Or be so happy about it! I was right. I needed a lot more training. I was not ready for this race. I had no business doing it. And, I’m really happy that I didn’t listen to any of that nonsense, because look! I did it!

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.

Orienteering Myself

Senior Games, first event: orienteering.

This is the first year for this activity. No one knew what to expect. I drove over to the park, getting lost only twice. Please remember, I have lived in this area for 35+ years and have been to the park as recently as one month ago. This getting lost business is relevant, I think, when you remember I am planning to do an event that relies on me reading a map and interpreting terrain in order to arrive at designated points. Let’s just say that orienteering doesn’t play to my strengths, but I’m going to do it anyway.

I made it to the park and followed the signs to the picnic pavilion where the event was organizing itself.

Senior games sign small 5-16

About thirty of us were assembled. Most had no experience of the sport at all. But – that had been provided for – an explanation and demonstration was given. I was pleased to find myself a relative veteran.

Group explanation 5-16 NFP small

I got my map, went to the start, and I was the second one off onto the course. It was cloudy and cool, with a little bit of rain falling every now and then. The course consisted of eleven controls – I needed to hit each one in order while being aware of the time. The course was pretty straightforward, as the organizers wanted to make sure the first-year event was something people could find interesting while also being successful.

This park has a history. Norristown Farm Park, as it is called, used to be the farm attached to Norristown State Hospital, a mental institution. In the past, patients worked on the farm in various capacities as they were able. The hospital depended on the farm for food and for therapy. This arrangement was common before the era of medication – it was thought that the patients would be helped by being outdoors and occupying their minds. Patients also worked in other areas,  such as the kitchen, sewing, wood shop, etc. The hospital functioned as a somewhat self-sustaining community, in an era when people went into the hospital for extended periods of time rather than the limited stays of today. Changes to this treatment philosophy occurred with the advent of drugs and other therapies, with the different way mental patients came to be viewed, and in how funding for treatment was allocated.

Today the hospital still exists but the farm is a park. Crops are still grown on the grounds and the agricultural buildings are scattered around. There is even the remains of a fish hatchery, but we didn’t go in that area today.

Here is the park office of today. One of the controls was set near this area.

Park office area NFP 5-16 small

Much of the course went through fields waiting to be planted. It was also quite hilly. Most of it could be done on the farm roads.

NFP hill 5-16 small

At the end, I took a course across this field rather than taking the road.

field NFP 5-16 small

Here’s the finish area, back at the picnic pavilion.

finish NFP 5-16 small

I think this course played to my strengths. I am a good runner and with the unambiguous course I could make time. I also realized that while I am pretty good at reading a map, I am not good at translating it to the actual ground, something I’ve known in other contexts, such as trail running, and getting to the park today! For example, when I went through the field, I was not exactly where I thought I was, though I did realize it later and make adjustments. But, I didn’t get all the advantage I could have by taking that route. I plan to focus on this map/ground relationship next time I try an event.

Still, I have good news. I did the course in 38.02 minutes and I won my age group. Yes, there were two of us in it, so it was not by default! And I got my T-shirt.

Tshirt small 5-16

Tomorrow, I’ll be running on the track at Gwynedd-Mercy University. Until then…

Let the Games Begin

This week will be very busy for me. I’m on the verge of accomplishing a goal I’ve had for a while – participating in the Montgomery County Senior Games, taking place May 9-13.

This series of events is for people 50+. All kinds of athletics are included and they take place in various places around our county. Why is this important to me? Well, I was an avid runner and swimmer before my health issues started in September 2012, but over the course of the last three years, though I’ve tried to stay as active as possible, I’ve fallen out of shape.

Now that, knock on wood, nothing seems to be breaking off or down anymore, I have dedicated myself to getting back to fighting form. I realize things will be different from before – I’m older and I have some deficits I can’t make up. But, I’ve been running and I’ve returned to my gym classes and workouts and I’m making progress.

Participating in these games was goal #1 for 2016. I did swimming events about 5 years ago, and last year, I signed up for running, but – I suffered my stress fracture in my foot days before (the games people were really nice and mailed me my T-shirt anyway).

This year I’m doing orienteering (more later on that); running the mile and 800 meters; and doing a timed walk.

I’ll start with orienteering. I am a total newbie to this sport. My son and daughter-in-law introduced my husband and me to it. I went along with the idea because I thought it would make a nice thing for us all to do together. It also reminded me of trail running, something I really like, but that I don’t feel safe in competing in anymore with my eyesight and balance issues.

So having signed up, I needed practice. (Nothing like just diving in, is there?) So, my husband and I have done 2 practice courses in local parks and 2 competitions, working against the clock.

We did a competition at French Creek State Park yesterday. We arrived around ten in the morning and checked in. Beautiful day.

Orienteering 5-8-16 -1- small

The course looped around a small lake in the park. It had rained the day before and the ground was muddy. The terrain was rocky and hilly.

Hopewell Lake 5-9-16 small

We chose to do the Orange course. This is an intermediate level course and it’s what we had done in the other event.

This time, we were a bit over our heads in some parts – we are so new that pretty much everything is a challenge and there were some control points in the middle of the woods that we took quite a bit of time getting to. I am also very shaky on my feet in trackless, rocky stretches and I have to move slowly. Nonetheless, we found every point, were never lost, and we made it to the end. It took two hours, but we got there. And we weren’t the slowest ones, either.

Map French Creek 5-9-16 -1- small

Here’s the map we used. It’s packed full of information.


Map French Creek 5-9-16 -2- small

You can see the circles on the map – those are the points we had to check in at along the way.

So tomorrow, May 10, I’m doing the orienteering course at the Senior Games – taking place at Norristown Farm Park in Norristown, PA. The other event we did was held in this park, so maybe that will help me out. I will be going out alone this time – just me and the map. I’ll let you know how it goes!

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