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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Graveyards and History

The other morning I went for a walk among the dead. Within walking distance from our house is a complex of cemeteries that date back to the 1850's. The cemetaries are on the National Register of Historic Places and cover over 100 acres on the city’s near Eastside. In the early 1850's San Antonio was running out of burial space and needed to find land to bury folks. In 1852 the city designated a plot of land known as Powder House Hill as a city cemetery. This land was a part of San Antonio’s original town tract granted to the municipality in the 18th century by the King of Spain and was named for the ruins of buildings apparently used as weapon and gunpowder storage by the Spanish. The land overlooks the city on some relatively high ground, which provides some great views of downtown San Antonio and I suppose makes one closer to the heavens if you're buried up here. Over time, plots of land were sold to families, fraternal groups, ethnic groups and religious organizations for burials.

Cemeteries fascinate me, not in a morbid way but because of the rich history that is in them. It's amazing what you can learn from these old graveyards. For instance, there is a National Cemetery for veterans of frontier campaigns, Indian war battles and WWI. It includes the remains of 300 Buffalo Soldiers. The Buffalo Soldiers were African-American soldiers that served during the Indian war campaigns of the 1870's and 1880's. There is a memorial dedicated to these soldiers else where in the cemetery complex.

There's even a Confederate soldiers cemetery, which I found a little ironic given that it's not far from the National Cemetery. What was even more surprising was the Confederate flag flying over the burial plots.

How about some Texas history. Clara Driscoll is buried here among the ancient oaks trees that dot the landscape. She's known as the Savior of the Alamo for putting up several thousand dollars of her own money to rescue the Alamo convent from being sold back in the early 1900's. She rests in a family mausoleum in the old San Antonio Masonic Cemetery.

I found Dignowity Cemetery. It took me a while but I was able to locate Dr. Michael Dignowity's final resting place. Actually, just about all his relatives are buried in this small cemetery, which isn't very far from the good doctor's old homestead on Dignowity Hill and it comes with wonderful views of downtown.

If you take the time to explore around the cemeteries you'll find some interesting grave markers. The one's I like are the markers telling us that the person buried was a member of the Woodsmen of America. They're the ones that look like tree stumps.....yes, tree stumps. Other markers are, well, just interesting.

It's nice being able to walk or bike from our house in Dignowity Hill to these historic burial grounds. What's really great is that they are very close to the eastern edge of downtown. From Sunset Station or the Vidorra you can walk or bike or take a short bus ride up Commerce Street to these old cemeteries and take a walk through history.

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