Monday, September 13, 2010

Ghost Train

Sometimes when I'm biking down South Buchanan in the morning, the railroad gates will go down, the lights will flash and the bell will clang, but no train will come. After a minute or two, the gates will go back up. I realize it's probably caused by the morning westbound Amtrak rolling and stopping as it loads at nearby Durham Station, but I like to think of it as the ghost train.

'Tis the season, after all. Students are back on campus, playing quidditch. (Yes, they were, this evening, during my homeward commute.) I miss some things about summer: the lack of student foot traffic on my route, the American Dance Festival's "Busta Move" bus. But summer is not my season: not anywhere, and certainly not here in the South.

The ADF's "Busta Move" bus on Duke's East Campus.

Recently I've been walking - and biking - to Maplewood Cemetery, where I quickly found the elaborate grave of Julian Carr and family. In an early blog entry, "Durham Palimpsest," I mentioned the sign on Chapel Hill Street, due north of my house, noting that Carr's grave was "1/4 mi. S." Well, it's a bit further than that and at least as much west as south, but there it is, of course, in Maplewood Cemetery, which is pretty much one-stop shopping for Durham history geeks, when it comes to graves: Blackwell, Duke, Hill, Morehead, Parrish, Watts, Wright, and all the rest, very nearly. They even have Bart Durham, though they had to dig him up from his family plot west of Chapel Hill to get him.

Carr's family plot:

This creepy maternal tableau lies at the south end of the Carr plot...

...while this even creepier angelic scene is found to the north:

(don't blink)

Carr was the big advocate for this ghoulish bit of civic boosterism, though it wasn't until nine years after the "General"* died that they pulled it off. I sense a certain false modesty in Carr's promotion of Durham as "founder" of the city that came to bear his name: commissioning a portrait of Bart Durham (from a photograph) after the city commissioned a portrait of him, then going on to promote the idea of re-interring the long-departed doctor in Maplewood.

In the end, Durham's Maplewood marker says it all: They managed to get both his birth and death years wrong, as well as his middle name (1824 - 1859, and it was Leonidas, not Snipes, though the latter was his mother's maiden name). They didn't care about him as a person at all; they just wanted his body.

*Julian Carr was a 19-year-old private at the end of the Civil War. "General" was an honorary title accorded him by a Confederate Veterans group he headed.

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