Friday, July 14, 2017


Every so often I have a strong desire to stroll through an old cemetery, reading headstones .  I enjoy the melancholy.   Generally,  get-togethers that involve standing around,  getting to know strangers makes me anxious.  But in a cemetery it's different.  There, it's safe to get to know folks through learning just the most basic of facts about them: name, dates of birth and death, and birthplace.  Sometimes there's more information than that; sometimes less.  The dead are non-judgmental and have no problem with me pausing for long minutes, studying the few words that summed up their lives.

Oak Grove Cemetery sits atop a hill above the tiny town of Knight's Ferry and dates from the Gold Rush.  I'd been to this one before, but that had been many years ago.  In late June, when the urge to visit a cemetery hit, I invited my friend, Sally, to join me here.

View from the back of the cemetery


We chatted as wandered the paths, reading inscriptions -- it's definitely a more social activity when a friend is along. The morning was heating up and we were getting hungry for lunch as we got towards the far end of the cemetery.

This headstone faces outward towards the rolling hills and this was the first time I'd gone around to read the inscription:

                      Sacred to the Memory of
             the beloved & devoted Wife of
                       CAPT'n THO's DENNIS

Born in London, England in 1805 & departed this Life at
Knights Ferry in 1866.

She died as she lived, peaceably & calmly in a Strange Land
in the arms of a Stranger.  Angels will caress the tears of
those few True Friends (for she had some) that loved her for
her real worth.
{There's also a longish poem on the bottom, but I can't quite read it from my photograph.  I'll go back and get that}

On the back of this stone is another epitaph for her son:

           GEORGE DENNIS
Born in London, England 1831
Died at Knights Ferry 1860

This headstone's two inscriptions, have profoundly affected me and I cannot get them out of my mind.  I was astounded when I read Mary's, and the questions I asked myself then continue to tumble around my head.  Who was the Stranger who held her when she died?  Who were her few True Friends?  What were other people saying about her?  How did her son die?  Why is she at the back of cemetery facing out?  Where is her husband buried?  In short, what is Mary Dennis' story?  She has captured my heart and imagination.

Since that day, I've been on a sort of quest to learn more about this woman who has, in a strange way, become dear to me.        (more to come)


  1. Like you, I enjoy visiting cemeteries, too. It is always so interesting trying to piece together past lives. I use Find a Grave sometimes to research a cemetery before going there or afterwards to gain more knowledge about a grave that piqued my interest. I like to think that they each know that I am there thinking about them....

  2. Hah - I discovered the Find a Grave app just before going to this cemetery and had it with me on my iPad when I went. Sadly, nothing came up for Mary Dennis or her son. However, if I find out anything about her I hope to add my own entry.