All winter long I’ve been anxiously awaiting the perfect day to return to Bellefontaine Cemetery under snow cover. I’d been once before, though things were much greener then, and I didn’t have my new camera, or the photography skills that I’ve gained this year.
Opening in 1849, Bellefontaine (pronounced “bell fountain” by most St. Louisans) was designed by Almerin Hotchkiss (Green-Wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York) and consists of 314 acres of park-like beauty with mausoleums as far as the eye can see. It truly is a small city. Among other big names from the region, you’ll find the resting places of Adolphus Busch (beer giant), William Clark, Sara Teasdale, and the infamous Lemp family.
Since it was 28 degrees and I knew once I made it there I’d be on foot for a few hours, I bundled in layers and prepared as if I was on a journey to climb Mount Everest. The always-kind and wonderful workers in the office mentioned that the roads were drivable, but they didn’t seem too confident in that statement, so I decided to walk. They encouraged me to take a map and keep the office number on hand. I guess that’s what they do when they see out-of-shape fat guys drop by for photos in the winter. I figured I’d stay close to the main entrance and photograph what I could until it got cold or I felt I was going too far into the cemetery. I didn’t know until later that I’d walked a pretty massive circle that covered most of the popular and historical monuments on the driving tour.
As I bravely started out, I couldn’t help but notice that my car was the only guest car in the lot. It appeared I was going to be very alone on this journey. Awesome! It was also very quiet, other than the crows flying around, keeping their distance, and warning others of my presence. It was creepy and cool at the same time.
With every hill I kept finding beautiful excuses to keep going further. I was impressed that I found a few sites by memory, such as the famous “Girl in the Glass Box”. Even as I detoured off the road and trudged through snow as I found interesting shots, I felt confident I knew where I was and what direction I’d need to head once I decided to go back. I never pulled out the map, or my iPhone, for that matter.
I’m not entirely sure I can describe to you how pleasant and enjoyable this was for me. I mean, I obviously enjoy spending time in cemeteries a little more than the average person, but to be alone (truly alone, I never saw another guest) in the middle of such a beautifully massive city of buried souls, in the middle of winter, enjoying the peace and quiet, with the added risk of getting lost or frozen before dark, was truly an amazing experience. I suppose this risk of being found frozen Jack-Nicholson-in-“The Shining” style could be why one of the workers came by in a cemetery truck as I was on the opposite end of the cemetery an hour and a half later… just checking. I waved and smiled and continued on.
I have to be honest, two hours later, as it got a bit darker, there was a moment when I wasn’t sure exactly where I was or if I was going in the right direction. I wasn’t lost for long, but I made the conscious decision to stop photographing so that I could focus on looking for the main entrance. It’s at this point that I nervously picked up the pace and started to feel the burn in my hips and joints. I couldn’t wait to find the car. A few minutes later I found it off in the distance, but I couldn’t believe how far away I was on the complete opposite side of where I’d been. I truly had made a pretty big circle. When I got to my car, the same cemetery worker was standing guard at the gate, probably relieved that he wouldn’t have to go searching for me again in the dark. I’d made it back forty-five minutes before the gates close and had been walking just over two hours.
I sat for a while and relaxed in my car as if I’d truly conquered my own Everest. I had hundreds of photos that I was so very excited about! I couldn’t wait to get home and check them out. I took a deep breath, texted Joe to let him know I was alive, and then I drove the hour-long trip home with a wind-burned face.
Before I leave, I wanted to make you aware of my Flickr page, where all of my newest and favorite photography, including this set, is being stored. Please feel free to drop by, comment, or share any of the photos.
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