On a recent weekend afternoon, I went to the Old Chapel Hill Cemetery to take some pictures. I had not been to the website linked above, and therefore did not yet know anything about its history or layout. I only knew there was a cemetery located in the middle of UNC’s campus. I had driven by numerous times, but had never been inside.
I entered the grounds at one end and began walking. It was much larger than I imagined. Here was a large chunk of land in the middle of a large state university that was, and still is, an historic cemetery. Since I did not have a good sense of the place, I wanted to walk around and scope out some shots before just clicking away. I knew I would be changing the photos to black and white, so I was focusing on composition, not color. I had some ideas in my head, but didn’t know what I would find.
I discovered that one cannot walk through a cemetery without being affected, or even overwhelmed. The history of the Chapel Hill campus is told through the gravestones, but there is also family history and personal history. There are stones for University leaders, influential families and their wives and children. It was the markers of children that affected me the most. Many had carvings of lambs on the gravestones. There was even one with the epitaph, only sleeping. And one very short life, only 2 days, was marked with a stone that indicated her passing date was my birthday, in 1922.
I was there to take pictures of things that were old, and wound up thinking of people they honored. They walked these paths and they roamed these buildings. It is hard to dismiss their contribution to the community and their families. As I write this, I also think of Eve Carson, the UNC Student Body President, murdered this past week in an apparent act of random violence. She too is a leader who will be remembered as people walk through this place and think of how the past meets the future.
There is something about the air in a cemetery, and that even on warm sunny days, it carries a chill. On this winter’s day it seemed to get colder the longer I was there. The clouds got a little heavier. The wind picked up just ever so slightly, and I knew it was time to go.