taphophilia (noun): a love of funerals, graves and cemeteries
I guess I am only 2/3 taphophile, because I can’t exactly claim to love funerals. I wish I was evolved enough to associate them with joyful life-celebrations, all “When The Saints Come Marching In” and high kicks in the street, but I kind of just started crying typing this, so I guess I’ve got some work to do in the evolution department.
Graveyards, however, are another story. They’re amazing. I used to keep up a tumblr called Taphophile Files, collecting some of my favorite photos, songs, poems, stories and videos that illustrate just how lovely a graveyard can be. At their best, cemeteries are outdoor art galleries, sentimental sculptures nested in nature — a genealogist’s playground, a believer’s sacred ground.
The “Black Angel” pictured here has graced Iowa City’s Oakland Cemetery for over 100 years, acquiring legend status for the superstitious, some of whom dare to kiss her toes on Halloween, expecting I’m-not-sure-what. In 1911, Teresa Feldevert, a Midwesterner by way of Bohemia (a region in what is now the Czech Republic and Slovakia) commissioned Chicago sculptor Mario Korbel (himself a Bohemian-American) to create this 8.5-foot bronze memorial to her husband, whose ashes are inside the angel, and to her son, whose remains are buried beneath it. It was erected in 1912, replacing the tree stump that had served as her son’s grave marker for nearly 20 years. Just imagine those rowdy Hawkeyes with only a tree stump to smooch on All Hallows’ Eve! On their behalf, I’d like to thank you, Teresa & Mario.
On the flipside, taphophiles know that segregation and scandal often persist after death. I’ll be posting about them in due time, but for now, let’s practice our high kicks.