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A Stutter


Under the best circumstances — a condition I have yet to experience — designing a cemetery is something best done alone. “The Shades” has eluded me since the beginning (as has The Square, alas for different reasons), but I think today’s melancholy may help me through to some new insights.

Unguided, I chanced upon an album by Icelandic composer-performer Ólafur Arnalds and the song “A Stutter” from text by an unspecified hand.

Repeating it several times on youtube, the key suited my aging tenor voice, fading from a once robust baritone, and I sang along with vocalist Arnor Dan. He didn’t seem to mind. [Is that an example of the Icelandic tradition placing the surname first?] Nor was I unaware that its sense suited a reminder at the entry to The Shades: We are dead. Save tears for the living.


Moravian Cemetery, Winston-Salem, NC

My experiences with cemeteries are few but pungent. My grandparents are buried at Fairmount, a cemetery with a few picturesque overtones — but they’re all in the up-scale part; our plots are more reminiscent of Hempstead Heath. My dad is interred there, too, with a space adjacent for either of the Mrs Ramseys, but it remains vacant and presumably awaiting me. My other recollection concerns the funeral and burial of Marlys Anderson, our former department secretary Marly. But her service was Moravian, with burial in the graveyard behind the church, and Moravian cemeteries are anything but hierarchical: men to the left; women to the right, and buried in the order of their death — families are disconnected in death and burial has an equity not known to the living. I don’t think that suits Agincourt, do you?

Nineteenth century cemeteries, from the 1840s through the ’90s, gave expression to the Transcendent ideas of Emerson and Thoreau (both remembered, you’ll recall, in the renaming of Agincourt’s previously numbered avenues). This was also the era of landscape architecture’s emergence as a full-blown profession — Frederick Law Olmsted of Central Park renown being the first landscaper to link his expertise with architecture’s own arrival as a profession. Several people practicing under the shifting titles of horticulturist, gardener, or landscape architect not only designed cemeteries, they also published their designs as a source of both inspiration and income.


“N. B. Schubarth’s New Method of Laying Out Rural Cemeteries” / Niles Bierregaard Schubarth (1818-1889)

Serendipity is oft my middle name: “N. B. Schubarth’s New Method of Laying Out Rural Cemeteries” caused me to wonder who Mr Schubarth may have been and that led, as things frequently do, to far fewer than Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon and to an Iowa connection with potential for linking him with The Shades in Agincourt — Schubarth, not Bacon.

Niles Bierregaard Schubarth was born in Ås, Akerhus, Norway — I’ve always wanted to type one of the Norske A’s with the little Fahrenheit thingy on top — and emigrated to the U.S. in 1840, finding work on the Erie Canal and devoting the skills that would lead him to a career as civil engineer, architect, and landscape architect.

The majority (entirety?) of Schubarth’s professional life is linked with Rhode Island, which would be more than enough for me to write him into the Agincourt Story. But, as luck would have it, N. B. Schubarth’s name appears in the 1877 Catalogue of the Officers and Students of the Central Iowa University at Pella, as one of eleven donors to a scholarship fund for ministerial students at the school, affiliated with the Reformed Church; all eleven benefactors were residents of Providence, R.I., which raises more questions about the city’s connection with a college in far off Iowa. Seems odd.

Elm Grove Cemetery, North Kingston, RI / N. B. Schubarth, landscape architect

So, when I look at Schubarth’s plan for Elm Grove Cemetery in Providence, could I also be looking at the genesis of The Shades?



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