The Cimetière du Père Lachaise is one of a half dozen urban cemeteries around the world that need no introduction. I must confess to having a fascination with cemeteries in general and this select group in particular because they confirm for me a Truth: that such places of interment are not for the dead, but for those they leave behind. My favorites are Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Green-Wood in Brooklyn, and Père Lachaise in Paris—the others remain on my bucket list. But Père Lachaise plays into the Agincourt story in an obscure way: it’s the burial place of Clothilde Sobieski, first wife of Kurt Eugene Bernhard and mother of Howard’s step-cousin (is there such a thing?) Eugene Casimir Bernhard.
Mme Bernhard, her husband and son were living in Paris when German forces occupied the city on 14 June 1940, poorly documented in Ronald Rosbottom’s book When Paris Went Dark. I don’t know the circumstances surrounding her death but it was war-related and her ashes are interred in one of the columbarium niches there. Howard has never visited the place but he’s recently established contact with the children of her brother Adam and sister Irena — relatives so distant and disconnected that a even a genealogical chart won’t help — and is anxious to meet them as soon as travel can be arranged.
What will it mean to Anson, do you think, when he and Rowan are able to bring flowers and place his hand on the square green marble capstone that records her name and dates? Family is an odd phenomenon for anyone (like myself) who has none, so I envy Howard, whose own family is so large and dispersed.
The Prairie Home cemetery in Moorhead hosts the remains of some of the earliest residents here. Some have been gone so long that finding family could be difficult. Some are pivotal in the city’s history, including Solomon Comstock. Monuments vary from massive and impressive to the quirky bronze steampunk-inspired statue dedicated to James O’Rourke. Some tilt precariously. I’ve often wondered how the loved ones who placed the hollow cast-iron monument would feel if they knew that someone had removed one cover panel, and it now made a convenient stash for a bottle if booze.
Many of us were there when Jim’s monument was dedicated about a year after his interment. And I’ve stopped by now and then to say hello and see whether any “offerings” might have been made.
I recall fifty years ago or more when the Interstate Highway System was acquiring right-of-way for the Eisenhower Expressway—a significant portion of which ran straight through a major cemetery on the west side. I think they spent millions on genealogists trying to find descendants to obtain approval.