The Rockford Files

Last Ride

Every city needs cemeteries, and not just for the obvious reason.  Like public buildings and monuments, they are a visible—and spiritual—link to the city’s past, a reminder that others have traveled the path that we trod, and still others will follow in our footsteps.  Placed prominently on the edge of residential or commercial areas or alongside churches, they, like the church on a hill so common in Midwestern towns, lift our thoughts from the merely mundane and help us to focus on the most permanent of the permanent things.

The pious—by which I do not necessarily mean religious—practice of visiting cemeteries has all but disappeared.  Just a few blocks west of our house sit two of Rockford’s largest and oldest burial grounds, Greenwood Cemetery—the final resting place of world-famous Egyptologist (and Rockford native) James Henry Breasted—and the Catholic cemetery now known as St. Mary’s/St. James.  On most days, you can wander either without seeing another living person.  While both are well kept, there are relatively few flowers or other ornaments placed on graves, and not simply because of increasingly draconian rules designed to minimize the amount of time needed to mow the cemeteries (and, thus, eliminate the need for full-time caretakers).

Cemetery visitation has dwindled for a variety of reasons.  The descendants of the...

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