Monday, September 23, 2013

Terlingua Ghost Town Cemetery

     There is always something about a Ghost Town.  

     After leaving Big Bend National Park and heading West on 170, it wasn’t long before we came across Terlingua.  At first it appears to blend in with the desert landscape, buildings made of bleached stone and gravel crumbling down to return to the earth.  

     As you get closer you see signs of habitation, more so than your average Ghost Town.  Terlingua is no doubt a tourist destination.  A small number of people still live in the town and operate modest businesses such as a cafe and a campground.  You aren’t going to get the deep sense of isolation and abandonment that you’d get in a Ghost Town like Cisco, but these people are living inside of and next to the remaining relics of what was once a booming mining town.  It will still fill you with a sense of wonder.

     The relentless desert sun didn’t leave much time for exploration so we drove up a hill to the cemetery for a glance around.

     I love cemeteries.  I don’t find them frightening in the least; I find them peaceful, this one especially so.

     The cemetery in Terlingua impressed me with such a humble tenderness.  These weren’t graves of polished granite, nor were they neatly engraved.  There were no flowers.  Most of them were simple wooden crosses secured into piles of stone, bleached by decades of Texas sun.  

     This is one of the finer grave markers, an iron plaque surrounded by a wooden fence.  The fence was long broken, making crooked shadows on the dusty ground.  

     Most of the headstones consisted of rocks with the names and dates painted on.

     Some of the graves were built into tombs, but most of them were left to the elements and were crumbling.  Even so, modern religious candles in glass jars had been placed around most of them.  So it was clear that someone was still visiting, praying, remembering.  

     By the 1890’s Terlingua was a thriving city of 2,000 people, mostly miners and their families.  The cemetery represents a broad majority of those people.  

     Sitting here in a comfortable leather chair, writing on my iMac computer, I can try to imagine the hardships of what their lives must have been, but I’ll never really know.  Walking through the aisles of their loved ones’ final resting place in the hot sun, taking out my camera to capture my heavy mood, then getting back into an air conditioned car and driving away... I’ll never really know.  

     It might seem ironic, but I believe a visitor, a stranger, can carry their own form of respect into a cemetery:  You lived here once.  I never knew who you were.  But somehow... I’ll always remember you.

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