Sunday, November 3, 2013

How I ended up standing in a graveyard in a poofy dress . . . repeatedly

I took a California pioneer history tour at the Sacramento Old City Cemetery in early 2005. The tour was a fun way to learn about the past. Graveyards creep a lot of people out, but this place is so full of life that even the squeamish can find something to enjoy. The gardens are stunning, with the same cheery little birds and squirrels you'd see in other parks happily frolicking.
Victorian-era cemeteries were designed with the living in mind. Open spaces, lush vegetation, an abundance of colorful blossoms, and lots of comfortable places to stop awhile. Benches & seats that invite you to linger. Friendly volunteers gardening, walking, giving impromptu tours, all of these things contribute to the atmosphere. I've always enjoyed cemeteries for their history and tranquility, but this is the first cemetery where I truly felt the space was celebrating life, not just reflecting on the past.
I met with the cemetery's volunteer coordinator to figure out how I could help. I thought maybe I would learn how to repair some of the brick walls or something along those lines. Turns out they didn't see me as a mason. They wanted me to wear poofy dresses and tell stories at the cemetery's fundraising events. They also wanted me to help lead Travel Teen tours. That meant teaching California history to third and fourth graders, which was a perfect compliment to the volunteer work I was doing in a Woodland elementary school. 

In time, I met with the sweet ladies who made up the cemetery planning committee. They were organized, sassy & an absolute blast to work with. The first project we worked on was a Victorian garden party, inspired by the 1885 Floral Festival. That May 6th, Sacramento businesses shut down and everyone celebrated Margaret Crocker and her generous deeds for the city. Our party on June 17th, 2006 was more of a high tea, but our spirit of gratitude stemmed from the original flower fête. 

I look nothing like Aimée, but I loved dressing up and being called Mrs. Ashe (she was still married to husband #1 in 1885, R. Porter Ashe). Fran, the lady who played Margaret, helped pick my dress. I ordered my dress + petticoat from Blanche's Place, which was also a wonderful experience. Dianne was friendly & helpful, and she was excited I was going to wear her dress at a cemetery benefit.

Sharon Patrician + the Crockers
The Victorian Era. The height of prim ladies & proper etiquette. The days when it was considered vulgar to refer to say "legs" when discussing a table's limbs. Flirting was done with a fan. Suffrage was a sweet and defiant dream. 
(Hilarious run down of Victorian manners and the meaning of different flowers . . . 
orange lily? Bwahahahahaha!)

Lady Bountiful, as Margaret was called by the press, was one of Sacramento's most charitable souls. Rather than make a laundry list of her generosity, I'll mention two benefactions that touch my heart deeply.
 Aimée + Margaret
(me and dear Fran)
The first is the donation of a greenhouse across the street from the cemetery, the Bell Conservatory, with a chunk of land to expand the cemetery's boundaries. The greenhouse is long gone, but 130 years ago there stood a Tiffany-style glass structure filled with exotic blossoms. Margaret wanted flowers available to all who visited the cemetery, with the idea those who could pay did, and those who couldn't would be provided for. Everyone could take beautiful blooms to their loved ones.
Flowers for all. 
My heart melts.
Paying my respects, taking flowers to my beloved Crockers
The second benefaction was The Marguerite Home. It was a furnished rest home for "aged gentlewomen" with limited means. I heard she also funded housing for single mothers. Again, we're talking about a time when being a single mother was basically a sin, regardless of how it came to be. 
I melt. 

Travel Teen tours. No poofy dress required. These kids were fun! We were the last stop of their tour, so they had been at the Capitol, Sutter's Fort, Old Sac. . . the kids enjoyed our approach to learning history. We spent a few minutes at the Crocker plot and girls cheered when I told them about Aimée.


Lantern Tours
Judy at the Crocker plot
October 2006
(Weird lighting, my camera wasn't cooperating)
Preaching temperance.
Freezing in a poofy dress, but having lots of fun!
Oct 2006
Charlotte, wearing my poofy dress & sharing a spooky story
Oct 2006
My first Lantern Tour! Sharing the story of The Tildens, famed/doomed Mayflower family.
Impressive amount of Red Hat Society ladies in attendance.
Oct. 2005
The cemetery is normally closed after dark, I wanted to capture the beauty of the stone and the flowers in the moonlight. I didn't know who Gladys was when I took this picture. Gladys was Aimée's daughter, from her marriage to R. Porter Ashe.

Soundtrack: Modern English "I Melt With You"

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