Golconda City Cemetery - Golconda, Illinois
The first thing I look for on any map are scenic byways or drives, usually indicated by a line of green dots along an out of the way road, and our goal has been to drive as many of those as possible. Almost all of our road trips are centered around taking the long way around and only rarely do we take the interstate directly to our destination.
So a road atlas is a must and I have one in my car at all times because you never know when you might want to take a spontaneous trip (I’m dreaming of a day when we can wake up in the morning and head in a random direction instead of going into an 8 to 5 job). I don’t buy a new one each year but I do try to get an updated copy periodically. Right now I’ve got one from 2016 so I’m going to pick up a 2019 before our next adventure. There are lots of things you’ll miss if you’re just relying on GPS to get you somewhere, state parks and monuments and museums and historic sites and half the places we end up stopping to see are last minute and discovered on a map.
I love getting off the interstate and seeing more of an area, even when we’re on a schedule and have to be somewhere by a certain time I’d rather take the slower route. And while we might not be able to stop and explore every place we see one of the things we’re always on the lookout for, besides abandoned places and beautiful views, are old cemeteries.
We drove through Golconda on a misty cold December day, following the Ohio River Scenic Byway that stretches across the southern tip of Illinois. The entire town is on the register for historic places and part of its claim to infamy is that the Cherokee were marched through the area on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma. Roughly 13,000 Cherokee were forced to wait to cross the river on the local ferry, overcharged on the price of passage, died of exposure while waiting, and some were murdered. Other Native Americans were taken in and protected by locals but it’s hard to take in the good when the entire situation was overwhelming horrible. And for me at least it colors how I view a place because you can’t ignore history, you have to take it all in, the good and the bad.
We didn’t know any of that though while wandering among the headstones, enjoying the silence, and pausing to watch a bald eagle glide across the river. It was such a peaceful place. The cemetery itself is behind a flood wall on the bank of the Ohio River, secluded from the rest of the town, and nearest the bridge that spans the water. It felt disconnected and set apart from the surroundings. The bank is high and steep but it’s easy to see that it could flood and the water would creep up. The edges of the cemetery are slowly falling down the bank, stones perched precariously, and I wonder what will happen as the bank erodes and the cemetery grows smaller.
The headstones range in dates, many of the stone faces almost illegible. Some are simple, not even names, just the descriptive mother or child on a small stone, and others are elaborate with angels or Mason symbols or a pair of praying hands. I like the ornate ones best but there’s something compelling about the simpler ones, something hits you in the gut a little harder.
And wandering through a cemetery, surrounded by names without faces, pasts so distant and disconnected from where I am at the moment, it brings to the surface that we’re dead a long time and for the most part forgotten. Maybe that sounds a little melancholy but it doesn’t feel that way to me. It’s a reminder to do as much as you can with the time you’re given.
So take a road trip, take the long way, and stop at every interesting place you see.