People often think my life just starts and ends with Bonaventure Cemetery or that I’m just another tour guide or tour company owner. This is hardly the case and a perception that is unfortunate at times. If you ever meet me in person you’ll see I have broad shoulders. Some of that comes from digging graves as a teenager. I’ve done the hard labor and the mental labor equally. All of which lives in my company spirit and how we do things. In the 1980s, while working in a Victorian Cemetery in high school, on a hot summer’s day, I was weedeating at the very edge of the cemetery overlooking a farmer’s field from a higher point where it dropped off a few feet down. Suddenly, the wire blade began kicking up tiny bones, some of them in medical bags, some of them far older. It turns out I’d uncovered a forgotten section where stillborn infants had been reposited. Over time, the erosion had washed that edge more into the farmer’s field bringing the bones closer to the surface. In the end I suppose I saved it by bringing it to the attention of those in charge, but it to this day, remains unmarked and cannot say whether its any more protected than it once was. The world is full of such cemetery sections. Its like a dark secret. Most are only known to certain elders of towns or authorities. And when they die, that knowledge tends to go with them I’ve found. Today its unusual to find a family with 4 children let alone 10, 12 or 16. Having such stock was once seen as the ultimate statement of a family’s richness vs what they simply “owned.” It certainly meant longevity but was also a practical matter. Mothers and fathers knew the deal and at times wondered about the loving faces smiling up at them, “Will we all be together by Christmas? or “Will we all know each other next Spring?” It was not a question of “if,” but rather “WHO” — would end up dying young. This theme has stayed with me as in many ways, children were the number one customers and drivers of the funeral industry in America’s 19th century. Its a bittersweet subject of course but inescapable in my work so I wanted to make this video as a devotion of a kind. It will be one of many. Hope you enjoy it.
Last night in Catholic Cemetery in Savannah, while my dog walked me under a luminous golden crescent moon and a breeze that prompted a desire to sleep in the cemetery, I suddenly stumbled upon a stuffed animal bunny that was face down on the ground. Looking slightly discarded, I gathered that one of the groundskeepers, while mowing, must’ve bumped him from his station. As I held him and scanned around, I knew right away where he belonged. This is what I do on my night patrols. I rescue and reunite grave site objects with their proper owners at no charge. As you can see, he’s seen better days, but before he was ejected from his post, he’d been looking out after his pal and being near for a very long time. He said as much! “Shannon Scott, Stuffed Animal Whisperer.” He reminded me of my own favorite stuffed animal, Justin, who was a polar bear puppet that I received for opening up a saving’s account when I was barely older than James. Justin had the same shiny black bead eyes, that to me, looked like licorice candy. I loved that stuffed animal. He wasn’t a cheap Chinese make either. Old school Taiwan synthetics! He was like my first real pet even if purely imaginary. We slept together and I loved being able to express myself with him through his puppet aspect. Some of my childhood was very lonely and internalized and Justin did seem a friend and gave me comfort. He was probably also the original source of me doing character voices. Many a depressed child has been saved by such creature companions. So yes, there was no way, haggard as this bunny was, that I was about to leave him in such a discarded state! Justice prevails!
I am used to seeing children’s graves and know that Pre-Penicillin, 1928, they were the rule of cemeteries and the majority of them went unmarked. Even so, I am never used to seeing them. The feeling is always a wide pan of gut filled emotions. You always hear the ever truthful cliche, “There’s nothing worse for a parent than losing a child.” My response would be, “no there is nothing worse for a parent.” Made more grueling by the understanding that part of the future has died at the same time. All the same, I picked up the bunny and put him back where he belonged and I took this photo in the darkness and when I saw it later, it was as if he was looking up at me in his tatters with a grateful smile and I saw Justin all over again. And because I cannot truly speak to James or bring him back from the dead or talk to this bunny, I just felt I had to make something more of it than the picture and this little biddy came out. I am not a parent, but its deaths like these that make me hope for a God most of all and that these children like James, who died so young, are in his bosom and that they all have stuffed animals to keep them company. For you James, a much-beloved son…
Little James Dean Wise!
Who’s your friend with the beady eyes?
A funny looking bunny!
Who does he now spy?
Tis’ I, Tis’ I!
But I’m only passing by!
Tonight’s not my time to die
No, but how sad your burial belies
That sweet boyish face
Primed for life’s great race
I had to pause in my mortal haste
And ponder what made you stop?
When I found Mr Hop Hop
Guarding your grave like his den
Faithful toy friend to the end
I thought I heard him say,
“Better here than the world of men.”
— Shannon Scott