Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Pet Cemetery

Champ, 2008

Photography is an art well suited to the curious. Unlike painters, who have the liberty of creating their own realities from scratch, we photographers are largely dependent on what’s put before us.

Last summer, I returned to visit
Fort Monroe, once known as the “Gibraltar of the Chesapeake Bay.” Fort Monroe, or Fortress Monroe, as the serious Civil War wags call it, is an impressive sight, a six-sided fortification with high stone walls surrounded by a moat.

Throughout the Civil War, Fort Monroe remained in the hands of Union (Northern) forces. Long before the Emancipation Proclamation, former slaves were considered free men at Fort Monroe.


During World War II, Fort Monroe’s artillery, which ranged from 3-inch rapid-fire guns to 16-inch guns capable of firing 2,000-pound projectiles 25 miles, was part of a coastal defense network that warded off German U-boats from the U.S. Navy’s port at Norfolk.

Most recently Fort Monroe has been home to U.S. Army training and printing commands.
Like many military bases, the modern Fort Monroe has a locked-in-time look, in this case, a small Indiana town of, say, 1940. Within the fort’s walls are spacious single-family homes with big front porches for senior officers, multi-family homes for junior officers and barracks for unmarried enlisted men, all surrounded by broad lawns and tree-lined streets and arranged around a large parade field.

The perimeter of the fort is where the serious work takes place. The walls of the fort are as much as 30’ – 40’ thick in places and as high as a three-story house. Along the top are aging concrete artillery placements. Underneath, where Jefferson Davis, last president of the Confederacy, was once imprisoned are now offices and a respectable little visitor center.


An unexpected find atop the Fort Monroe walls is a pet cemetery. Until 1988, military personnel and their relatives were allowed to bury their deceased family pets along the stone embankment. One family even hired three limousines to drive them nearly 200 miles down from Washington, D.C. to bury their pet here. Hundreds of dogs, cats and birds are buried here. Blacky. Benjie Boo. Spook. Winkie. Rob. Gypsy. Tinnie. Rupert. Imp. Homer. Tar Baby. Mitzy. Red. Rex. Sox. Stripey. Skippy. Dinky. Their lives and the dedication of countless other family pets are celebrated on formal headstones, modest wooden plaques and scratched out names on flat river stones.

I was most touched by the headstone that added, under the late pet’s name, these words: “Here Lies a Part of Our Lives.”

I made a series of photographs of the Fort Monroe Pet Cemetery. You can see it here.

2 comments:

  1. I love that series--the names alone are priceless. I don't think I realized where you took those photos 'til this--fabulous!

    I also think photography, for the reasons you state above, really invites the viewer into the photographer's psyche. It invites one to view the world the way someone else does, just for a moment.

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  2. I like Reb's stone. It looks like someone spent time carving it themselves.

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