A Digital Journal

Photography by Tony Triolo

Almost Forgotten

Last week, I found myself driving around northwest Alabama. It was a beautiful day, unseasonably warm for early March. My destination was Rock Bridge Canyon near Hodges. I had not been there in many years, but I remember what a neat place it was. It reminded me of the Dismals Canyon nearby in the town of Phil Campbell. I also remembered the pretty little waterfall that was at Rock Bridge, and I figured, that with all the rainfall that we have been experiencing, the falls would be flowing well. Unfortunately, when I got to the canyon, I discovered that it had been closed to the public. It was now in private hands and the new owners have decided not to permit public access. That’s a real shame because it was such a beautiful area. Users of the nearby equestrian center would ride their horses throughout the park and nature lovers would hike, picnic and enjoy the beauty of this sublimb oasis.

Factory Cemetery, Marion County, Alabama

So, what to do now I wondered. I could drive over to the Dismals which was closeby, but I have been there so often, that I really wanted to see and photograph something new. I thought I would head toward Bankhead National Park and the Sipsey Wilderness and check out Caney Creek Falls. So, I headed back north and decided to keep my eyes open for any potential photo opps along the way. I shot a few interesting barns and a display of American flags along the road. Then, in Marion County near the town of Bear Creek, I came upon Factory Cemetery.

Grave markers dot the cemetery

I have seen many Confederate cemeteries in my day and this one looked older, more primitive than most. The headstones were very spread out, but that might just indicate that many had not survived the years since the Civil War. I didn’t know anything about the cemetery or the area I was in. I did find out later that the area was initially called Allen’s Factory due to the cotton processing factory that was once here. It was burned in the latter years of the Civil War.

Gravestone of 2nd Lieut. David W. Alexander

Those interred at Factory Cemetery were part of the 16th Alabama Infantry. The men were assembled from a number of Alabama counties. They fought in battles in Tennessee and Kentucky. They fought at Shiloh and Perryville and eventually joined up with the Army of Tennessee in campaigns from Murfreesboro to Atlanta. Of the 867 soldiers comprising the regiment, many were lost at battles in Murfreesboro, Chickamauga and Jonesboro. Those who survived were disabled at Franklin and Nashville and eventually surrendered to Union forces.

I noticed a few of the headstones that were legible were the resting place of people other than Confederate soldiers. One such headstone commemorated the children of John T (no last name). Another stone read simply “Aunt Mary” who was born about 1800. The exact date is unknown and the year is even in question. It’s also interesting that her race was not in question. The word “colored” is inscribed in the marker.

A Confederate flag marks one prominent gravestove

I never made it to the Bankhead National Park or the Sipsey Wilderness that day, Actually, I did make it to the Caney Creek Falls, but found that parking was no longer permitted at the trailhead location and hikers risked being towed away. So, my little photo outing was pretty much a bust. It was getting too late to find an alternate route to the Caney, so I just decided to head home. I could take some satisfaction in finding this little and almost forgotten cemetery along Highway 172 in Marion County. Some days are just like that I guess.

March 9, 2022 Posted by | Caney Creek, Historic Alabama, Marion County, Phil Campbell, Photography, Sipsey Wilderness | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Glory in the Graves – Selma’s Historic Cemetery

Over the years I have visited many a gravesite and many a cemetery. Some were out of a sense of duty and honor while paying respects to a family member, colleague or dear friend who had departed this world for the next. Most of my visits to cemeteries come about, not as a result of someone’s passing, however, but rather due to the fact that I, like many, find most burial sites to be beautiful and calming places. I have visited cemeteries all over the world including the graves of our fallen soldiers at Normandy and throughout Europe. I have been to the grave of General George S. Patton when we lived in Luxembourg many times. It seemed as though every friend who came to visit us during those years wanted to see the final resting place of “Old Blood and Guts.” I have visited cemeteries of the rich and famous as well as those of just ordinary folks. Some gravesites have been old and historic, while others relatively new. Last year, I had the chance to walk among the tombs of the St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans. Owing to the fact that the city is prone to flooding, the dead are interred above ground in crypts and mausoleums. It is often called the “cities of the dead” as the site resembles rows of buildings, many in desperate need of repair.

Selma, AL cemetery

Old Live Oak Cemetery

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit an equally historic cemetery. It was in Selma, Alabama. It is called the Old Live Oak Cemetery and is actually two cemeteries (Live Oak Cemetery and Old Live Oak Cemetery) separated by a city street. When I planned out my visit to Selma, the cemetery was not on my initial list of places to see. I had not been to Selma in many years, but with renewed attention brought on by the recent motion picture depicting the city’s struggle for civil rights and voter equality, I decided to pay the city another visit. I wanted to see that historic Edmund Pettus Bridge and the civil rights museum. I planned to check out the Brown Chapel AME Church, the old train depot and even Old Cahawba. On Saturday, a photographer friend of mine from Helena joined me on a trip out to the Old Cahawba Archaeological Park. Old Cahawba is basically a ghost town located about twenty minutes southwest of Selma. It was Alabama’s first state capital. It was my friend who suggested that I include the old confederate cemetery on my itinerary. I was very glad that he did because it turned out to be one of the most unusual and beautiful cemeteries that I have visited to date. Many of Selma’s founding fathers are buried here including William Rufus King who would go on to become Vice President of the United States. Another, Benjamin Sterling Turner, was Alabama’s first African-American congressman. Old Live Oak Cemetery was so named after a Colonel N.H.R. Dawson arranged to have 80 live oaks and 80 magnolias planted on the property. While the oak trees are impressive, the most stunning aspect of the site is the canopy of cascading Spanish moss that hangs from the tree limbs. The moss seems to wrap the tombstones and burial plots up in a protective veil.

 

Old Live Oak Cemetery       110 Dallas Ave.    Selma, AL 36701

 

Here are a few photos from my recent visit.

Unknown Soldier Headstone

Grave of Unknown Soldier

 

Spanish Moss on Oak Trees

Spanish Moss on Oak Trees

 

Iron Gate Detail

Iron Gate Detail

 

Family Plot

Family Plot

 

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Wrought Iron Detail

 

Confederate Statue

Confederate Statue

 

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Tombstones and Oak Trees

 

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Granite Cross

 

Christmas Wreath on Crypt Door

Christmas Wreath on Crypt Door

February 12, 2016 Posted by | Photography | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Photographing Past the Graveyard

Pushed aside even in death

Pushed aside even in death

On Saturday, I will be leading a Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk of Athens.  The event is the largest social gathering of photographers around the world.  During the two-hour walk, people are encouraged to photograph their own communities and seize an opportunity to observe the places where they live at a much slower pace.  It’s a chance to really see their cities and towns in a less hurried way and hopefully make some interesting photographs at the same time.  The best group photos will be uploaded to the international website for possible inclusion into a book which will commemorate the day – a sort of “Day in the Life” book.  Over 1200 groups  have been created around the world with over 25000 participants already signed up.  There is still time to sign up for the Athens walk I’ll be leading.  Just go to http://worldwidephotowalk.com/walk/athens-al-united-states/ to sign up.  It’s free and you do not have to be an expert shooter.  Anyone with a point-and-shoot camera or even an iPhone qualifies.  You just need to be interested in getting to know Athens a bit better.

 

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An 1836 headstone of an Irish immigrant

In preparation for my walk,  I am required to map out the course.  The rules state that it should be long enough to include several places of interest, but not so long that it cannot easily be completed in the designated two-hour limit.  I had a pretty good general idea where I wanted the course to go in order that some of the town’s more photogenic spots would come into play.  As a photographer myself, I know what like-minded shutterbugs are after.  I knew I’d have to include the park with duck pond, the restored Shell station, the old historic homes on Beaty and Clinton Streets and maybe the Donnell House and Confederate cabin.  I also knew I would have to make sure the course went past the Athens State University campus since this is the same weekend they host their annual fiddler’s convention.  Lots of opportunities there for sure.  In fact, some photo walkers may find the pickings there so juicy that they spend their entire allotted time in the company of some of the best fiddle, guitar and banjo players in the country.  That’s fine as long as they get to the rendezvous spot on time so we can have lunch and compare images.

 

Old Town Cemetery

Old Town Cemetery

One place that I had not intended to highlight on the course map was the old cemetery.  Truthfully, I had no idea that it existed, or if I did, it didn’t really register as a viable candidate as a photographic subject.  I’d probably seen it a few dozen times, but from my normal driver’s seat perspective, I just never gave it a second thought.  I should have.  It’s a very real example of the reason for this entire endeavor.  A gem that I had almost overlooked until I slowed down enough to see it.  The historic marker in front of the Old Town Cemetery states that it is the oldest cemetery in Athens.  With headstones etched with dates stretching back to the 1820’s, I had to concede that their claim was probably accurate.  Though many of the headstones are sunken or have been destroyed, many still remain.  Confederate flags fly besides several headstones.  Time, nature and the elements have taken a toll on this small graveyard, but it’s obvious that an earnest effort has been made to maintain the site throughout the decades.

 

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A brother’s act of generosity

The street marker also states the there was once a school on the property and that the entire block was originally purchased in 1827 for ten dollars from Robert Beaty and John Carriel.  As the town’s first cemetery, it obviously is the final resting place for many of the city’s first residents.  Most of the engravings are too worn and faint to read, but several are still legible including one I found interesting  (above) where the stone carver had to get creative in order to fit the deceased’s middle name.  I also like the lengths his brother went to, to ensure that his generosity would not go unnoticed.  Despite the light rain falling, I spent almost an hour at this little cemetery.  A much larger and newer cemetery lies just east of this one, but it just did not offer the photographic opportunities this one does.  So, the Old Town Cemetery is definitely now prominently highlighted on my course map.  I just hope a few of Saturday’s participants will slow down enough to appreciate all it has to offer.

A Confederate flag marks this veteran.

A Confederate flag marks this veteran’s final resting place

October 1, 2013 Posted by | Alabama, Athens, Historic Alabama, Huntsville, Limestone County, Madison, Mooresville, Photography | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Long Forgotten

Yesterday, on my way back home from the Kelby Photo Walk in Mooresville, I decided to try to find a few geocaches along the way.  For those not familiar with geocaching, it is basically an electronic treasure hunt using GPS coordinates.  There are currently millions of caches, hidden by ordinary people, all over the world.  Well, my route home took me through Belle Mina, the town and former plantation home of Alabama’s second governor, Thomas Bibb.   It was also once the railroad stop for the town of Mooresville.  Checking online a day earlier, I found out that the only cache located near Belle Mina was called “Bibb’s Rest”, a reference to the old cemetery located about half a mile from town.  Dating back to the early 1800’s, almost all the graves belong to the Bibb family.  At least six Confederate soldiers are laid to rest here as well.

Weeds overtake headstones at Bibb cemetery

The cemetery, unfortunately has not been well-tended.  Tall weeds almost totally obscure the headstones, and it’s an effort just to walk through the place.  It’s obvious that it has not been visited much of late, except maybe, for the occasional geocacher.  I carefully made my way to where my GPS device was leading me, and trying not to come into contact with any snakes, ticks, or poison ivy that might be in the area.  It wasn’t too difficult to find the cache, and once I signed the logbook and placed it back where I found it, I decided to get the camera out of the car and take a few photos.  As sad as it was to see a cemetery in this sorry state of neglect, there was something quite compelling about it at the same time.  Conjuring up thoughts of time passing, time forgotten, people and places forgotten, I began to photograph this somber, but also beautiful place.  Now, it reached one hundred degrees yesterday, but fortunately the old oak trees and dense undergrowth protected me from the sun and lowered the temperatures just enough to make it bearable.

One of six Confederate soldiers graves

After about thirty minutes of photographing the cemetery, I saw a sheriff’s car drive past and then double back to where my car was parked.  I didn’t know if he was going to run me off, inform me that I was illegally parked, or what.  He got out of his car and peered over the fence surrounding the cemetery.  He didn’t see me at first, apparently the tall weeds giving me some initial cover.  Finally, he was able to pick me out from the vegetation.  The cameras around my neck made it pretty obvious just what I was up to, and he had no problem with that.  He said that he sees so few cars parked at the cemetery these days, that he thought it wise to check it out.  I had to admit that his curiosity might have been a good thing, considering the record temperatures.  If I had passed out from the heat while taking pictures in this old cemetery, it’s nice to know that I might have stood a chance of being discovered before it was too late.

Grave markers overtaken by weeds

We briefly discussed the unkempt condition of the graves.  He said that the county was making an effort to maintain and weed all the old cemeteries, but that it was a slow-go.  The effort was totally dependent on the number of volunteers that could be found to do the work.  Apparently, the county does not have money to pay for the upkeep of all the cemeteries within its jurisdiction.  It just doesn’t seem right.  Here lie the remains of the second governor of the state, not to mention several Civil War veterans.  They all deserve a better tribute.

Maybe on my next visit to Belle Mina to take pictures, I’ll bring along my weed-whacker too.

July 25, 2010 Posted by | Alabama, Geocaching, Historic Alabama, Photography | , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments