Necropolis Group Update

As time is becoming a concern, we more or less decided that for the next couple of weeks we should each focus and be responsible for one thing instead of working on overlapping tasks. (Well, I decided this, but this M.O. seems to have been the general trend.) Overlapping tasks was useful earlier on, because it helped all of us get a better sense of what the scope of this project is. But now we have to buckle down. Taylor is going to work on the platform, while Conn, Davide, and I put together the rest of the content. This entails gathering historical background, because this project also involves narrative description in short and long form, and we need material for that. Davide is working on this portion. I working on obtaining digital maps and georectifying them to correspond with Open Street Map. Conn is working on getting the database of physical conditions (cemetery monuments, etc.) in place, since we have to recreate it from records rather than the electronic database we were hoping to access.

Despite that setback, on Thursday I had a great talk with Rachel Frankel, an architect and historian of Jewish cemeteries, who is working with the congregation on restoring the 11th St. site, and who has had long-term Jewish cemetery restoration projects in Suriname and now Jamaica. She pointed the way to some additional sources of information, and had good suggestions for how we might reconcile some data discrepancies in terms of people recorded as buried in two different places at the same time. (Some people were in fact moved much later after burial, but this is carefully documented.) The records aren’t necessarily sloppy, but they may actually reflect the political jockeying within the congregation for burial in preferred locations. This adds a whole new dimension to the social life in and around the cemetery that we are mapping. Rachel also provided us with the identity of one of the weirdest burials in the cemetery: a flat tomb cover that is cut off at the top, at an approx. 65º angle where the fence was built. It’s odd because all the monuments had to be lifted and re-situated when the site was raised to meet the grade of the street; you’d think the stone would have been moved sufficiently inside the grounds, rather than “decapitated” when the cemetery’s front wall was put up shortly thereafter. Usually the term “history’s mysteries” would suffice for something like this, but in the case of the 11th St. cemetery, “history’s inconsistencies” is probably more accurate.