The Night They Lit 10,000 Candles on 10,000 Graves
It was one of those days. Feeling sorry for my lot, mired in the La Brea Tar Pits of miserableness. Your usual study in aging, melodramatic self-pity. ‘Doug!’ Doug says to his Self. Get a grip on. I decide to strike off. Head east to Casi’s monthly Circle Jam musical fest in Poca, W.Va. Even the sound of the town lifts my spirits: ‘Poca.’ That’s where Casi lives now. The Poca high school football team is called the ‘Dots.’ Yeah, the Poca Dots. Now, I’m feeling a little better. I toss my Canon G11 camera bag into the car, load my Taylor dreadnought. I’m off.
Heading east on U.S. Route 60, I pass White Chapel Memorial Gardens near the turn-off to Barboursville Mall. The sun’s long gone, it’s dead dark. What’s that over there? Lights. Hundreds of small lights. No, thousands of them. White Chapel is one of those cemeteries that has banned grave stones, so it features a mundane rolling campus of flat rectangular stones. I hate cemeteries like that — the triumph of the groundskeeper.
Only tonight is different. The cemetery has some sort of mass luminaria display going on. I mean, one hell of a lot of white bags sitting on grave stones. The next day, after I shoot the video above, I will call the cemetery. Learn that they have set out 10,000 lights on 10,000 graves. When I pull my car onto the grounds and park, I think — these are those awful battery-powered candles inside the bags. I fire up my camera. Whatever. The display is still awesome, the battery lights burning inside bags in every direction you turn. You can hear me on the unedited video, after I start shooting: “Omigod, they really are lit!” when I peer into one of the bags.
After I decide to do a video-story for the Charleston Gazette for the Tuesday newspaper, I call White Chapel. Find that a team of employees and volunteers spent all Saturday putting out 10,000 bags on 10,000 graves, lighting 10,000 candles. It’s a memorium to all the people buried there in the freezing December soil. Filming the video, I was initially struck by the sweeping beauty, the gorgeous geometry, of so many pockets of yellow light flickering in the night.
Then, another ‘Omigod.’ This one unspoken, but it caused me to pause and blink again at the many lights. It was like a sharp wake-up slap to the cheek. Each light signified a complete single life. A life gone by. But one full of stories. Loves and love lost. Dreams and accomplishments. Failures, goodbyes. These were all loved — and no doubt sometimes difficult — people. Happy and depressed ones, elated and devastated people. Many were forgotten now, families scattered and gone to their own graves. Other lived on in the memories of people around the town, across the country. Every one of them flickered for a moment again on this winter night.
Below is an excerpt from my brief Gazette story. It was just to justify the video. It’s no great shakes, this video. It was shot with a standard definition camera in imperfect lighting conditions. It was just one of those things you stumble on.
P.S. — Casi’s Circle Jam was just great. I played music until 3 a.m., and they were still playing when I left. My wife, who passed the cemetery later, said half the lights had burned out.
A massive luminaria display this weekend at White Chapel Memorial Gardens near the Huntington Mall was a vivid seasonal memorial honoring thousands of people who have passed on.
“We have over 11,000 people in our cemetery and we set out 10,000 candles,” said Ashley Scott, a family services counselor.
She should know, as she was among a host of staff, volunteers and family members who spent all day Saturday placing white paper bags with candles inside on 10,000 graves.
“Our cemetery people that work here started putting out the candle bags at 7 in the morning. Volunteers started showing up at 1 p.m., and they started lighting at 3 p.m.,” she said.
It was a frigid Saturday and by the time dusk approached and all the candles were lit, there were some pretty tired, cold people, Scott added. “I’m sore from bending. I couldn’t feel my toes.” … | READ ON