Friday, January 28, 2011

Meet Robin Simonton, Author of "Graveyard Rabbit of the Triangle, N.C."


The seventy fifth in a series
featuring a member of the
Graveyard Rabbit Association


ROBIN SIMONTON






Not everyone is lucky enough to have the graves of her hometown’s founding fathers located in a burying ground right off of Main Street. But I was. Downers Grove, Illinois - it was this town that sparked my interest in cemeteries as a child. It was normal to wander through the graves as my mom shopped at the nearby shoe store or made a run to the bank. I was in a magical place. On bright sunny days, cool fall afternoons and even in wintery Decembers, I read and re-read the monument dedicated to Pierce Downer, lingered past the Blodgett plot, used my imagination as the wind whistled through the through the rows of stones and history came to life.

There was no turning back by the time I got to college at the University of Hawaii. I was hooked on cemeteries. I read an article in the local Kailua newspaper about Nanette Napoleon , a kindred spirit and the Hawaii cemetery researcher who had documented all of the island’s graveyards. She was in the process of writing a book. I quickly wrote her a letter and offered to do the research. As I delved into Hawaiian history and how it linked to the cemetery, the permanent residents of Oahu Cemetery told their stories. Every one of them. Whether they were a Hawaiian Christian Missionary, the founder of baseball, or the neighbor down the street, their lives meant something. No history class could provide me with better information.

That’s really what it was- when you boil it down. Cemeteries are repositories of stories, dreams and hopes. Over the years I’ve studied empty cemeteries, abandoned cemeteries, even Amish cemeteries (and their casket makers) and I’ve learned stories. Countless stories that I will never forget. So now, as a docent at Historic Oakwood Cemetery in Raleigh, NC I tell their stories. Not necessarily their history—but about what their markers tell us about their lives and their legacy. What better way to capture that legacy, through the blog of the Graveyard Rabbit of the Triangle.

What Graveyard Rabbit site(s) do you run?

I run the Graveyard Rabbit of the Triangle blog. I’m a newbie, testing the waters over the past year, trying to grow my sea legs in this blogging world!

What first interested you in joining the GYR Association?

I was actually home sick from my day job, surfing the web for cemetery pictures and I stumbled across Beth Santore’s Grave Addiction blog. I was immediately engrossed, and quickly saw the Graveyard Rabbit logo and just kept reading. It opened up a world of possibility, a way to track my cemetery adventures and link to others with the same interest!

Do your family members think you are a “little off center” with respect to your cemetery obsession?

It probably took some getting used to. Not everyone’s kid prefers cemeteries to parks (although those of us that are enlightened know that Victorian cemeteries really are parks :)). But they have joined in the fun and my parents help out with Findagrave requests and my husband joins in on the tours. (I’m not sure how or if he explains it to others!) My co-workers probably think I’m a bit nuts… but it’s all in good fun.

Which situation evokes an immediate response of “Oh! Oh! Stop the car!”- you spy a yard sale in the distance- you notice a cemetery from ¼ mile away- you see a sexy man on the side of the road- from afar you spy Elvis with your eye.

Hands down the cemetery. I have been known to circle back around if I see a single grave on the side of a country road. I plan vacations with stops at cemeteries and I collect cemetery tips from friends who have spotted them while driving. Is this a compulsion? Nahh. Just an interest.

What advice do you have for anyone considering joining GYR and creating their own GYR-affiliated blog?

You only live once. Do it! As we walk through cemeteries we really are surrounded by stories and dreams but we shouldn’t forget that we are also surrounded by dreams lost. I take that very seriously-and learn from those citizens to reach outside my comfort zone and challenge myself. My GYR blog helps me “meet” new people and share my love of history with others. Why not try it, too?

What advice would you have for would-be cemetery rabbits?

Good question. Always take a buddy when in a cemetery. That’s my first and foremost rule. Not only for safety, but when you see something amazing, it’s sometimes really cool to share the moment. Connect to other blogs, learn from your fellow rabbits. I think Footnote Maven must have the patience of a saint, she answered a million questions from me when I got started, but I appreciated her insight and help tremendously, and it really hit home that we were “all in this together.”


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