I love to walk around old graveyards. One of my favorite places to wander among the headstones is near where I grew up. The graveyard is called Oceanview Cemetery, and it’s in the little coastal town of Beaufort, N.C.
I often take long walks through the graveyard when I come into town and have a little extra time, like I did a few days ago.
Oceanview is the town’s public burial ground. First established in 1898, Oceanview is not nearly as old as some other local cemeteries. Only a few blocks from Oceanview, in fact, you can visit a historic cemetery that dates to the early 1700s, and it’s nice, too—I have family buried there.
But Oceanview is my kind of graveyard. It’s full of life and memories and a thousand thousand stories.
Beaufort was long a fishing town, of course. Oceanview sits only a block away from Taylors Creek, the town’s harbor and the main waterway leading to Beaufort Inlet and Down East.
If you wander through Oceanview, you can see the townspeople’s soul-deep attachment to the sea.
Etched into the stones, you’ll find signs of the ways that the people buried there once made their livings on the water. For instance, you’ll find gravestones with shrimp trawlers on them.
And you’ll find gravestones with drop-netters on them.
You’ll even find a fish market carved into one stone. This gentleman and his wife grew up in Beaufort and were the children of local commercial fishermen. They moved to Winston-Salem, N.C., and for many years ran Forsyth Seafood, a popular fish market and fish fry joint that is still open on MLK, Jr. Blvd.
If you visit Oceanview, you’ll also see the grave of a long-time engineer on an oceanographic research vessel, the Cape Hatteras. The vessel was operated by the Duke University Marine Laboratory on Pivers Island, which is only a short way from the graveyard.
The engineer, Curtis A. Oden, Sr., passed away in 2000, at the age of 71. He is buried next to his wife, Mamie Battle Oden, who died a few months before he did.
On many of Oceanview’s graves, you’ll also see testaments to the deep faith that is held by so many that make their livings on or around the sea.
This is from Curtis A. Oden, Sr.’s memorial marker.
At Oceanview, you’ll also discover monuments for the women with whom those fishermen and sailors shared their lives and who in many cases obviously shared their affection for the sea.
This woman riding a dolphin at Cape Lookout is one of my favorites. In Western religious art and myth, a dolphin has often been a symbol of resurrection and a bearer of souls to heaven.
You’ll also find the graves of other women who weren’t fishermen’s wives, and maybe weren’t wives at all, but you can tell from their headstones how much the sea meant to them, too.
You’ll also find many, many grave markers bearing the likeness of the Cape Lookout lighthouse.
That’s probably all we need to know to appreciate how important Cape Lookout and its lighthouse have historically been to people in Beaufort.
From their surnames, I can tell that some of those people with the lighthouse carved into their headstones had old family roots at Cape Lookout.
Others no doubt had fish camps out there, where they once stayed most of the fall.
For other townsfolk, “the Cape” was just a welcome getaway from the cares of the world and the hectic pace of modern life.
For many people, the lighthouse was those things, but also a symbol of faith and God’s love for his children: it is, after all, a beacon that shines a light through dark nights and stormy seas.
One of lighthouse grave markers will break your heart, though. This etching adorns the headstone of a very winsome 9-year-old boy. The marker includes a photograph of him in a baseball cap.
The young fellow must have loved going out to Cape Lookout. I bet he liked fishing and swimming and looking for shells.
Or maybe he just loved being out there in such a beautiful place with his mom and dad.
Many military veterans are also buried at Oceanview and some of them went to sea, too. This is the grave of Vernon Tuttle Robinson, who served in the U.S. Navy during the First World War.
One of the most recent military graves in Oceanview is for a navy commander that died just a few years ago in Iraq.
While you’ll see things at Oceanview that leave a lump in your throat, you’ll also find whimsy and good humor, even amidst grief.
This grave marker is in a newer section of the cemetery. A woman with a passion for looking good must be missing her husband and son something terrible.
William Lewis Davis and Marilyn Moore Davis must have named their son after Capt. Arthur Leroy Davis, who, I am guessing, was Mr. Davis’s nephew.
Capt. Davis is also buried at Oceanview. He lost his life in Vietnam on May 13, 1968. The Davis’s son was born a few months later.
Other gravestones speak to people’s passions. One has a motorcycle carved into the stone, and another grave marks the memory of someone for whom music must have been one of the most important parts of her life.
Other memorials speak to vocations other than working on the water, like driving big rigs….
…. and others point to pride and a sense of duty.
Oceanview is a cozy cemetery, too. Many families adorn graves with little things that brought happiness to their loved ones—bird feeders, ceramic dogs, cats and horses, children’s toys and little porcelain dolls.
This past Christmas I found several Christmas trees and wreaths on grave plots at Oceanview—and I love this Easter egg tree that was still up a few days ago. To me it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.
Several family members have also built wooden benches or put out wrought-iron chairs so that people can sit and visit with their loved ones for longer periods, which I sometimes do in this very special burial ground by the sea.