Road Blog: ‘Bivouac of the Dead’

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We’ve spent the last several days making family visits in New Jersey and Pennsylvania: with Kate’s mom and sister in Monmouth County, N.J., with Kate’s cousin Rose north of Philadelphia. Yesterday, we made a long, looping drive back to New Jersey to the home of one of Kate’s closest high school friends, Lisa. On the way, we stopped in Scranton to visit the cemetery where Kate’s dad, Paul Edward Gallagher, is buried.

We’d visited the place, Cathedral Cemetery, just once before, in the summer of 1995. In the interim, I’ve discovered how difficult it is to find gravesites when you’re not intimately familiar with a cemetery’s layout (or even if you are). When we arrived, the cemetery office was already closed for the day, so we couldn’t get directions to the exact spot. I had a vague image of the part of the cemetery where the Gallaghers are interred, and we drove slowly around the place until I found a spot that looked right. We got out and went walking in different directions to see if we could find the site. I figured we’d never find it. But after looking for 15 or 20 minutes, Kate texted me that she’d found the place.

We went through an exercise I’ve gone through before, trying to note landmarks to remember for the next visit years hence. So: that group of five trees to the east of the site. The bee-hive shrine to the west. The prominent Mullaghy plot next to the Gallaghers. And I took pictures for a visual guide. I’ll look up the place on Google’s satellite maps and put an X on the spot. Assuming there is a next time, I’m sure I’ll feel lost again, at least for a little while.

During our search we also passed a section of the cemetery reserved for veterans’ graves. Civil War veterans and veterans of wars up through Vietnam. The largest group was from that first war, though, and a tablet had been put up with a stanza of a poem, “Bivouac of the Dead,” that reportedly appears at Arlington National Cemetery and many other burial places of Civil War soldiers. It’s by Theodore O’Hara, a Kentuckian who wrote it to honor the state’s dead in the Mexican War. He fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War (click the image below for a larger–readable–version).

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