This past Sunday Laura and went on the Spirits of Springwood Tour sponsored by the Upcountry History Museum. Springwood Cemetery features many historic graves and lots of interesting headstones and carvings. I’ve visited many times on photo walks, but thought it would be interesting to get an “official” tour.
There were two tours scheduled – one starting at 5:00 pm and one at 6:45 pm. I initially wanted to do the 5:00 pm tour because the lighting would be so much better for photography. However, Laura convinced me that the 6:45 tour with flashlights would be fun, and that this wasn’t really a photography tour.
Photography tour or not, I came prepared. I had my DSLR with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, my trusty Nikon S70 sidearm, and the little infrared point-and-shoot I’d used on our Blue Ghost excursion. I knew a tripod wouldn’t be appropriate for a tour, so I brought cameras that would work well (mostly) in low-light situations.
As usual, we arrived early. I took advantage of the waning afternoon light to take a few photos.
Thomas McAfee Funeral Home was one of the evening’s sponsors (appropriately enough) and had a funeral tent set up as a gathering spot for the tour just inside the main gates. Once we checked in, we headed back out front to the Confederate Memorial for an orientation.
One point that was made during our orientation was that this is a park. Public cemeteries have always be viewed as parks, and at one time people even enjoyed picnics and playing in cemeteries. Modern sentiments seem to call for a more respectful approach to these public spaces, but it is still a city park, and open to all.
We divided into two groups and headed on into the cemetery. After passing back through the gates we gathered with our guide, Debbie Spear, who gave us some background on the various symbols we were likely to see, as well as a history of some of the carvings.
I won’t try to replicate the tour here. We did see many examples of cemetery imagery, including pall-draped columns…
…lambs and doves, usually for the innocence of a child…
…broken columns indicating a life cut short, and various hands reaching from the afterlife, either clasping or pointing.
There were also gates, angels, willows, dogwoods, and symbols from the person’s life, such as eagles or other organizational emblems.
Debbie took us to the graves of several of Greenville’s prominent citizens, including the crypt of Charles Daniels and others. Laura was particularly interested in the Furman University plot, which has the graves of several chemistry professors we both knew, as well as the grave of recently departed president John E. Johns.
The most striking statue in the cemetery is prominently featured on a hill in a circle. It marks the graves of the Heldmann family. George Heldmann was a saddle maker from Germany who became one of the wealthiest men in town. He had arranged a marriage for his daughter, Fannie, with one of his business associates. Rather than marry, Fannie committed suicide by drowning herself in the Reedy River. Heldmann had a tall statue constructed, which now serves as the guardian angel for Springwood.
The tour was fascinating, and it was fun in the dark. However, I do want to go back and visit some of these locations when I can view the graves and headstones a bit more clearly. As far as photography was concerned, I found that the little IR camera did much better with close subjects where the IR light could reflect back from it, such as these:
The DSLR was able to take advantage of the low light from the flashlights with the fast f/1.8 lens, and gave better color and details than the IR lens. Here are two shots of the same set of headstones, the first with IR illuminated with flashlights, and the second with the 50mm lens:
I still want to try getting an IR flashlight and seeing if that might help, but I don’t think it will beat the regular camera with a good lens for detail and color.
But back to the cemetery…
The tour was well worth the price of admission. The Upcountry Museum sponsors these on a regular basis, so be watching for the next tours. Until then, though, the City of Greenville’s GIS department has put together an excellent Springwood Cemetery Viewer, with a map of the cemetery, and a search box to find those buried therein. It’s also well worth a visit.