Friday, October 17, 2014

The Weeping Arch

By John B. Green III

The Weeping Arch, from Die Berner Woche, November 11, 1939.
The large triple-arched gateway to Cedar Grove Cemetery has long accumulated rain water in its soft mortar joints which eventually seeps through to fall as drops of water from the arches.  This seepage has been regular enough over the years to allow calcium deposits much like tiny stalactites to accumulate on the undersides of the arches.  The seepage has also allowed legends to attach to the gateway as tenaciously as the calcium deposits.

The Weeping Arch, from Emma H. Powell, New Bern, North Carolina, 1905.
The essential legend, which dates from the second half of the 19th century, is that the "Weeping Arch" cries tears of mourning for the dead interred within the cemetery.  This legend was later modified to include the cautionary element that any person struck by one of the Weeping Arch's tears would be the next person carried through the gateway in a hearse.

Cemetery wall and Weeping Arch, photo c. 1895.
Cedar Grove Cemetery had its beginning in 1799 in the cemetery established by Christ Episcopal Church as an extension of their overcrowded churchyard.  This cemetery was deeded to the City of New Bern in 1853.  The city began a program of improvements which included enlarging the burial ground and giving it the romantic name "Cedar Grove."  Chief among the improvements was the building of a "shell rock" wall around the graveyard between 1854 and 1856.  The centerpiece of this wall was the monumental arched gateway which would become known as the Weeping Arch.

The gateway may always have wept "tears."  In 1862, six years after the arch's completion,  occupying Union soldier Hiram Alonso Worden noted in his diary "drops of water continually dropping" from the arch.  For the rest of the 19th Century nearly every article or publication which mentioned Cedar Grove Cemetery described the Weeping Arch and its tears for the dead.  Sometime in the 20th Century the legend took its more sinister turn with the tears dealing out death to whomever they struck.  Generations of daredevils raced between the falling drops or pushed others beneath them.  Occasionally, especially during dry spells, a little stagecraft might be employed.  It is said that on the day before a large tour group was due to visit the cemetery, the fire department would be called out to thoroughly soak the triple arches, thus ensuring an ample supply of tears.

All this lachrymose activity may have come to a halt, though.  Recent repairs to the Weeping Arch included capping the top of the arch and repointing some of the mortar joints.  This has resulted in a distinct drying of the arch's tears.  Whatever shall we do?  Wait!  What's that siren I hear approaching from the distance?