Monday, November 9, 2009

Pilgrim’s Rest, Ormond Beach, Volusia County

A few weeks ago we responded to a request for an outdoor classroom experience at a historical cemetery, Pilgrim’s Rest Cemetery in Ormond Beach. Teachers organized transportation and set up stations for students to rotate through during the morning to studying the history of the community, learn about the flora and fauna on site, language arts exercise in writing, and archaeology (which was us!). While I had an idea to do a seriation activity, we needed to preview the cemetery to be sure it would be a good fit for our activity.

I found Pilgrim’s Rest to be a charming 100 year old cemetery at the corner of SR 5A and RS 40 east in Ormond Beach, Volusia County. The oldest headstone in Pilgrim’s Rest is that of “Little Kansas Bennett” who died in 1908 (see photo). Her handwritten into cement headstone sits near the entrance of the cemetery along with several other Bennetts. The cemetery contained a great variety of headstone types—from wooden cross markers to customized marble headstones with hunting and fishing motifs—as well as a large array of grave offerings ranging from flowers to wind chimes, and even a guest book! There was no doubt several lessons could be applied to this cemetery; the setting was a true outdoor museum with lots of artifacts and labels to figuratively read.

For the lesson itself, we (myself and intern Rosalie Cocci) created a scavenger hunt as a warm up activity to get the students thinking about symbols and iconography. When turned lose, the students split into groups looking for the specific headstones the illustrated the iconographic point we would be making later. We wanted to point out several general symbols later to be looked up in Iconography of Death, such as hands with a finger pointing up, laurel wreaths, tree stump, and Masonic compass and square. After an arbitrary amount of time, we gathered the students together again and reviewed the results of the hunt.

Next, it was the students turn. Now that they were more familiar with the cemetery and with different symbols and motifs above the ground, we asked them to select just one trait. Before setting them lose a second time, each group was given a single color of post-its. Their objective was to find as many headstones with their chosen symbol or motif and write just one year of death on each post-it. For example, students who chose daisies (sometimes representing youth and innocence) would go headstone to headstone looking for the specific flower, and when found they would write 1938 on a single post-it, and go on to find another. Students chose hearts, roses, vines, specific types of crosses, and hunting/fishing motifs to mention a few.

As a wrap up, we set up a graph to represent the frequency of each trait by decade. In general, traits demonstrated the “battleship” curve known in seriation studies for showing the introduction of a new trait, expansion of popularity over time, and then the truncating down as the trait diminishes. Students had no problem with analogies of what trends were popular today: skinny jeans, pop stars, and symbols of wealth (aka bling).

All in all, it was an excellent opportunity to get out to a new cemetery and explore the local history of Ormond Beach. Students learned a lot about symbols and how the use of them in headstones changed over time. We tested a low level theory of dating, seriation, and found the frequency dating worked for the most part. For more information on seriation, I recommend the Minnesota State University website that features and interactive seriation program. If you want to try the lesson out with students at a cemetery near you contact us for the PDF, just let us know how the activity went and what you found out!

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