03.01.20: Chapel in cemetery

A chapel is surrounded by graves in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

A chapel is surrounded by graves in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

A walk through Arlington National Cemetery

‍Tech specs

  • Date/time: Aug. 24, 2017, 2:13 p.m.
  • Location: 38°52'50.681" N 77°4'29.7" W (Show in Google Maps)
  • Camera: Canon EOS 7D Mark II
  • Lens: Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 (96 mm) 
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • Shutter: 1/1250th second
  • ISO: 400

‍I’ve spent time through the years photographing cemeteries. It may seem like an odd interest, but cemeteries are beautiful places for photography. Green grass, trees and grave stones provide an endless array of interesting compositions for a photographer.

‍When I saw this scene during a visit to Arlington National Cemetery, the nation’s military cemetery across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.,  I was intrigued by how the stones and trees seemed to stand guard around the chapel, but I sensed that the amount of green in the grass and trees would detract from the composition. So I decided to process the scene as a black and white image to give it more of a timeless feel.

‍Cemeteries should be very solemn places, but I’m amazed how many people don’t know how to behave when visiting cemeteries. Arlington National Cemetery has placed signs throughout to remind people that the cemetery is a place for silence and respect. 

‍Even with reminder signs there are still people who misbehave.

‍For instance, there was the woman who posted a photo on Facebook of her yelling while giving “the finger” toward one of the “silence and respect” signs at Arlington. Her employer didn’t find it humorous. 

‍And there was the video that went viral, showing a guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns forcefully chastising people who were talking very loudly in the small amphitheater overlooking the tomb.

‍This behavior in a cemetery is troubling, but it fits in with the lack of respect for social norms that I see almost daily. It seems as if American society has become less respectful through the years, focusing more on “what I want” than “what is right.”

‍When I read about the behavior issues in Arlington National Cemetery I immediately thought of my mom and dad. Every year on Memorial Day we would go to the local cemetery to place flowers on graves of relatives, some that I remembered and some that had passed before I was born. My parents stressed the importance of proper behavior in the cemetery: no loud talking or laughing, no running, no sitting/standing/leaning on grave markers or monuments. In other words, show respect. A cemetery is a place of mourning, a place of remembrance, they said. It isn’t a playground.

‍I’ve never forgotten. Apparently others have … or they never learned in the first place.

‍If my mother knew about this behavior she’d be spinning in her grave, unless she had already been disturbed by a cemetery visitor talking loud enough to wake the dead.

‍End of rant.

‍Arlington National Cemetery was established during the Civil War. The dead of the nation’s conflicts have been buried at the 624-acre site, beginning with the Civil War. Arlington also has graves of reinterred dead from earlier wars. The cemetery has more than 400,000 graves and is visited by more than 4 million people each year. 

Cemeteries should be very solemn places, but I’m amazed how many people don’t know how to behave when visiting cemeteries. 

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Photographs and text: Copyright - Pat D. Hemlepp. All rights reserved. Photographs may not be used without permission.

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