Living Among the Dead

Oahu Cemetery Sign

You know those times in your life when you flip out? There are times in life when something triggers your brain to behave… differently. Well, mine did just that a couple of years ago. Some of us seek comfort in food (like me), some of us look to nature for quiet contemplation (like me), some of us like to walk in the rain (like me), and some of us are just plain weird (like me). I found a new source of fascination and relaxation – the cemetery.

I told you I flipped out. Of course it does help to have a fascinating one nearby.

I was completely ignorant of any kind of historic significance or stories of interest in connection with any of our cemeteries, except for Punchbowl cemetery of course. I mean, let’s face it, that’s not something people talk about very often. I was ignorant about just what a treasure a cemetery can be. Ignorant that is, until I got my hands on a copy of “Oahu Cemetery, Burial Ground & Historic Site” by Nanette Napoleon Purnell.

As I thumbed through the pages of the book with mild curiosity, I stumbled onto the story of Gil Jamieson, a young boy kidnapped, murdered and buried at the cemetery in 1928. He was only ten. I was suddenly taken back to my childhood when Mom said, “Don’t ever go with anyone in an automobile of any kind – even if they say they say that I have been hurt and they are going to take you to see me.” She said that same line to us so many times as we were growing up, along with the usual “don’t take candy from strangers” thing. So THAT’S why she kept saying that! Now I know why.

At the time that Gil was abducted in just this very way, and later killed, my maternal grandparents would have been here in Honolulu! They would have been part of that group of parents and concerned citizens who were stunned by this tragic incident. An incident so shocking to a close-knit community that the news of finding little Gil’s dead body left Honolulu residents crying in the street.

The school that Gil attended, Punahou School, was the same one that my mother went to. This little guy was part of my history. As I continued to read, I found other connections to my life now. By the time I found the third reference that I shared in some way, albeit distantly, I made up my mind, I had to find Gil. I had to! I went over to the cemetery and began to look for him. I searched and searched and finally found his resting place!

As I stared at the gravestone I wanted so much to talk to him, to tell him I was sorry. In some way I wanted to let him know,

“You didn’t die in vain my little friend. The parental warnings passed on to children as a result of your unfortunate experience may have saved a lot of kids from a fate much like your own. For this I thank you, and today’s parents should thank you too!”

Cemeteries Have Ghosts!

Spooks? Nah. I spoke to one of the staff at the cemetery and he told me that a reporter once asked him if he has ever seen a ghost. He said that in the 22 years he has been there, he has never seen one. This staff person then proceeded to tell the reporter that he thinks, “it’s because there are only good spirits here.” I agree. There are no feelings of fear, no discomfort. Aside from the usual feelings of sadness and respect for those buried there, there are no physical sensations at all. What there is,is a sense of history. There is a psychological feeling of being in a crowded room – a sensation that they know you’re there because they are too. Is that ghostly? I don’t know. If they really are there, in some way, there is certainly no malice or bad intention of any kind.

IJamieson Family headstone. will admit that as you walk around the cemetery, there is an odd, pervading sense of recognition and a feeling of belonging. Don’t ask. Did I mention that I flipped out? In all seriousness, there is a tremendous amount of history to be found among the stones!

Perhaps these strange sensations stem from this chunk of historic Hawaii come to life, so to speak. It’s like a living cemetery, a museum out in the open and, oddly enough, a welcome break from the daily noise and hustle.

I’m not making this up. See for yourself. The Oahu Cemetery book is easily accessible. Look through their website. Get a copy of the book. Read some fascinating histories. The relics of these stories can all be found in this comparatively small space known simply as Oahu Cemetery.

Then, buy a flower. I did! Gil Jamieson's headstone.

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5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 davidbdale // Mar 7, 2007 at 3:32 pm

    Hi Evelyn. I hope I’ve followed the right link to my friend Sprite! This was an intriguing post and had a lot of the quirky personality Sprite reveals in comments on my blog. So, hey Sprite: Thanks for an entertaining read. If you go into cemeteries at night, don’t forget your cape!

  • 2 Evelyn // Mar 7, 2007 at 5:43 pm

    I’m glad you can “hear” me. Thank you, David, for visiting, for reading and for leaving your comment — I laughed when I read it! Thank you!

  • 3 Walt // Apr 13, 2007 at 3:02 am

    I have always found cemeteries to be very peaceful places and at the same time they always invoke in me a sense of excitement and discovery. You can learn alot about local history, family history, and people just from the little window you get into the lives of these people from what’s printed on their gravestones. Maybe it was because when I was young I always went with my Dad to visit my grandfather’s grave and spent time each visit wandering through the cemetery. In college we used to go study in the local cemetery because it was so quiet. That’s where my cemetery ghost story comes from, but I’ll spare you the details.

  • 4 Evelyn // Apr 13, 2007 at 7:58 am

    I’m glad you shared that with us, Walt! Now the world knows I’m not the only crazy one! 🙂 Of course, you do know that now you have to share that ghost story right? I’ve tried to add ghost stories but, while Hawaii has a lot, I can’t seem to fall into any of them… yet. 😉

  • 5 The Ghosts are in the Bones // Nov 20, 2007 at 10:46 am

    […]Ola Na Iwi (The Bones Live) so we can go too! It’s about what? Bones? Graveyards? Regular readers know how I love graveyards! So I get to finally meet an online friend and see a play about cemeteries! […]

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