For information on Arlington Cemetery burial records see the Arlington section at Online Virginia Death Records Indexes and Cemeteries
Frequently Asked Questions About Angels
Here are some questions answered by the Angel Jessica, who is an imaginary character in many fine angel stories…
What exactly are angels?
Angels are heavenly messengers who carry signals from God to people. It’s cause God is just too big. Too mysterious. And people can’t comprehend that mystery. So that’s what angels do. Help people communicate with and understand God. We send messages. We whisper secrets. We say, “Look God, the people are lost.” And he just shrugs and says, “They will be found. I have faith in them.” Sometimes I think angels don’t understand God either… But at least we have a direct line. Kinda.
Why are there are so many angels in cemeteries?
It’s in our nature. We like dark, light and shadows. So you’re going to find us in cemeteries, cathedrals, temples, places like that… Sipping coffee. Gossiping. Listening. Cemeteries are quiet and lonely, filled with lost souls. Their spirits are stronger in the place where they rest. We appear in cemeteries to make sure they have a way to get through. Sometimes they just need that extra bit of comfort.
What angels are in the Bible?
Lots of angels are mentioned in the Bible, but only three are named: Gabriel, Michael and Raphael. All three are archangels. Raphael is in the Old Testament Book of Tobit, which is included in Roman Catholic Bibles. Most other Christian denominations consider Tobit to be an apocryphal book.
Gabriel announced the birth of John the Baptist to Elizabeth’s husband, Zacharias, who had thought his wife was barren. Later Gabriel announced the birth of Jesus to Mary, who was initially troubled. But Gabriel comforted her. He’s good at that. In chapter 12 of the Book of Revelation Michael leads the angels against the dragon, who is cast out of heaven, along with his followers. In the Book of Tobit, Raphael acts as friend and guide to Tobit’s son Tobiah on his journey to Media. Only after they have returned home does Raphael reveal to Tobiah and Tobit his real name and that he is an angel. Cause he’s a sly one.
What are the different kinds of angels? What is the angel hierarchy?
Here are the nine orders of spiritual beings…
We’re comforting messengers of God. We can be a little mysterious. But we’re totally friendly.
They’re kinda like my dads.
These guys play a lot of pool. And they like cool jazz. If you are a leader and you pray to them, they can help you make good decisions. Just ask nice.
They impose order and keep demons away. Good to have around.
The virtues are miracle workers and the protectors of children. Be virtuous and maybe one of their miracles will affect your life.
They try to keep us in order with all sorts of rules. We pretty much ignore them as much as we can, but they’re very nice.
The thrones are the keepers of justice. They tend to be a bit serious. They have lots of thick books.
Yes, these are the little chubby angel kids. They buzz around and act all cute and romantic a lot.
I love the seraphim. They have four faces and six wings. And they give off a beautiful mesmerizing light. It’s as close to God as you can be. A lot of earthly artists try to paint this light. If you can capture the way the sun touches things, you will see the light of a seraph.
You might find this list shown in a slightly different order. But it doesn’t really matter. It’s not like a ranking, really. We just have different sorts of duties.
Which religions have angels or angelic beings?
Christianity, Islam and Judaism all have angels mentioned in their holy books. Other religions have similar beings who occupy the space between the world of people and a supreme being.
Why do angels have wings?
Cause you want us to. We like the way you depict us so we try to appear as close to your art and imaginings as we can.
How many angels can you fit on the head of a pin?
Hee hee. I’m small, but not that small.
What did you do with Elvis Costello’s red shoes?
I’m wearing them right now.
-Jessi (dancing on the head of a pin in Elvis Costello’s red shoes)
Photographs (top to bottom):
Angel Writing in the Book of Life, Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Wheat Ridge, Colorado; Camera: Nikon D7100 (digital)
Michael the Archangel, Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Wheat Ridge, Colorado; Camera: Pentax ME Super (film)
Riverside Cherub, Riverside Cemetery, Denver, Colorado; Camera: Pentax ME Super (film)
text and photographs © 2013 Joe Beine
Cemetery Burial Indexes on the Internet – General
The Online Death Records Indexes, Cemeteries and Obituaries website has listings for some individual cemeteries with burial indexes. They are listed by state, then by county.
That website’s General Cemeteries Page has listings for websites that have collections of cemetery burials for more than one state, including the Tombstone Transcription Project, Find-A-Grave and others.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Nationwide Gravesite Locator is a database of burials in national military cemeteries throughout the United States.
The Online Military Indexes and Records website lists some Civil War cemeteries that have online databases.
The JewishGen website has a Worldwide Registry for Jewish Burials.
The New York City section of the Online Death Indexes website has listings for six Jewish cemeteries in Queens: Online New York City Death Indexes and Cemetery Burials.
Some individual Jewish cemeteries can be found listed throughout the Online Death Indexes website. See the first link above.
The Online Death Indexes Directory has listings for online Catholic cemetery burials in Fresno, California; Wilmington, Delaware; Portland, Maine; St. Louis, Missouri; Newark, New Jersey; Cincinnati and Dayton, Ohio; Seattle, Washington; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; and other places. Some of these databases cover the entire Diocese or Archdiocese. See the first link above.
Top Photo: Fort Logan National Cemetery, Denver, Colorado
Bottom Photo: Emanuel Cemetery at Fairmount, Denver, Colorado
“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, ‘and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice ‘without pictures or conversations?’” -Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
My favorite Neil Gaiman character is Delirium from the Sandman series. She gets to wander around acting delightfully delirious all the time without caring at all what other people think. I also like her sister, Death, the pale, dark-clad Goth girl who shows up when someone dies, probably surprising those who expect a tall silent guy with a scythe. When I go I want her to show up, and hey, bring your crazy little sister. You see, we’re afraid of the guy with the scythe. But a cute Goth girl with an Ankh, well, that’s comforting. Especially since her little sister is so happily delirious.
While working on the Sandman series, Neil Gaiman started writing real books, you know, those books without pictures that boring adults like to read. Even when you’ve developed a ridiculously loyal cult following who eagerly anticipated each of the 75 issues of your comic book, you are clearly not respectable as a writer until you have mastered the art of writing important books called novels. And no pictures, please. That is so juvenile. A comic book writer? Hmm… Go sit over there. With the superheroes and burnt-out private detectives. Yeah, we make a lot of money off those Batman movies, but they’re still comic books. Kid stuff. For adults who forgot to grow up.
But Neil Gaiman had better ideas. He decided to write some picture books. You know, those things that adults sometimes read to small children. But small children are smarter than we know because they can read the books themselves by devouring the pictures. Some of these same children probably grow up to read comic books. The little rebels.
But Neil Gaiman was even more clever. He decided he would write actual novels too, some without pictures even. But occasionally — shh! — he would turn to his friend Dave McKean, an illustrator, yes the same Dave McKean who decorated all 75 of the Sandman comic book covers and those subversive children’s picture books. Neil would ask Mr. McKean (and others) to sneak some pictures into his novels. Maybe no one would notice. Except the children, of course, who know how to read both pictures and words. And so we have odd delights like Coraline and that book I’m supposed to be discussing here, but I just realized I haven’t even mentioned it yet. And look how many paragraphs have gone by….
Ah, the Graveyard Book. Words by Neil Gaiman. Skipped-over-by-adults illustrations by Dave McKean. Yes the book is filled with interesting pictures and words, conversations even. But it’s the characters who really make the book interesting. No Sandman characters here, but there is a bit of death in the Graveyard Book. As there should be. It has a tiny dash of delirium too.
The main character is orphaned when Jack (possibly the Ripper) kills his entire family. The surviving toddler wanders away from the carnage until he reaches the ancient town cemetery where, after much discussion, he is taken in by the cemetery’s inhabitants. You would probably call these inhabitants, ghosts. The ghosts name the child Nobody, or Bod for short, and raise him in the cemetery. Bod grows up surrounded by all sorts of interesting dead people and assorted night creatures.
In one chapter Bod is dragged into an adventure with a group of scruffy ghouls who have names like “the famous writer Victor Hugo,” “the Bishop of Bath and Wells,” and “the 33rd President of the United States” (Harry Truman for those of you too busy to Google it). Early in the book he meets a living girl called Scarlett whose parents think Bod is her imaginary playfriend. Even Scarlett herself isn’t sure. Later he meets a witch who was “drownded and burnded and buried here without as much as a stone to mark the spot.” “You were drowned AND burned?” Bod asks her. Bod befriends the witch, an outcast.
Along with all the cool characters there are some fine stories. Each chapter is like a mini adventure. My favorite is when Bod takes on a school bully. How to scare a bully: have him follow you to scary place, like, oh, how about a cemetery? Boo! Bully runs away. And doesn’t pick on the little kids anymore. But of course it doesn’t work out exactly as Bod had planned. But having ghosts on your side can be a good thing. They can teach you important things like how to Fade and dreamwalk. And the difference between the living and the dead. But cemeteries aren’t really scary places. It just depends on your point of view. And your perception of cemeteries will likely be altered by the Graveyard Book.
Earlier this year the American Library Association (ALA), a organization made up of actual adults, gave their golden Newbery award to Neil Gaiman for the Graveyard Book. I should mention that the ALA announced this award at their annual meeting in my city of Denver, which seems to have become the place to give out awards and nominations and other important adult things. I’m sure these learned adults didn’t even notice the pictures cleverly hidden away in the book. Ah but wait, the ALA also gives out an award called the Caldecott to a picture book illustrator! They are children after all. And so are you. If you like the Graveyard Book.
The Graveyard Book is available at many fine libraries. Or try your wonderful local bookseller.
Photograph: Mausoleum Door Handle by Joe Beine, Fairmount Cemetery, Denver, Colorado
A handshake symbol on a tombstone usually signifies a welcome into the heavenly world. Sometimes you may see this as a symbol of matrimony on the grave marker of a married couple. If it’s a marriage symbol you may notice that one cuff will look masculine and the other, feminine.
Photograph: from the tombstone of Hugh L. Mitchell, died Dec. 14, 1882, age 34/4/17, Ute Cemetery, Aspen, Colorado.
Old West outlaw William Bonney, aka “Billy the Kid,” was famously shot by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett in Fort Sumner, New Mexico on July 14, 1881. He was buried in the Old Fort Sumner Cemetery alongside Tom O’Folliard and Charlie Bowdre, two members of the Kid’s gang, who had both been killed by Garrett’s posse in 1880. The Kid’s individual grave marker, which wasn’t placed until 1940, has been stolen and recovered twice. It is presently in shackles inside an iron cage.
There are those who believe that the person buried in Fort Sumner isn’t the real Billy the Kid, but an impostor. Numerous claims have been made, but two possible other Billy the Kids are Ollie “Brushy Bill” Roberts (buried in Hamilton, Texas) and John Miller (buried in Prescott, Arizona, where he died in 1937).
John Miller’s remains were exhumed in 2005. DNA was gathered from two corpses buried next to each other — researchers were unsure at first which of the two was the body of John Miller. DNA samples from these exhumations were to be compared with bloodstains from a bench where the Kid’s body was laid after he was killed in Fort Sumner. But so far the results of any comparisons with Miller’s DNA have not been released to the public.
The same team had also wanted to exhume the bodies of the Fort Sumner Billy the Kid, and the Kid’s mother Catherine Antrim, who is buried in Silver City, New Mexico. But officials in Fort Sumner and Silver City have successfully blocked these exhumations. For more details on the search for Billy the Kid see: A New Billy the Kid? The mad search for the bones of an American outlaw icon has come to Arizona. Despite the impostor theories, many historians believe the real Billy the Kid died and was buried in Fort Sumner.
Photographs by Joe Beine, 17 October 2007, Fort Sumner, New Mexico
I sometimes see statues in cemeteries, where a female figure or angel is holding flowers in one hand, while the other hand seems to be dropping the flowers over the graves. I’m not sure of the exact significance of this, but the angels appear to be spreading blessings. Perhaps this tradition is related to flower girls at weddings who spread flowers or petals ahead of the bride, or hand them out to the guests. If anyone knows more about this tradition feel free to leave a comment.
Photo: Mt. Olivet Cemetery, Wheat Ridge, Colorado (you can click on the photograph for a larger view).