Located in the center of this small fishing town, we were able to park at the inn and simply walk everywhere. One day we went to the Orman house, an old home originally owned by the man who practically put Apalachicola on the map. It is now a "state park" and the ranger was our guide. This place is not just his job, it is his life. He has written books on it, and he knows it like it is his own childhood home. We saw all the furniture, dishes, and even clothes from the original family, up three stories all the way to the locked entrance to the widow's walk. As nice as this home must have been in the 1800s, it amazed us more to find out that it had been the guest house. When the family's main home was destroyed they had moved into this one. Being this family's guests was a privilege indeed.
After we left the house, we began our walk back to the center of town down the residential streets. Most of the houses were beautiful old frame homes in the same style as the inn—large windows, high ceilings, wrap around porches, and widow's walks, with professionally landscaped lawns. Before long we were taking pictures of ordinary peoples' homes instead of those in the historic district.
After a few blocks we came upon the Chestnut Street Cemetery. The cemetery is the oldest burial ground in the town. It is said to have 560 marked graves as well as many unmarked ones. Certainly it appeared full to me as we walked around what looked like a haphazard layout on a rough, uneven path shaded by old live oaks. We had been given a map but it was almost impossible to find some of the graves. It was equally impossible to read some of the gravestones because they were so old. We found at least one grave of a woman born in 1700s.
Our wandering showed us the final resting sites of people who died in their 60s, 50s, 40s, and even 20s and teens. We found Confederate soldiers and Union sympathizers lying not 50 yards apart. We found large plots where the remains of wealthy family members all rested together, and small insignificant stones marking the graves of the poor, among them a marker reading "Rose, a Faithful Servant." Then, not far from another large family enclave, we found the grave of a woman who had cut her husband's throat—and then her own.
We found many, many tiny stones marking the graves of infants, often several from the same family. In one spot we found three names on one marker, a 40 year old father, his 2 year old child, and 6 month old baby, all victims the same year of a yellow fever epidemic.
All this reminded me of the fourth Lamentation. The whole focus of that psalm of lament seems to be that the destruction of Jerusalem did something no reformer ever could—it made all the people equal.
Her princes were purer than snow, whiter than milk; their bodies were more ruddy than coral, the beauty of their form was like sapphire. Now their face is blacker than soot; they are not recognized in the streets; their skin has shriveled on their bones; it has become as dry as wood. (Lam 4:7-8). The wealthy among them, who neglected and even mistreated the poor, now looked no different and suffered no differently than the poor they had once looked down upon.
Death does the same thing. The large, ornate markers over the graves we saw were just as difficult to read due to age as the smaller plain markers, and the bodies beneath them would not have looked one bit better had they been dug up.
But death does do this: it separates the righteous from the unrighteous. The final destination of the former is far better than that of the latter. In that they are not equal. And if anything can finally make us realize that all these things we spend our lives on are pointless unless our work and service is directed toward God, perhaps it is that. Unfortunately, too many of us learn this a little bit too late.
If you can find the Chestnut Street cemetery, or one like it, maybe it would do you a world of good to walk through it soon.
One dies in his full vigor, being wholly at ease and secure, his pails full of milk and the marrow of his bones moist. Another dies in bitterness of soul, never having tasted of prosperity. They lie down alike in the dust, and the worms cover them. (Job 21:23-26)