March 27, 2006
About a hundred years ago, the Berachah Industrial Home was established on what is now this campus for the protection of homeless girls and unwed mothers. (Contemporary accounts referred to them as "wild girls".) At the time, there were ten buildings, including a print shop for the publication of the Purity Journal. (I'll bet that was a fun read.) Now, the only thing remaining is the cemetery, which contains about eighty graves and dates from 1904. The home closed down in the 1930s.
Most of the graves are of children, and are marked by a simple flat stone flush with the ground. Some of them are engraved with antique-sounding names like Ruth or Pearl, but most are simply marked with the word "infant" and a number. As melancholy as most cemeteries are, this one might be the saddest one in the world.
It's not a raw, immediate kind of sad. If these babies had survived, they would almost certainly have died long ago, maybe after living long, eventful lives. They would have been almost middle-aged by the time World War II began, after all. All the same, there's a heavy feeling of "Might Have Been" in the air, and if there are ghosts lurking in those quiet trees, they are very tiny ghosts indeed.
When I was a student, I would go out to the cemetery when I needed to escape or think or just be alone. Sometimes I would bring my trombone and play a Bach Sarabande for the Infant No. Whatevers. I haven't been back in over a decade, but I should have known that nothing would have changed.
I needed to go back. I'm sure it won't be the last time.