I’m not, by nature, a morbid person. I am, however, an avid history buff. I’m also a rabid baseball fan, and I live across the street from Oahu Cemetery, the home for all eternity of Alexander Cartwright, the father of modern baseball. With the approach of the Fall Classic, the World Series (and my beloved Philadelphia Phillies in it), I was compelled recently to wander over to the cemetery to pay my respects to Mr. Cartwright. And, it turns out, to a host of important figures in the history of Hawaii.
Oahu Cemetery was established in 1844, the first public cemetery in Hawaii. During the booming whaling era of Hawaii’s past it became necessary to accommodate the burial needs of a rapidly increasing population. Many sailors who were banished from their ships due to illness or behavioral reasons stayed in Honolulu and started families, and, back then, there were a lot of things that could kill you, disease and other people in particular.
Oahu Cemetery is considered a “Victorian cemetery,” presumably because of the ornate, regal designs of the tombstones of the cemetery’s earliest and most affluent permanent residents. Marble angels watch over the final resting places of lost children. Celtic filigree crosses and gleaming Egyptian obelisks sprout from the Nuuanu hillside. Simple stone headstones sprinkle the grass all over the 18 acres of Oahu Cemetery.
I didn’t sense any gloominess among the stones, but was overcome with a somber sense of the deep history of Honolulu. Lorrin A. Thurston, one of the leaders of the overthrow of the Hawaiian monarchy in 1893, is buried there, as is American railroad magnate Benjamin F. Dillingham. Common sailors and lofty American aristocrats share the same place until Kingdom Come. More recent family additions give a sense that the past is still with us.
It was a lovely walk in the park, so to speak, a reflective reverie among adoring expressions of love by those who loved and lost someone long ago. I came to realize that I live less than a block from the permanent home of the soul of baseball. Although it may seem glib and insensitive, I must say that Oahu Cemetery is a lovely stroll. Go Phillies.
2162 Nuuanu Avenue • Honolulu, HI 96817