Some time ago I was reading an anthology of Italian Folktales written by Italo Calvino titled Italian Folktales. Among the stories in this wonderful book, there is a very short story (one page) titled Nero and Bertha. Bertha used to do nothing but spin. She was known as a skillful spinner. Because Nero was not known for his kindness, Bertha one day wished him well and a long life, “May God grant you health so good you’ll live a thousand years of life.” He was puzzled by her good wishes and asked her why. She replied “because a bad one is always followed by a worse one.” So he ordered her to come back the next day with all she had been able to spin between now and then. She was not sure why and thought he would use it to hang her because “I wouldn’t put it past him. That hangman is capable of everything!” When she came back with it, he ordered her to stretch her yarn as far as it went. When she was done he gave her all the land that was on both sides of the yarn. She went from a servant to a lady just like that and she no longer needed to spin. When the word spread around the empire about how Nero had shown such kindness, poor women went to Nero hoping for a show of such good will. He replied “The good old times when Bertha spun are no more.” Indeed, they were no more.
I was fascinated by this story, its meaning, its characters, and their actions. But the last words have stuck with me since then. There is something very definite about Nero’s words. A sense of finality. The good old times do come to an end one way or another. Like Nero, we mark when our good old times have ended. We try to remember the good old times by taking photos, writing stories, lifting monuments, and others. In some cases people’s good old times are celebrated by building magnificent architectural tombstones after they die. This the reason, the story reminded me of my visit in 2007 to Graceland Cemetery in Chicago for a tour called Snap Chicago. Snap Chicago, is a summer activity the Society of Typographic Arts hosts every year. I love participating. It gives me an opportunity to get to know the city, which even after 3 years of living here, is still unfamiliar to me. But when I do manage to attend, I get to have a good time with good people.
You may be wondering what about this cemetery is so special? Odd place to have a picture field day, you might think… But this is not your ordinary and straightforward tomb and grass cemetery… no, no, no… This is THE cemetery where famous designers and other famous Chicago people have been buried. This is not a small affair since the tombstones and mausoleums are architecture pieces themselves. In fact this cemetery has been known as The Cemetery of Architects. “The good old times” of these famous people were being honored here. Our day could not have been more beautiful and sunny. It made it hard to take some photos, but I enjoyed every minute of it.
The cemetery is like a park. You can walk and walk for hours. There are so many beautiful sites and details. If you are not from Chicago, you might not know that Louis Sullivan, the architect is buried here and in good company I might add. Architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and the designer, photographer, and typographer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, and “The first licensed female architect in the U.S. and the only woman in the Oak Park Studio of Frank Lloyd Wright,” Marion Mahony Griffin are also buried here. Louis Sullivan even designed one of the tombstones here. Among them, the Getty Tomb, “commissioned by lumber merchant Henry Harrison Getty for his wife…” The tomb is a cube with fine details. And that was precisely what impacted me so much about this cemetery. It was like time stopped and we were submerged in this zone full of beautiful architectural pieces in a beautiful landscape.
Here are other photos I took with my captions…