Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Lost & Found in the City of the Dead

1920s graves, Edmonton Cemetery, North London.

Tonight begins Yom Kippur, the day of atonement and remembrance of the dead. So it's about time that I finally recount my August visit to Edmonton Cemetery in London. As I wrote in the July 29 post kicking off my Fabulous Yiddisher Britisher Tour, I and long-lost Stander cousins Dan and father Howard went to Edmonton but were denied entrance. The helpful person who told me the cemetery closes at 4:00 pm on summer Fridays neglected to mention that the gates are locked at 3:00 pm. So we left in defeat, after I snapped a retaliatory photo (see 7/29 post).

I went back by myself the following Tuesday at 1:00. Thanks to the databases on, I knew where three long-ago kin were buried, and figured I'd find others on my own by looking at each and every grave as I had in Margate. But after walking back and forth through maybe 20 rows of tightly packed graves in Q section nearest the entrance (the sections go A-Z, with dozens of rows in each), I realized that I had to rethink my strategy.

At the entrance of Edmonton Cemetery, with the
caretaker's cottage on left & section Q on right.

So I trudged the 1/4 mile or so to the office, where there was a group of men in jeans and T-shirts huddled about. I thought maybe I'd interrupted some frum religious ritual, but on closer inspection they turned out to be playing a mid-day game of poker. I asked the caretaker, a freckled and sandy-haired bloke with a classic Nawf Lunnen accent, whether there was a map to the graves. No, just a plan of the various sections. I left my heavy bag in his care and traipsed back out into the blazing sun (yes, London does get hot & sunny) with just my camera, notebook & pen. This time I decided to look for the graves I knew about, then go through sections T-Z, which weren't yet in the JewishGen database.

Wall near office, Edmonton Cemetery. Ladies' sign is
in Yiddish: "Fuhr froyin." For detail of large sign over
fountain, see August post "Signs of the Times: London."

I threaded my way through the claustrophobic K section (see photo at top), dodging leaning headstones while also trying not to step on the graves; an impossible task, as they're maybe six inches apart. Eventually I found the grave of Harris & Jane Stander, who died respectively in 1940 and 1921. I knew they had a son, Benjamin--named for Jane's father, I deduced from the headstone inscription--and wondered why there was no mention of him. Then I righted the tablet at the foot of the grave that had been knocked over so long ago that there was a thick layer of soil under it, embedded in which were lead letters that had fallen off the stone. (Many of the gravestones had letters stuck onto them, instead of carved inscriptions. Must have been cheaper; definitely less durable.) It was a memorial for Benjamin from his sisters; he was killed in action in 1915, age 22. Poor boy; I wondered whether anyone alive besides myself knew he had existed. The grave had obviously not been visited in decades.

Grave of Harris (Zvi) & Jane (Simchah)
Stander, and memorial for son Benjamin.

Let this be a virtual memorial candle to Benjamin Stander and all the forgotten dead wherever--and whoever--they may be.