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TRUE LOVE: William and Zina Skinner were married in 1911. He was 36 years old. She was 19. He died 31 years later, just shy of his 68th birthday. She died 43 years after that at age 95. But they remain “SWEETHEARTS FOREVER,” both in life and in death. Ely Cemetery, 2018.

Do the dead hold grudges?

I hope not. I hope that after folks have passed on, all the grievances and the differences that separated them in life are buried along with the physical bodies they no longer need.

But it’s hard to say, especially in a small town like Ely, Nevada, where friends and enemies in life end up just a few feet from one another, buried beneath the gravely surface, in coffins separated only by dirt and the roots of tall trees. Some of the dead have fancy stones above their graves, others have more simple plaques, but financial or social status doesn’t mean that much when you’re dead.

The Ely City Cemetery is small – unlike the Forest Lawn or Rose Hills or Arlington mega-cemeteries of Southern California. The graves come down almost to the sidewalk along busy E. Aultman Street, separated only by a 30-inch rock wall. Across the street is the Big 8 Tire Store and the Cruise-In Car Wash and Mini Lube.

Most of the graves at the Ely cemetery are actual upright stones – not the little flat plaques in the ground that make it easier to mow the grass and keep down maintenance costs, as is common in newer big-city plots. The upright stones makes it quicker to locate the graves of loved ones and gives each grave a little personal style of the person or persons buried beneath.

LIFE GOES ON – People getting new tires put on and old ones repaired across the street at Big 8 Tires.

Except for the sound of nearby traffic, the Ely cemetery is blissfully calm on a weekday morning. Aultman is a busy street in Ely with a fair amount of traffic. People driving home from work or going out to eat drive right past the final resting place of family and friends. You wonder how many driving past at 40 mph give a sad nod to loved ones who are departed. And how many folks getting a new set of tires at the Big 8 ever wander across the road for a quick visit with the memories of those long gone. You see fresh flowers on some of the graves, sometimes of people who have been dead for 10, 20 years and more – colorful remembrances of lost relationships.

Ely was a mining town, populated with people from all over the world – Asians, Italians, Slavs, French Basques, English, Greeks, and Native Americans. It was a small town reflection of American society at large, a melting pot of cultures, cuisines, and religions. It is a mix well-represented at the cemetery.

FALLEN WARRIOR – Gone but not forgotten.

In a shady grove, set off to one side, is the section for Ely veterans, who served their country. You find the graves of veterans lined up in rank and file from World War I, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the newer ones from the current era. Ely’s recognition of those who served.

Some of them have their wives buried next to them, joined in death as they were in life. There is even a father and a daughter – him a private from World War II, she a sergeant first class from the Vietnam War.

ALL IN THE FAMILY – Veterans united by blood.

The Ely graveyard, like all graveyards, contains both mysteries and secrets. Who were the people interred beneath the sod. How did they die, and are their graves near their friends or beside their bitter enemies? And perhaps most of all, do the bones and withered flesh encased beneath the sod have any relation at all to the person who once was, or is it merely a remembrance for the ones left behind?

You may think such thoughts, but not for too long. The living need to live. The dead are just one more reminder that we are all headed for the same place. Life is short, joy is fleeting, and time is not to be wasted.

George Lee Cunningham

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