Sunday, October 14, 2012

Ghosts in the graveyard

It is October which means it is time to visit cemeteries! So while other people were worrying over the Bills game Buzz went to Cheektowaga and wandered among the graves and falling leaves of Our Lady Help of Christians Cemetery.

If you have not heard of this church, its history is fascinating on a million levels. It was built by a man named Joseph Batt who was crossing the ocean on his way to America in 1836 and ran into a big storm. The ship was going down, but future Buffalonian Joseph Batt prayed to Our Lady and the ship was saved. And when he got to Buffalo he built the historic chapel in thanks.

The sweet old chapel that the Batts built in 1853 survives today, tucked in between muffler shops and strip plazas. It is like Big Blue surviving tucked among skyscrapers and parking lots.

There are lots of Batts in this cemetery! Once upon a time you had to assume there were Batts in the belfrey too. (I had to crack a Batt joke before someone else did.)

I found the grave of Joseph Batt. His dates read 1814-1899. He and his wife were both born in Elsass and I realized that must be Alsace, in what is now France. My mother's family comes from Alsace. Hereafter I will say Elsass. I will be like Joseph Batt!

A closeup of the bottom of the gravestone because it has a touching inscription.

"Friede Ihrer Asche," it reads. I would translate that to "Peace upon their ashes."

I was thinking this was the Joseph Batt who founded the church but a minute later I realized no, it was his son. This Joseph Batt would have been 14 when the ship hit that storm.

Here were the old folks.

This is a closeup so you can read the writing.

Joseph was born in 1789 and his wife in 1787. Wow, they were born when Mozart was alive. Barbara Batt was born the year that Mozart premiered "Don Giovanni," in Prague. (A music nerd's life, it ain't no good life, but it's my life.)

They both lived another 50 years after being saved by Our Lady Help of Christians, the Star of the Sea. They both died the same year. She went, and then he followed a few months later.

The inscription at the bottom of the stone: "Emigrated to America in October, 1836."

Once you got into the cemetery a little ways other names began to be mixed in with the Batts. One Batt daughter married Conrad Kohlbrenner, whose name means Coal Burner.

Eventually you had Irish names and Polish names mixed in among the Germans. As the church's Web site says, other immigrants, not only from Germany but from Poland, Ireland and Italy, began to flock to the chapel to give thanks for their own safe arrival in America. Perhaps Leonard Pennario's parents made the trip! It is very possible.

Can you take just one more picture? Urban Batt is just the coolest name, I am sorry.

Anyway, while everyone else was watching the Bills this is what I was doing.

Before I left I felt I should say a little prayer so I said a quick prayer for the repose of the souls of the Batt family who gave us this beautiful little chapel. Stopping back at the grave of Joseph and Barbara Batt, I thought for a minute until I could put my words and endings together, and I said, "Herr und Frau Batt, bitte betet Ihr fur mich."

Which means, "Mr. and Mrs. Batt, please pray for me."

I hope that is what it means, anyway! 

Otherwise I might be in for some kind of October surprise.

1 comment:

Solange De Santis said...

I love-love-love old gravestones. And what story these told!

Re your Pennario obsession: since music ran in my family, I went poking through granddad's albums. I still can't figure why I had never heard of Leonard Pennario until I made the acquaintance of your blog.

Didn't find any Pennario records (which I figured, since I grew up with these LPs) but did find about 10 of another pianist that apparently was a favorite of grandpa's - Wilhelm Backhaus and all his Beethoven sonata recordings.

I'm doing some PR work for a local orchestra and William Wolfram is coming to play the Emperor Concerto with them. But wouldn't you know it, it wasn't on any of the Backhaus records.