Postcard from Malaga, Spain: High season for spotlighting cemeteries

In Memory of Julia and William, Twin Children of James and Ann Simpson, Born at Malaga, October 17, 1859. Died. Julia December 3, 1859. William September 6, 1860. No sin. No sorrow. No complaints our pleasure here destroy. We live with God and all his saints….

Body disposal for non-Catholics in Malaga in the 19th century was a problem. Interment of Protestants was not permitted in the existing graveyards. By law, non-Catholics could only be buried during the night on the beach in a non-restful upright position, hardly comforting to relatives left behind to envision them exposed by tidal fluctuations, easy prey for soothing the hunger pangs of dogs on the prowl.

In 1829, the British Consul succeeded in gaining permission for a cemetery for Protestants on land that was then on the outskirts of town – the first Protestant cemetery in all of Spain.

Among its early residents was Robert Boyd, an Irish-American. Boyd came under the influence of Jose Maria Torrijos y Uriarte (1791-1831), and it is no coincidence they died on the same date. Following his exile in England, Torrijos launched a group of 60 liberals from Gibraltar to deliver a manifesto supporting the constitution of 1812 in opposition to the absolute monarchist Ferdinand VII (1784-1833).

The idealists thought they would land to spread the words that would immediately inspire an uprising. Unfortunately, the king’s men were expecting them. Forty-nine men were executed on San Andres Beach of Malaga. Forty-eight of the men regarded as heroes after the unpopular King Ferdinand VII’s death were interred under a landmark obelisk in the middle of Plaza Merced. Boyd, the Protestant, instead was bound for Cementerio Ingles.

Eight crew members of the SMS Gneisenau found permanent harbor there in December 1900. The Bismarck-class corvette of the German Imperial Navy had full sails to supplement its steam engines and bore a battery of 14 15-centimeter guns, all of which were useless when a fierce storm drove the ship into a stone breakwater at Malaga.

The nonprofit operating the English Cemetery struggles to maintain it. Much of the small graveyard is crumbling. It is far from the elevated aristocratic monumental cemeteries Protestant dead luxuriate in elsewhere in Europe.

But I’ll leave you with the words inscribed on my favorite headstone, that of Joseph Bertram Griffin (1920-1968), who died in Torremolinos. We think his wife, three children and little Zizi (a dog?) missed him, but the inscribed double negative made their feelings unclear. Typos carved in stone:

May God have your soul (in French).

Also with the love of your 3 children and your little Zizi which cannot never forget the wonderfull Daddy and for me husband you was.

Rest in peace. You too, Zizi, whatever and wherever you might be.

Marked Un-Graves Haunt Morning Walks

I know whom I am supposed to be researching:  The large and unwieldy cast of characters living in San Antonio between 1910 and 1920 whose stories seductively slip their way into the pages of An Ostrich Plume Hat whether they forward the plot or not.  Their ever-present ghosts float above my desk, my bathtub, my pillow at night, beckoning me to resurrect their lives on paper.  

The last thing I need is the distraction of unrelated people haunting me.  Blame it on the failure of native grasses to take root quickly on the Mission Reach.  If the construction workers or stray dogs guard the entrance by Roosevelt Park, I am forced to cross Roosevelt to South Presa.  

And there they are.  Their names prominently etched in stone disembodied from any gravesites.  

Who are they?  I worry they are not resting in peace but lying lonely underground in unmarked paupers’ graves.  

Did ungrateful descendants collect their inheritances and then decline to pick up the tabs for their headstones?  Or were they never real people, just imaginary inhabitants of San Antonio invented to serve as samples for those shopping for monuments to loved ones?  Or are they mistakes, large typos carved permanently in stone? 

From Meier Bros. Website


The latter two theories are more settling.  Meier Bros. Monuments has been in business for a long time, since 1900.  Surely the brothers have made a few spelling or date errors.  

But the names kept nagging me.  After all, Edna Viola Clift was someone’s “beloved grandmother.”  I owe her just a few short clicks on or in census records.  She did exist, dying in San Antonio in 1977.  Another woman was a longstanding member of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, still living just a couple of years ago.  How did she end up carved in stone with only her birth date? 

His stone proclaiming “Dios es Amor,” Severo O. Cervantez was born in Mexico in 1887.  In 1910, he made his living in “cement work” and resided on Division Avenue with his wife Francisca and two-year-old son Geronimo, both native Texans. 

Mattie was the one, however, who finally freed me to resume contact with the ghosts entitled to haunt me.  The letters carved in granite read “Martha May Lazrine Miller.” 

Mattie was born in 1869 and married Lee, her senior by 13 years.  The couple raised at least seven children on their farm in Del Rio, Mattie’s mother residing with them, perhaps to lend a hand.  

In 1918, the 5’6.5″-tall Lee applied for a passport so he could board a ferry-boat to take one of his sons to spring baths in Las Vacas, San Carlos, Mexico, to cure his rheumatism.  Mattie and Lee now lie together in Del Rio’s Westlawn Cemetery with some other stone at their heads.  

Lee Lazrine's Passport Photo


Thank you,, for giving me the answer I sought.  A major typo.  

Martha May’s maiden name was Miller, and she married Lee Lazrine. 

Rest in peace, Mattie.
Time for me to get back to work.