Abner T. Townsend 1828 - 1831

Abner T. Townsend Born 1828, died 1831, age 3, cause of death unknown, buried in Townsend Cemetery, on a hilltop in Armstrong County, PA.

Last year my brother-in-law took me for a walk through the woods of the property that he owns. As we walked he would point out the names of trees, plants and fauna. Over there is a Paper Birch, that is a White Oak, this is a Black Cherry tree, good for building furniture, and over there is poison ivy, he would say. He has an understanding of the land that he walks on. A love for the soil and the space that he owns. I can’t even tell you the names of the flowers that sprout magically every spring in my own backyard. I sit on my back porch as I write this staring at purple flowers. I can’t even type a good enough description into Google to find out the flowers names.

We reach the hilltop, walk out of the woods and into an open field. The field has a large scale movie set feel to it (build it and they will come). Viewing the grand open space is a rare experience all to itself. Few times have I seen land that has not been excavated by man, earth’s landscape as seen before man, a truly breathtaking sight, as we stop to catch our breath.

To our left sits a wall about 3 feet high, stone bricks that had to weigh more than a man could pick up. The wall forms a perfect square with a small opening leading you into the plots. The first words that my brother-in-law shares with me is that these stones must have been carried up here by horse and buggy, a long day’s labor for man and animal.

Many of the tombstones in the graveyard are unreadable, time has taken the etching away, leaving only a stone with no story. Many of the stones in the graveyard were small, standing no more than a foot high and 3 inches think. The growth of trees and plants have choked out many of the stones that once felt the air, now buried by roots, fallen trees, plants and new soil birthed from the decay.

Abner’s tombstone stood tall and strong, standing at four feet in height by 3 feet in width. This stone was built to outlast nature. It has. Here we are standing in the Townsend family Cemetery looking at a gravesite that has been untouched for the past 180 years. When was that last time somebody before us stood at this grave? Fifty years, 100 years, 150 years ago? When was the last time anybody said Abner’s name?

As I set my tripod up and place my camera into position. I think about the composition that I wish to create. I want to show a strong image that holds the emotion of placing Abner into the earth at the age of 3. I wanted to create an image that holds the feeling that their young son will not be forgotten and that the tombstone stills hold his name. I want to create an image that is respectable to the land that holds Abner.

It has taken me one year to go back to the Townsend family Cemetery to take this photograph. It has been a ghost-image that has stayed with me over the months since I last visited the land.

To the Townsend family who may still live on a hilltop somewhere in Armstrong county, I offer this photos as gratitude for the love that your ancestor left behind.