Do these gravestones
look a bit unfamiliar to you? I like to think of them as a way
of merging a little bit of the old ways with the new. My father,
James Hoyt Mullins, was an avid genealogist and had traced his
family roots into Scotland and Ireland, (among other locales),
and was particularly fascinated by his Celtic culture. One particular
aspect of that culture was the tradition of building a "cairn."
King Orry’s Grave,
All Photographs © David Ratcliffe
My research on cairns however,
proves to go back further into history than my father knew. Cairn
graves were built on the Finnish coastline during the Bronze Age.
Amazing isn't it?
A cairn by Webster's
Dictionary definition is a conical heap of stones built as a monument
or a landmark. Similarly, Ireland and Scotland's landscape is
dotted with many cairns such as the one at Laxley, all erected
for a particular reason. One such cairn that still exists today
is King Orry's Grave, in Laxley.
We knew my father
cared enough to build his father a unique monument so we felt
that he would also want something just as unique for himself.
My brothers have told me that this was a special time for them,
working and laboring over Dad's grave, erecting a monument for
him. It gave them time to come to terms with his death and his
life. It also gave them a chance to build something to honor the
life that he lived.
It was the best
and yet the most difficult task they have ever had to finish.
We have often wondered how Dad felt while he and his brothers
built their father's cairn. Probably the thoughts that came to
their minds while laboring over their father's cairn were similar
to my brothers as they did the same. This is just one more link
in the chain of life.
We also had a
bronze plaque fashioned with my father's name, birth and death
date and a quote placed on the front. The quote states "A man
of the mountains, A man for God." We also had our favorite picture
of him, engraved, by laser, on the side. This picture was a charcoal
drawing of my father in his mountain man attire; a linsey-woolsey
shirt, fringed pants, powder horn, tri-corn hat, and holding a
Kentucky Mountain Long Rifle, or more commonly known as a muzzle
My father often
traveled to various places and spoke to groups about these mountains,
and the people who settled here and made them home. He wore an
eye-patch, which made him look like the "mountain-man" he so often
portrayed. While at the young age of 21, a muzzle loader he owned,
blew up in his face, causing irreparable damage to his eye. The
eye-patch was just one more fascinating aspect of my father's
life. Although blind in one eye, he never considered that he was
disabled in any way.
Back view of
He often played
his guitar and sang songs of the mountain people, and the hardships
they endured while settling this strange land called America.
Children were especially fascinated by his mountain songs and
tales and often begged for particular favorites when he went to
visit. This charcoal drawing of him was done in Asheville, North
Carolina by a well-known artist, VanRensselaer. Mr. VanRensselaer
happened to be in the audience during one of my father's recitation/dramas
of mountain life. He drew this picture of my father during the
drama and presented it to him after his performance.
When my time for "planting"
in this Appalachian soil comes, I want one of these cairns built
as a monument for me. And so it goes…
If you would
like more information on cairns or how to build one like those
shown above, contact email@example.com
In memory of James