The mist drifts across the field and through the cemetery. Together with the rising sun, it streams between the trees and onto the graves. Golden rays fall upon a black marble monument which rises high, taller than the surrounding stones. I stop in front of this memorial pillar, shivering in the cold morning air. My eyes scan the words inscribed upon it. and, immediately, my brain moves up a gear. Without any encouragement from me, it starts manipulating the numbers, ordering the facts and figures.
Mary Ellsmore died in 1900 when she was 34. I do some mental subtraction and discover she was born in 1866.
Working forwards: 1866 + 34= 1900. Yes, I was right.
She was born in one century and died at the beginning of another.
Imagine dying at 34. That’s young. Mary’s two sons died at even younger ages. One was hardly more than a baby when he was buried beneath this stone. The other was only a little boy. I wonder if their mother died of a broken heart.
Adrian was only 1 year and 8 months old when he died. Thomas died when he was 6 years and 10 months old. Who was the elder brother? I’m guessing Thomas was born first because he bears his father’s name. (Wasn’t that the tradition in those days?) But I work it out to make sure.
Thomas junior died in 1896 when he was almost 7. (I round up his age.) So he was probably born in 1889:
1896 – 7 = 1889
Adrian died in 1893 when he was 2. (Again, I round up his age.) So most likely, he was born in 1891:
1893 – 2 = 1891
There is no mention of any more children. Was Mary’s grief never softened by the birth of another baby? And what was the cause of her death? It’s not recorded. I can only imagine.
Was Thomas Ellsmore senior devastated when he buried his wife after also burying two sons? Was he shocked when he found himself alone? Perhaps he never anticipated being a widower. He probably never expected to outlive Mary. I see from the inscription that he was older than his wife. How much older?
Thomas died in 1942 when he was 93 years old. (A ripe old age. Was that unusual for those times?)
1942 – 93 = 1849
Is that right? I mentally do the problem another way to check:
1942 – 100 = 1842
1842 + 7 = 1849
Now Mary was born in 1866.
1866 – 1849 = 17
Or doing it an easier way:
66 – 50= 16
16 + 1 = 17
Maybe when Mary married Thomas she expected one day to be a widow. She’d live longer than her older husband. But that’s not the way it turned out.
I stand, deep in thought, wondering about the Ellsmore story. So much grief inscribed into very few words. So much we don’t know.
But I did find out the bare bones of the story by doing some mental adding and subtracting. I didn’t set out to do the maths. I just couldn’t help myself. My mind wanted to know more.
Addition, subtraction, centuries, years, months, rounding up, age, dates, births and deaths…
There is a lot of maths in a cemetery. And there are a lot of stories too.
Here’s another one:
We have our very own maths cemetery story:
Thomas Augustine Elvis died on 10th November 1999 when he was one day old. This means we celebrate his birthday each year on November 9th.
2016 – 1999 = 17
This year Thomas would have been 17 years old. Despite the maths being correct, that’s hard to believe.
So what were we doing in a misty cemetery last Friday morning as the sun was rising? Team Elvis was recording another music video. My daughter Imogen sang Wish You Were Somehow Here Again, a song from The Phantom of the Opera. Our son Thomas is included in the last scene. He may no longer be here, but he is still part of the story.
So next time you visit a cemetery, wander among the graves, read the inscriptions, imagine the stories behind the words as you do some unschool maths.
And if you feel inclined, if you believe, say a prayer.