No flowers adorn this once-elaborate tomb, only graffiti
In the early evening I visited the older of the two cemeteries at the invitation of my friend Alexandra, who's from Hermosillo and has no family in Guaymas, but just wanted to observe the occasion, which promised to be interesting even without the usual fiesta.
It was a day for local entrepreneurs to make a few pesos. By the entrance flower vendors were doing a brisk trade. Several young boys carrying buckets and rags stopped Ale and she explained that they were offering to clean tumbas (tombs) for 30 pesos, and would even sing special songs, which was all the music the dead would get to hear this year.
I was a little worried about the spray cans, having seen some tombs marred with graffiti, but then I saw a fellow clinging to the top of a 12-foot-tall capillo (chapel) spraying a statue of Jesus with copper paint. Guadalupes, angels and cherubs got a similar sprucing-up here and there.
Many graves have planters built into them, and though most were full of weeds, a few people had brought flowers to plant. A big cistern full of water in the middle of the graveyard supplies everyone's needs (including the mosquitoes). Some people bring flowers to place on neglected graves of strangers, Ale said.
Shoulder to shoulder stand Jesus and Winnie the Pooh
Some graves the size of one person are inscribed with several peoples' names, and Ale explained that when the second person in a family dies, the first is removed while the earth beneath him was dug deeper, then he was replaced and the newcomer placed on top of him, as an economy strategy.
Everything is built of rebar and concrete (is that why the Mexican word for cemetery is cementerio?). Much of it is covered with porcelain tile in traditional white, jade green, ice cream pink or swimming pool blue while slabs of marble encase the more affluent departed. One child's pink mausoleo has murals of Winnie the Pooh characters on its walls, while another sports an image of Tweetiebird. Many tombs have small locked enclosures where flowers, photos and mementoes can be placed, safe from thieves. I shuddered when Ale said the tiles and sacred figures were often ripped from graves and resold.
Even without music, food and cerveza, visitors to the cemetery managed to make it a social outing, taking their time with the cleaning and decorating, sitting on the tombs (after respectfully asking permission of the departed) to chat.
Spaces in this particular graveyard have been sold out for years and except for the paths every foot was occupied.
A tower looms over the other graves near the back wall, decorated with an anchor, and I wanted to see if a marinero was buried there. The inscription was in English, and almost 100 years old. Frank E. Brady was a sailor on the USS Raleigh when he died in Guaymas and was buried here in 1914.
Frank Barnes' tower
I Googled the Raleigh, and found it was a vessel that served in the Spanish-American War and toured from Guaymas to Guatemala from 1913 until World War I. Frank's friends were long gone, and no flowers adorned his tower. I was curious how he ended up with such an imposing monument in a Mexican graveyard, especially since his rank wasn't even included in the inscription, which suggests to me that the US Navy didn't erect this monument. A mystery! I pictured someone aboard the Raleigh passing the hat among the crew to give Frank a posh eternal home.
USS Raleigh, Frank Barnes' ship