The Gravedigger

by Thalassa Raasch MFA 16 Photography

These are unedited excerpts from journal entries in the field—these visits, initially funded by RISD GS|Grant, became the basis for my MFA thesis work. The following was originally published in v.1: A RISD Grad Journal.

In the fall of 2012, I walked into a diner in the small town of Cherryfield, Maine, and met Everard Hall. He was seated at a central table and had several conversations going with his fellow diners and the waitress. We met; I said “My name is Thalassa,” and he said, “Can I call you Charlie?” We’ve been talking ever since.

At eleven years old Everard dropped out of school to help provide for his seven siblings and bedridden mother. There were years of chopping firewood, delivering papers, and dishwashing at restaurants. At nineteen he got a part time job with the local stone cutter, moving headstones and memorials to where they needed to be. One weekend the gravedigger in town asked him for an extra hand digging a particularly hard grave. Soon the gravedigger retired and passed his business on to Everard. Now 71, Everard calls gravedigging his reason for being on this earth.

This past summer and fall, with support from a RISD GS|Grant, I lived with Everard and his wife, Pat, in Downeast Maine. We worked alongside each other—digging graves, mowing lawns while we waited for graves, photographing, shooting the shit, attending his granddaughter’s 8th birthday party, and more. I collected photographs, audio, video, archival materials, and dirt. I also kept an intermittent journal. These are fragments from my writings:

June 2015

They are so sweet to me, welcoming me in as family and saying several times, “It’s good to have you home.” Pat says that only me and Aunt Carol are allowed to stay over in the guest bedroom.

After I ran around in the rain trying to make a photograph, we spent the evening chatting, burping, watching some terrifyingly dramatic fishing show, and shining lights into the yard to see if we could catch a bear and her two cubs that we were trying to lure back with carrot/parsnip/potato peels strewn in the grass. I heard about sex-crazed Avaline, Amy giving birth without a peep, other relatives who were a “pain in the pooch,” and the mysteries of carving the perfect ax handle out of ash.

My room here is magic—a blanket printed with a pattern of life-sized kittens in baskets, rifles hanging over my bed, and glow-in-the-dark stars appearing across this heaving ceiling when the lights go out. Flashes of lightning in the quiet outside, then the shape of rain moving across the roof in bands or arcs or sine curves.

November 2015

Sitting in bed at the Hall’s. It is cold—Everard shut the heat off until they can afford to fill the tank with oil again. In the meantime the oven, set to 300 degrees, keeps the kitchen area warm.

This project has continued past my time at RISD. A final GS|Grant in the summer of 2017 brought me to the catacombs of Rome to research the earliest visual depiction of a fossor, a fourth century gravedigger. Since my graduation, I have been working to bring all this research together into a final project edit.

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