This is an archived article. For the latest news, go to the Advance Homepage
For more archives, go to the Advance Archive/Search Page.

  October 30, 2000

Earthly Matters
Everlasting Roses: Quartz Gravestone
Will Withstand Test of Time

Halloween draws near. For my children, this means costumes, parties, candy, and perhaps a few pranks. For me it means ghosts and graveyards. On that special night, "All Souls' Eve," I take the time to think about time.

Recently, while walking across campus, I detoured across North Eagleville Road into the Storrs Cemetery Association, the closest thing we have to a campus graveyard.

There I found an unusual quarried stone, a rough-surfaced, boulder-size d block of rose quartz, which had crystallized within a vein deep within the earth's crust. It was uncut, unpolished and uncarved; natural in every way. Pink patches mottled the otherwise white stone, giving the illusion of roses, frozen within the stone. Flecks of a greenish, shiny, slate-like rock called phyllite lined the fractures, giving the illusion of green stems and leaves. In the heart of the stone was a brass plaque labeled "Edmund L. Schmidt 1920-1956."

Questions flooded my mind. Who was this man? Did he like to be called Ed? Why did he die so young? Why was his stone au naturale, when all the others were fashioned or arranged in some purposeful manner? Who was it that chose the color pink for a young man, especially during the 1950s? I have no answers.

Of all the questions I asked myself that day, the one that intrigued me most was whether the person selecting his stone realized that it would outlast the others.

Geologists understand that vein quartz like that of Mr. Schmidt's stone is one of the strongest materials in nature. Indeed quartz, whether pure or tinted with impurities, consists of little more than silicon dioxide (SiO2). Lacking reactive or soluble elements - iron, calcium, sodium, magnesium - and being massive, instead of layered, a block of quartz is exceptionally resistant to the earth's weather, even

in humid climates such as ours. It is almost everlasting.

Nearby monuments provide a study in contrasts. The marble headstone of Maria J. Stedman, who died in 1880, is fading fast; already the lettering on her stone is hard to read, and its top looks like granulated sugar. Likewise, the sandstone monument of the Richardson family, erected in the early 20th century, is crumbling back into sand. Granite headstones are abundant in a variety of colors and shapes, and are decomposing much more slowly. But even they are slowly decomposing into sand, silt, and clay, which will ultimately be washed to the nearest stream.

Thousands of years from now, all of these nearby stones will have fractured, crumbled and dissolved into the eroded hillside, leaving Mr. Schmidt's headstone to stand like a pink beacon.

Graveyard flowers, even the plastic ones, fade, disintegrate, and are engulfed by the soil. The bouquet of stone "roses" marking the grave of Edmund L. Schmidt will last almost forever, even without tending. These are the flowers I want for myself, when I, too, become a ghost.

Robert Thorson