Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Reaching Back to Remember Anna a Little Known Life Deserves to Be Memorialized

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Reaching Back to Remember Anna a Little Known Life Deserves to Be Memorialized

Article excerpt

I bought a gravestone the other day. It was my first time.

Don't call or send a card, though. No one in the family died - at least not in the last 96 years.

Before I made the purchase, I called two monument companies and even shopped online. In the end, I chose the Wild Rose granite over the American Gray. When the slab is laid this spring, flush with the ground in McKeesport-Versailles Cemetery, it will contain no photo or poetic inscription - just one name and two dates:

Anna Nizky Sabolik

1883 - 1922

The stone is for a woman I have never met, a person whose face I have never seen. In fact, no present living member of my family, no matter how old, knew her since she died almost a century ago at the age of 38.

She was my great-grandmother, the mother of my grandfather, my mother's grandmother. As I was growing up, I had the love and attention of a great-grandmother who lived nearby, but around the time I was a teenager, I came to understand that she was the second wife of my long-deceased great-grandfather. So, who was my biological great-grandmother and why did we know nothing about her?

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I have always been a graves and tombs guy. People fascinated with history like to walk battlefields, visit monuments, tour birthplaces. I traipse burial grounds.

For all their silence and tranquility, the graves of historic figures speak loudly. They are, of course, the physical end point of a towering person's life journey. They are also the final marker, modest or spectacular, of what that life represented.

Consider the understated graves of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson. Washington's remains are in a simple white sarcophagus behind a black iron gate at his estate in Mount Vernon. Jefferson lies, according to his personal instructions, under a less-than-monumental obelisk in the family cemetery at Monticello.

Contrast that with the 12.5-acre site featuring granite terrace, balustrade staircases and interior corridors, all topped by a 170-foot obelisk over the remains of Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, Ill. Yet his sprawling monument is no rival for the over-the-top crypt in Paris of Napoleon Bonaparte: a red quartzite tomb on a green granite base sitting 351 feet under the breathtaking, baroque Dome des Invalides modeled after St. Peter's Basilica in Rome.

Sometimes a person's final resting place is remarkable for the company it keeps. In Vienna's Central Cemetery lie the musical giants Beethoven, Brahms, Schubert and Strauss. Particularly simple is Beethoven's grave, marked by a gravestone crowned by a short obelisk. An even greater concentration of titans lies inside Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in St. Petersburg, Russia: Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Nicholas II and most of the other Russian tsars.

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No one should have to build an empire or compose the Ninth Symphony to merit a grave that gets attention. …

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