and protect the shallow graves. This architecture often mimics the much celebrated Dutch colonial architecture found throughout Curaçao; yet, each community imitated different aspects, whether the charming gables of the landhuizen (plantation houses) or the “mosaic pavement” of the synagogue (Figs. 1, 14, 15). Beyond this shared interest in architectural motifs, however, there are important differences; for example, we found that Curaçao’s Jewish cemeteries had a higher proportion of mortality symbols (Fig. 2) than either the Protestant or Catholic cemeteries on the island.
Figs. 14 and 15: (Left) Dutch gable on the “house tomb” of C. M. Schouwe (1912). Catholic Cemetery, Berg Altena. (Right) Façade and gable of Werfstraat 6, Scharloo. In the nineteenth century, the Scharloo district was quite upscale and had many Jewish residents. Tombs from different denominations not only borrow from classical architecture, but also mimic motifs found on Curaçao itself.
Like the island’s colonial houses, the tombs are often built from the local cliff stone. Impregnated with saltpeter, the walls decay quickly, and houses and tombs alike are eaten apart from within (Fig. 11).11 In several of the cemeteries, a rank smell pervades the burial grounds, and cracks allow one to peer inside the tombs and the boxes above them. Animals have invaded the burial grounds. Foot-long whiptail lizards leap out frantically of the enormous cracks in the tombs, and small birds fly up started out of their ground-level nests. The contrast with the lush “garden cemeteries” found throughout the United States during the nineteenth century could not be stronger. In Curaçao, cemeteries are often choked by scraggly weeds festering with small burrs that cling to one’s skin and clothes. The only lush plants are those that feed off of the bodies of the dead. Their green limbs crawl out from cracks in the tombs. Several types of tomb architecture fill the burial grounds. For the wealthy among the dead, marble boxes or elaborate gothic spirals rise above single or double tombs (Fig. 1), whereas the poor are generally housed
Annual Journal of the Association for Gravestone Studies