These are the most testing times the human race have faced since World War II. This time the enemy is unseen, an enemy so powerful it’s forcing many of us to retreat back into our houses. It’s here that people will try to continue to live as normal a life as they can and it’s here that the wonderful art of storytelling may blossom. Be it, young children sitting in front of a parent, or a person sadly on their own listening to the radio, stories will be spread and remembered, to be told to future generations once this horrible virus has faded.
I wanted to be able to share some stories with the fiends of Kendall Reviews, stories to help people get through these difficult times.
If you have a tale you’d like to share then please contact me via email
Elizabeth Wilson offers a haunting Isolation Tale for you today.
Mulberry Cove Historical Society
An interview with Norma Wilkins, former volunteer
I was deeply saddened to leave town and give up my position, but my daughter needed help with the grandchildren, and I could not ask them to uproot their lives for me. I had recently retired and was at a loose end trying to find something to occupy my time. My daughter had left home, and I had divorced her father many years previously, and lived alone. My good friend Eileen had volunteered for years and saw that I needed something to keep me busy.
My introduction to the Mulberry Cove Historical Society was rather intimidating at first, it being the Annual General Meeting, their most formal event. However, everyone involved seemed quite nice, and I was sold on helping them over many cups of tea and lemon shortbread.
My early tasks involved sorting out the office at the back of the town hall, afforded to the Society by the generosity of the local council. I made short work of it, as despite how chaotic it looked, it was just disorganised, and using its storage facilities inefficiently more than anything else.
As I filed documents, photos and books relating to all the landmarks and listed buildings the Society preserves, I flicked through them, fascinated with the massive amount of people and events that were unknown to me.
I am not a morbid person, and while I enjoy architecture and gardens of all kinds, that of cemeteries never held my interest. As a child, growing up in a Catholic family, churches were a familiar presence in my life. Raised in a rural community meant naturally the local church had an attached graveyard. I avoided them wherever possible, even in youth I had an existential dread of these places.
And yet through my participation in the Society, I found myself enthralled in the local ancient resting places. Perhaps age had something to do with it.
Mulberry Cove, being a seaside town had seen many tragic outcomes of various maritime accidents, and those who fell victim were buried close to the shore in makeshift plots of land. Lethal illness we are now more educated about also devastated the local population at different points, and bodies were understandably placed in the earth with haste. So, the graveyards were very crude in the early days.
Terrible storms one year created havoc and two cemeteries were nearly erased completely, coffins and headstones swept out to sea, the contents of some graves exposed to the horror of the community.
Two new plots were secured, located further inland to rebury what was salvaged.
Not all were given a marked burial, as incomplete records had been kept, and grave markers had been lost. Some people were even buried in one space together. White picket fences marked graves where the identities were unknown.
While this saddened me, I always understood that the people of the time did the best they could under difficult circumstances.
Of the two newer cemeteries – one located within a valley enclosed by trees and houses and the other on top of a barren hill – the later was the one I became obsessed with. This one titled Mulberry Memorial Cemetery contained less graves than Mulberry Cove Memorial Gardens, and those there were mostly without headstones. And it had been closed to new burials since the early 1900s.
An isolated and windy place without shade or shelter from trees or bushes, it was a grassy field, broken here and there by white picket fence burial sites, stone grave markers and five flat metal silhouettes.
The Society always struggled to find people willing to travel to this cemetery to maintain it, and keep records of how it was faring, any damages, visitors and such. They were pleased, if somewhat amused by my offer to keep an eye on it and I was oddly excited to have it to myself.
I had asked Eileen to go with me on my first trip, as I was a little nervous, the cemetery being in a part of town I was unfamiliar with. When she heard where I was headed, she told me the only way she was coming is if we went first thing in the morning, that the figures there made her nervous.
Until Eileen had mentioned them, I had not really paid them much mind. I had dismissed them as some poorly planned touristy modern art installation. Bland, lacking imagination and not appropriate to their surroundings.
As I pulled up to the entrance, I was startled by how stark these figures struck out against a greying sky. Each piece was very clearly cut from some kind of sheet metal, in size the scale of an average human. Three gentlemen, one lady and one small boy were staked into the ground upright, placed randomly and badly rusted but structurally sound.
They were not placed near any graves and did not have any signs or details that they were modelled after specific people.
With no public facilities, or even a paved carpark, I could not see many people, except graveyard enthusiasts, visiting this place. I wondered, why did it have public art?
After that first visit, I went to the Society office and spent the rest of the day looking through the files hoping to find records of who commissioned the figures, who made them and when, and why they were installed. I found nothing, which did not surprise me due to the age and general lack of interest in the spot. I did find various photos of the cemetery, dating back to the 1960s, always taken from the makeshift carpark. They seemed to prove only five figures ever existed, none had been removed or stolen over time.
From what I could make out, the figures always have had that taint of rust to the degree I had witnessed myself. It gave them a distinctive russet look. However, one difference was that their positions did change, perhaps once or twice a year.
I decided to revisit the place the next day determined to discover how the figures were placed in the ground. Were they designed to move?
Extreme weather, surprise visits from family out of state and poor health kept me from this for a month and a half. The Society was not concerned with my inability to attend to the cemetery and I was still considered an active volunteer during this time.
My eventual second visit to the cemetery gave me no more answers to any of my questions than the first, or my exploration of the office files.
I could only assume that the metal was concreted into the ground, as it would not budge, and I could feel how something unseen anchored them below. I dared not dig into the earth for clues, it seemed inappropriate and I didn’t have any suitable tools if I did.
At the first chance I got, I spoke to other Society members and none could recall the introduction of the figures, even those who had served the Society for decades.
A suggestion was offered that I check the figures for an artist’s mark or signature that might have been left, that is if it wasn’t just an ordinary citizen that made them, feeling bad for the lack of grave markers.
A week later my third visit to the cemetery took place. I was taken up most of the day with various unexpected chores, and so did not arrive until very late afternoon.
Nothing has ever chilled me to the bone, or strangely excited me as what I saw when I entered that lonely place. The figures were not where they once were.
The most unsettling aspect is that they seemed deliberately grouped, like they were meeting to discuss something in an enclosed circle.
I estimated where they had been, and couldn’t find any marks, or holes to indicate that they had been dug up and moved.
The sun was lowering before I knew it and the figures began to cast shadows. Where the shadows fell, I could make out small mounds, like something pressing upwards from beneath the ground.
My brain decided that someone was playing a poor joke and that in the morning I should place a call to the police regarding vandalism in a place of rest. A crime that is taken very seriously in society.
I got in my car and left and as soon as the Society’s office opened, I told my story to the President, Doreen, planning to call the police from there. The look Doreen gave me made me feel like a foolish old lady, and yet her decision to drive us both to the ‘scene of the supposed crime’, as she put it, instilled some anxiety in me.
I went with her, my fourth and final visit.
As I’m sure you have guessed, the figures were no longer in a circle, and had returned to the places I had known them previously to inhabit. Whilst Doreen examined them, I walked to the area they had been the evening before.
To my sick surprise, one small mound remained. I got as close as I dared, thinking about kicking the mound with my foot. I got a metre away and suddenly felt afraid, and irrational deep-seated fear.
Doreen called my name, and assuring me everything looked fine to her, we drove back to town.
Three weeks later, and my second grandchild was born, and I decided to move closer to my daughter and help her.
As I said before, I was sad to leave a town that had been very good to me, and the Mulberry Cove Historical Society had been interesting work, but I felt that it was better to spend what years I had left amongst the living.
*Story photograph by Elizabeth Wilson, taken at Port Nepean National Park, Portsea, Victoria Australia
Elizabeth Wilson is an artist and writer from South East Melbourne, Australia. Her work is inspired by the horror in everyday life, the power and beauty of the natural world and childhood nostalgia. She makes mixed media art from dolls to wall hangings, some of which have their own little stories, and is an author of four zines (coming to Kindle in 2020), and a gothic art book called ‘Mulberry Manor’ which is about to go into print and be made available via Kindle.
Her art can be purchased at: elizabethscuriosities.square.site