A Visit To A Halifax Cemetery

A Short Story

On a visit to Halifax, Nova Scotia we were told we should go see Fairview Lawn cemetery. It is a large and well manicured place and in a back corner is an interesting section with three long rows of mostly similar headstones. The first thing that gets your attention is they all died on the same day, April 12, 1912. This cemetery is obviously the final resting place of people who died in a major catastrophe. As we walk along reading the headstones many are simple and the same; square stones with a sloping top inscribed with the word “Died” that date, and a unique number. On each stone is engraved a persons name.

A number of these headstones are markers for unknown infants or children many with flowers or toys placed in front of them by caring residents of Halifax. Also among the headstones are a number of more elaborate markers with longer inscriptions and many have a common phrase, “Died While On Duty S. S. Titanic”.

Rescue and recovery ships working the Titanic’s sinking put in to Halifax as the primary port. The Fairview Lawn Cemetery serves as the final resting place for 121 victims of the Titanic disaster. Many of the headstones were paid for by the White Star Line, owners of the Titanic. Annual upkeep of the Titanic graves was paid for by the White Star Line until 1930 when a trust was established for their perpetual care that still functions today.

When we visited that day, one among the simpler markers, small in comparison with many of the other victims of the S.S. Titanic disaster was covered in flowers, photographs, trinkets and notes. That headstone bears the number 227, the date of the epoch disaster, and the inscribed name: “J. Dawson.”

Until recently that headstone was just one among 104 smaller ones but that changed in 1997. That year a blockbuster motion picture was released that brought the Titanic catastrophe back into the public consciousness. That name, J. Dawson simply didn’t matter much until James Cameron created the fictitious character of Jack Dawson, the hero in that doomed love story. Leonardo Di Caprio and Kate Winslet immortalized the romance involving one J (Jack) Dawson in the film and the grave marker suddenly became a focal point for adoring fans and tributes began to cover the front of the J. Dawson stone. 

In fact Joseph Dawson was a fitter (carpenter), who signed on to Titanic with simply a first initial, instead of the Christian name that pointed to his Irish Catholic upbringing. Joseph Dawson was born in the slums of Dublin in September 1888 and Titanic was the second ship Dawson had crewed with.

Halifax Nova Scotia and and visiting the famous Fairview Lawn Cemetery with a section of graves from a hundred year old disaster.

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