“The Bluebottle Boys,” Chapter 13, Part 2 — Birmingham, 26 March 1962: “Showdown at the Cemetery” [Section 2 of 5]

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[Note: All photos are of Warstone Lane Cemetery. The featured pic gives an overview of the catacombs, including the tree that will prove pivotal for our hero Reggie later in the story.]

There were patches of snow on some of the graves, and atop even more of the monuments and headstones.

All we’d have needed was a wreath or two and it would’ve almost looked like a colorful, if rather macabre, Christmas scene, at least in contrast with the drab, dull gray of the sky.

We would duck behind monuments and gravestones – snow or no snow – if we saw anyone (and every two or three minutes, even if we didn’t, just to be on the safe side).

It was all quite gothically baroque, as only Victorian and Edwardian gravestones and monuments can be, even in less ghoulish circumstances, and it now seemed all the more ominous. A dozen times or more, I felt a desiccated, skeletal limb crawl out from beneath or within them and take hold of me, only to start, look at the afflicted area of my body, my heart still pounding, and find no mummified remains to constrain me.

I was relieved when we finally reached the “balcony” that looked down upon “the catacombs:” Crypts built into the hillside we’d be descending as we took a stairway from the balcony that lead to a circular ramp running around the hill.

It brought us to the “ground floor” crypts, and to yet one more ramp, leading to the “mezzanine” level. This portion of the cemetery must’ve looked grand back in the day – a Belgravia of a necropolis. The catacomb crypts were in a semicircle, arranged almost as eighteenth century terraced houses might have been, overlooking the grand monuments below.

But now they were over 100 years old.

They looked decayed and decrepit, with crypt doors rusty, splintering and in need of paint, and vines cascading down. There were rumors that they’d become hangouts for drug dealers and rent boys, although no one could produce a living soul who’d actually been inside.

Gravestones and statuary adjacent to the catacombs at the ground floor were often on the verge of falling over, with deep cracks and fissures running through them; some had already disintegrated under cumulative force of perpetual cold and weight of the snow. A frigid breeze was kicking up, and what was passing for daylight was already fading away.

We wasted no time, but started at once to “mark territory.”

I was not much of an athlete, but I was middling to good at scaling trees and walls. I planted mirrors in fissures and holes of the upper regions of said trees and walls in range of the catacombs. I opened the pouch, and was rather dismayed and puzzled to find that the “dust” looked like no more than garden-variety glitter from a craft store.

But I still planted a pinch in tree holes and keyholes – basically, wherever I’d been instructed to put it. Ian planted mirrors anywhere his feet could remain on terra firma– statuary, tombstones – even crypt doors (which I’d never have had the nerve to do, although I nervously placed a pinch of dust in each door where Ian had planted a mirror – then I legged it).

 

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