L'Aquila Civic Cemetery
Aquila is worth a long journey. It has great character, and some unexpected beauties of art.
Author and historian John Addington Symonds wrote those words in 1891 after a trip to L'Aquila to visit with Ulrichs.
With the advances in transportation since Symonds' time the journey was even more spectacular.
As Max, Anselmo, Mike, and Paul journeyed to the city by car from Rome, they traveled through Apennine mountain tunnels, emerging from each one with a more beautiful view.
The most breathtaking and moving moment of the car ride was when the Gran Sasso d'Italia (Great Stone Mountain) came into view. A lump came to the throat as we stared at the towering gray stone and spoke of Ulrichs lying in his hospital bed very ill and close to death but still able to be at peace and enjoy the view of the great mountain as he listened to the sisters sing the "Ave Maria" in the early evening. One is reminded of Ulrichs' own words:....Splendid valley!Before long we descended into the valley. We were soon rather unexpectedly on the edge of the city in front of the L'Aquila cemetery. After reading Magnus Hirschfeld's story of his visit to Ulrichs' grave, you'd have thought the cemetery was outside the city limits. L'Aquila has grown since Symonds' and Hirschfeld's times, so much so that the cemetery appears now to be within the city itself.
A high valley in the Apennines!
Looking into it,
rising up boldly and audaciously,
is Gran Sasso's stone pyramid,
Which stretches its head above
the clouds into the ether,
Which looks upon two distant seas
by the land at its feet....
We saw the entrance to the cemetery, well known to us by pictures, but because of massive construction, it was barely recognizable. Heaps of dirt, dug up ground and bright orange "keep out" banners blocked the way. A group of people were standing there as if looking for guidance, and sure enough arriving to take charge shortly before the appointed time of 12 noon was Max Consoli, who had been leading an annual birthday celebration for Ulrichs since 1988.
Max showed the way to another entrance. He lead the group along a gravel-covered lane closely lined on each side with imposing mausoleums. In fact these burial chambers were everywhere the eye could see. Paul lingered before one and remarked that it was as big as, but much more ornate than, his two-bedroom concrete home in Florida.
The group, which strolled in clusters along the lane, admired the architecture. People were talking to each other softly. The day was warm, and the path was soft with what had fallen off the myriad of cypress trees growing throughout the cemetery. The air was pungent with their odor. Mike remarked that cypress was the stuff of which the caskets of royalty were made and that Ulrichs had written a poem called "Casket of Cypress Twigs" in honor of King Ludwig II.
Max, walking farther ahead, stopped at a bend in the path near a large mausoleum and stood looking at the ground as if waiting for the others to catch up with him. He didn't look up as each person neared him. They followed his eyes to see what he was looking at. In front of him on the ground next to the mausoleum was a simple, wide gray slab. It was raised at the head and slanted down toward the foot. A weather-worn flourish decorated the top of the stone.
The marble slab with the slightly beveled edges seemed out of place here among all these ornate burial chambers. It was certainly a grave stone, but the words etched on it from head to foot had almost totally been worn away by time. No one said a word. No one needed to. They all knew they were looking at hallowed ground. This was the resting place of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the first person in history to publicly defend their right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
The long journey to L'Aquila was complete.
After a few moments of silence the birthday party they had all come to celebrate was in full swing.
Paul lead the way in putting flowers on the grave, and, in a quavering voice, announced that after 105 years, the words Ulrichs' friend Marquis Niccolò Persichetti had spoken in his eulogy had come true:
But with your loss, oh Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, the fame of your works and your virtue will not likewise disappear ... but rather ... we and those who come after us will shed tears and scatter flowers on your venerated grave.
German, Italian and English translations of the barely decipherable epitaph on the gravestone had already been placed on the grave and were soon placed among the flowers. Valentina Donatelli, who works for the Abruzzo tourism office and is collecting information about famous people who had settled in the region, had downloaded Michael's translation of the epitaph and had rendered it into Italian and German. Although she had not made it on time to meet us (she had had car trouble), she had Nello Grego, the cemetery custodian, place the translations on the stone before anyone arrived. However, Michael did place a copy of the original Latin on the grave. Pamphlets concerning the Munich party, and copies of Ulrichs' books, both originals and translations, were also added. Max unfurled a large rainbow flag and draped it across a corner.
Then the second part of Persichetti's prophesy came true as Paul went on a long but happy crying jag.
While Paul preoccupied himself in this manner, the clicking of cameras was everywhere. Milling around and getting to know the people before Max began his ceremony was thrilling and a time of discovery.
Two people, Gabriele Lenzi from Bologna and Roberto Massari from Rome were also celebrating birthdays that day.
Hans-Peter Weingand, Thomas Ehrlich and Kurt Zerning from Graz were visiting for the fourth time.
Alberto Cervi from Rome discovered that while he had attended high school in Jacksonville, Florida, for two years, Paul was a teacher during those same two years in another of that city's high schools.
Giorgio, from L'Aquila itself, spoke of how Gays living in that city feared exposure.
Marino Porta from Bari, who produced a color copy of the Celebration 2000 web site in French, said that he had just found it on the web 10 days earlier. It had inspired him to come to Ulrichs' party.
Everyone took turns looking through the locked grill gate of the mausoleum next door. It belonged to the family of the Marquis Niccolò Persichetti, Ulrichs' intimate friend in L'Aquila. Niccolò had made arrangements for Ulrichs to be buried next to the Persichetti family crypt rather than in a pauper's grave. A bust of the Marquis on the wall was popular with the photographers.
Then it was time for the ceremony to begin. Max, clad in his sparkling green ceremonial robe, stepped to the head of Ulrichs' grave. Max looked at the stone while he quietly said a few words, as it were, to greet and get Ulrichs' attention to let him know it was time for the group to pay homage.
After making opening remarks and commenting that this year's gathering "topped all since the start in 1988," Max invited representatives from Germany, Austria, Italy and the United States to deliver birthday greetings.
The group took a few moments to remember famous Gays who are also not buried in their homelands, including Symonds, (Englishman buried in Italy) who had visited Ulrichs in 1891; and Hirschfeld, (German buried in France) who had visited Ulrichs' grave in 1909.
The jubilee ceremony ended with a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday," a champagne toast, and a group photograph. Many of the celebrants took part in an informal luncheon following the birthday celebration.
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