Diary of Alfred Burton Welch

Sunday 12-4-98

We are quartered in a great tobacco factory –one of the largest in the world. The native workers are very friendly to us –and help us in the language. Go nearly naked and the women, especially, are very graceful and erect –caused by carrying head burdens for centuries past. Those senoritas who wish to become married wear their hair loose –black as coal– and lone & fine and, Oh! what looks from their expressive eyes. They are all musicians and think a basso is great. Went to Paco district cemetery today through a large bronze gate to a circular area of about 5 to 7 acres enclosed by a circular stone wall 12 ft. high 9 ft. thick with a walk at its base. This wall have 4 to 5 tiers of holes in it reaching across the wall. Into these holes put the body and seal it up –and pay a large fee to the church.

The stone seal has the date &c on it. Regular above ground catacombs. About 50 ft. inside runs another wall, double. Numerous small ones open up on the inside from the main wall. After 3 years if the rent of $50.00 is not renewed the “stone is rolled away” and the remains are thrown in a heap between the double wall. Judging by the countless thousands of skulls seen, people in this “neck o’ the woods” care little for their dead. The trees gere are very old and the roots have broken up the walls in places. Everywhere is seen the WORK OF EARTHQUAKES. Think the way of burial is more civilized than ours –but all the poetry and beauty of this lovely place is lost when you stand on the wall and clamber over bones like a small boy on a woodpile with the black hair still growing from the grinning skulls and rats by the millions –and lizards a yard long, gliding in and out and basking in the hot sun on the walls & walks. Many Amer. soldiers are burned in the ground here & at sunset a procession passed with slow steps & muffled drums –a corporal marched in with a firing squad– the a coffin, wrapped in the flag for which the dead boy gave his life –& soon, alongside of others, over whm the same honors had been shown– was lowered and the three volleys startled the red necked vultures above in the trees, to flight … “buried in a strange country.”