John Hay restores underground humor-A A +A
By Ramon Dacawi
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
WE PINE for its lost pine, including that over-a -century old tree that survived the bombing of Camp John Hay during the second world war. When felled and turned into lumber, the old pine yielded a bomb shrapnel embedded in its annual rings and peat.
Five years back, concern over the vanishing scent of pine and the defacement by concrete of the former U.S. military recreation center overshadowed then the loss of underground humor over the neglect of its Cemetery of Negativism on the still pine-clad side of its Historical Core.
Today, the 35 characters buried in that symbolic resting place are no longer turning in their graves. Notwithstanding the protracted feud over dominion between John Hay’s management and development corporations, the characters have been restored, their epitaphs repainted, so the living can continue drawing strength from their unlamented passing on.
Those who built the burial ground had proclaimed it as “The Lost Cemetery”. Its architect, then John Hay’s base commander and now retired U.S. Air Force Maj. John Hightower, saw fit to deliver a lesson through humor, morbid it may be to some.
The present management (or developer?) saw Hightower’s point. The cemetery can serve as an uplifting counterpoint to the somber or even eerie atmosphere of regular burial grounds.
“Negativism is man’s greatest self-imposed infliction, his most limiting factor, his heaviest burden,” the stone marker at the gate of this boothill still declares. “no more, for here is buried the world’s negativism for all time,” it says.
As Hightower always knew, a dash of humor always helps. It always insulated him from threats to his innovative leadership that his military superiors would have frowned at for being iconoclastic and un-military.
So there, on the graveyard Hightower built, lies Kantdu Nothin. He took leave even before he came: “Born Dec. 1905-Died June 14, 1903”.
Itz Not Possible was supposed to have been “Conceived 11 Nov. 1905 (yet) Still Not Born”.
A Truly Miserableday was “Born in gloom, lived without bloom, buried in this tomb”. Will Not Last was “Born 3 June 1906 and Didn’t”.
Lettuce Waitfor D’ Boss was “Born August 1888, Died Waiting 1 June, 1903”. Eye Fore Got’s epitaph said he was “Born Humbly. Died Sometime”. Nott Mey Jobb’s slab reads: “Herein Am Only Never Buried”.
Hightower, who served from 1979 to 1982, was undoubtedly one of the most innovative commanders of John Hay. He appreciated creativity and shunned traditional leadership and even military protocol when these stood on the way of getting ideas implemented.
Bok David, who served as camp fire marshall, remembers him for bringing closer John Hay to the Baguio community it belongs to. He developed the camp swimming pool, supported the “Share-a-Joy” Christmas gift-giving for kids and initiated the “Chili Cook-off”. That was long before tourism-oriented groups thought of producing the biggest wedding cakes and vegetable salads, or the longest “longanisa” line that appears to have been broken by another locality immediately thereafter.
After a meeting for the “Share-A-Joy” project, I had a glimpse into Hightower’s positive, optimistic outlook and what crept up his impish brain that drove him to establishing a cemetery where one could bury feelings of negativism.
He pulled me to his office where he took a shoeshine box from a corner near his commander’s table. He explained it was his Linus blanket. He declared he could always go back to shining shoes on the street should the military discharge him for his unconventional, non-traditional leadership.
Bok told me Hightower had since retired and was managing an officer’s club in an air force base in Virginia.
Notwithstanding his leadership competence, Hightower warned against superstar complex he reflected through a message on the plot for Knot A Teemplaer: “Born a Star, Lived a Meteor, Died in Flames”.
Hightower also frowned on indecision, personified by Letz Studyit’s epitaph: “Delayed Birth, Step Childhood, Never Reached Maturity”. The marker bore no date of birth or death.
For Itz Too Late, Hightower inscribed, “Born 10 Months Overdue, Missed His Own Funeral Beside Itz lies It’l Rain For Sure. He was “Conceived One Rainy Day of Aug. 1903 (and) Died in a Flood 1909”.
For the living, the marker at the cemetery gate advised: “Have a good day – treat today like it’s your last, though it’s the first day of the rest.”
Some years back, buddy Peewee Agustin and I were at the Loakan Airport, waiting for Dianne Rogers of the “Child-to-Child” program in Canada. She was visiting to exchange experiences and also to gain insight into the “Eco-Walk” children’s environmental program here. From the airport, we took her straight to the Cemetery of Negativism.
She was in stitches the moment she started reading the epitaphs.
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on November 01, 2012.