A starling perches atop a weathered gravestone. Portent of doom? Messenger from the underworld? Either way, this black and white poster is so gothic it practically croaks, “Nevermore!”
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I photographed this in the Ancient Burying Ground in Hartford, Connecticut, which dates back to the 1600s.
As the city’s only cemetery until sometime in the 1800s, everyone who died in town was buried here – social inequities died at the gates.
The gravestone that the starling perches on belongs to Hope Lord Jones (1735-1798). The stone to its left belongs to Hope’s spouse, Amasa Jones (1728-1785).
The symbol on Hope’s stone is intriguing and quite different from the death’s heads ubiquitous throughout the cemetery.
It appears to have petals and two leaves at the base, which leads me to believe that it’s a stylized flower – perhaps a poppy, symbolic of sleep and death.
A fitting spot for a black bird to visit.
Some cultures view black birds as death omens, while others believe they bring messages from the dead to the living.
In any case, black birds are considered harbingers – messengers with important news to impart.
Whether the news is good or bad depends on culture, time period, and context.
As excellent mimics, starlings in particular make good messengers.
In Welsh mythology, the captive Branwen taught a starling to speak and sent it to her brother, King Bran, to tell him of her plight. King Bran brought an army and defeated her captors.
This story demonstrates the high esteem Celts held for starlings, considering them sacred birds.