Madrid’s Bone Orchard

“What should I be sure to see before leaving Madrid?”  I asked of the six long-haired men sitting at several tables on the porch of the boarding house twenty miles down the Turquoise Trail from Santa Fe.

 The ponytail wearing the clean tee shirt answered,  “the grave yard.”

“Known locally as the Bone Orchard,” added the soft straw hat with two-inch band of sweat, his bright smile—absent teeth– accomplished with his eyes.

“How do I find it?” 

“See that dirt road going up that hill?  Take that to the top.  It’s a little past that,” said a foot-long white beard with a dark bandanna head wrap.

The Jolly Swag, game as ever, ground her way down onto the unpaved back street, then rocked and rolled over the foot of the hill and up.   We curved around the hilltop and came to the yard of graves. 

All the graves were covered with mounds of stones.   In the old section all the names were Spanish, the lettering etched in the crude stones, weathered.  Most of the markers were crosses of wood, only the youngest bore names.  Most of the sites had no markers at all.


Only one grave in the new section was marked with a polished granite head stone. 

The rest were shrines, unique in their non-traditional markers and ornamentation:  baubles representing anecdotes and tales known to a few who’d held these bodies close in life.

Many of those memorialized here were fallen motorcyclists.  The eternal words and the whiskey bottles placed lovingly at the sites attested to men who lived fast and hard.  I realized many of those buried here were born in the fifties and would have been the fodder of the Vietnam era.

Back at the boarding house I had been able to only stir a few embers of stories from the aging hippies.   I believe I was standing in a field where Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome had exacted the final price from those unable to re-enter a society that did not welcome them.   Perhaps they welcomed death–already a companion.

And more than one Madroid met death with humor.

9 Responses to Madrid’s Bone Orchard

  1. Jeff Kingman says:

    Interesting story, Al. I wonder if there are a lot of places like this around the country. For people who are poor and/or anit-establishment and have no use for a fancy funeral and headstone.

  2. Betty says:

    I will be in Santa Fe July18-22. Will you still be in the area?

  3. Colleen Rae says:

    Really fascinating photos and story, Al. Thanks. There is a story in each grave site. One could write a novel, including how they touched each other’s lives in the town of Madrid.

  4. karen wittgraf says:

    This was touching. There is a real honor here just to know that someone cared enough about someone else to create a monument that tells the story of his/her life. It made me pause to think of what I might be remembered for, or perhaps, not remembered for much of anything.
    I am anxious to read about PTSD..our poor suffering brothers and sisters. Life can never be the same after experiencing war. Thanks, Al.

  5. Vikki says:

    Graveyards can be fascinating places!
    Near Jackson, In Amador County, CA I visited and Old Miners’ Graveyard and found an epitaph preauthored by the deceased on his makeshift tombstone… . . IT gave me goosebumps!

  6. david says:

    Great work on this story Al. Loved the pictures. I spent a lot of time in 08 and 09 in NorthWest. Have some great free RV spots to tell you about. Also know the Island spots. Get in touch if you would like some info.

  7. …and all gone at a youngish age. A new crop is coming along, too. Being at the top of the food chain is an unenviable position.

  8. Kate Palmo says:

    Hi Al,
    Reminds me of the Merry Cemetery in Maramures, Romania. Each gravesite tells the story of what the person loved or did in life. Al, I love how you literally dig into an area and learn so much.
    I live in NM but am learning a lot from your blog that I have never discovered. Kate

  9. allevenson says:

    The cemetery at Madrid was the second unusual burial site I discovered. I wrote about the first in a post entitled Celia’s Story I think there must be other places grave sites are a medium for emotions are expressed esthetically rather than mere warehouses of corpses.

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