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Forgotten Souls

Inside Seabrook Texas’s historic cemetery, a forbidden spot on Halloween night. 

Fall in Southeast Texas is a lie more than anything. While the heat does become incrementally less stifling and a few of the trees begin to change colors and lose their leaves, these transitional months tend to feel like an extension of summer. The heat sticks around far longer than it should, exemplified by significant sweating underneath Halloween masks and makeup.

In Seabrook, Texas, a suburb that feels like a small town among the sprawl that connects Houston to Galveston, fall can be a time to recover from hurricanes. Many storms have wrought significant damage upon Seabrook, instilling in residents a sense of vulnerability and an acknowledgment that things are transitory.

Due to its location on Galveston Bay, which feeds into the Gulf of Mexico, Seabrook is always under threat from these storms. Residents seem to have come to terms with the inevitability of change and fact that certain places, both naturally occurring and human-built, can be swept away in a single storm.

This sense of vulnerability may be one reason why Seabrook Cemetery resides in two different places in the minds of contemporary residents.

Landmark Seabrook Cemetery is tucked into the scenic Pine Gully Park, which is part of the Great Texas Coastal Birding Trail. Flanked on one side by a gravel walking path that follows a bayou draining into Galveston Bay and on the other by Pine Gully Road, the cemetery sits within a picturesque park filled with bayous, alligators and migratory birds that would make Jonathan Franzen smile.

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The cemetery itself feels very intimate, and perhaps even a bit eerie. By and large, the plots and tombstones are fairly understated, mostly small and with minimal script carved into them. Even the arrangement of the graves themselves seems arbitrary and unaligned.

To many, Seabrook Cemetery is just a site they happen to walk or drive by several times a year. Despite being tucked into a busy park that hosts a system of trails and abundance of year-round brown and migratory white pelicans, the cemetery is largely ignored. This may be because Seabrook underwent significant population growth after NASA’s Johnson Space Center was established in the area in the 1960s. And while Seabrook Cemetery is likely the oldest landmark in town, dating back to 1855, most Seabrook residents don’t know anyone buried there.

Seabrook Cemetery began as a family cemetery for the Dobies, who owned and lived on the land. It fell into the hands of a few others, until it was given to the Seabrook Cemetery Association in 1912. At this point, almost every plot was bought up due to fair prices and a population boom, and if you visit Seabrook now, you’ll notice there are very few recent graves. A few cremation plots are available, but those were carved out of another plot from a member of the Seabrook Cemetery Association.

A lack of frequent visitors has resulted in some mischief from the town’s younger residents. A member of the association recalls instances in which adolescents would sneak into the cemetery on Halloween night, most likely hoping for a glimpse of some historic ghosts. The Texas Historical Cemetery marker in front of the entrance gives the cemetery weight. Perhaps Seabrook youth got a few scares from spending the evening of October 31 tramping around graves alive with the sounds of wildlife, one of which includes James F. Bay, an early principal and eventual namesake of the primary elementary school in which many of these adolescents likely attended.

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Maybe feeling the sometimes long grass under their feet, squinting their eyes underneath their Halloween mask to make out the strange, unaligned beauty that resides in the largely unadorned gravestones gave them a thrill. Unfortunately, these midnight tramps became a little too frequent, and not just on Halloween. Some vandalism occurred, and now a “NO TRESPASSING” sign is present at the entrance, next to the 1855 historical marker. No official cemetery hours are posted, but, but visitors are welcome until nightfall.

Whether through late-night or more longterm visits, contemporary Seabrook residents won’t have the opportunity to leave their mark on this plot of land. In some ways, the cemetery is entirely dead, but in other ways it is alive all year round as a result of those who walk the trails of Pine Gully Park pondering the impermanence of life — and concept of the afterlife.

Photos by Eric Boutin-Bloomberg. 

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