I've always been fascinated by cemeteries, the older the better. My Grandma's house was near the oldest cemetery in Quincy--Woodlawn Cemetery, and we used to go there and play hide and seek when I was young. Once, my uncle took my cousins and I to the cemetery at dusk, told us a vampire story, and then drove off and left us. (This explains quite a bit about me.) I have been known to stop the car and venture through a cemetery or two, taking photos and soaking up the atmosphere. My husband and I used to picnic in the cemetery. He's used to my brand of weird. But, apparently I'm not the only one with this fascination. Imagine how stoked I was to find out an author I know wrote a book, 199 Cemeteries to see before you die? Super stoked! And, she graciously wrote a blog post for us today! So without further ado, here's Loren's explanation for why she likes cemeteries and visits as many as she can~
I got started vacationing in graveyards by accident. I mean, it wasn’t like I’d never been to a cemetery before. I’d been to the graveyard where my grandfather was buried. My family had visited John F. Kennedy’s grave in Arlington and the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg. After the junior prom, my date organized a field trip to take prom pictures on the steps of a local mausoleum. I’d gone to sit in the graveyard down the road when I needed a quiet place away from my parents.
Still, it seemed breathtakingly weird when my husband decided he would rather see Highgate Cemetery than visit the Tower of London. I’d bought a book of luminous black-and-white photos of Highgate in the tourist bookstore in Victoria Station, but I’d never considered spending one of the limited days of our unexpected trip to London to poke around a graveyard.
To my delight, Highgate Cemetery was glorious. The cemetery had been all but abandoned by the 1970s, when parts of Taste the Blood of Dracula were filmed inside it. Real-life vampire hunters had broken open tombs and staked corpses before the Friends of Highgate Cemetery formed to rescue the place. When my husband and I visited in 1991, parts of the cemetery were being maintained as managed woodland. Ivy crawled over the marble angels. Hedgehogs and foxes roamed between the headstones. A feral cat befriended us: my first cemetery cat, although certainly not the last. Overall, even on a blustery, gray day in January, Highgate Cemetery was the most beautiful place I’d ever seen. That beauty inspired me to want to see more cemeteries.
Once you start to notice, people really are buried just about everywhere. Every tourist destination has a cemetery, from New York City to Paris to Honolulu. Some tourist destinations are tombs: the Great Pyramids of Egypt or the Taj Mahal, for instance. There are permanent residents in museums, houses of worship, ghost towns, battlegrounds…even in national parks. You may have already visited someone’s grave without giving it a second thought, if you’ve been to Pompeii or Westminster Abbey or the Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.
But why would anyone go out of their way to visit a graveyard intentionally? In addition to the fascinating stories they contain, cemeteries can be open-air sculpture parks full of one-of-a-kind artwork. They provide habitats for birds and wildlife. They can be gardens of surprising beauty. Cemeteries appeal to art lovers, amateur sociologists, birdwatchers, master gardeners, historians, hikers, genealogists, picnickers, and anyone who just wants to stop and smell the roses. Our relationships with the places we visit can be deepened and enriched by learning the stories of those who came—and stayed—before us.
Why visit cemeteries? Because every day above ground is a blessing. Because there is no better place to feel alive than a graveyard. Because people visiting cemeteries tend to be on their best behavior. Because there’s something really healing in breathing fresh air, looking at green grass, and listening to the birds sing. Because life is short and that is the most beautiful thing of all. A little reminder never hurts.
Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. She writes about graveyards for the Horror Writers Association and blogs about cemeteries as vacation destinations at cemeterytravel.com.
You can find her books on Amazon, or by clicking these links. 199 Cemeteries To See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel.