Sunday, July 29, 2012

Free Fun: My Macabre Pastime

I love a great many things, but two of my favorites are history and the macabre. Halloween is my absolute favorite holiday. These loves are how I initially got into cemeteries.

On the prowl! I am very, very young here.
I know. It sounds a little odd, even a little morbid, but bear with me here. This is something you can do that isn't necessarily cost you anything but the gas to get there and you can learn a great deal.

I initially got into visiting cemeteries shortly after I graduated high school. For years I had been driving past one of the cemeteries in my hometown. On the corner, right by the road there were two headstones that were very old and unreadable from the road. Eventually, my curiosity got the better of me, so I went in to take a look and got completely hooked.

Once upon a time, people were much more comfortable in cemeteries... with death in general, really. It wasn't uncommon for them to picnic in cemeteries. This article on the West Norwood Cemetery page does a good job explaining it.

Initially, I was drawn in by the history. There is plenty of that, particularly in older cemeteries. Here is a photo my friend Alaina took of the headstone of Jesse James' aunt, a distant relative of hers:

The photo below was taken in Jewell Cemetery in Columbia, Missouri. The small stone markers indicate the graves of slaves.

It can be really fascinating, and I'm when I out in cemeteries I'm constantly finding things that set me off on research of my own to learn more. It would be a great history lesson if you have kids, not to mention the walking is good exercise.

The second thing that really captured me is the artwork. You wouldn't necessarily think of a cemetery when you think about art work, but there can be some really lovely carvings, particularly on the older stones.

Many of these gorgeous images have deeper meanings. There are a great deal of symbols and iconography used in funerary art. Stories in Stone is a great field guide that can help you decipher some of the images you find. I bought it in college and it's fantastic.

All of these images below have deeper meanings than just pretty pictures:

And yes, obviously sometimes it can be sad. Here is a headstone that is clearly homemade. It's touching to see the effort this persons family put into making sure their relative was remembered:

Here is the headstone of a child who was born and died the same day, all the more sad because the stone has fallen over in the many years since he passed away.

And sometimes you can even stumble upon the burial place of family members. The stone on the left is that of my great-grandparents, Gene, who passed away when I was only four and Sarah, who passed away when I was in high school. When I went in I did not realized this was where they were buried, so it was something of a poignant moment for me.

Cemeteries are not scary. They are very peaceful and quiet.

If you decide to take up this hobby, one thing you should always keep in mind is to be respectful. Sometimes you will come upon people who are there to visit someone they have lost. I usually give those people a wide berth. Anything else is really common sense. Don't do anything that might cause damage. Don't sit or lean on the monuments. Sometime people leave things on the graves: leave those things alone. Like I said, just be respectful. Take photos (which is what I do) or do rubbings. I've never done the rubbings, but someday I would like to. Some of my photos have turned out to be really amazing.

Interested in learning more? A great place to start is Find a Grave. On this site you can find famous graves or search millions of cemetery records. You can search a cemetery you have been to and add records yourself or add a photo of the headstone. It's addictive. They haven't paid me to say that or anything (wish they had!), I just really like the site.

Give it a try! I promise it's a worthwhile experience!


  1. I share your interest of old centuries and find them very interesting. I did a project in college on headstones. Sometime come and visit me in LA as you will be amazed at the differences in cemeteries from here and home.
    This is my favorite of your posts.

  2. I never knew that you were interested in cemeteries! Good to know I come by it naturally! And I would love to come out there and go to cemeteries. I watched a documentary some time ago on Hollywood Forever and I would really love to go there and to others.


  3. I really like going to cemeteries simply because of the history & how much it makes you wonder what that person's life was like. It's a really cool thing! Thanks for sharing your story :) New follower from Kelley's blog, The Grant Life!


    1. Thanks Sara! I really thought I was the only person who actually enjoyed cemeteries and am so glad to discover that I'm not!