Death’s Garden: Never Let Your Feet Get Cold


Carrie with Granduncle Blick and cousin Tim on the Property.

by Carrie Sessarego

Tucked in the folds of the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas, near the entrance to Sequoia National Park, there’s a tiny town called Three Rivers, California. My family always went to Three Rivers in the spring or summer, so in my memory it’s always a place of pale green grass rapidly drying to gold and wildflowers everywhere. For generations, Burnhams and Wells and Hardins and McGowans had married each other, giving rise to a far-travelling family that was anchored by the tiny cemetery in the tiny town.

Our family reunions were held on a piece of property named, without irony, “The Property.” People circled their RVs and tents in a meadow bordered by soft woods. Every night we had a campfire and sang songs like “Charlie and the M.T.A.” and “Shine on, Harvest Moon.” At least once per reunion, we visited our kin at the Three Rivers Cemetery, which was founded in 1909. Parts of the cemetery are watered and mowed, but the older areas are wild. As a child, I saw the cemetery as an extension of The Property. That made it my territory; a place where I could run and play on the mowed lawns and the weedy edges of the cemetery, while the grown-ups did whatever it is that grown-ups do.

The first funeral I remember going to was that of my aunt (technically, my grandaunt-in-law), who gloried in the name Ruth Vernealia Pell Wells. Ruth and her husband, Blick Wells, had a motorhome and travelled all over the country. One Christmas they parked in my grandparents’ driveway for the holidays. My only memory of Ruth is from that year, when Ruth invited me in and taught me how to make an Ojo de Dios Christmas ornament. Soon after, she died of cancer and was cremated. As per her request, her ashes were buried at Three Rivers Cemetery in a Taster’s Choice coffee can, tied with an orange strip of fabric. (It was her favorite color.) Afterwards we all went back to The Property and had another bonfire and sang late into the night.

It’s hard to be reverent in the face of death once you’ve watched your grandaunt be buried in a coffee can. I never felt afraid at Three Rivers Cemetery. How could I? Any ghosts were ghosts of my relatives. The worst they might do to me was tease me about that time when I was ten that I sat on an ant’s nest during a reunion. There’s my great-grandpa, who showed me where the harebells grew on The Property. There’s Aunt Linnie (technically, Great-aunt Linnie) who survived a terrible car crash as a teenager and, as a result of her burns, only had one fingernail. There’s Fred and Blanche Burnham, who lived in Rhodesia and taught Lord Baden-Powell how to be a scout before heading off to the Klondike Gold Rush. There’s Mark, the teenager who died in the same car crash that claimed Linnie’s fingernails, and poor little Baby Hardin, born and died in 1923.

The last time I went to Three Rivers Cemetery, it was to bury the ashes of my granduncle, Blick Wells. Blick, a rambling man who had a girlfriend outside of Anchorage, took me under his wing when I moved to Alaska. He showed me affection and acceptance and gave great advice. “My dear,” he said, “never let your feet get cold.”

When it came time to bury him, my husband and I drove four hours from Sacramento for the funeral. We had just gotten a dog. We brought him with us and tied him under an oak during the service. My three-year-old daughter ran around the cemetery just as I had once. The grasses around the cemetery were dry and golden in the California heat. No one’s feet could possibly get cold under that California sun. My husband helped Blick’s son (called, inevitably, ‘Blicky’ by the family) cover the ashes with dirt.

CocoaSince then, The Property has been sold and the latest relatives to pass on have been buried elsewhere. The Sacramento relatives are generally buried at East Lawn Memorial Park in Sacramento. It’s a pretty place, and it’s convenient to the mourners, but it’s much too manicured for me. My tentative plan is to donate my body to science and have any leftover ashes lowered into the Three Rivers Cemetery ground in an Equal Exchange Hot Cocoa can. I’m hoping that someone will bring a dog, someone will bring a small child who will run around the oak trees, and someone will remember all the verses to “Charlie and the M.T.A.” The mountains that edge Three Rivers will stand guard and harelips will bloom on their hillsides. That’s not scary. That’s family.


Carrie Sessarego with fanCarrie Sessarego is the resident ‘geek reviewer’ for Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, where she wrangles science fiction, fantasy romance, comics, movies, and nonfiction. Carrie’s first book, Pride, Prejudice, and Popcorn: TV and Film Adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, Wuthering Heights, and Jane Eyre, was released in 2014. Her work has been published in SEARCH Magazine, Interfictions Online, After the Avengers, The WisCon Chronicles Vol. 9, Google Play Editorial, Invisible 3, and Speculative Fiction 2013: The Year’s Best Online Reviews, Essays, And Commentary. When not reading and writing, you can find Carrie speaking at conventions, volunteering for the Sacramento Public Library, and getting into trouble with her mad scientist husband, Potterhead daughter, mysterious cats, and neurotic dog.


Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

I am jump-starting the Death’s Garden project again. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, please get in touch. I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.

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Cemetery Travel in Australia

199Cemeteries_cover lo-resI had the honor of being a guest on Blueprint for Living on Australia’s ABC network last Friday.  We talked about what draws people to cemeteries, what they might find there, and why it’s worth going out of your way to visit graves of people you don’t know. Here is the link to the podcast:

The three guests on the program — historian Dr. Celestina Sagazio, author Garrie Hutchinson, and me — were asked to list our ten favorite cemeteries.  Those lists are here:—10-of-the-worlds-best/8667452

How does your list of favorites compare?


Yesterday’s midweek holiday has thoroughly confused me, so there will be no Cemetery of the Week today.

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Seeking Cemetery Bloggers

Mountain View Cemetery’s Crocker Angel photographed by Loren Rhoads

Do you visit cemeteries?

Do you blog about them?

I’m making a list of cemetery bloggers across the US and around the world.

Please comment below with a link to your blog — and the geographic area you specialize in, if you have one.

Let everyone get to know your work!

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A Guide to the Melbourne General Cemetery

The Melbourne General CemeteryThe Melbourne General Cemetery by Don Chambers

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Every graveyard needs a book like this: a little history, a little architecture, a bit of gossip, and a self-guided walking tour or two.

For the most part, I am woefully uneducated about Australian history. Because of that, I found the information about the Victoria Gold Rush, the return of the “diggers” to settle in Melbourne, and the early exploration of the continent to be quite fascinating. The labor struggles and political battles were also new to me. Best of all were the opinionated biographies of the people buried here.

The Melbourne General Cemetery itself had an unusual history, with this management overseen by religious leaders — and its monuments approved by religious censors — that stands in contrast to the rural and garden cemeteries that I’m more familiar with.

The only reason I’m withholding one star from this book is that there are too few photographs and those included rarely rise above overexposed snapshots. They don’t do justice to this atmospheric old place.

This was a great addition to my cemetery collection. I got my copy from Amazon and you can, too: The Melbourne General Cemetery by Don Chambers.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

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Cemetery of the Week #154: Melbourne General Cemetery

Melbourne view

This view of the cemetery and the photos that follow were taken from the book The Melbourne General Cemetery by Don Chambers. I’ll review it tomorrow.

Melbourne General Cemetery
College Crescent, Parkville, Victoria 3052, Australia
Founded: 1852
Size: 106 acres (43 hectares)
Number of interments: 300,000

Melbourne General Cemetery is the final resting place of Australia’s longest serving Prime Minister, authors, billiards players, and the Princess Theatre ghost, along with 300,000 others.

Established by trustees in 1852, Melbourne General Cemetery opened in June the following year. It stands two kilometers north of the city of Melbourne, in the suburb of Carlton North. The cemetery’s first burial was merchant John Burnett in May 1853.

As the first modern cemetery in Victoria, Melbourne General is crossed by wide paths that loop between its rotundas and chapels. Each denomination — Anglican, Catholic, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Wesleyan, as well as Jewish and Quaker — was separated from the others. The cemetery’s oldest buildings are the Jewish chapel, completed in 1854, and the Catholic mortuary chapel, which dates to the 1870s. Several of the heritage buildings are built of bluestone.

Originally, the Chinese, Afghan, and Aboriginal communities were restricted to a small “Other Denominations” section of the the cemetery, but there they could pursue their own traditional burial rites.

A sandstone monument remembers native chief Derrimut, who died in 1864. Because Derrimut didn’t fit into the recognized Western religions, he was buried amongst the Chinese.  The Koori, his people, don’t traditionally mark their graves. After his death, Derrimut’s monument was erected to honor him for warning early colonists that some up-country tribes planned a massacre in October 1835.


The grave of Sir Redmond Barry, the Acting Chief Justice, who sentenced Ned Kelly

Also buried here are Irish-born Robert O’Hara Burke and Englishman William John Wills, chosen despite their lack of exploration experience to walk across the Australian continent from south to north. On the return trip, Burke and Wills starved to death. Their bodies were recovered in January 1863 and given state funerals.

Four Prime Ministers are buried at Melbourne General Cemetery. Two lay in the Prime Ministers Garden—Sir Robert Menzies and Sir John Gorton—alongside a cenotaph for Harold Holt, whose body was lost at sea while he was swimming. James Scullin is buried elsewhere in the cemetery, as is Sir Isaac Isaacs, the first Australian-born Governor General.


The grave monument of billiard champion Walter Lindrum comes with a pool cue and ball. It’s the cemetery’s most-visited monument.

Preachers, con men, musicians, actors, scientists, and other permanent residents include:

  • Patrick Hannan, who discovered gold at Kalgoorlie in Western Australia
  • Sir Redmond Barry, the judge who sentenced outlaw Ned Kelly to hang
  • Mendel Balberyszski, who survived the destruction of the Vilnius Ghetto in Lithuania
  • British opera singer Frederick Federici, who originated the title role of The Mikado in New York and who is said to haunt the Princess Theater, where he died singing Mephistofeles in Faust.
  • Walter Lindrum, buried beneath a tombstone in the shape of a billiard table
  • Boxing champion “Gentlemen Jack” John Reid McGowan

The cemetery offers tours both during the day and at night. The next day tour is coming up on July 12, 2017.

Useful links:

Melbourne General Cemetery’s home page

A well-illustrated wander of Melbourne General Cemetery

Images of the Jewish Section of Melbourne General Cemetery

The Holocaust Memorial at Melbourne General Cemetery

More famous people buried in Victoria

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