Last year, during the Kickstarter campaign for Death’s Garden Revisited, I did an Ask Me Anything on Twitter (not yet known as X). It was a really fun conversation. I thought I would post the transcript here.
Hey there! I’m the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. I’m also the editor of Death’s Garden and Death’s Garden Revisited. I’m here for your questions about cemeteries. Ask me anything!
Question #1 – Priscilla:
How many cemeteries do you think you’ve visited over the years?
That’s a great question. I can’t guess the exact number (sometime I should count!) but it’s in the hundreds. My best vacation ever was 17 cemeteries in 10 days.
Question #2 – E.M.:
What are some of your favorite animes or mangas with cemeteries?
Tokyo Doomed Megalopolis was my first anime with a cemetery. I am fascinated by the grave of Masakado. What’s your favorite?
Adding this movie to my list of must watch! I have a soft spot for the scene in Vampire Hunter D where the arrow flies through the cemetery seeking its target and is caught by D.
Excellent choice! I’m always stopping movies & TV shows to linger over the graveyard scenes. I wish the graveyard in Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow was a real place.
Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Question #3 – Mason:
How do you research cemeteries around the world in order to understand them from their individual culture’s point of view and appreciate the differences?
Wow, great question. I have a library of 300 or 400 books (got to collect them all!) and am lucky enough to have met cemetery experts around the world. I am always learning & looking for more resources. I will always be a student, no matter how many books I write.
Question #4 – Priscilla:
Have you ever been to a green cemetery? If so, was it disturbing or did it feel totally natural?
There is a beautiful green cemetery in Half Moon Bay, California. It felt weird at first, knowing that people were buried around me without memorials, but the sound of the ocean and the breeze were so very peaceful. I would like to visit more natural burial grounds.
Question #5 – Emerian:
What’s the first cemetery you visited?
The first one I visited was Arlington when I was very small. I got separated from my folks at JFK’s grave. I don’t remember the cemetery, but I do remember the kind lady who waited with me at the tour bus stop until they came back around and found me.
Question #6 – Robert:
If you were to visit just one cemetery, which would it be?
Excellent question! If someone was going to see one cemetery in the world, it should be Pere Lachaise in Paris. So many famous people, so many beautiful sculptures! If I could only visit one cemetery, it would be Cypress Lawn in Colma, California. So peaceful and welcoming.
Question #7 – Kirk:
What is your favorite pet cemetery?
Easy: the Pet Cemetery in the Presidio in San Francisco. Have you been? It’s under the Golden Gate Bridge. The markers are so charming! I’d like to see Hartsdale in the New York sometime, though.
No! I need to see that!
Oh, please!? Me too? The only pet cemetery I’ve been to was in Lake Tahoe hidden in the woods, not official. It burned during one of the recent fires. I had buried my dogs’ collars there and my dad made markers for us.
Oh, that’s sad to hear that it burned in the fires. Yes, please come to San Francisco and explore the pet cemetery with me!
It’s a date! 🙂
Question #8 – Erin:
What is the most peaceful cemetery you’ve been to? What is the most unsettling one?
Wow, the most unsettling cemetery? It was a Jewish cemetery in Prague. The Nazis had been in the middle of dismantling it when the war ended, so the headstones were broken and stacked in piles. It was preserved as a memorial. I got a nosebleed there that wouldn’t stop.
Oh my goodness! Wow is right. I can imagine how that must have felt. Thanks for sharing that.
The most peaceful cemetery I’ve ever seen was the Old Dutch Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow, New York. Even though it’s right along a busy road, the birds were singing and it was so beautiful and quiet.
That’s beautiful! Some of my ancestors came from Sleepy Hollow, New York and were Dutch-English. I always wanted to go there – now even more!
You must go. It’s glorious. I bet it’s even better in the autumn!
Oh I bet so! Though maybe spring too if there are flowers! I’m glad they could preserve it, must be some OLD stones there.
I took this in Sleepy Hollow in the spring. The scent of the flowering trees on the breeze was like heaven.
Oh my gosh, that’s beautiful!!! I love it. Thank you. It’s definitely on my bucket list. One of my favorites in spring is Lakeview in Cleveland. So many flowers and flowering trees!
Question #9 – Emerian:
What is the first cemetery you saw as a kid?
I think the first cemetery I saw was either Washington’s tomb at Mount Vernon or the Jefferson family cemetery at Monticello. My parents were on a history kick that trip.
Question #10 – Robert:
What are your thoughts on gravestone rubbings?
Rubbings are okay on granite headstones, as long as you don’t tape the paper to the stone (the stickum on the tape can do damage). Rubbings are terrible for slate or sandstone markers and can wear them down beyond repair.
Stained glass window at the San Francisco Columbarium, where I’m answering cemetery questions on Friday evening.
Question #11 – Jo Nell:
Do you ever visit columbariums? If so, do you have a favorite?
The columbarium in San Francisco (all that’s left of our historic cemeteries) is my favorite. It has the most glorious stained glass I’ve ever seen.
Question #12 – Priscilla:
The hubster says modern cemeteries in Germany are temporary resting places. In other words, the deceased don’t stay there. After a certain number of years, the body is dug up to make room for a fresh burial. I can’t tell if he’s pulling my leg or not. Is it true?
That’s true in a lot of places where burial grounds have filled and space is at a premium, from Italy and Greece to Mexico and beyond. After a number of years, the bodies are removed and graves are reused. That’s what led to mummies at Guanajuato.
Question #13 – E.M.:
Have you ever bird-watched in a cemetery? Or what is the most memorable animal you’ve ever seen in a cemetery?
I saw a young golden eagle in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Massachusetts. They keep a board inside the gatehouse where they record which birds have been seen there recently. It was the first time I encountered that. What a great idea!
Question #14 – Robert:
What do you think of ossuaries? Do you find them creepy or charming? I can’t help but to find them both.
To be honest, I like to spend my birthday in an ossuary. I’ve done that with Kutna Hora’s beautiful Bone Church and the Paris Catacombs. Nothing like an ossuary to underline how good it is to be alive.
Question #15 – R.L.:
What was the most intriguing memorial you’ve ever seen?
Good question! I went on a mission to visit the Kiss of Death in Poblenou Cemetery in Barcelona. It did not disappoint.
That is stunning!!
That is incredible!!! I didn’t get to visit any graveyards in Spain either trip.
Question #17 – R.L:
Oh! I’m headed to New Orleans in May, any suggestions besides the usual St. Louis # 1 and I think I’ve done one of the Lafayette ones.
If you take the bus called Cemeteries, it will take you to Metairie Cemetery. One of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve ever seen, so full of sculpture and history and ghost stories!
EXCELLENT!!! I need to start making an itinerary. I included the Magnolia cemetery in Houma in a story so I need to go visit.
Question #17 – Rena:
I’m sure you get asked this a lot but which 3 cemeteries you’ve visited are the most beautifully landscaped?
I haven’t seen all the ones I’d like to, but the most beautifully designed I have seen are Swan Point in Providence, Mount Auburn and Forest Hill in Massachusetts. Oh, and Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland in the autumn.
Question #18 – Emerian:
Which cemetery has the best sound? I like the Chapel of Chimes, where they have the water fountains. Is there a better one?
Have you ever been to the Chapel of the Chimes for their Solstice celebration? They have musicians tucked into every nook and chapel. The sound of the music echoing among the niches is so lovely.
No! Must see this!
It’s one of my favorite holiday celebrations of the year.
The country graveyards in Michigan often have windchimes on the graves. I love to sit and listen to the chiming.
That sounds heavenly!
Question #19 – Emerian:
Do those portraits on tombstones freak you out or are they cool?
I like to see portraits on tombstones. I feel like it really gives you a sense, as a visitor, of the life being remembered. The only time a picture freaks me out is when it’s obviously been taken postmortem. I’ve seen a couple of babies. Those are really sad.
O.o … That would be so sad!
Question #20 – Priscilla:
Have you ever been to a flooded cemetery? I’ve heard of them in fiction, but I wonder if any towns/governments have actually damned up rivers and put cemeteries underwater?
I haven’t seen a flooded cemetery, but the California droughts have been uncovering all kinds of places. I’ve seen photos of Louisiana after the hurricanes, when the levies break and flood cemeteries or when the waters surge up into the land. Those are heartbreaking.
Question #21 – Denise:
Do you have a favorite flower?
Apple blossoms in a cemetery in Michigan.
I think lilacs are my favorite because they come in so many colors and the smell is so heavenly. But I love the color of daffodils, too, and the scent of apple blossoms. Flowers are a great idea.
Question #22 – Francesca:
Inquiring minds want to know… why are bodies buried six feet deep? Why not four or ten or whatever?
I believe — and I’m willing to be corrected — that’s the depth to bury a grave liner so the grave will not collapse. Modern graves, dug by machinery, are more uniform, but older hand-dug graves vary in depth. You wouldn’t want to hand-dig a ten-foot grave.
Question #23 – Melodie:
Where are you heading to next? A different country or a place in the US?
I’m hoping things in the world will settle enough next year that I can fulfill a lifelong dream. I have always wanted to see the Pyramids of Egypt. I have a big birthday coming up and there’s nowhere I would rather celebrate it.
Thank you to everyone who came by with questions. I had a really good time chatting with you all!