Death’s Garden Revisited

Almost 30 years ago, I received a box of miscellaneous cemetery photos. They had been taken by my best friend’s husband over the course of his travels around the Americas. Blair was 28 years old and dying of AIDS. He wanted to know his photos had a good home.

I decided to put together a book to feature Blair’s photos. I planned initially to write all the text, but as I talked to people about the project, everyone seemed to have a cemetery story they were eager to tell.

The book title expanded from Death’s Garden to Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries. I was thrilled to discover that people — people I knew, even complete strangers — all had a graveyard they’d connected with, either because  family members were buried there, or because they’d visited it on vacation, or because they’d grown up in a house near it, or for a whole bouquet of other reasons.

The contributors varied from people I met through zines to a ceramics professor at Ohio State University, writers for the LA Weekly, professional artists and photographers, underground musicians, depressed high school girls, and most incredibly, punk rock diva Lydia Lunch, who provided some glorious photos. As the book came together, Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries blew away my expectations.

The initial print run of 1000 copies sold out 18 months after the book came out. I’d only asked for one-time rights to use everyone’s contributions, so I couldn’t republish it. Once the books were gone, Death’s Garden went out of print.

Over the years, I’ve lost track of many of the contributors. Some are dead and have a different relationship with cemeteries now. Others have sunk into the anonymity of a pseudonym on the internet.

Marilyn’s lipstick-pink marble

Seven years ago, I did a project on this blog where I invited people to tell stories about a cemetery to which they had connected. The stories ranged from falling in love in a cemetery to exploring vacation sites, from leading cemetery tours to visiting family members’ graves, from pilgrimages to famous graves to rediscovering the forgotten and alone.

At this moment, I am in the process of assembling a sequel to that original Death’s Garden book. Like the first book, Death’s Garden Revisited will explore all the different ways people relate to cemeteries: through family ties, as sites of history or settings for one-of-a-kind artwork, whether pursuing genealogy or paying respects at famous people’s resting places.

I’m thrilled by how the book is coming together so far. Stay tuned to this blog for the announcement of the Table of Contents and cover artist!

Cemetery Podcasts

I had the honor of being a guest on two really great podcasts this year.

In March, I chatted with Tui Snider on her Tombstone Tuesdays video podcast. We talked about Wish You Were Here and 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die, how I came to love cemeteries, and some of my favorite cemetery sculptures. It was really fun.

Here’s the link, in case the embed doesn’t come through: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uc8atGbwYis&t=2s

In November, I hung out with LaShell Scott for her Stones, Bones and Shadows podcast. We talked about our favorite cemeteries that we haven’t visited yet — Highgate for her, Savannah’s Bonaventure for me, and so much more.

Click to listen to it here or go directly to Spotify with this link: https://open.spotify.com/episode/00tHCvVT7dq8Rm8bFhvRI0?si=e0af30ed3d574505

I know it’s been a couple of years since I had a cemetery book published, but that hasn’t been for lack of trying on my part. Hopefully, something will work out for next year.

In the meantime, if you have a cemetery podcast, I’d love to chat with you. Hit me up through the Contact form above!

My Cemetery Work Crosses over into Fiction

When I’m not writing about cemeteries as travel destinations, I am a novelist. Whenever I can, I work cemeteries into my ficiton.

In the Nineties, just as I was beginning to explore cemeteries, I collaborated with Brian Thomas to write an epic love story between an angel and a succubus. As part of our location scouting for the books, Brian took me to cemeteries all around Los Angeles.

The first cemetery we visited was, of course, Forest Lawn. Brian lived in Glendale at the time, so Forest Lawn was practically in his neighborhood.

As we developed the story, I wrote some chapters and Brian wrote others. One of the pieces he wrote was about the angel Azaziel meeting a teenage runaway named Ashleigh amidst the statuary at Forest Lawn. Further into the story, Brian returned to Forest Lawn and particularly to the stained glass Last Supper window for a wonderful scene where the fallen priest Joseph regains his faith.

My Cemetery of the Week listing for Forest Lawn is here: https://cemeterytravel.com/2011/05/04/cemetery-of-the-week-14-the-original-forest-lawn/

Marilyn’s lipstick-stained marble niche in Westwood Village Memorial Park

I’ve written about exploring Westwood Village Memorial Park in the dark on Cemetery Travel before. When I was revising the second book in the angel/succubus series in 2019, I realized that Lorelei and Azaziel needed a place to have their first real date, so I wrote Westwood into Angelus Rose.

The Cemetery of the Week listing for Westwood is here: https://cemeterytravel.com/2012/10/31/cemetery-of-the-week-82-pierce-brothers-westwood-village-memorial-park/

In that same revision, I found a place to work the cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels into the book, too. When Brian and I initially wrote the books, the cathedral was still under construction. All these years later, when the books were finally being completed, it felt weird that the cathedral — such an important part of the religious life of Los Angeles — didn’t appear in our story. I revised the scene where the high school choirs perform for all the angels in the city and set the concert in the courtyard at the cathedral. I’m really pleased with how it turned out.

The Cemetery of the Week listing for Our Lady of the Angels is here: https://cemeterytravel.com/2021/03/26/cemetery-of-the-week-173-the-crypt-of-our-lady-of-the-angels/

Angels in Angelus Rosedale, Los Angeles California

Once we imagined the trajectory of Lorelei and Azaziel’s love story, Brian knew where the books had to end.  He took me time and time again to explore Angelus-Rosedale Cemetery. The angels, palms, family tombs, chapel, and columbarium all appear in the book Angelus Rose, although they end up worse for wear.

The Cemetery of the Week listing for Angelus Rosedale Cemetery is here: https://cemeterytravel.com/2012/02/15/cemetery-of-the-week-51-angelus-rosedale-cemetery/

If I’ve piqued your curiosity about our angel/succubus love story, it’s available in paperback, ebooks, or as an ebook set of both books.

Here are the links for Lost Angels:

Here are the links for Angelus Rose:

Or you can pick up both books in one ebook set at https://amzn.to/31L5U1G.

 

 

 

Graves of California Settlers

What Lies Beneath: California Pioneer Cemeteries and GraveyardsWhat Lies Beneath: California Pioneer Cemeteries and Graveyards by Gail L. Jenner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I hate to rate this book so low, since the author says she cracked ribs and got a concussion in the course of researching it. Unfortunately, the book suffers from trying to cover way too much ground, splitting California’s 58 counties into 10 sections and jamming them into 300 pages. Because it has so much to cover, everything ends up glossed over at speed. I often got the feeling that fewer stories, told in greater detail, would have been more satisfying.

The author chose to focus on the unknowns of history, which means she left out Levi Strauss, Phineas Gage, Emperor Norton…although she does include Wyatt Earp, who wasn’t a California pioneer. She does a very commendable job of including pioneers of color, including William Leidesdorff (although his name is misspelled), Mary Ellen Pleasant, and the Spanish and Mexican land grant owners. She also talks at length about some of the Chinese pioneers who made history in the state.

Rather than arranging each section by cemetery, the chapters flow through various members of each family — often switching mid-chapter to talk about burial grounds in other counties without mentioning they are hundreds of miles away from the area for which the chapter is named. I found it really confusing, even with flipping back and forth to the map to see where each digression took me.

There aren’t many photos in the book (always a complaint for me), but those that are included seem to be placed randomly. For instance, the cross remembering soldiers killed in the Modoc War (in one of California’s northernmost counties) is placed at the start of the Central Coast chapter. The Modoc War itself is discussed 110 pages earlier, in the San Diego chapter. (San Diego is one of California’s southernmost counties, more than 800 miles away.) If the event is important enough to be included, why isn’t it referenced in the appropriate geographic area?

Most disappointing, sometimes cemeteries are given a street address in the text, but often they aren’t. There’s no list of cemeteries mentioned (other than combing through the index), no suggestion of additional resources, no contact information.

I really wanted this to be a terrific book, especially since it was a gift.

If you’re a completist like me and you’d like a copy of the book for your collection, you can get one from Amazon: https://amzn.to/3HGEbPW

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Recommended Cemetery Books

Every so often, someone writes me to ask for a list of cemetery books I recommend. I haven’t had a list assembled, so the best I could do was point people toward the 171 cemetery books I’ve reviewed on Goodreads.

Slightly more useful was the Listopia list I started of Must-Have Cemetery Books.  82 people have voted on the list, adjusting the ranking of the books beyond what I would choose, but it will give you a good idea of what’s popular.

Finally, I have a solution to the cemetery book list dilemma! Bookshop.org allowed me to put together a list of Cemetery Books Every Taphophile Must Have. I was limited to books available on their site, so it doesn’t include some of my favorites that have gone out of print. (Those appear on the other lists, but you’ll have to scour ABE Books for them.)

If you’d like to start — or add to — your own cemetery library, the Bookshop.org list will set you up nicely.

You should know that I am an affiliate at Bookshop.org, so I earn a small commission on any books you order from either of my lists. (The other list is my books available on Bookshop.org. It also doesn’t include everything, but I’m trying to work that out.)

Remember, you can always order a copy of my cemetery books directly from me by clicking on the bookstore tab above.