Respectable Burial review

Respectable Burial: Montreal's Mount Royal CemeteryRespectable Burial: Montreal’s Mount Royal Cemetery by Brian J. Young

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This may be the most boring cemetery book I’ve ever read (and I’ve read a lot). I bought a shrink-wrapped copy without paging through it because I’m fascinated by the cemeteries of Montreal, but this book turns out to have few photos of the monuments in Mount Royal Cemetery — and even fewer color views of the cemetery itself. That’s one strike against it.

Rather than illuminating the history of Montreal through the people buried in Mount Royal Cemetery, this book focuses on the business of running the cemetery, including minutiae on cemetery board discussions on how to police the behavior of visitors. There is a whole lot of detail about how burying the poor was seen as a Protestant duty and the rules the cemetery board consequently put in place to punish families who needed assistance burying their dead. Actually I found that quite interesting, although it went on and on.

Often, the most interesting stories in the book appeared in the photo captions, which described some of the controversial figures buried in Mount Royal. It made me wish I was reading a book comprised on the captions, instead of the main text.

To be honest, all things being equal, I prefer to explore Catholic cemeteries over Protestant ones, because Catholic cemeteries tend to have more sculpture and more detailed epitaphs and I can get a better sense of the people buried in them. Perhaps the same can be said for books about Catholic cemeteries vs. Protestant ones?

If you’d like to complete your cemetery book collection, you can buy a copy of Respectable Burial from Amazon: https://amzn.to/38wTMiW

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The Cemetery Traveler

The Cemetery Traveler: Selections from the blog by Ed SnyderThe Cemetery Traveler: Selections from the blog by Ed Snyder by Ed Snyder

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ed Snyder was blogging about visiting cemeteries before the idea even occurred to me. In fact, I wrote to ask his permission to call my blog Cemetery Travel. He was kind enough to say yes, because getting people to visit cemeteries is important to him.

All of Ed’s quirky personality comes through in this fun little book: his sense of humor, his love of life, his meticulous photographer’s eye, his passion for protecting and restoring cemeteries. He’s a storyteller, not a writer, so the text is straightforward and occasionally less polished than it might be, but it’s easy to get caught up in his wonder at the wildlife inhabiting a cemetery or his anger at how a cemetery has been treated. Just as soon as you think you’ve gotten Ed figured out, he’s gently brushing off the invitation of a prostitute outside the cemetery gates or dodging a pack of feral pitbulls in Mount Moriah or stopping by the grave of Nancy Spungen to tell the sad tale of Sid Vicious’s illegal burial there. He sounds like he would be a great person to poke around a cemetery with.

I was amused to see Ed’s experience visiting the grave of Elizabeth Barrett Browning in Florence was so similar to my own. Both of us arrived when the English Cemetery was closed. Both of us met Julia Bolton Holloway, the cemetery’s caretaker, who welcomed us into the graveyard, let us photograph to our hearts’ desire, and showed us her little museum. I was glad to see that nothing had changed between my visit in 1999 and his in 2010.

I’m envious that Ed got to hang out in Philadelphia’s Laurel Hill while a zombie movie was being filmed. I wish he’d been able to go out on the boat that scatters ashes in Long Beach, but the interview he did with the boat’s captain is fascinating. I’m glad that he researched the destruction of Philadelphia’s Monument Cemetery, which was demolished to build a parking lot — and essay that is worth the price of the book.

The only reason I took one star off the book is that I wish it had more of Ed’s beautiful black and white photos. I’m going to have to buy a copy of his Stone Angels book, too.

All in all, I’m grateful that Ed pulled together his favorite blog pieces to create this book. I hope it will bring more attention to The Cemetery Traveler and his work bringing Mount Moriah Cemetery back from the edge of dissolution.

I had the luck to publish one of the essays from the book on Cemetery Travel.  You can read “The Allure of the Abandoned Cemetery” here: https://cemeterytravel.com/2015/11/20/deaths-garden-the-allure-of-the-abandoned-cemetery/

You can buy your own copy of the book in paperback on Amazon: https://amzn.to/34tPVS3

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My New Favorite Cemetery Book

Cemeteries of Illinois: A Field Guide to Markers, Monuments, and MotifsCemeteries of Illinois: A Field Guide to Markers, Monuments, and Motifs by Hal Hassen and Dawn Cobb

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my new favorite cemetery book. It covers the history of burial in the state of Illinois from the Mound Builders to the modern lawn cemeteries. Along the way, it defines the different materials for marking graves, explores gravestone iconography, and is generally to cemeteries what the Audubon Guide is to birds. This is a perfect beginner book, even if you don’t live in Illinois. It would be a perfect textbook for a cemetery history class.

The only issue one might have with the book is that while it contains almost 300 full-color photos, they are purely snapshots, not artwork. I didn’t find that a drawback, but then I have a couple hundred cemetery books, many of them focusing on the artistry of cemetery landscaping and sculpture. This book serves as a nice companion to those.

I bought it on the basis of a glowing review in the Association for Gravestone Studies Quarterly. It did not disappoint.

You can pick up a copy to entice someone else into loving cemeteries from Amazon: https://amzn.to/337LdaY. Check out the “also bought” links at the bottom of that page. I was surprised to discover that you can get a deal on 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die!

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The lovely photography of Nasser K

I just discovered another photographer making art from cemeteries. He introduced himself with the email below and intrigued me enough to follow his link.  I hope you will feel the same way.

From Nasser:

I would like to share with you a new body of work called Life and Then – A Photographic Exploration of Cemeteries.  I have been photographing cemeteries for some time now. I understand that not everyone is comfortable with the subject I have chosen, as I was not when I began the project about nine years ago. Over time, I started enjoying my visits to the cemeteries.  It was interesting to learn how each culture, religion, or geographic areas treat their dead. These visits have put life in perspective for me. It was comforting to know with all the inequities in life, we all will die at the end. During my visits, I do not seek the graveyards of rich and famous; it was the ordinary people, and the stories that I imagined of them interested me the most. Art and life at cemeteries also made my photographic exploration more enjoyable.

At this junction in my never-ending cemetery project, I felt that it is time to share a selection of my images. The collection that I have chosen for my Life and Then portfolio centered on landscape and art at cemeteries. I hope you enjoy these photographs as much as I enjoyed being there to capture them.

https://www.nasserk.com/Portfolio/Life-and-Then

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Sacred Ground in New Orleans

Sacred Ground: The Cemeteries of New Orleans (stunning duotone photographs of New Orleans legendary cemeteries)Sacred Ground: The Cemeteries of New Orleans by Robert S. Brantley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have a lot of cemetery books. I even have a lot of books about the cemeteries of New Orleans. This one is a worthy addition to my library because it goes off in a direction none of the others do. The photographer allowed himself to become obsessed by some of the grave monuments he photographed to the point that he wanted to know who these people were. The stories he uncovers are fascinating, touching, and range far beyond the famous names you would expect. Soldiers, duelists, priests, bankers, violin makers, opera singers, firemen, and more: these people each contributed to the history of this special city, even if their names are no longer widely known.

The black and white photographs, while exquisitely shot, do not stray as far from the usual subjects. Some of that is because St. Louis Cemetery #1 is so well documented, but even the photos of Metairie and Lafayette #1 are common to many other cemetery books. Still, the way many of the photos are taken–emphasizing the dramatic Louisiana skies–made me long to return to New Orleans and see those sights for myself. I think I will spend a lot of time gazing at these pictures.

One of my favorite parts of the photographic section of the book is the way that the repeating motifs are collected together, so the reader can appreciate the iconography of benevolent society tombs or the variations of ornate ironwork crosses or the artistry in all the different styles of urns. New Orleans was truly blessed by the gifts of its sculptors.

The essay which closes the book allows Brantley to explain his relationship to the artwork and architecture he has captured. He speaks of the cemetery as an outdoor museum. His photography certainly proves his point.

If you don’t have any books on the cemeteries of New Orleans, this is a good place to start. If you do, this will be a nice addition to your collection. You can pick up your own copy of this brand-new book from Amazon: https://amzn.to/339O2JF

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Obligatory notice: I received a copy of this book from the publishers, but chose to review it on my own.

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