I started visiting graveyards by accident. A series of missed connections during the first Gulf War resulted in an unanticipated layover in London, where I just happened to pick up a guidebook to Highgate Cemetery. My husband Mason wanted to visit the graveyard because it looked pretty in John Gay’s photos. In fact, Highgate was ravishing, full of dramatic marble angels taking wing.
As it happened, one graveyard led to another. We decided to visit Pere Lachaise in Paris because so many famous people came to rest there. As we wandered, we accidentally discovered my favorite grave marker in all the world: shackled in the granite, Prometheus raises one fist against the gods. At the same time, the eagle — or in this case, a vulture — digs its beak into the Titan’s side. If that doesn’t sum up my feeling about death, I don’t know what might.
So I started looking at graveyards because they were pretty, then because famous people rested there, but I quickly learned that practically anonymous gravestones tell the best stories. I developed a fascination with history, as reflected in burial grounds, which led to studying trends in mortuary decoration.
I have in mind a feature in this blog where I discuss a graveyard every Wednesday. My plan is to write a brief encyclopedia entry, something that will give the flavor of the graveyard, enough to whet your appetite for travel, and illustrate it with a photo from my collection.
In my travels, I’ve seen that graveyards are really very fragile. All it takes is a windstorm or a lightning bolt to do irreparable harm, not to mention the kind of damage a determined teenager could do. Cemeteries are vulnerable because they are not visited. People care about the things they see. My mission is to get people to go. That’s the least I can do for the pleasure cemeteries have given me: inspire and encourage other people to visit for themselves.
If you would, please leave a comment and let me know which cemeteries you’d like me to start with: San Francisco Bay Area? European? Midwestern? The chronological order I visited them in, or should I draw one out of a hat?