I’ve been conducting an unofficial survey on Twitter in which I ask everyone their favorite cemetery. The answers have been great. Everyone has an opinion and their choices have spanned the world. Very few of the cemeteries have repeated, which surprised me most of all. I thought everyone would choose the same big-name cemeteries over and over, but more people than I expected have chosen their local cemeteries down the street.
Some of the interviewees have turned the question back on me. My favorite cemetery changes from moment to moment. Several of us have agreed that picking a favorite is like choosing one of your children. You don’t want to slight anyone.
All that said, here are my favorite cemeteries at this moment:
Bendle Cemetery, Flushing, Michigan
I haven’t written about Bendle as much as I should. This is the first cemetery I remember going to as a child, the one where my grandparents, cousin, and brother are buried. It contains a variety of monuments from a six-foot tree stump to a white bronze obelisk to a lot of newer granite headstones incised with images important to the people in the community. The names on the gravestones echo the names of the country roads nearby, because the roads were named for the family farms to which they led. Of all the graveyards in the world, I have the most affection for this one.
Week #5: Hollywood Forever in Hollywood, California
Of all the cemeteries I’ve visited in the world, the one that does my heart the most good is Hollywood Forever. (So much so that I chose this image of it for the cover of Wish You Were Here.) When I visited it for the first time in the early 1990s, there were open graves gaping to the sky, where families had exhumed their loved ones to rebury them elsewhere safer and more protected. The cemetery’s perpetual care fund had been looted and everything was falling to ruin. When Tyler Cassity took over, I was worried about his ideas to lure tourists to the place, but instead the cemetery is lovely, cared for, well-visited, and better than I might have dreamed. Their annual Day of the Dead celebration is coming up on November 2. You should not miss it.
Week #9: San Michele in Isola in Venice, Italy
When my husband and I traveled to Italy, we built our trip around things I wanted to see: the Capuchin Catacombs of Rome, Pompeii, La Museo Zoologico La Specola (because I’d seen one of their Anatomical Venuses at the Exploratorium in San Francisco). Once we had the itinerary laid out, I filled it in with cemeteries. Our sole reason for going to Venice was to visit the cemetery island, San Michele in Isola. Reachable only by water taxi, the island seemed like one of the most isolated cemeteries in the world. It is compartmentalized into War graves, a Protestant section, a Russian Orthodox section, and row upon row of mausoleum drawers decorated with amazing glass mosaics. It’s the only graveyard in the world where I really honestly feared being locked in for the night. There was no climbing over the wall here, unless you also swam across the lagoon.
Week #55: Cypress Lawn Memorial Park, Colma, California
I’m having trouble limiting my local favorite to just one cemetery, but today I’m going to go with Cypress Lawn down in Colma. Between the exquisite glass ceilings in their catacombs to the variety of angels in the older half to all the historical figures at rest here, Cypress Lawn has rewarded repeated wandering over the 25 years I’ve lived in San Francisco. They’ve published several beautiful books about their collection of statuary and host monthly tours and lectures. (The year’s last walking tour is coming up this Saturday, October 26. Attend if you can!) I honestly adore Cypress Lawn.
Week #2: Highgate Cemetery in London, England
It’s probably no secret that my favorite cemetery is the one that really started me off down this path, London’s Highgate. I didn’t expect to go to London at all — and I never went out of my way to see a cemetery — but an unexpected book from a random gift shop sent us to this luscious overgrown outdoor museum. Now I can’t imagine ever having chosen a different path. My introduction to Highgate was nothing short of fate and I am extremely grateful.
There you have it. Those are my favorite cemeteries, at least as of today. What’s yours?