Tag Archives: 199 Cemeteries To See Before You Die

Local Cemetery Travel

Rhoads SF NationalI haven’t updated this blog in much too long.  I ended up being much busier than I expected in October. It’s always my busiest month, but this year was nuts. At this point, I have an essay I need to turn in and a couple of podcasts I’ve trying to lock down for next year. Then the 199 Cemeteries promotion is done until 2018.

Of course, I am taking the National Novel Writing Challenge again, trying to finish a book (in my case, a nonfiction book) in the month of November.  I tend to get depressed when I finish a book — naturally, I think, after the excitement of getting something into print passes.   I decided the cure for moping over 199 Cemeteries was to dive straight into a new book.

In this case, it’s actually an old book idea, one that I’ve been toying with for more than 15 years. By the end of this month, I would like to finally have the first full draft of The Pioneer Cemeteries of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Obviously, this book will have a much smaller focus in geographic area than 199 Cemeteries, but I’m visiting and photographing each of these cemeteries myself: from Cloverdale in the north to Gilroy in the south.  I think there will be 80 cemeteries in the final book, although I expect there will be something closer to 100 in the first draft.  That’s not even all of the Bay Area cemeteries by any stretch (there are rumored to be 90 in Sonoma County alone), but it’s as many cemeteries as any sane person might be likely to visit.  It’s taken me twenty years to cover my first 100 local cemeteries and I’m not done yet.

The book will include some of the cemeteries I’ve written about for Cemetery Travel: Woodlawn, Lick Observatory, Mission Dolores, Mare Island, Hills of Eternity, the Stanford Mausoleum, etc. It will also have a bunch that I haven’t written about here but should: Tulocay (where Mary Ellen Pleasant is buried), Watsonville Pioneer (where transgender stage driver Charley Parkhurst rests), along with the final resting places of the survivors of the Donner Party, survivors of grizzly bear attacks, Forty Niners, Comstock silver barons, Native Americans, Portuguese fishermen, Mexican rancheros, and America’s first black millionaire.

It seems particularly important to finish this project now, since the firestorms this year threatened some of the historic cemeteries I want to include. I watched in horror last month as the town of Calistoga was evacuated, knowing that the emphasis would rightly be on saving homes and businesses from the flames, not on the fragile old cemetery that lies just outside of town.  As this writing, I haven’t heard if the Rural Cemetery in Santa Rosa survived the conflagration. Once that history is erased, whether by wildfire or earthquakes or vandalism, it won’t be replaced. Land is too valuable here.

I hope to get back to putting up a Cemetery of the Week every Wednesday soon.  I’d love to publish more Death’s Garden essays.  I’ll announce my 2018 speaking events as soon as I get them settled. I plan to organize some field trips to local cemeteries, for those who might like to join me. And I’ve got 20-some more cemeteries to research for this book.

There’s no rest for the morbid, baby.  I’ve got a lot of work to do.

Cemetery of the Week #161: The Old Huguenot Cemetery

Huguenot gate

These photos are borrowed from the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery Facebook page.

Old Huguenot Cemetery
aka the Huguenot Cemetery or the Public Burying Ground of St. Augustine
A1A Orange Street
Saint Augustine, Florida 32084
Established officially: 1821
Size: one-half acre
Number of interments: approximately 436
Open: Third Saturday of every month (see below for more details)

During the Spanish colonial era in Florida, this half-acre of land served as a potter’s field to bury criminals, other ex-communicants, and all non-Catholics who died in St. Augustine. The oldest graves have no markers, since the Spanish felt it was best to erase the memory of people who died outside the Church. Although the cemetery is named for the French Protestant movement, it’s unlikely any actual Huguenots are buried here.

When the United States took control of the Florida territory in 1819, the old potter’s field became the city’s only Protestant graveyard, opening officially in September 1821. Shortly thereafter, a yellow fever epidemic gripped the city. The mosquito-borne virus attacks the kidneys and liver, causing jaundice. Before a vaccine was developed, the disease was often fatal.

The cemetery’s owner, Reverend Thomas Alexander, deeded the land to the Presbyterian Church in 1832. The Presbyterians oversaw the cemetery until it closed in 1884. Since its closure, Memorial Presbyterian Church maintains it, aided more recently by the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery.

Among the approximately 436 people buried here are US Congressmen Gideon Barstow, who retired to Florida and died in 1852, and Charles Downing, who also served as a Colonel in the Seminole War in 1836.

Famous names aren’t what draw most people to this old cemetery. By many accounts, the Huguenot Cemetery is the most haunted place in the ancient city. One ghost story begins with the body of a fourteen-year-old girl abandoned at the nearby city gates during a yellow fever epidemic. Since no one claimed her and she couldn’t be proven to be Catholic, she was buried in the Huguenot Cemetery. It’s said her ghost, clad in a flowing white dress, still wanders the cemetery after midnight. Sometimes she waves at visitors. She’s even been seen atop the cemetery gate.

The most famous ghost in the Huguenot Cemetery has been identified as Judge John Stickney, who died in 1882. When his children had him exhumed years later, the gravediggers opened his coffin to find the judge reasonably well preserved. In the mob of people watching the exhumation hid a thief, who stole the judge’s gold teeth right out of his skull in the commotion. Although Stickney’s body was moved to Washington, DC, the tall dark figure of judge’s ghost continues to prowl the cemetery, searching for his missing dental work. He’s been sighted day and night.

The fragile old cemetery is usually locked, but until earlier this month, the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery opened it on the third Saturday of each month.

Huguenot hurricane damage

When Hurricane Irma tore up Florida two and a half weeks ago, it swept across St. Augustine and over the old cemetery.  A hurricane-spawned tornado toppled one of the centuries-old magnolias.  Other damaged trees landed on fragile old tombstones.  Damage is estimated to amount to $25,000.

Despite this, the Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery hope to open the cemetery on October 21 for its regular third Saturday visitation day.

If you’d like to help with the costs of tree removal and conservation of the gravestones, please email Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery President Charles Tingley at catingley (at) gmail (dot) com. The Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery is a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization.

Useful links:

The Old Huguenot Cemetery homepage

Friends of the Huguenot Cemetery Facebook page

Report on the damage from Hurricane Irma

Weird US report on the Huguenot Cemetery

Ghosts & Gravestones report on the Huguenot Cemetery

Links from Cemetery Travel:

The cemetery is mentioned in Famous and Curious Cemeteries

Key West City Cemetery

Cemetery of the Week #159: Trafalgar Cemetery


Trafalgar Cemetery view and all photos that follow by Deb Dauber.

Trafalgar Cemetery
Gibraltar GX11 1AA, Gibraltar
Consecrated: June 1798
Closed: 1814
Size: small
Number of Interments: 108 or so

Gibraltar lies at the end of the Iberian peninsula at the mouth of the Mediterranean. While it shares its northern border with Spain, Gibraltar was captured by the British in 1704 and remains under British protection.

This pretty little graveyard, originally called the Southport Ditch Cemetery, is mostly filled with people who died in the recurrent yellow fever epidemics of the early 19th century. Consecrated in 1798, it was named for the Southport Ditch, part of the town’s natural defenses, that dates back to Gibraltar’s Spanish era in the 17th century.


The headstone of Lt. Norman.

Among the approximately 108 people buried here lie two sailors wounded during the Battle of Trafalgar in October 1805. Lieutenant William Forster of the HMS Columbus and Lieutenant Thomas Norman of the HMS Mars succumbed of their injuries after the battle was over. Norman’s headstone records that he “…died in the Naval Hospital of this Place…after having suffered several weeks with incredible Patience & Fortitude under the Effects of a fever & Wound rece’d in the great and memorable Seafight of Trafalgar.”

All the men who died during the course of the battle with Napoleon’s fleet were buried at sea.

Victims of other Napoleonic sea battles are buried here, however. Among them are Thomas Worth and John Buckland of the Royal Marine Artillery. They were killed by the same single shot in the Bay of Cadiz in 1810.

Also here lies John Brugier, who served as purser on the HMS San Juan Nepomuceno. That Spanish ship was captured at the Battle of Trafalgar, then towed into the harbor to be used as a supply warehouse.

IMG_1365Many of the graves here remember children of British soldiers stationed here who died of disease. The hand-lettered monument to Amelia Walker mentions her father, a lieutenant, but says nothing of her mother.  Amelia died at two months and nineteen days in March 1812.

After 1814, the little cemetery was considered full. Its final burial took place in the tomb in the northeast corner in 1838.

When nearby St. Jago’s Cemetery closed early in the 20th century, its gravestones were set into the eastern wall in 1932. Other gravestones were moved from the Alameda Gardens.

In 1992, the Royal Navy donated an anchor as a memorial to those buried at sea during the Battle of Trafalgar.

Useful links:

Information on visiting the Gibraltar Cemetery

More information on sightseeing in the Gibraltar Cemetery

The travel snapshots post on Cemetery Travel that inspired this listing.

Cemetery of the Week #157: Normandy American Cemetery

American_military_cemetery_2003Normandy American Cemetery
Also known as the Omaha Beach Cemetery and Cimetière Américain de Normandie
14710, Colleville-sur-Mer, France
Dedicated: 1956
Size: 172.5 acres (70 hectares)
Number of interments: 9387
Open: Except on December 25 and January 1, the cemetery is open daily from 9 am to 6 pm from April 15 to September 15, and from 9 am to 5 pm the rest of the year. Admission closes 15 minutes before closing time. The cemetery is open on holidays in France. When it is open, staff members in the visitor center can answer questions or escort relatives to grave and memorial sites.

The most-visited American military cemetery outside the US stands above a stretch of beach south of the English Channel on the northern coast of France. More than 9,000 men and four women are buried in the Normandy American Cemetery under row upon row of white crosses and Stars of David.

On June 6, 1944 — D-Day — American soldiers joined Allied Forces for the liberation of France.  2499 Americans fell before the Allies chased the Germans from heavily fortified Omaha Beach.

Two days after the landing, the American dead were buried temporarily in the first American cemetery to be established in Europe in World War II.  Called St. Laurent-sur-Mer, the cemetery was a holding place for servicemen until their families could be contacted. Next-of-kin could request repatriation or permanent burial in France. Nearly 60% of the fallen were sent home, while the rest were interred on land donated by France in gratitude for America’s sacrifice.

normandy postcardA half-mile-long access road leads to the Normandy American Cemetery, which covers 172.5 acres on the headlands above the D-Day beaches. The cemetery is the largest US World War II graveyard overseas.  Buried there are 9383 men and four women, victims of various battles. 33 pairs of brothers lie side by side. The graves are aligned on a vast green lawn divided by paths.

A $30 million visitor center was dedicated by the American Battle Monuments Commission in 2007, on the 63rd anniversary of D-Day. The visitor center, which serves as the entrance to the cemetery, welcomes approximately a million people each year.


Photo by Dennis Jarvis.

At the heart of the cemetery rises a 22-foot-high bronze nude called “Spirit of American Youth Rising from the Waves,” sculpted by Donald Harcourt De Lue and cast in Italy. The statue is surrounded by gold letters that proclaim, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the lord.” Behind it stands a semi-circular limestone colonnade that says, “This embattled shore, portal of freedom, is forever hallowed.” At each end of the colonnade is a loggia which displays maps of the Battle of Normandy. The loggias are engraved, “In proud remembrance of the achievements of her sons and in humble tribute to their sacrifices, this memorial has been erected by the United States of America.”

A semicircular garden on the east holds the Walls of the Missing. Its dedication reads: “Here are recorded the names of Americans who gave their lives in the service of their country and who sleep in unknown graves. This is their memorial. The whole Earth their sepulcher. Comrades in Arms whose Resting Place is Known Only to God.” Of the 1557 names listed, some are now marked with rosettes because they have since been discovered and identified.

Two of President Theodore Roosevelt’s sons lie here. Theodore Jr. was the president’s eldest son. He fought in both world wars and received the Medal of Honor. In WWII, he served as a general. He was one of the first Americans to come ashore in France. He landed at Utah Beach, two kilometers farther south than they’d planned, but he encouraged his men by saying, “We’ll start the war from right here!” A month after the landing, he died of a heart condition.

His brother Quentin had died in aerial combat during World War I. He had been buried in Chamery Cemetery in the Marne region of France, but he was brought here to lie beside his brother.

The pathway from the cemetery down to the beach was closed in April 2016, due to security concerns.  A viewing platform overlooks the battlefield, now a peaceful sandy beach that stretches as far as one can see.

Normandy American Cemetery is the largest overseas World War II graveyard, but the Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery from World War I contains the remains of 14,000 Americans.

This clip from Saving Private Ryan was filmed in the Normandy American Cemetery:

Useful links:

American Battle Monuments Commission page for the Normandy American Cemetery

Directions to Omaha Beach

Other American military cemeteries on Cemetery Travel:

National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii

Soldiers’ National Cemetery, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania

Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia

Fort Mackinac Post Cemetery, Mackinac Island, Michigan

San Francisco National Cemetery, San Francisco, California

Mare Island Cemetery, Vallejo, California

Cemetery of the Week #153: Rookwood Necropolis

Rookwood angel

This photo and the two that follow are taken from The Sleeping City: The Story of Rookwood Necropolis, which I’ll review tomorrow.

Rookwood Necropolis
Hawthorne Avenue, Rookwood, New South Wales 2141, Australia
Founded: 1867
Size: 777 acres
Number of interments: more than 1 million

In 1862, the government of New South Wales purchased 200 acres of the Hyde Park Estate, owned by Mr. Edward Cohen, near the village of Haslam’s Creek for the site of a new cemetery. Once the necropolis was dedicated, burials began in January 1867. This year, Rookwood Necropolis is celebrating its sesquicentennial.

Nearly 10 miles outside of Sydney’s business district, the original cemetery was designed with divisions for Roman Catholic, Anglican, Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Jewish, and Independent congregations. Each section was sized based on the denomination’s number of adherents in the 1861 census. That original 200-acre cemetery is now only the northwestern corner of this enormous cemetery. The Wesleyan, Presbyterian, Independent, General, and Catholic Cemeteries all have curvilinear layouts, while the Anglican Cemetery is based on a grid.

The original 200-acre cemetery lay along the rail line from Sydney to Parramatta. A spur was built to carry funeral trains into the cemetery to stations serving Anglicans, Catholics, and nonbelievers. The first funeral train ran in April 1864. Train service ended in 1848.

In 1878-9, 577 acres were added to the cemetery. At 777 acres, the Rookwood Necropolis is the largest graveyard in the Southern Hemisphere. More than a million people have been buried or cremated there. A whopping one million epitaphs have been recorded on 600,000 graves and 200,000 crematorium niches. In fact, although it wasn’t the first crematorium in Australia, Rookwood’s Spanish Mission-style crematorium is the oldest that continues to operate. It opened in 1925.

Rookwood 1The necropolis is so large that “vistas came be found within it that are completely contained within the cemetery landscape, providing an aesthetic retreat for the senses of the viewer,” according to its National Trust listing.  When it was added to the National Trust of Australia (NSW) in 1988, Rookwood was commended for being a “comprehensive and tangible manifestation of the social history of Sydney, documenting the cultural and religious diversity of the Australian community since 1867.”  Rookwood serves over 90 culturally diverse communities, also displaying Australia’s diversity of religious beliefs and burial practices in its monuments and memorials.

The National Trust listing goes on to note that “the progressive layering, development, and diversity of styles of memorialization document the conceptual move away from the 19th century perception of death and dying to the more rationalist view prevailing at the present time.”  The Friends of Rookwood offer several tours that point out historical points of interest, including some twilight tours. I’ll link to the 2017 tour schedule below.

More recently, Rookwood acknowledged that the Dharug people—part of the oldest continuous culture in the world—are the traditional custodians of their land.

The largest public open space within urban Sydney, Rookwood serves as a haven for birds and native fauna, including 19 species of frogs and reptiles. In addition to native brushtail possums and grey-headed flying foxes, the cemetery hosts colonies of imported rabbits, hares, and foxes. Several species of cuckoos and honeyeaters breed in the cemetery trees. A large spectrum of birds migrate through.  The cemetery also provides habitat for two endangered plant species: the downy wattle and the small-leaved Dillwynia.

Rookwood wildflowersBuried here are Peter Dawson, a singer and composer who became famous as a gramophone recording artist; Louisa Lawson, a suffragette who owned a newspaper and wrote poetry and short stories; John Fairfax, who emigrated from England with five pounds and later purchased the Sydney Herald; and Roy Rene, who performed as Australia’s most popular vaudeville star Mo McCackie.

Rookwood has a large War Graves area, some of which commemorates the Australian landing at Gallipoli during World War I. Many of the graves are cenotaphs in memory of soldiers buried in Europe or whose bodies were never recovered.  The cemetery has a thoughtful video on their website.

Useful links:

Rookwood’s homepage

150th anniversary events

Friends of Rookwood walking tours

An illustrated history of Rookwood

Harry Houdini’s visit to Rookwood’s spiritualist graves

A paperback copy of The Sleeping City: The Story of Rookwood Necropolis edited by David A. Weston is available on Amazon for a whole lot of money. I got a hard cover copy via ebay for much less.