I was completely burnt out by the time the Death’s Garden Revisited Kickstarter ended in April, but I meant to post that not only did the book reach its funding goal, it bypassed it by a factor of five!
The book is in the proofreader’s hands now. Once she finishes with the text, I should be able to finalize the book’s layout and start ordering printer samples. Backers will have their copies on schedule in October.
I’ll post the order link for everyone else once I have the book is ready for preorders.
Tomorrow I’m giving a talk called “Using Crowdfunding to Support Cemetery Projects” at the virtual portion of the annual Association for Gravestone Studies Conference. I’m excited to share what I learned during my Kickstarter.
I’ve known Sharon Pajka for years through the Association for Gravestone Studies. She’s been writing about graveyards for a long time, both at her blog Goth Gardening and now in books. Her most recent, Women Writers Buried in Virginia, was conceived, researched, written, and published during the pandemic. She makes me feel like a slacker.
Her essay in Death’s Garden Revisited is about making a pilgrimage to honor the actor who inspired so many people by playing Herman Munster.
Officially, Sharon Pajka, PhD, author of Women Writers Buried in Virginia (2021), is a professor of English at Gallaudet University. On the weekends, you can find her in the cemetery, giving history tours or volunteering and running the website River City Cemetarians.
What’s your favorite thing to do in a cemetery?
Aside from walking around and taking in the beauty, I love finding a mystery! Finding an interesting epitaph that leads me down a research rabbit hole or finding a connection between those buried in two adjoining graves, that’s what I live for. There is nothing better than finding the stories of those who came before us. There’s real magic in learning about their lives and telling their stories.
Tell me about your favorite cemetery.
Isn’t picking a favorite cemetery like picking your favorite child?
Yes, that’s exactly right! Still…
Our forever home is Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, so that is one of my favorites. It’s a beautiful garden cemetery with winding paths and the most amazing trees I’ve ever seen. When my husband and I picked out our plot, we were told that it wasn’t a good place for a funeral as it is on a slight hill and under a large magnolia tree. I knew it was our place before I even made eye-contact with my husband to see if he felt the same. He said it was the birds flipping up leaves searching for bugs and how the place was both simultaneously private and public. I knew it our perfect spot because we basically had to do a Scooby-Doo creep behind a mausoleum just to get to it.
Okay, I had to do the Scooby-Doo creep. The cemetery manager and my husband just walked around the mausoleum.
I also adore Shockoe Hill Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia for all its Edgar Allan Poe connections. And Odd Fellows Rest in New Orleans was probably the most magical cemetery I’ve ever visited (legally, in 2015, with others members of our American Culture Association Cemeteries and Gravemarkers area, as the cemetery has been closed to the public for quite some time).
Is there a cemetery or gravesite you’ve always wanted to visit?
Highgate Cemetery in London. I have Ménière’s disease, an inner ear disorder that causes severe vertigo, so I don’t fly well, especially long flights. In 2011, I visited London for a conference and only had one afternoon free. All I wanted to do was go to Highgate Cemetery, but I let an older colleague persuade me into visiting all the popular tourist attractions instead. I will never forgive myself for letting that happen. If you’ve been around me, you’ve heard the story.
What would your epitaph be?
My husband and I are using a Harold Pinter poem that we recited at our wedding. We had planned a small wedding with only a few friends, but then decided to marry a couple of months earlier. It was just us. We’re private people and we’re that level of introvert. The poem speaks to our relationship. We’re not sure if we’ll include our birth or death dates. We don’t have kids and we’ll most likely outlive most of our family. We like the idea of keeping our epitaph somewhat cryptic.
Do you have a favorite song about cemeteries or graveyards?
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!
I’m back from the Association for Gravestone Studies conference and slowly getting back to work. Last week was a wonder, full of beautiful things and interesting people doing fascinating work. I learned so much that I look forward to sharing with you in the next while!
Weather delayed my flights long enough that I missed the lantern tour of Wooster Cemetery in Danbury, but I was up and on the bus for Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx in the morning. Woodlawn will show up soon as one of the Cemeteries of the Week, but I wanted to call out the absolute highlight of the place: I found the grave of my heroine Nellie Bly. In case you don’t recognize the name, Bly was the nom de plume of a crusading female journalist. Reading about her as a kid inspired my career choice. It meant a lot to me to be able to stand at her grave.
Thursday morning I gave my talk about 199 Cemeteries to a group of people who are as fanatic about cemeteries as I am. I was really touched when several people brought me their copies of the book to sign — that thing is heavy to carry on a plane! Even better, one of the longtime members read my dedication to AGS aloud from the book. They asked great, knowledgable questions and totally understood that 199 cemeteries is just not very many, if you’re going to be comprehensive.
That afternoon, a couple of my cemetery role models invited me to explore the Newtown Village Cemetery with them. The lovely old cemetery spanned from sandstone monuments along the fence through Victorian marble to modern granite at the top of the hill. Several victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting are buried there, which brought the three of us to tears and led to a heartfelt conversation.
We rushed back for a meeting of the AGS local chapters, then slipped out again for a pizza feast. In the evening, I made it to a lecture about Native American mounds in Wisconsin cemeteries (the only ones I’ve seen were at Forest Hill in Madison), then jet lag and the emotional day sent me to bed.
Friday morning was spent poking around Danbury’s Wooster Cemetery, which has a wealth of white bronze markers. I was meant to be participating in a photography workshop, but I was too wound up and wanted to roam. It was a pretty day, full of dramatic clouds. Squirrels, chipmunks, and a large flock of Canadian geese were out chasing around. It felt good to clear my head.
That evening I attended lectures on sourcing epitaphs (thoroughly fascinating) and men killed while whaling (an impressive amount of work), followed by late-night talks on the Irish buried in Tolomato Cemetery, Pensacola’s rescued African American cemeteries, and a slideshow on animal headstones, followed by another on the Sandy Hook monuments.
Saturday was a rich, full day. After breakfast, it was back on the bus to visit New Haven, home of the Grove Street Cemetery. That one was featured in 199 Cemeteries, but I hadn’t had a chance to see it yet. Unfortunately, my photos don’t do justice to just how lovely the cemetery was. Friday’s beautiful warm weather had given way to the threat of thunderstorms, so Grove Street’s colors were muted. Grove Street is the first cemetery in America to sell grave plots pre-need, so that families could arrange to be buried together. It’s full of graves of Yale faculty members, famous inventors, and some remarkably lovely sculpture. It will show up soon as a Cemetery of the Week.
After much too short a time, I hustled over to Center Church on New Haven Green to see the New Haven Crypt. In the early 1800s, the church was built above a portion of the old cemetery on the green. When the headstones outside were removed in the 1820s, the segment of the burial ground beneath the church remained intact. Old winged skulls still mark graves that date as far back as the 1680s. I’ll do a Cemetery of the Week about the crypt, too, just so I can show off some more of my photos.
Finally, we stopped at the Milford Cemetery with only 45 minutes to spare. That cemetery had a collection of sandstone monuments with skulls and deeply morbid epitaphs, as well as a forest of weeping willow stones, and an amazing sculptural monument unlike anything else. The guides were very helpful in pointing me toward things of interest. I wish I’d had time to take some notes.
After that, we rushed back to the dorms where we were staying, dressed up, and sped off to the Oakley Awards reception, which recognizes groups or individuals who have rescued endangered graveyards. That was followed by the Forbes Award, given to someone who’s spent their career saving graveyards.
Once the banquet was over, I made it through two lectures about Australia cemeteries, including the Rookwood Necropolis — which I would very much like to visit — but I was worn out and didn’t make it through the late night talks.
So six cemeteries in four days — and so many conversations with people whose names I know from their work in and around cemeteries. For someone who has spent the last six months at home caring for a disabled kid, the conference was overstimulating and overwhelming and completely absorbing. My chief regret is that I didn’t get a chance to see the Mountain Grove Cemetery in Bridgeport, which also appears in 199 Cemeteries. Who knows when I’ll be back in Connecticut again? But clearly I can’t do everything.
Next year’s AGS conference will be in Boiling Springs, North Carolina. I’d like to go, but that will depend on where I am with the Bay Area pioneer cemeteries book — and whether my advance will cover both a book tour and cross-country travel. I hope I can swing it, because I’d really like to talk with all my new friends again.
Besides, I didn’t come away with as much of a haul as I expected!
I’m off to the Association for Gravestone Studies’ annual conference, which is in Danbury, Connecticut this year. Getting there is going to be grueling, but oh, so worth it.
Tomorrow we’ll be taking a bus tour to Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, the one you see in every movie that looks from a cemetery toward Manhattan. Miles Davis is buried there, as is Duke Ellington and Celia Cruz and many, many more. I’ve never had an opportunity to go before.
Thursday I’ll be talking about how I got my contract to write 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. (Spoiler: they wrote and asked me.) Of course, I think there should be many more cemetery books, so I’m going to do what I can to inspire other writers.
Friday is dedicated to exploring the local Wooster Cemetery and admiring their white bronze monuments.
Finally, Saturday is another bus tour, this time to see the Grove Street Cemetery in New Haven. It’s one of the places in 199 Cemeteries that I really want to see.
Of course, there’s a full schedule of lectures that I’m looking forward to, and people I’ve only met online or briefly at a Death Salon or at the last AGS conference I went to, which was 17 years ago. I am really looking forward to having my brain filled with beauty and information.
Best of all, I can fully enjoy the adventure, because I turned in the proposal for a book to follow up 199 Cemeteries on Sunday. Fingers crossed that I’ll soon have another deadline to drive towards.
Have you got some cemeteries that you’re looking forward to seeing this summer?
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