I began this blog in February 2011, which blows my mind: 11 years, more than 600 posts, over half a million views ago.
In February 2011, I had already published 3 books: an anthology of political essays about North America at the end of the 20th century, an anthology of cemetery essays, and Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues, an anthology of essays drawn from my 10 years of editing Morbid Curiosity magazine.
For the better part of six years, I’d also written a monthly column about visiting cemeteries for Gothic.Net. By 2011, I’d put together the manuscript that would become Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel and my agent was looking for a home for it. We were hobbled, though, because my agent couldn’t quite grasp why anyone would want to visit a cemetery.
While I was trying to persuade her — and waiting for a publisher to say yes — I decided to start this blog. Amazingly enough, no one had snatched up CemeteryTravel.com yet, so the domain was mine for a song. I learned WordPress, set up a website, and wrote my first post. I repurposed that as the Welcome to this blog.
The last 11 years have been a wonderful ride. I’ve met so many people through this blog — other bloggers, cemetery authors & photographers, tour guides, restorers, historians, genealogists, and more — people who have an attachment to just one graveyard and people like me who will explore every cemetery they come across.
I used this platform to research and write 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and collected some of my favorite photographs into the Cemetery Travels Notebook. I’ve used feedback from blog readers to update Wish You Were Here.
Readers supported me through 2020, when two publishers contacted me about new cemetery books and both proposals fell through. (Oh, 2020, why did you have to be so mean?) Someday, I’ll work my way back around to those books and finish them at last.
Contributors to this blog will appear in the book I’m putting together now, the sequel to the original Death’s Garden published all the way back in 1995. I am so excited about Death’s Garden Revisited! The essays are funny, heartbreaking, and lovely — and focus on cemeteries all around the world. I cannot wait for you to see it.
Here’s to another 11 years of Cemetery Travel. Thank you for being along for the ride!
When I put together my first book of cemetery essays, I had so many essays written that I had to leave some of them out. I tried to be conscious of how many California cemeteries I included, how many times I rambled around graveyards with my mom, how many times I raved about how beautiful any particular burial ground was. I wanted to include as many historically significant sites as possible, which meant leaving out some of my more personal stories. I wanted Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel to be complete, but not an omnibus.
In 2014, the year that the Red Room site went down — taking my blog with it, I switched over to Wattpad. It wasn’t a blogging platform in the same sense, but it allowed writers to publish books in a serial format. The Wattpad team encouraged me to put together some nonfiction. They even helped by creating a cover for me.
That first book was All You Need is Morbid. It’s a collection of essays about traveling with my husband. Of course, it includes some cemetery essays, including a trip high into the mountains of the California Gold Country to find the tiny village graveyard of Iowa Hill, visiting the Bone Chapel of Kutna Hora on my birthday, searching out the Capuchin Catacombs on our first day in Rome, and stumbling across casts of people buried in the ruins of Pompeii.
All You Need is Morbid made the Featured Nonfiction list on Wattpad shortly after it was published. Then it won one of the first ever HQ Love Watty Awards.
Wattpad has included the book in a number of promotions since then. Because they’ve been so generous, it’s been my intention to put together another essay collection for a while. This summer, I finally assembled a new book called Graveyard Field Trips.
This time I concentrated on stories about sharing my love of cemeteries with other people:
I poked around a tiny farming graveyard in Michigan with my brother, looking for a monument to circus roustabouts killed in a train wreck.
I visited artist M. Parfitt at the height of summer so we could explore the cemetery where she eventually became a tour guide.
My old friend Brian Thomas took me on a night tour of Westwood Memorial Park, to visit Marilyn Monroe’s grave.
My friend Ann Marie and I went on a doomed quest for the burial ground of the Tule Lake Concentration Camp.
Forestter Cobalt led me on a ghost hunt in Chicago’s Rosehill Cemetery.
I stood beside my great aunt as her own gravesite.
Mason and I explored the glories of ancient Rome.
My daughter and her friend met a scorpion in a graveyard in Singapore.
My family escorted me to see the Kiss of Death in Barcelona.
Last year was great for getting the word out about traveling to cemeteries. I spoke to reporters from Time, Preservation magazine, Entertainment Weekly, the LA Times, Real Simple magazine, and many more. I was honored to talk to Callie Crosby for her Under the Radar bookclub on NPR and radio broadcasters from Ireland to Australia to my hometown of Flint, Michigan.
I’ve gathered all the links together, but this is one of my favorites:
October is the time when people’s thoughts turn to cemeteries. I’ve been chatting with anyone who will listen about why everyone should visit graveyards, whether on vacation or in their own hometowns. I thought I would collect up all the links so you’d know I hadn’t been slacking when I wasn’t here blogging.
Last month, I chatted with Cheryl Eddy, a local journalist whose work I’ve read for over a decade at the San Francisco Bay Guardian (RIP). Our interview about traveling around to visit cemeteries and the book I edited called Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues went up on io9.com last Monday. It’s called This is the Life of a Graveyard Tourist.
After a really fascinating email interview, I got quoted in Travel & Leisure’s list of the World’s Most Beautiful Cemeteries. That story was picked up by Smithsonian.com, the Huffington Post, and several other newspapers around the world.
My essay for the Horror Writers Association’s Halloween Haunt’s blog, about the graves of horror writers, which was spun off by something I wrote for Cemetery Travel last Halloween. This version was called Where Horror Lies.
This is reblogged from the Western Legends Publishing blog, where it appeared almost two weeks ago. I’ve been traveling and blogging from my phone was much more difficult than I expected. This will be a new Cemetery of the Week tomorrow, though, so tune in again!
How did I pick all those cemeteries I visited in Wish You Were Here? That’s a funny story…
I visited the first cemetery by accident. I found a lovely book of cemetery photos — who knew such a thing existed? — in the bookshop at London’s Victoria Station. That was toward the end of our unexpected stay in England, but my husband Mason decided he would rather see beautiful, overgrown Highgate Cemetery than the Tower of London. It was the right choice.
We’d already planned to work Pere Lachaise Cemetery into our trip to Paris, because Jim Morrison, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, and so many other famous people were buried there. I’d found a cemetery guidebook (my first!) calledPermanent Parisians in the Rand McNally store in San Francisco. That book also led us to the cemeteries of Montparnasse and St. Vincent and the Paris Municipal Ossuary, but I wasn’t such a geek yet that we saw a single graveyard when we visited Amsterdam that same trip.
For a while after that, I simply stumbled on cemeteries. My mom saw the sign for the Pioneer Cemetery in Yosemite while I was looking for the anthropology museum. Jack London just happened to be buried at the State Historical Park that bears his name. A friend was touring St. Louis Cemetery in New Orleans and encouraged me to come along.
Other places had such an impact on history that I wanted to see them for myself. When Mason and I went to Japan for the first time, I wanted to go out of our way to see Hiroshima and the Peace Park. When my mom took me to Honolulu, I went alone by tour bus on Easter morning to see Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. I ducked out of a family trip to Washington DC to visit Arlington National Cemetery.
Then I started to get a reputation. Japanese friends took us to the old capitol of Kamakura to show me a monks’ graveyard. A friend who’d grown up in Westchester County said I shouldn’t miss the Old Dutch Burying Ground in Sleepy Hollow. Other friends gave us a private tour of the Soldiers National Cemetery and battlefield at Gettysburg.
By the time Mason and I went to Italy in 2001, we were building our vacations around cemeteries. In Rome, I targeted the Protestant Cemetery, final home of Keats and Shelley. In Venice, I wanted to see the island set aside as a graveyard, where Stravinsky is buried. Strangely enough, my goal in Florence was La Specola, the jaw-dropping medical museum — but we managed to score an hour alone in the English Cemetery, where Elizabeth Barrett Browning is buried. It had the most amazing iconography. Oh, and we discovered that the roads into the archaeological site at Pompeii are lined with tombs, although that story didn’t make it into Wish You Were Here.
Graveyards are everywhere you go. Next time you travel, take a look.
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