Tag Archives: Douglas Keister

Weekly Photo Challenge: Converge

Tour of Cloverdale Cemetery, led by Susan Bennett

Tour of Cloverdale Cemetery, led by Susan Bennett

October was a whirlwind of writing about cemeteries and talking about cemeteries and touring cemeteries.  You can believe I was in heaven.

Mountain View Cemetery tour, led by Arthur Kay

Mountain View Cemetery tour, led by Arthur Kay

The month started with my speech at the Death Salon about how the graveyards were removed from San Francisco. That led to a very small group tour of Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, led by Arthur Kay.  He helped me find a gravestone I was looking for, as well as the grave of one of the last Romanoff princesses and a whole lot of other locally important people.  The day was incredibly hot and I was sick with a bad cold, but it was worth making the effort to get out in the sunshine.

Cypress Lawn Cemetery at sunset

Cypress Lawn at sunset

A week later, still sick with that stupid cold, I managed to see Douglas Keister’s photos of graves in the Holy Land at Cypress Lawn Memorial Park.  That was immediately followed by his gracious and fascinating hands-on seminar on how to take cemetery photos.  The warm gold light spilling across the cemetery made me feel so much better.  I wish I’d taken more photos.

I took the weekend of my birthday off — mostly because there weren’t any cemetery tours I wanted to attend that weekend and I was still sick. The final weekend of the month, I was spoiled for choice.  I wanted to go down to Gilroy, California to see Old St Mary Cemetery, since it’s only open on days when the Historical Society leads tours, but I wasn’t sure I could make it by 10 a.m. on the day after my family had been out trick or treating.

The Carquinez Strait from Alhambra Cemetry

The Carquinez Bridge seen from Alhambra Cemetery

Instead, I dragged my daughter and husband up to Martinez to see the amazing Alhambra Cemetery.  The cemetery overlooks the Carquinez Strait in the northern part of San Francisco Bay. The Historical Society held a tombstone scavenger hunt for the kids, which entertained my daughter while I read the historic signs and marveled over all the lovely tombstones.  We’d never been to Martinez, so afterward we treated ourselves to a Thai lunch and poked briefly through the antique shops before getting one of the best iced mochas my husband has ever tried.  It was the perfect family outing.

Finally, on November 2 — All Souls’ Day — my friend Samuel came up to the northern tip of Napa County with me so we could tour Cloverdale Cemetery.  Susan Bennett led the tour in character as Gravedigger Tom.  The tour group was enormous, which did my heart good to see.  We learned about the history of Cloverdale and its surroundings through the lens of the California Gold Rush and the farming era that followed, through the days of the spas and summer camps and religious splinter groups.

Old St. Mary Cemetery represents the southern tip of my ongoing research for the Pioneer Cemeteries of the San Francisco Bay Area book.  Cloverdale is the northernmost boundary.  It would have been something to see them both in the same weekend, 161 miles as the Google maps, but I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish.

November 3 dragged me out of cemeteries and back to real life. I had to dive into revising the first book of the space opera trilogy I sold to Night Shade Books in February.  I’d been waiting for the book to come back from the editor all year, so of course it arrived in the middle of my cemetery madness.  It’s turned in at last and the book is in press now, for release next summer.  There are more details here, if Hong Kong-style revenge science fiction is your kind of thing.  I’m very proud of it.

Long story short, it’s been a while since I blogged on Cemetery Travel, for which I’m sorry.  I’m still trying to figure out how to juggle everything.  The second book of The Dangerous Type trilogy is due soon and I need to toggle back and forth from being a cemetery historian to a science fiction writer.  It feels strange to have both sides of my life converge at last, but it’s an exciting place to be.

Rhoads_Cloverdale_1725More blogs using this week’s Photo Challenge as a jumping-off point can be found here: http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_photo_challenge/converge/

Stories in Stone: Douglas Keister

Self-portrait by Douglas Keister

I first became aware of Douglas Keister’s photography when I bought Going Out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity, a sublimely illustrated exploration of tombs and mausoleums around the US.  He had a gift for capturing the perfect light, the perfect sky, in such a way that his subjects sparkled.  His Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography is a must for anyone who visits graveyards.

This Sunday, 10/21/12, Mr. Keister will present the End of Season Lecture at Cypress Lawn’s Reception Center in Colma, California. He will discuss the “famous and not-so-famous permanent residents of New York’s beautiful cemeteries” as well as “cemetery symbolism, funerary architecture, and secret societies.”  He’ll also be signing his latest book, Stories in Stone New York: A Field Guide to New York City Area Cemeteries and their Residents.

I had the pleasure of seeing him give a similar lecture — which he illustrated with slides of his photographs — for Forever L.A.:  A Field Guide to Los Angeles Area Cemeteries and their Residents.  If he’s planning anything similar this weekend, the event is not to be missed.  You can find the details here.

Douglas Keister has authored and co-authored forty-one books, including six books on cemeteries. His next cemetery-themed book is Stories in Stone Paris, which will be released in Fall 2013. He lives in Chico, California. Find him at www.keisterphoto.com.

Cemetery Travel: What sparked your interest in cemeteries in the first place?

Douglas Keister: Most photographers tend to like cemeteries. They are a “pure” environment: what’s there is supposed to be there. Cemeteries are sanctuaries of nature, art, and architecture. And they are, of course, the place we go to remember and contemplate our own lives and purposes. The event that was the lynchpin of my books on cemeteries was when I was photographing a book on bungalow houses in 1993. The writer and I were on our way to photograph a home in Oakland, California. We were early for our appointment and nearby was Mountain View Cemetery, which I now consider one of the best-sited cemeteries in the world. Many of its narrow lanes command spectacular views of the San Francisco Bay and the city of San Francisco. After we drove into the cemetery, the writer, who is an architectural historian, began pointing out all the different styles of architecture. Well, the proverbial lightbulb went off. A short time later, I contacted my editor in New York and proposed a book on cemetery architecture. Going Out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity came out in 1997.

Cemetery Travel: What do you call your love for cemeteries? Do you consider yourself a taphophile?

Douglas Keister: I am definitely a taphophile. I experience cemeteries on many different levels. Depending on the cemetery, my quest may be for art, architecture, history, notable citizens, or symbols. Almost always, it’s a wonderful treasure hunt,

Cemetery Travel: People who like cemeteries often feel isolated or strange. Do you have any advice for them?

Douglas Keister: Join some of the Facebook cemetery and funerary groups. You’ll definitely find that you are not alone. Following the threads in the groups will lead you to “Friends of” organizations, websites, and some very interesting people.

Cemetery Travel: What’s your favorite cemetery in the world – and why?

Douglas Keister: I like different cemeteries for different reasons. Like food, they feed different desires. However, for statuary, I’d say Cimitero Monumentale in Milan, Italy. For architecture, it would be Woodlawn in the Bronx. Views: Mountain View in Oakland, California. Spookiness: West Highgate in London. History: Père-Lachaise in Paris. Celebrities and a nice setting: Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles. Quirkiness: Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream Graveyard in Waterbury, Vermont. Overall cemeteryness: Sleepy Hollow in Sleepy Hollow, New York. It’s hard to top the Headless Horseman.

Cemetery Travel: Do you have a favorite tombstone?

Douglas Keister: It’s hard to pick a favorite tombstone. I have to ask myself the question: “If I took someone to a cemetery, what tomb would I definitely want to show them?” A few: soda water king John Mathew’s castrum doloris (castle of grief) in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn; Lefty O’Doul’s tombstone in Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, California with the epitaph which reads (in part) “He was here at a good time and had a good time when he was here;” psychiatrist Guy Pritchal’s hollow-face sculpture in Montmartre Cemetery in Paris — that follows you when you walk — and Thelma Holford’s statue in Jonesboro, Arkansas depicts her holding a plaque next to her dog. The plaque says, “Don’t be afraid to stand alone.”

Cemetery Travel: What cemetery would you most like to visit that you haven’t yet?

Douglas Keister: There are many, but I definitely want to go to Bellefontaine in St. Louis, since it has a copy of the statue that is on the cover of my novel Autumn in Summer.

Cemetery Travel: Do you have any advice for someone setting out to photograph cemeteries?

Douglas Keister: Whether it is a cemetery or anything else, pay attention to the light. Usually, early morning or late afternoon or twilight are best. George Eastman, who founded Eastman Kodak, said, “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth and you will know the key to photography.”

Cemetery Travel: Are you working on any new cemetery-related projects now?

Douglas Keister: I just finished Stories in Stone Paris, which will be out in Fall 2013. I’d like to do a book with a selection of the most interesting tombs in the world.

Cemetery Travel: What’s one thing people can do to ensure the survival of their favorite cemetery?

Douglas Keister: Get active in “Friend’s of” organization or a local historical society.

Cemetery Travel: Why should people care about cemeteries?

Douglas Keister: Cemeteries are our most direct link to the past. They tell us that our time in this realm is fleeting and that we should embrace life as well as honor the past.

I think that what we taphophiles should try to convey to others is that cemeteries can be experienced on many different levels. Ultimately, they are about life and lives and not about death.

Links to Douglas Keister’s cemetery books on Amazon:

Forever Dixie: A Field Guide to Southern Cemeteries & Their Residents

Forever L.A: A Field Guide To Los Angeles Area Cemeteries & Their Residents

Going Out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity

Stories in Stone: A Field Guide to Cemetery Symbolism and Iconography 

Stories in Stone New York: A Field Guide to New York City Area Cemeteries & Their Residents