It’s finally here! Today is the final day of Kickstarter campaign for the cemetery book I’m editing, Death’s Garden Revisited.
At this point, 100 people have backed the project, ensuring that the black & white photos will be upgraded to color, I’ll be able to commission a couple of essays to fill out the book, and there will be more cemetery photos than I originally planned. This book is going to be so beautiful!
Backers are giving me the ability to finish the sequel to my cemetery memoir, Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. Everyone who donated — from the $5 level on up — will receive a copy of the new ebook. I am really excited to find out what they think of it.
The best reward — at least in my mind — is that every backer will be thanked inside Death’s Garden Revisited. I’m thrilled to be able to acknowledge their faith in me.
In case you haven’t seen it, this is the video in which I talk about the book:
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?
If your pockets are deep, there are some exclusive rewards:
For $200, you could own both Death’s Garden Revisited, the new volume, and the original Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries, which has been out of print for 25 years.
For $500, you and four friends could come meet me in Colma, California for an afternoon of cemetery exploration. (This tier includes hardcovers of Death’s Garden Revisited for each of you.)
For a mere $10,000, I will fly to anywhere in the continental US to tour your local cemetery and give a lecture on cemetery travel. (This tier includes 10 hardcovers of Death’s Garden Revisited for you to keep or raffle off.)
Death’s Garden Revisited is an anthology of cemetery essays from genealogists and geocachers, tour guides and travelers, horror authors, ghost hunters, and pagan priestesses about why they visit cemeteries.
Spanning the globe from Iceland to Argentina and from Portland to Prague, Death’s Garden Revisited explores the complex web of relationships between the living and those who have passed before.
Editor Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and the death-positive memoir This Morbid Life. She was the editor of the award-winning Morbid Curiosity magazine.
Cemetery writers/Genealogists/Historians: Anne Born, Barbara Baird, Carrie Sessarego, Carole Tyrrell, Erika Mailman, J’aime Rubio, Jo Nell Huff, Joanne M. Austin, Rachelle Meilleur, Sharon Pajka, Trilby Plants
Morbid Curiosity contributors: Benjamin Scuglia, Brian Thomas, Chris LaMay-West, George Neville-Neil, M. Parfitt, Paul Stansfield, Rain Graves
Horror authors: A. M. Muffaz, Angela Yuriko Smith, Christine Sutton, Denise N. Tapscott, E. M. Markoff, Emerian Rich, Frances Lu-Pai Ippolito, Francesca Maria, Greg Roensch, Mary Rajotte, Melodie Bolt, Priscilla Bettis, Rena Mason, Robert Holt, R. L. Merrill, Saraliza Anzaldua, Stephen Mark Rainey, Trish Wilson
In every conversation I have about cemeteries, in every interview, on every podcast, I get asked two questions. One is “What is your favorite cemetery?” On the surface, that’s a funny question, because its underpinning is the second question: “Why would anyone visit a cemetery?” Unspoken, usually, is the rest of the question, either “by choice?” or “on purpose?”
I’m not sure when Americans were taught that it’s weird or creepy or disrespectful to visit cemeteries, if you aren’t driving straight to the gravesite of someone you’re related to, saying a few words, and leaving as soon as you can. I’ve even had people ask me if it’s legal to visit a graveyard where you don’t have a family connection.
Promenading at Bonaventure. Vintage postcard with undivided back, pre-1907.
During the 19th century, people flocked to cemeteries. They took carriage rides through them. They strolled in the shade of world-class arboretums. They fed flocks of birds or picnicked or read poetry. They studied the statuary and read the epitaphs and considered visiting cemeteries part of a moral education.
Out of sheer curiosity, I’ve been asking all kinds of people why they visit cemeteries: genealogists and geocachers, tour guides and travelers, historians and teachers, bloggers and horror writers and people who’ve never written anything before but have a good story to tell.
I’ve collected their answers into a book called Death’s Garden Revisited: Personal Relationships with Cemeteries. It will be available for crowdfunding next Thursday, which will allow you to reserve a copy before it’s published in October — and to help fund full-color photos to illustrate each story.
You can click on the image below to be taken to the Death’s Garden Revisited pre-launch page on Kickstarter. There you’ll see a button that says “Notify me on launch.” If you click on that, Kickstarter will send you an email on March 17, the day the campaign goes live.
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