Almost 30 years ago, I received a box of miscellaneous cemetery photos. They had been taken by my best friend’s husband over the course of his travels around the Americas. Blair was 28 years old and dying of AIDS. He wanted to know his photos had a good home.
I decided to put together a book to feature Blair’s photos. I planned initially to write all the text, but as I talked to people about the project, everyone seemed to have a cemetery story they were eager to tell.
The book title expanded from Death’s Garden to Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries. I was thrilled to discover that people — people I knew, even complete strangers — all had a graveyard they’d connected with, either because family members were buried there, or because they’d visited it on vacation, or because they’d grown up in a house near it, or for a whole bouquet of other reasons.
The contributors varied from people I met through zines to a ceramics professor at Ohio State University, writers for the LA Weekly, professional artists and photographers, underground musicians, depressed high school girls, and most incredibly, punk rock diva Lydia Lunch, who provided some glorious photos. As the book came together, Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries blew away my expectations.
The initial print run of 1000 copies sold out 18 months after the book came out. I’d only asked for one-time rights to use everyone’s contributions, so I couldn’t republish it. Once the books were gone, Death’s Garden went out of print.
Over the years, I’ve lost track of many of the contributors. Some are dead and have a different relationship with cemeteries now. Others have sunk into the anonymity of a pseudonym on the internet.
Seven years ago, I did a project on this blog where I invited people to tell stories about a cemetery to which they had connected. The stories ranged from falling in love in a cemetery to exploring vacation sites, from leading cemetery tours to visiting family members’ graves, from pilgrimages to famous graves to rediscovering the forgotten and alone.
At this moment, I am in the process of assembling a sequel to that original Death’s Garden book. Like the first book, Death’s Garden Revisited will explore all the different ways people relate to cemeteries: through family ties, as sites of history or settings for one-of-a-kind artwork, whether pursuing genealogy or paying respects at famous people’s resting places.
I’m thrilled by how the book is coming together so far. Stay tuned to this blog for the announcement of the Table of Contents and cover artist!