Tag Archives: travel

Graveyard Field Trips

Graveyard Field Trips

I’ve been working on a collection of my cemetery travel essays and publishing it on Wattpad.  It’s about halfway finished now.  You can read the first eight adventures for free here:  https://www.wattpad.com/story/151274118-graveyard-field-trips-a-memoir

Here’s the description of it:

Every day aboveground is a good day.

From nameless circus workers killed in a train crash to Marilyn Monroe’s grave at night, from the graveyard of a concentration camp in Northern California to the heart of Singapore City: join me and my friends in exploring cemeteries around the world.

This collection of my cemetery essays is drawn from Gothic.Net, Gothic Beauty, Cemetery Travel, Morbid Curiosity magazine, and more.

Where Are They Buried?

Where Are They Buried?: How Did They Die? Fitting Ends and Final Resting Places of the Famous, Infamous, and NoteworthyWhere Are They Buried?: How Did They Die? Fitting Ends and Final Resting Places of the Famous, Infamous, and Noteworthy by Tod Benoit

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Any collection of famous people’s grave sites is going to be idiosyncratic. Ask 10 people whose graves they would like to visit and you will get 100 different answers. That said, this is the most comprehensive guide to the graves of the famous that you will find outside of Find-a-grave.

Mostly that is because — without photographs of the grave monuments in question — this book can include a whole lot of people whose ashes have been scattered. It seems a shame not to be able to leave a kitchen knife at the grave of Alfred Hitchcock, but perhaps that’s for the best. I would have loved to leave a rose at the grave of John Lennon, but the mosaic in the middle of Strawberry Fields in Central Park will have to do.

Included in the book is the grave of Fred Gwynne, best known at Herman Munster on TV. Gwynne is buried in an unmarked grave. Despite the directions to an unmarked plot where the author claims Gwynne is buried, the cemetery itself discourages visitors. It makes me sad that someone who gave such joy to strangers is consigned to the ground without a monument — and those who might wish to leave thanks at his grave are turned away.

Be that as it may, this is an entertaining and comprehensive encyclopedia. I’ve gotten hours of fun from it.

You can order your own copy from Amazon.

View all my reviews on Goodreads.

Death’s Garden: New Orleans Blues


All photos of St. Louis #1 in New Orleans provided by Christine Sutton.

by Christine Sutton

A few years ago, my husband and I decided to go on a much-needed vacation. Some time away from the stress of everyday life was just what we needed. We had a little more than two weeks available and really wanted to make the most of our time, so we got a map of the United States and proceeded to go state by state, weighing the pros and cons of each potential excursion. We had both always wanted to visit New Orleans, so we figured this would be the perfect opportunity.

I was so excited to see the sights of the Crescent City: Bourbon Street, the French Market, the view of the Mississippi at dusk, and of course, the iconic graveyards.

After spending our first few days in the city sampling its unbelievable cuisine, partaking in the nightlife of the French Quarter, and walking through Jackson Square amongst the fortune tellers and musicians to get to Café Du Monde so we could get our fix of sugarcoated beignets, we decided to visit St. Louis Cemetery #1.

By eight in the morning, as we set out to visit the historical boneyard, it was an already sweltering July day. We passed groups of musicians standing at the various intersections within the Quarter, tuning their instruments and playing soft, sweet renditions of various songs made famous by Stevie Wonder, Louis Armstrong, and Duke Ellington. The melodic notes of love, loss, and heartbreak filled the air and brought with them a perplexing blend of joy and melancholy. We could smell that morning’s beignets and chicory coffee being prepared and we vowed to stop on the way back to indulge our cravings once again.

Strolling down the street, we spotted a white carriage with a dapper driver sitting upright in its seat. He wore a red silk vest over his all-black outfit and a top hat, accented with a ribbon in the same shade of crimson. The white horse standing majestically in front of the carriage seemed unfazed by the crushing humidity and whinnied as we passed by.

13414568_1208052909205321_1219587709_n“Headed to St. Louis?” the driver asked.

“Yes, we are,” I replied with a smile.

“Don’t you let none of them ghosts follow you home,” he said, with a warm smile of his own that was most likely reserved for tourists, to make them feel at home.

“We’ll try!”

After walking a bit, we came to the entrance of the St. Louis Cemetery #1.

It was a sight to behold. The walls of the outside were a stark, blinding white against the colorful background of the vibrant town. The cemetery had the look of a small city within a city, with peaks and crosses visible above the borders.

We read the plaque outside the gates, telling us the history of the graveyard. There was a feeling of awe within us as we entered. The palpable sense of history and death weighed heavy on our hearts.

Modern-looking structures stood, reminding us that death knows no time. Whole families had been laid to rest within mausoleums dedicated to honoring their heritage. The graveyard was laid out like a labyrinth, with very little space between the dead. The dead had no need for personal bubbles, or room to stretch. Mixed with the grandiose artistry was a feeling of utilitarianism that illustrated the cost of death in real estate and privacy. Both were obviously premium commodities.

We walked amongst the monuments, taking pictures of the beautiful architecture of sadness and loss.

13444491_1208052605872018_73292860_nReaching the center of the cemetery, we began to see the darker side of New Orleans’ history. There were several of what they called “oven vaults,” rounded, aboveground graves that sat stacked on each other to maximize space.

Beyond that, we saw the older, untended vaults that were in different states of disintegration. There was yet another plaque, telling us that many of the bodies previously interred here had been washed away during Hurricane Katrina and other natural floods and disasters. It reminded me of an old building I had seen in the Gold Country of Northern California. The burned-out brick structure sat as a reminder of time, a century or more in the past, when life was much simpler.

The dead, whose remains had been long forgotten by their descendants, or the dead, whose remains were the last vestige of their line, had been moved or were missing from their resting places.

As we stepped away from the destruction of those graves, we searched for one of the reasons we had decided to go to the graveyard in the first place: the burial site of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.

As we stepped up to the tall, square structure, no bigger than a closet, we noted all of the tiny triple X marks made on the outer walls, and the small trinkets laid around the opening. There were beads of all colors, lip balms, small figurines, toys, and coins. It made me a little sad to see all the hopes of people who had come to ask for help reduced to a few baubles.

13454077_1208052555872023_197699475_nLegend says, if you go to the resting place of the Voodoo Queen, you carve or write three Xs on the tomb, turn around three times, place an offering to Madame Laveau, and ask her to answer your plea.

Being tourists, we felt it necessary to partake in the local tradition. I placed my three marks, turned in a circle thrice, and placed a coin at the door of the tomb. I asked that our travels be safe. We took a few more pictures and went on our way, exploring the rest of the grounds.

When we rounded a corner, we saw another small building covered with X marks. Although we were confused by the second mausoleum, we decided to take a look.

At the door, a dark-skinned woman sat, holding a small, folded blanket in her hands. Her face was streaked with tears, and she gently rocked and chanted. I felt like an interloper in this woman’s grief.

Her head raised and her eyes met mine. She gave me a forced smile and wiped at her tears. She placed a yellow flower on the ground and said in a thick Creole accent, “Let his soul be at rest.”

I saw that the blanket she placed next to the already wilting flower was adorned with pictures of each letter of the alphabet in a cartoon style, with a teddy bear hugging each one.

I felt a deep pain in my heart for this woman, one that tugged at my soul. She quickly walked away. I wanted to tell her not to leave, to please not let us interrupt her mourning. Before I could untie my tongue and work past the lump in my throat, she was gone. As a remembrance of the solemnity of that beautiful place, I took a photo of the tomb with the delicate receiving blanket placed at the entrance. When I looked around the maze of graves, I saw no trace of the woman, save for that tiny blanket.

We continued our tour of the cemetery, marveling at the beauty and sadness. Thoughts of the woman never left my mind.

Upon returning to California a week later, I spent an evening sifting through the hundreds of photos taken on our trip. When I happened on the photos taken of Laveau’s tomb, I looked for the picture of the sad blanket with the happy bears. It wasn’t there. There were shots of the Mississippi River, the decadent plates of Creole food, bright colors and extravagant displays, various people we met along the way. Even the pictures taken at St. Louis Cemetery were there, but the picture of the blanket was completely gone.

Many times over the last few years I’ve thought back to that woman and the grief she carried for what I presumed was her infant son. I’ve even considered doing some research to find out who she was and what happened to her child. Every time I think I might do it, something in me stops.

I think I don’t like that feeling of being an interloper in the woman’s grief.

So I will leave her sadness sitting in that folded blanket covered with the cartoon teddy bears, at the feet of Marie Laveau, the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans. Exactly where it belongs.


13407536_1208003029210309_1063963517_nChristine Sutton is the author of the bestselling series The Burkheart Witch Saga, along with several other titles in the horror and paranormal genres. She writes short stories, collections, novels, and essays about scary people and things whenever she can. Living in Central California, she has had a fascination with cemeteries since she was young. Christine has visited many graveyards in her home state with tombs dating as far back as the 1700s, but her heart left a small piece of itself in New Orleans.

Check out Christine’s books on her Amazon page or follow her on Facebook.


Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.




In the Shadow of Eldfell

house buried

All photos of Heimaey courtesy of Greg Roensch.

by Greg Roensch

We had a few hours to kill until it was time to catch the ferry. It didn’t make sense to wait at the hotel, so my wife and I checked out and took a last drive around Heimaey, the largest island in the Westman Islands archipelago off the south coast of Iceland.

With a population of roughly 4,500 people, Heimaey is a sleepy island. Most of the residents live in the shadow of Eldfell, a volcano that erupted without warning in the early morning hours of January 23, 1973. As Eldfell spewed fire, ash, and lava, Heimaey’s inhabitants scrambled to the harbor to evacuate the island on fishing boats and other vessels. Little did they know that the volcanic activity would rage for another seven months.

When all was said and done, the eruption destroyed about 400 homes. And when the lava threatened to close off the harbor, people manned firehoses to stop the advancing flow with high-powered blasts of seawater.

Today, Heimaey is a popular tourist destination, with stunning coastal views, black lava rock beaches, puffin breeding grounds, and more. It doesn’t take long to drive around the island, but, like anywhere else, you can stumble upon some interesting sights if you venture off the beaten path. That’s what I was thinking when I pulled our rental car onto a narrow gravel road.

“Um, what are you doing?” asked my wife.

“Let’s see what’s down here.”

“Well, okay, but let’s not go too far from the main road.”

“We’ll turn around if it looks bad,” I assured her.

The narrow road curved down around a bend and opened up on a windblown grassy landscape. I stopped the car where we could look out at Heimaey’s neighboring islands and, in the distance, the large white landmass of Iceland.

“Amazing, right?” I asked.

“Yes,” she said. “Let’s go a little further.”

“Now you’re talking.”

crossesThe road became steeper and narrower. The potholes got bigger. Eventually, we arrived at another grassy patch overlooking the sea. While the area offered more spectacular views of the epic Icelandic scenery, what caught my attention was a small tuft of grass topped by three plain white wooden crosses. Who were they for? I wondered. Why weren’t they in Heimaey’s main cemetery?

Earlier in our trip, we’d walked through the town cemetery after visiting a museum dedicated to the Eldfell eruption. In old photos on the museum walls, you can see fire, cinders, and smoke rising in the distance beyond the cemetery’s arched gate. You can also see photos of tombstones and statuary half-buried in gray ash from the eruption. Given its proximity to the volcano, it’s surprising the cemetery wasn’t destroyed altogether. It was as if its phantasmagorical denizens banded together to say, “Destruction, go no further. You shall not pass this way.”

As interesting as the cemetery was—with its jumble of marble and stone tombstones, wooden crosses, and small statues—I was struck by the stark simplicity of the three white crosses. I don’t know how they got here or what or who they were for, but my mind started to wander. Something about the crosses made me imagine what it might have looked like coming across similar markers on a dusty mountain trail in the frontier days of the Old West.

You might have seen such a cross for a young boy struck down by tuberculosis, or a mother who died in childbirth, or a gunslinger beaten to the draw by someone who was a split second faster. After a brief discussion about whether to bury the body or leave it for the vultures, someone would persuade his or her fellow travelers to give the deceased a proper burial.

The gravediggers would rest the body in a shallow pit, remove their hats, bow their heads, and mumble a few solemn words before covering the corpse with dirt, hammering together a makeshift cross, and continuing on their way.

scenic coastStanding beside the wooden crosses on Heimaey, I also thought about how Iceland is a frontier. Known as the Land of Fire and Ice, it’s a remote country filled with natural wonders and terrain so otherworldly that it once served as training ground for Apollo astronauts preparing to walk on the moon. Heimaey, this small volcanic island off the coast of Iceland, is even more remote. With the sea wind whipping against our faces, it wasn’t hard to imagine what it might have been like for those who first set foot on this rugged outpost in the middle of the North Atlantic.

I would have liked to stay longer, but it was time to drive back into town to catch our ferry.

As the ship pulled away from the harbor, my wife and I stood on the rear deck and looked back at Eldfell, the volcanic mound serving as a constant reminder that it could erupt again at any moment, sending heaps of ash and streams of molten lava down on the town, the harbor, the cemetery—and even on the three white wooden crosses on a small grassy overlook at the end of a narrow gravel road leading nowhere.


gregGreg Roensch is a writer living in San Francisco. When not writing and editing for work (Six String Communications), he writes short stories, composes quirky pop songs, and likes to travel. You can find out more about him at www.gregroensch.com. You can also follow him on Facebook or Twitter.



Death's Garden001About the Death’s Garden project:

For the next year, I’m planning to put a cemetery essay up every Friday. If there is a cemetery that has touched your life, I would love to hear from you, particularly if there is one you visited on vacation — or if you got married in one. The submissions guidelines are here.


What graveyards did you visit on vacation this summer?

Win a copy!

Travel took me to Manhattan, Ontario, and Michigan this summer.  I visited the African Burial Ground, a Colonial-era churchyard, my first Canadian cemetery, and a cemetery with one of the largest collections of private mausoleums in the United States, which happens to lie not far from 8 Mile Road in Detroit.

Those that I haven’t written about yet will be the subjects of upcoming Cemeteries of the Week, of course.

So tell me: What cemeteries were you lucky enough to visit this summer?  What was the most beautiful thing you saw?  Would you encourage other travelers to go out of their way?

Leave your response in the comments below before September 1, 2012 — and you could win a copy of the Cemetery Travels Notebook.  Illustrated with photos from this blog to inspire your own cemetery explorations, the perfect-bound notebook has plenty of room for your own notes and ruminations.

You can see a sample of the Cemetery Travels Notebook here.

ETA:  I’ve contacted the winners for this giveaway, but tune in next month for another.  I’m going to want to hear scary (true!) cemetery stories.  In the meantime, you can order a copy of your own here: Cemetery Travels Notebook by Loren Rhoads.