This was my original blog post at the start of Cemetery Travel in 2011, so I’ll repost my manifesto here:
I started visiting graveyards by accident. A series of missed connections during the first Gulf War resulted in an unanticipated layover in London, where I just happened to pick up Victorian Valhalla, a guidebook to Highgate Cemetery. My husband Mason wanted to visit the graveyard because John Gay’s photos made it look so pretty. In reality, Highgate was ravishing, full of dramatic marble angels taking wing.
As it happened, one graveyard led to another. Mason and I decided to visit Père Lachaise in Paris because so many famous people came to rest there. As we wandered, we accidentally discovered my favorite grave marker in all the world: shackled in the granite, Prometheus raises one fist against the gods. If that doesn’t sum up my feeling about death, I don’t know what might.
So I started looking at graveyards because they were pretty, then because famous people rested there. I quickly learned that practically anonymous gravestones tell the best stories. I developed a fascination with history as reflected in burial grounds, which led to studying trends in mortuary decoration. You can say I’m a cemetery aficionado. I don’t mind.
I try to list a new Cemetery of the Week each Wednesday. These are brief encyclopedia entries, something to give the flavor of a particular graveyard — enough to whet your appetite for travel — illustrated with my photographs or postcards from my collection.
In my travels, I’ve discovered that graveyards are really very fragile. All it takes is a windstorm, a flood, or a fallen tree to do irreparable harm, not to mention the kind of damage a determined teenager can do. Cemeteries are vulnerable if they are not visited. My mission is to get people to go. The least I can do for the pleasure cemeteries have given me is to inspire and encourage other people to visit for themselves. People protect the things they love. With any luck and the right guidance, you’ll find something to love in a cemetery, too, whether it’s historical figures, beautiful statuary, wildlife, breathtaking scenery, or what have you.
If you need more inspiration, 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die is coming out in October 2017. It’s available for preorder at Amazon.
You might also be interested in:
- The Cemeteries of the Week
- How to be safe in the cemetery.
- What Cemetery Aficionados call themselves.
- My 7 Links: some of my blog posts that I think rate more attention.
- My view on cemetery antiques for sale.
- The Death’s Garden Revisited essays.