Down the street from my elementary school, hidden behind a ring of trees, on the grounds of a golf course, stand three simple gravestones. Weathered by time, they are illegible and unmoveable. We visited them once, as a class, when learning about the early settlement of our town. And so began my fascination with cemeteries. I love looking at them from the highway, stopping in small towns, or historic battlefields. Old cemeteries are best, ones with tilted stones half buried in earth, tabletops washed free of writing by centuries of wind and rain, elaborate mausoleums bearing family names holding old secrets. Discovering headstones with tragically short lives elicits sadness, and a grateful heart for the blessings of 21st century medicine. Come across a particularly long life to wonder at all that soul bore witness to, as time marched on. I’m especially fond of the park-like setting and rolling hills of Mt. Hope Cemetery where, one day in early November, women come to place their “I Voted” sticker upon the headstone of Susan B. Anthony in thanks, and as a reminder never to take the hard-won right for granted. For cemeteries are places to honor, remember, grieve, but also to connect us with the lives of those who have gone before us.
This time of year we associate graveyards with the spookie and scary – home to the hostile undead looking to haunt those careless enough to cross through the gates after dark. There are many frightening tales to enhance this image of cemeteries -but there are also plenty that show a softer side of these final resting places. Check out the unusual spin these great reads take on the traditional graveyard tale.
Dying to Meet You (43 Old Cemetery Road) by Kate Klise – When Ignatius B. Grumply moves in to 43 Cemetery Road he presumes it is abandoned, but to his surprise, and frustration, it is occupied by eleven-year old Seymour Hope- and a ghost named Olive C. Spence. This delightful epistolary novel tells how very different people can come together, opening their eyes and hearts to become a family. A riveting page-turner, it leaves you wanting more – luckily the series continues in Over My Dead Body, Till Death Do Us Bark, The Phantom of the Post Office, Greetings from the Graveyard , Hollywood, Dead Ahead, and The Loch Ness Punster. (MR-4/5)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman – Bod Owens hasn’t had a typical childhood. When his family is murdered the toddler crawls to the graveyard where he is taken in by the resident spirits who raise him, albeit unconventionally, as part of their family. Things begin changing when Bod questions the world outside the graveyard and where he fits between the living and the dead. Dangers lurk outside the gates for Bod as the man who murdered his family is out to finish the job. (MR -5/6)
The Spotted Dog Last Seen by Jessica Scott Kerrin – Derek was sick the day the 6th graders signed up for their community service requirement, so he’s assigned the least desirable project – care and maintenance of the cemetery. Not only does it sound boring, but Derek carries his own grief from a childhood accident that took the life of his friend. Surprisingly the lessons and work at the graveyard turn out to be interesting, and a secret mystery discovered in the pages of a book leads Derek and his new friends to uncover the truth about the past – and help him come to terms with the tragedy of his childhood. (MR -5)
Graveyard Girl by Anna Myers -A haunting historical fiction novel set during the yellow-fever epidemic that, during the summer of 1878, ravaged Memphis, TN. Eli’s father has fled, unable to handle the loss of Eli’s mother and sister to the disease that has been raging throughout the city. It is left to Eli to bury them at Elmwood Cemetery, a place hauntingly busy as evidenced by the constant ringing of the bell by the Graveyard Girl. Just a bit older than Eli, the Graveyard Girl has nursed her father through the fever, but as he’s still too weak, and she has taken over the duties of recording the dead and tolling the bell for each soul lost. It is through the Graveyard Girl that Eli learns to find strength to go on and the hope to keep living. (MR-5/6)
This October wander through your local graveyard or, for the more ambitious, take a trip to visit one of these remarkable American cemeteries. Though I highly recommend daylight hours, because it is awfully close to Halloween and you never know who you might meet.
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia – Set just across the Potomac River from Washington, DC this hallowed military burial ground located on the previous estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee is a sobering reminder of the sacrifice of our nation’s military. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and President John. F. Kennedy’s grave are highlights of this extensive burial ground still in use.
Gettysburg National Cemetery , Gettysburg, Pennysylvania – The first national burial ground for the military dead of the Civil War. It was at this cemetery’s dedication that President Abraham Lincoln gave his heartfelt 3-minute Gettysburg address.
Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia – Known for its Southern Gothic architecture, Bonaventure is hauntingly beautiful and inspiring.
St Louis Cemetery No. 1, New Orleans, Louisiana – The historic, unique, above-ground mausoleum cemetery only encompasses approximately one block in downtown New Orleans, but holds thousands of souls. Due to new regulations visitors must be part of a paid tour group to visit the cemetery grounds.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California – Part cemetery, part cultural events showcase, Hollywood Forever is the final resting place for some of some of the entertainments industries most famous names. Visitors can see the burial sites for Johnny Ramone, Douglas Fairbanks, Sr. & Jr. and Cecil B. DeMille. Or take in a concert at the Masonic Lodge, a performing art hall inside the cemetery. This is truly a unique graveyard – as only Hollywood could do it!