BY TRISTA EDWARDS
It was Halloween. I was five years old, maybe six, and dressed up in a homemade Minnie Mouse costume that my mother and grandmother had sewn from a pattern they found at the fabric store. My grandparents had just arrived at my house for our annual round of traditional crockpot chili before the adults all lumbered out into the cold to take my younger brother and me trick-or-treating. There was some time to spare post-dinner before the night was to officially begin and I remember my grandfather asking me, "Well, what shall we for the next hour?" Without waiting for a moment’s pause, I enthusiastically responded, "Let’s go walk in the graveyard!"
For several years of my childhood, I had a cemetery for a backyard. Our property directly butted up against Woodlawn Cemetery in Lodi, Ohio and I often snuck off to play among the graves, collect dead leaves and twigs, poke snake holes, and marvel at all the pennies left atop tombstones. The cemetery had giant, gorgeous pink rhododendrons that bloomed every spring and lined the gravel paths and mausoleums with an intoxicating aroma and beauty. It was not unusual for any one of my teachers at my elementary school, only being a few blocks away, to suggest a class trek to the cemetery to take in some fresh air and gather some charcoal rubbings of Lodi’s dead.
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The graveyard was my own private, peaceful place where I can first recall my imagination running wild. I would invent stories for the names I saw on the tombs. I would concoct reasons as to why ghosts would leave pennies on graves (a custom I learned about later, of course), I would create impromptu scavenger hunts for acorns or pebbles or loose flower petals that blew off the memorials and collect them in my pail. As young child, I was incredibly bewitched by the power of the cemetery and this fascination has bled into my adult life, even serving as a guide for my travel to places far and near.
Of course, this spellbound feeling is not a rare sentiment. There are many like me. Perhaps even you are a taphohile who finds themself vacationing to the cemetery (recently I subjected my husband to spend our first wedding anniversary visiting Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi, at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, CA) as if drawn by some macabre, yet serene attraction.
Well fellow graver, here are two stunning books on tombstone tourism by author, blogger, and graveyard wanderer, Loren Rhoads that you will love.
Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel houses 35 travel essays of graveyard tourism that spans over two decades. Some of my favorite chapters are "Shades of Forever: Hollywood Forever, Hollywood California," "The Original Catacomb: Catacombe di San Sebastiano, Appian Way, Rome," and "Those That have Graves and Those Have None: Old Jewish Cemetery and Pinkas Synagogue, Prague."
Hollywood Forever was my most recent cemetery visit (my most anticipated grave visit being Maila Nurmi, AKA Vampira) and it was fascinating to read Rhoads’ account of her visit there in 1994 when it was named Hollywood Memorial Park and then her 2001 visit years after the cemetery was purchased by a memorial park proprietor named Tyler Cassity and changed to Hollywood Forever.
Pre-1994, Rhoads tells of a cemetery that was desolate, grown over, and vandalized not at all the green and tranquil resting place for Hollywood stars.
Having visited just this fall, I can tell you that the cemetery I visited was even slightly different from the one that Rhoads writes of in her 2001 account and it is fascinating to see just how "alive" cemeteries can be.
Rhoads most recent book, 199 Cemeteries To See Before You Die, was published just this past October. This book is a beautiful hardback, coffee table-esque catalog of cemeteries across the globe. Each entry is accompanied with a color photo of the cemetery, or a particular tomb or memorial, geographical location, website (if it has one), and departs a brief historical rundown of the grounds as well as listing any persons of interest that are buried in its confines.
In her introduction, "Stopping To Smell The Roses," Rhoads writes:
Why would anyone go out of the way to visit a graveyard intentionally? In addition to the fascinating stories they contain, cemeteries can be open-air sculpture parks, full of one-of-a-kind artwork. They provide habitats for birds and wildlife, as well as arboretums and gardens of surprising beauty. Cemeteries appeal to art lovers, amateur sociologists, birdwatchers, master gardeners, historians, hikers, genealogists, picnickers, and anyone who just wants to stop and smell the roses. Our relationships with the places we visit can be deepened and enriched by learning the stories of those who came—and stayed—before us.
So, dear friends who pine for a stroll through a history of headstones or constantly feel the magnetic pull of a wisteria-covered cemetery, these books are for you. You know the delight such tomes will bring.
Trista Edwards is a contributing editor at Luna Luna Magazine. She is also the curator and editor of the anthology, Till The Tide: An Anthology of Mermaid Poetry (Sundress Publications, 2015). She is currently working on her first full-length poetry collection but until then you can read her poems at 32 Poems, Quail Bell Magazine, Moonchild Magazine, The Adroit Journal, The Boiler, Queen Mob's Tea House, Bad Pony, Occulum, and more. She creates magickal candles at her company, Marvel + Moon.