Tuesday, July 26, 2011

What Is It About Cemeteries?

Cemeteries are the final resting place for dead and cremated bodies. That definition alone should mark them as places we visit once and then forget about, right? And yet there's a fascination with them that defies explanation.

I've always found them to be peaceful places, not frightening. The lore of ghosts or zombies combing them at night, looking for unsuspecting victims, wasn't part of my childhood fears because ghosts and zombies are just cool. :)

Burying the dead is a practice that archaeology tells us dates back to prehistoric times. Giving mortal remains a resting place and a marker is a way to honor that person's life and preserve their memory. It gives the living a spot where they can still feel connected to that person. Whether the deceased can hear and see us sitting by their graveside is a matter of belief, and beyond the scope of this blog post. :)

When I was very young we used to visit the grave of my maternal grandfather every Memorial Day. He died in World War II. This holiday used to be called Decoration Day, and even though that name is well over one hundred years old, our family still observed it. My mom would go to the same florist each year and buy the same styrofoam wreath, always white, with an American flag and some red and blue plastic flowers stuck on it. Good heavens that thing was ugly, and not nearly as adorned as the image above.

The trip took almost an hour because there was no freeway connecting both sides of the city like there is now. There were railroad tracks along one edge of the cemetery, and all the cousins who'd been dragged along that day would play by them while the grownups did whatever it is they did at the graveside. When we got bored by the train tracks we'd try to jump over the flat headstones. It was considered bad luck to step on one, and doing so would assure you a ghostly visit that night... or so my cousins said. Since it never happened to me I think they might have been fibbing.

True story: There's a cemetery in Brecksville Ohio called Barr Road Cemetery, and like all cemeteries worth their acreage it's said to be haunted. One night in high school a group of us were driving past and decided to test the folklore that if you walked among the graves at night you'd die. Yeah, okay. We were in high school, all right? There was no chain across the entrance like there is now, but the same split rail fence you'll find today was the only barrier, so we drove inside. It borders the park system and back then there weren't homes across the street like there are now, and there were no street lights.

We didn't do anything except get out of the car and walk around, but it truly was pitch dark, and next to the thick woods you couldn't see a thing, so we didn't wander far. Besides, the entire cemetery is only about four acres. It's actually a private cemetery for the Barr family that used to own most of Brecksville. When we got back in the car it wouldn't start. The driver honestly wasn't kidding around. One of the guys finally walked up the road to the nearest home and called his parents. It was pretty cool, actually, even if his dad was pissed off at us when he got there.

When I was doing research for HUNTED, Book 2 of my Seduced By A Demon series from Evernight Publishing, I wanted Jahi and Vassago's final showdown to be in a cemetery. I chose Inglewood Park Cemetery in Inglewood CA for two reasons. The story, like Book 1, THE LAST SOUL, is set in Los Angeles, and Inglewood boasts a huge cemetery with lots of buildings and trees where fallen angels can hide.

What are some of your favorite cemeteries? Do you have any stories to share?


  1. Great post! I've always found cemeteries to be peaceful places overall and even if I sense the dead, I'm not afraid. We always called it "Decoration Day" growing up also - glad to know that someone else remembers that now that it's all "Memorial Day" and the focus seems to be the kick off for summer, not remembering the dead. Never met a zombie (they might scare me, I don't know) but ghosts never have!

  2. Thanks, Lee Ann! I'm glad someone else shares those kinds of memories. :)

  3. I like cemeteries. For me they’re places of hope. I think the people who buried their dead friend or relative believe life is important and that there's something else after this life. I like to read the tombstones, those final words, the testimony they left in the stone, and I like to look for interesting names. Cemeteries are full of stories.

  4. When I go home to NC I like to visit my great great grandmother Plutina. Her grave is at the top of a hill overlooking the WNC countryside. It's such a beautiful and peaceful spot.

  5. Cemeteries are one of my favorite places for solitude. I made the mistake of sitting on the grass in an old one and got attacked by chiggers. No fun at the time with the terrible itch, it did lead to a good anecdote about finding bloodsuckers in the cemetery. Happy writing!

  6. Brenda, I love reading tombstones as well. :)

    Jezebel, that sounds gorgeous. :)

    Darla - LOL!

  7. I loved the blog today Carolyn! It made some fun reading.

  8. Thank you, Missy! I'm so thrilled to be part of this group. It's an awesome blog. :)

  9. Great post, Carolyn! Meant to check this out Tuesday but didn't get a chance to pop over. I also love cemeteries and think they are quite peaceful and so full of untold stories.

    My favorite local cemetery, Forest Hill, dates back to just before the Civil War, though graves/tombstones date even earlier as those from smaller church graveyards within city limits were moved when Forest Hill opened.

    Every October the Wisconsin Veteran's Museum hosts "Talking Spirits" at Forest Hill, a living history event where visitors "meet" some of those buried there. I've been to several of these and loved every one.

  10. Heather you're so lucky to have something like that so close to you!