I have a thing for graveyards. And cemeteries. Both, actually. What’s the difference? A graveyard, by definition, is on sacred ground (belonging to a church). A cemetery does not have to be on sacred ground and can be anywhere (for example, the Jewish cemetery located right next to the Freehold Raceway Mall about 20 minutes from where I grew up in Jersey. I always found that to be an interesting locale.). Most people use the two terms interchangeably. Of course, for me, graveyards conjure up images of creeping ivy and angel headstones with chipped wings whereas cemeteries just remind me of my grandma taking me on a tour of the family plots.
So, why do I have a thing for graveyards and cemeteries? Well, for starters I’m a history nerd. And there’s something so mind-bending about seeing the headstones of people who actually lived through some of history’s most incredible events. I mean, I know people lived during the Revolutionary War but it sometimes doesn’t seem real until I see their birth year as 1755 etched in stone. Under my feet lies a person who saw things I don’t even want to imagine.
Another reason is that I’m a sucker for genealogy. When I was a kid, all these older relatives died around the same time -- my grandpa's sister and his brother; my great grandparents…My brother and I were too little to be left alone so we went to the funerals. My grandmother would feed me sponge cake and show me the family plots. She'd place a rock on top of the headstones (as is Jewish custom) of our relatives and tell me about them. This one was married to this one. This one fought in this war. This one was a bootlegger. Then we'd walk around and explore the rest of the cemetery. The one tidbit I remember the most was when she showed me a headstone in the shape of a tree trunk. "It's for a young person who was cut down in the prime of their life," she had said. Anyway, I've never associated cemeteries with anything too morbid or macabre. For me, they're like taking a tour of family history with my grandma as tour guide.
Lastly, the obvious reason why I have a thing for graveyards is the straight-up spook factor. I’m a writer and graveyards offer up so many potential story ideas. In fact, I wrote a short story set in Key West City Cemetery. If you’ve never been to Key West, you should go just for the cemetery (the epitaphs alone are worth the trip). The locals talk about an old Bahamian ghost who roams the cemetery chastising people for walking on top of the graves. Come, on! Who doesn’t think that’s cool?! I’ve meandered through cemeteries and graveyards in Boston, Nova Scotia (where the Titanic victims are buried) and Key West. They’re creepy and haunting and entirely inspirational.
If anyone wants to see more photos of graveyards, I have a Pinterest board (http://www.pinterest.com/kggiarratano/cemeteries-graveyards/) devoted to the subject matter.
So, clever readers – what are your thoughts on graveyards and cemeteries? Have you ever been to any cool ones? Where? Sound off in the comments. And thanks to Mary for having me.
Grunge Gods and Graveyards