Cemetery Safari

Guest writer – Emily Wilberg

If you ask me, visiting cemeteries is wonderful! (If you ask my kids, you may get a different answer.) Often, there is beautiful landscaping, interesting tombstones, a solemn sense of history, and occasionally, even a glimpse of humor.

One of my favorite tombstone inscriptions was found in a cemetery in Harpers Ferry- a man buried in the middle, on one side “His Wife” and on his other side “His REAL Wife” (Any guesses who died first?)

No matter where you are, there is likely to be a gorgeously old cemetery nearby. However, I’d like to share some of my favorites:

Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague

This is the largest Jewish cemetery in Europe and its’ oldest grave dates to 1439. Due to space constraints, the graves are close set and even layered on top of each other. Small stones are left as tokens to symbolize that memories of our loved ones are eternal. (photo credit unknown)

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Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, TN

When you enter, stop at the office and ‘donate’ $10 to get a CD tour- it leads you to stops throughout the cemetery that have particular interest, such as a madam who opened her brothel as a hospital for the yellow fever epidemic, the sinking of the Sultana (a riverboat that was carrying 3,000 union troops home after the Civil War), and a grave of a young girl who, when she was 25, rode her horse across the wild west to California with only her dog for company. Also, Elmwood has these really cool ‘bathtub style’ graves.

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Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland

Touted as “The most haunted graveyard in the world” Greyfriars is a popular place to wander. I did not see any ghosts but I did see plenty of names I recognized (and you may too, if you are a Harry Potter fan. J.K. Rowling wrote several of the books in a coffee shop across the street. See if you can find McGonnagal and Tom Riddle’s graves.) Also, many of the graves have ‘mortsafes’ around them. In the early 1800’s the University of Edinburgh’s medical school required a steady supply of cadavers and there arose a market for fresh corpses. People burying loved ones took to surrounding their graves with iron bars to deter the grave robbers. (Fun fact! The trade in bodies was so lucrative that two enterprising men, Burke and Hare, became serial killers to keep up with the demand and to have bodies to sell to the students.)

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Congressional Cemetery, Washington DC (photo credit unknown)

One of my favorite cemetery visits was October twilight around Congressional Cemetery in DC. They host events such as their “Soul Stroll” where you can visit with costumed interpreters at the grave sites of some of the more famous “residents.” They also have a Civil War Tour, Civil Rights Tour or Suffrage tour. For something different attend a “Notes from the Crypt” musical concert. What a great way to learn history! The Public Vault is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has served as temporary interment for three presidents, Dolly Madison, and members of congress. This Halloween they are turning it into a 1920’s prohibition Speakeasy- you can attend if you know the password (and buy a ticket)

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Other favorite cemeteries (and my wishlist of ones to visit- Are there any others I should add?)

Arlington Cemetery, Virginia (somber and beautiful. We have participated in laying wreaths in December)

Highgate Cemetery, London (gorgeous tombstones and haunted)

Boston, Mass. (lots of patriots) and Salem, Mass. (witches! Lots of witches)

New Orleans (above ground crypts and voodoo!)

The tomb of Edgar Allan Poe, Baltimore, MD (visited for decades on his birthday by a mysterious figure who leaves behind a bottle of cognac and three roses. The visits stopped suddenly in 2010. )

One thought on “Cemetery Safari

  1. “nice” cemeteries. I can recommend you Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb, World famous cemetery Recoleta in Buenos Aires… Why not to sure a car and ride through the WW1 battlefields in West Flanders (Belgium). A lot of cemeteries along the way.

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