Growing up, my experiences in cemeteries were pretty limited. My mom took me and my brother to make gravestone rubbings only once when we were kids. My family sometimes visited the graves of famous people while on vacation: Kennedy in Arlington, George Washington at Mount Vernon. When I was in high school, I used to take dates to the little country graveyard up the road to park, but the mosquitoes were pretty fierce, so we didn’t get out of the car and explore.
It never really occurred to me that you could visit graveyards just for fun. Then my husband and I got stranded in London during the 1st Gulf War. We were heading to Barcelona to do sound for a Survival Research Laboratories performance, but airline security made us miss a couple of connections and we decided to stay in a country where we spoke the language until everything got sorted. Since this was in the days before cell phones, it wasn’t easy to call country to country back then.
I bought a book of cemetery photos at Victoria Station – because it was full of *beautiful* statuary. Inspired by that book, which I found by chance, my husband decided he’d rather see Highgate Cemetery than the Tower of London. We’d never done anything like that: just go to a graveyard to wander around.
To my immense surprise, I fell in love. Highgate Cemetery was lush and overgrown, even in January. We only saw the more modern side on that visit, but even it held famous names: Karl Marx, George Elliott, Sir Ralph Richardson. Highgate was home to an army of angels. It had been the set of Taste the Blood of Dracula – and had been overrun with real vampire hunters in the 1970s. Best of all, it was falling to decay in the most romantic way possible.
Highgate led us to visit to Pere Lachaise Cemetery, where Jim Morrison is buried, which led to visiting Marie Laveau’s tomb in New Orleans, which led to looking for Lafcadio Hearn’s grave in Tokyo. It took a decade for me to morph from dropping by cemeteries when we traveled to building vacations around graveyards. Now I think everyone should add a burial ground or two into their vacations. It’s easy to do. There is literally a graveyard everywhere you go.
I make my argument for visiting graveyards in Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, recently published by Western Legends Press. It contains 35 travel essays about visiting 50 cemeteries, graveyards, and gravesites from Tokyo to Prague, Boston to Maui, and New Orleans to Yosemite, with stops in Paris, Rome, Michigan, Hollywood, and more.
The book is being given away on Goodreads this month. You can enter to win your own copy here:
The giveaway ends on October 31, so hurry – and good luck!