Updated: Nov 3, 2020
I was a macabre kid from the get-go, let's just get that right out there. For some reason I had very romantic notions of death since childhood. I blame Tim Burton movies, with his quirky, stylized and early-Goth aesthetic in movies such as Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice, and The Nightmare Before Christmas. I used to swan around my hometown's cemetery as a moody teenager, sneaking in with my high school boyfriend and getting delicious chills with every spooky trick of the light. I thought I had a paranormal encounter as a child that involved the spectre of my dead Grandfather, so maybe that also had something to do with it.
My favorite cemetery in DC is most definitely Oak Hill Cemetery in Georgetown. It's picturesque, designed to be a botanic garden as well, and coincidently is the resting place of two incredible women who I talk about on my #LadiesoftheGeorgetownSet tour, Kay Graham and Evangeline Bruce.
I am drawn to cemeteries when I travel, which is pretty much in character. I think the most beautiful I've been to is Pere Lachaise in Paris. It's not just a cemetery, it's a riot of monuments to death, with extravagant architectural structures, plots, statues, etc. You can pay your respects to Edith Piaf, Jim Morrison and Oscar Wilde there.
Next favorite spot is New Orleans, with the above-ground mausoleums you find in the Garden District and just bordering the French Quarter. Did you know that Nick Cage bought himself a plot with a pyramid marker just sitting there, waiting for him to kick it?
The cemeteries that feel the most historic and have an energy that really echoes for me are those of Massachusetts. I've spent the past week in Concord, a place soaked in Revolutionary War history. The "shot heard round the world" at North Bridge marked the moment the Brits were turned around and driven back to Boston. Concord is also one of the earliest settlements in New England, established in the 1635. Which means it has some very old grave markers. I managed to find a grave marker in the Old Hill Burying Ground, the first established in the town, that was marked 1687. If you enlarge the photo below you can barely make it out. That makes the headstone 333 years old. My European friends will chuckle at this but I don't care: THAT IS SO OLD!!
The most beautiful burial ground in Concord is the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, which I love not only for its name (though it's not THAT Sleepy Hollow, which is in New York) but also that it was planned out to be dramatic and beautiful. There are "neighborhoods" within it, my favorite of which is Author's Hill, which holds the graves of Louisa May Alcott, Henry Thoreau, Nathanial Hawthorne, and Ralph Waldo Emerson. You have the entire collection of Transcendental era writers and spirits, all right there.
However, as far as American cemeteries go the one that really stands my hair up is in Salem. Twenty people lost their lives due to rumor, prejudice and greedy neighbors looking for a quick and dirty way to usurp land (yes, that was one of many motives for accusing someone of witchcraft). There is a poignant memorial to the souls who lost their corporal bodies to the hysteria that swept Massachusetts in 1692. Right next to where some of them are buried are the graves of the judges who condemned them to death. What a terrible fate, to be buried near the one who hanged you.
I'm heading back to Salem today, to continue learning more about the town, as well as the tragedy that is associated with it. I'll also take the time to pay my respects at the memorial, and take a stroll through the Old Burying Ground thinking about my own mortality and dwelling on memories of those I've lost. That is after all what cemeteries help us do, honor our loved ones, remember the past, and appreciate the precious thing called life that we are all doing our best to lead.