One of the most interesting and beautiful cemeteries I’ve been to is the Elmwood cemetery in Memphis Tennessee. It is a very large cemetery with gorgeous trees and incredible monuments. We were in awe of the giant magnolias, paved pathways winding through littered with flower petals, and unusual and quaint crypts. A swing next to a grave of a father for his son to come visit. One monument pictured above was for the slaves who had been buried there. Another was called no mans land, a monument to the time in which there was an outbreak of yellow fever and they had to bury people in mass graves. Stones with the names of family members, passing away day after day, one after another of this Yellow fever epidemic. It was such a terrible epidemic! Famous historians, heroes and Civil War Officers. They have a self guided tour that you can take with a CD that tells you where there are graves and monuments of note. It was well worth the time, and was very beautiful.
I’m wondering if my love of cemeteries came from my family being such active Memorial Day observers. Every Memorial Day for as long as I can remember, we would get up at the crack of dawn and we would all trek up to the cemetery. When you live in Southeast AZ., you have to get up at the crack of dawn, or it is too darned hot to do much work in this desert-y, non treed cemetery. My Great-Grandparents were buried there, so my Grandparents and their 4 children and all of us Grandchildren would all go and pull any weeds that had accumulated since the last year, rake the gravel and take off the old dried out silk flowers and replace them with bright new ones. Then we would all go to breakfast together. This is the tradition that holds true to this day. Now, any of the Grandkids that are in town for the holiday, and those that live there, go with our parents and spruce up the headstones for my Grandparents and my Great-grandparents. It’s a wonderful way to show our children that heritage matters, to tell them about who they came from, and to show respect and love for their ancestors.
When I met and married my husband we found that we both really cared about these things and wanted to pass it on to our children. If we are ever in a town with graves of relatives we will stop and search among the stones until we find them. I found in these cemetery wanderings, that I loved to look at other headstones as well. I would look at a family plot, names, dates, at the special notes, statuary or photos on them, at the graves that are all alone and neglected, wondering who it was and what their story was. I’m sensitive to the fact that there lies someone’s child, their Love, a beloved Auntie or a friend. I always go with an awareness of lives lived, and people loved. People mourned and lost. There is reverence, tragedy, beauty, sadness and joy! And I am filled with all these emotions as I stroll through a cemetery.
Now the part that you all may think is weird, (well you may think it ALL is weird! 🙂 ) is that we can be perfectly happy walking through a graveyard in which we know not a soul! (haha! Pun was not intended.) In a city or town we have never been before we will just be thrilled to stumble upon a cemetery. I never find them spooky, eerie or scary, just melancholy at times. I’m not afraid of spirits or the people who lie beneath our feet. Maybe because I have never met a stranger, and I love all kinds of people. I think perhaps I think of them as, just people, friends from long ago who lived and have a story to tell. And lets face it, EVERYONE has a story, and each of us is important, significant and interesting! So now as we take our trips around this beautiful world, one of our favorite things is when we stumble upon a graveyard however large or small. I wanted to share a few of my favorites with you.
This is a French Huguenot (Protestant) cemetery in Ireland, just a tiny little thing between two buildings. We were walking along and there it was!
This next one is really one of my all time favorite cemeteries. It is in a little village called Luss in Scotland. It is on the banks of Loch Lomond. There is a small and lovely kirk there surrounded by grave stones, some from the 15 and 1600’s! We just don’t have graves that old in America! I wish I could have stayed longer. I would have been happy to buy a little cottage in that village and live forever!
Then on the same trip, in Sterling, Scotland there was a beautiful cemetery! Grass lawn with old mossy stones. If only we had more time to explore! Ancient family names and clans. You could just feel the history of this place with Sterling castle looming above. I love to go and touch the stones and read about them and try to get a feeling about them.
Here are a few photos my husband took of me taking photos in a tiny cemetery on an island in Alaska called Icy Strait Point. We were walking around the island and all of a sudden I looked left and said, “Ooo! Ooo! a graveyard!” and we ducked right in! 🙂
Last summer we took our boys on a trip to the South. My husband had found some family members as he was doing genealogy and remembered that this great Aunt was buried in a town, Brandon MS, we would be driving by on our trip. So true to form we took some flowers, and searched and found her headstone. It was like a treasure hunt! So exciting when we found her! Sister of his 4th great Grandmother. My sons really got into it too, looking at all the headstones and thinking about things. One of the headstones talked about a train disaster, and we were able to google it, and found out what had happened, it was fascinating to find instant results to our questions! The funniest thing that happened was, as we were searching around for the headstone, a lady drives up and yells in a southern accent, “Hey! Are y’all looking for Pokémon?!” My husband not having heard of Pokémon go, says irritably, “No, we are LOOKING for a GRAVE.” I still chuckle about that one.
The jackpot is a tiny churchyard or a private family cemetery! This one was on the grounds of the Southern plantation Longwood. It was tucked back in a small wooded clearing. What a pretty and peaceful spot.
In Natchez MS. there is a grave of a gal that had come to America with her husband to be, and at one point decided not to marry him, but she ended up so destitute that she became a prostitute at a young age and died of an illness. Her headstone just says, Louise the unfortunate. Indeed! I don’t know if it is sunk in the ground or broken or what… There are many interesting graves there and we enjoyed our wanderings, and if it hadn’t have been so darned hot we would have stayed longer than we did!
Sadly on our trip to the South, we saw many, many graves of Confederate and Union Soldiers. My husband and I had ancestors on both sides of the Civil war. We went to cemeteries in Shiloh, Jackson, Vicksburg and along the Natchez Trace Parkway. We found many large cemeteries for these fallen soldiers. We also found a few spots where men were buried where they fell and a marker was placed later for an unknown soldier. Once and a while you would find 5 stones in a row out in the middle of nowhere along the Natchez trace.
It was sad to see in person the rows and rows of men who died in the Civil War. We always approached these soldiers graves with reverence.
On a different note, even on a gorgeous Caribbean island, we stumbled on a little cemetery on the way down a lane to this amazing beach on St. Barts! A huge iguana ran out from behind a tree chasing a little lizard and scared me to death! Ah, St.Barts, that’s a place I need to return to!
You know, no matter where you go there is always a cemetery….and I know I will continue to love them, to duck into them as I find them, and learn about the place and the people that I’m visiting. The tragedies, the famous people, the everyday ordinary people like me. Who lived and loved their family and friends like me. Maybe I’m weird, but that’s ok, I’m good with it.