A Cemetery Stroll, Just in Time for Halloween


CindyMurphyBlog.jpgIt was a warm, sunny afternoon in early October when Shannon and I rode our bikes through Lake View Cemetery.  Large, and never crowded, with smooth blacktopped, winding roads, and rolling hills, it is one of my favorite places to ride my bike in town.  Tall mature trees offer cool shade in summer, and the crunch of fallen leaves in autumn.  Little whirlwinds of them rustled as we sped past the final resting places of our town’s former inhabitants; I love the sound of rustling leaves in autumn.  I love cemeteries, and ours was especially beautiful on this gorgeous autumn afternoon. 

An Early October Visit 

It’s been said I spend an inordinate amount of time in cemeteries. 

From small, local graveyards, to well-known historical final resting places, I’ve visited cemeteries wherever I’ve lived and traveled.  I’ve seen the ancient and mysterious burial grounds of Stonehenge, and the hauntingly beautiful Pére Lachaise Cemetery in Paris that has an interment list that reads like a who’s who of the once famous/now dead:  Balzac, Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Edith Piaf, Gertrude Stein, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan, Pissarro, Marcel Marceau, and Jim Morrison are all buried there. 

 The symmetry in the rows of simple white headstones in Arlington National Cemetery is somberly moving, and the “Cities of the Dead” in New Orleans with their above ground crypts and voodoo queen legends are among the creepiest.  The most populated may be The Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague with tombstones so close together they’re nearly back-to-back, and interred bodies twelve layers deep.  Twelve thousand headstones are visible, but it’s estimated closer to 100,000 people are buried there.  The nearby Holocaust Victims Memorial in Pinkas Synagogue is a stark reminder of man’s atrocities; with nearly 80,000 names of Bohemian and Moravian Jews, it is thought to be the world’s largest epitaph. 

Some epitaphs become famous for the cleverness or humor in them.  Ben Franklin wrote his own epitaph when he was a young man.     

The Body of
B. Franklin
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be wholly lost:
For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and Amended
By the Author.

Cindy Murphy
11/3/2011 11:27:34 PM

Thanks for your comments Mary and Chuck; there are a lot of us out there who enjoy “trolling” cemeteries, (that made me chuckle, Chuck – it reminded me of Friday and Saturday nights way, way, waaaaay back when I was in high school, cruising through town with my girlfriends, trolling for guys….definitely not the kind of trolling you’d want to do in a cemetery!). I agree with both of you – cemeteries are such beautiful places. Something I read that I thought was interesting: in the late 1920s, cemeteries in the U.S. were designed to be like parks. They were meant for people to stroll for enjoyment; some even had concession and souvenir stands in them! Mary, the Huntsville and Florence Historical Society’s days the dead come to life sounds like something I’d very much enjoy. One of the lakeshore towns about an hour from here was doing a very similar thing in their cemetery this past weekend for Halloween; it wasn’t to be a ghost story type thing, but rather a historical thing. I would have loved to go, but drats! I had to work that day. Again, thanks for stopping by, and you both enjoy your weekends.

Cindy Murphy
11/3/2011 10:10:25 PM

Hey, Stepper. You are right, you know. I do spend an inordinate amount of time in cemeteries – at least in comparison to most of the people I know, anyway. Yep, almost everything you see on a tombstone – scrolls, flowers, animals, various tools, etc. – has, at one time, symbolic meaning. Some of it is easy to figure out; other meanings are more obscure. Whenever I see something interesting on a headstone, I look it up on the Internet when I get home. Broken branches, for example, mean a life was cut short, broken chains stands for the release of the spirit from the body, fruit symbolizes eternal bounty, and poppies stand for rest or eternal sleep (like the field of poppies in the Wizard of Oz!). Ivy, such as on Buddy’s grave, means eternal life (because ivy is evergreen). I’ll be sure to say “hi” to him for you next time I pass by.

Mary Carton
11/2/2011 9:33:53 PM

I just love the cemetery tours of Savannah Georgia and Charleston SC. Such beautiful old cemeteries. I was walking through the cemetery at St. Florian Al looking for the grave of a relative killed in WWI. It was so peaceful. I didn't find the grave I was looking for as several weren't readable. Three just had headstones with the word "unknown" on them. I wondered if old headstones weren't readable when replaced or was the church providing a resting place for the homeless. In Florence and Huntsville Al we have days when the famous deceased come to life. Members of the Historical Society dress in the period the person lived and tells the history of the character they are portraying.

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