why I like visiting cemeteries

New Jersey was discovered by Henry Hudson around 1609 and Dutch settlers came soon afterward. Most families buried their dead on the farm or perhaps in a small church cemetery. Markers were often crudely carved stones or wooden crosses. As NJ has become more and more developed, the family cemetery became outdated. People now bury their dead either in church cemeteries or large private cemeteries. Some cemeteries can contain as many as 100,000 dead.

Cemeteries are essentially history. Besides functioning as a place for the families to come and be with their loved ones, you can see patterns amongst the stones. Perhaps it’s the same name over and over and over, or a large number of markers in the same season representing a bitter hard winter. Sometimes cemeteries will have a Jewish section, or a German section, reflecting waves of new immigrants. Sometimes you’ll even find a slave section as well, reflective of that ugly period of American history where such things were legal. Other times you’ll find a mass grave of some disaster or accident. History in the making.

The large cemeteries of today can also provide quite a bit of eye candy. There are beautiful headstones with pictures of the deceased, images of serenity, or pictures of something the deceased enjoyed doing, such as sailing. Then you have large mausoleums where the deceased are interred above ground, avoiding the normal process of decay that consumes from below ground. Then there are the incredibly beautiful (and sometimes very large) images of Jesus, angels, weeping wives & mothers, children, cherubs, crosses, and more. The money spent on monuments like this is unimaginable. I also like when you find a headstone from the 1700’s and it looks smooth and perfect as if it was put there last week. Makes me wonder why other headstones become so decrepit and decayed so quickly….Speaking of decay, it doesn’t matter if a person is rich or poor, young or old, all share the same final destination. As a character on “Six Feet Under” said: “The whole world is a graveyard”.

I enjoy wandering thru cemeteries, appreciating all of these things, and I hope that you the viewer understand why I do this. Just because I enjoy wandering thru cemeteries doesn’t make me morbid, nor am I a goth fan. I don’t dress in black and listen to punk rock, nor do I conduct ceremonies at midnight. I’m just an average guy. I hope you’ll appreciate this section and look on it with respect. Nothing here is meant to make fun of or denigrate any one here. One person I know said,”About a hundred years ago, families would go to cemeteries together with a picnic lunch, the adults would take care of the graves while the kids would wander around. Cemeteries were a place to be respectful, but they weren’t seen as macabre or spooky the way they seem to be by some people today.”. Well stated.

I especially love old cemeteries. The markers are different from the ones they make now. I also enjoy speculating about the people who were buried there. I sometimes find nameless markers and feel sorry for the deceased because they have no family, or sometimes find incredible monuments and think “Damn. This was Somebody.” On the other hand, a large expensive ornate headstone or mausoleum doesn’t mean they were somebody, though often this is the case…

storms

Five children born. Five children died before they were a year old.

Commonplace for the time period, a reminder of how fragile life was 100 years ago…

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6 responses to this post.

  1. I also love cemeteries! I clean the headstones! I have brought back to life the stones that were in such sad condition. Terrible! Now they are legitable and their ancestors from here on earth and in Heaven are happy. Anyone else have this love? Or do you need your loved ones headstones cleaned? Or cemeteries looking for someone, ( me) to give the elbow grease and time to make these headstones come alive again? Starrsmile9997@aol.com

    Reply

  2. I like cemeteries for their history and great works of art and architecture they display. They are also very peaceful.

    I am developing a tour of Green-Wood Cemetery (http://www.green-wood.com). Green-Wood is a National Historic Landmark. Such historic figures as DeWitt Clinton, Elias Howe, Leonard Bernstein, Samuel Chester Reid, Samuel Finley Breese Morse Boss Tweed, Lola Montez and Fred Ebb rest for eternity with the 478 acres that are Green-Wood Cemetery. All the above noted people—and more— are part of my tour.

    Reply

  3. Posted by jennifer on December 19, 2012 at 10:39 PM

    i like cemeteries too – the term for people like us is taphophile – though I believe this is also a blanket term for those fascinated by death in general. Though I know I am not alone in this interest, I don’t think it is that common. In my entire life, I have maybe met two other people who shared my graveyard “hobby”

    South Jersey has some great cemeteries, I love discovering new ones. I always wonder about the olden days and “family graveyards”, like the ones you mention, how they just dragged grandpa out in the yard and buried him. I find it both fascinating and creepy, the idea of having a graveyard right in your backyard….but then, back in those days, death was not as clean as it is today – people died at home, their families usually prepared the body and buried them. In modern times, we are so far removed from death, and that is why it freaks some of us out a little.

    With all the old homesteads in NJ, some with houses long gone, I wonder if any of these old family burial grounds are still there, though long forgotten after the wood headstones deteriorated.

    When I lived at the shore, on Long Beach Island, I had some friends in construction, and heard a few stories about single bodies being found buried in shallow graves on the island during digging being done for building. Of course the police were always notified, and the bodies typically were found to have been there a long long time. Since the islands inhabitants were typically buried in churchyards on the mainland, these bodies were thought to be unknowns, possibly drowned shipwreck victims washed up on shore from some wreck on the northeast coast. After being found, someone would drag them up over the dunes and put them in the ground, back then there was still a lot of open space on the island….or they could have been some of the poor whalers that were the original inhabitants of the coast.

    Sorry to blab along on your blog here, I just thought it was interesting and wanted to share….

    Reply

  4. I love wandering around cemeteries…everything about them is calming to me. Most of the time they are quiet, peaceful places. I have been in cemeteries all over the country…
    florida has some great ones.

    Reply

  5. I once had a dream about being in a cemetery. Maybe I can write a post for my blog about it. 🙂

    Reply

  6. Posted by barbara on October 13, 2009 at 12:22 AM

    i love old cemeteries too. I found this page while looking for images of my ancestor bernard grandon (circa mid 1700s), married and buried in the graveyard of St Mary’s church in Burlington NJ.

    i dont think its morbid at all, its history!

    Reply

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