Tombstone Tripping: Touring Unique Graveyards

Like it or not, nearly everyone will visit a graveyard at some point in their lives (or shortly thereafter). But once you get beyond the initial apprehension many people feel toward graveyards, they are fascinating places to visit.

Whenever I go to a cemetery to visit a loved one, I invariably find myself strolling the rows admiring headstones. From the ornate marble and granite sculptures of the Victorian era to the simple stone slabs of homesteaders, cemeteries reveal quite a bit about the lives and times of the people they commemorate.

After asking around the office, I’m apparently not the only one who enjoys a trip to a graveyard. Whether you’re interested in genealogy, admiring funerary art, or just looking for a quiet spot to read a book or contemplate—check out these cemeteries featured in a few of our guidebooks.

In the United States

The landmark Bonaventure Cemetery just east of Savannah, Georgia, along the banks of the Wilmington River, is probably most famous for its “Bird Girl” statute, a photo of which was used for the cover of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. Bonaventure’s residents date back to as early as 1794 when Georgia’s then-Governor Josiah Tattnall buried a relative here.

The Pioneer Cemetery in Calistoga, California holds the graves of the Napa Valley’s earliest pioneers. This is an excellent cemetery for seeing the passage of time on the headstones.

Tucked in a shady corner of Kit Carson Park, Kit Carson Cemetery in downtown Taos, New Mexico, contains the graves of many of Taos’s oldest (and sometimes most notorious) residents.

Many gravestones in Boston, Massachusetts’ Granary Burying Ground date from the 17th century. The bar across the street bills itself as the only place you can have a Samuel Adams beer while looking at the grave of Samuel Adams.

Barre, Vermont’s Hope Cemetery was established in 1895. Today, it’s essentially an open-air art gallery, featuring some of the finest memorial designs and granite craftsmanship in the United States.

Benjamin Franklin is buried at Christ Church Burial Ground in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The Burial Ground reopened to the public in 2003 after being closed for 25 years. More than 1,400 grave markers remain of the more than 5,000 early Philadelphians laid to rest here.

Two other Philadelphia cemeteries, Laurel Hill and Woodlands were unique in their day for their elaborate landscaping and architecture, as well as their isolated locations when compared to earlier city-church cemeteries like Christ Church Burial Ground.

Apparently the idea caught on. Established in 1852, the Elmwood Cemetery southwest of Memphis, Tennessee was founded with the idea that it would be a park for the living as well as a resting place for the dead. The one-hour audio tour ($7) really brings Memphis’s diverse history and people to life.

In Latin America

In Buenos Aires, Argentina, one of the most prestigious addresses for the living and dead alike is in barrio Recoleta. Cementerio de la Recoleta’s ornate mausoleums and crypts are the final resting place for Buenos Aires’ elite.

All but two of Chile’s former presidents are interred at Cementario General in barrio Providencia in Santiago. Sculptures here have Gothic, Greek, Moorish, and Egyptian influences.

With more than 500 elaborate mausoleums, chapels, vaults, tombs, and galleries, the Necrópolis Cristóbal Colón in Havana, Cuba has been described as “an exercise in pious excesses.” There’s an interesting Chinese Cemetery adjacent to the Necropólis, as well.

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