It’s heereeee…..it’s that time of year where I go dark into the depths of the afterlife, to wander in cemeteries around the world. I really don’t know what possesses me, but I’m drawn to cemeteries as I travel. And no, this isn’t some weird Goth thing, nor am I the type of person who likes haunted houses or goblins. In fact, I’m pretty terrified of scary things. I used to cry outside haunted houses begging my family to not make me go inside, but they made me go anyway (good parenting). I still to this day at the age of 46 don’t watch scary movies after I was traumatized by Children of the Corn when I was in grade school. But for some reason cemeteries are different to me.
Cemeteries are not about being creepy or frightful, they are like a library for the imagination. Wandering cemeteries around the globe, reading headstones, thinking about the lives of the people there; my mind wanders into a thousand stories. It’s therapeutic, not scary.
As I wandered the globe this year, I always made special stops for cemeteries whenever I could. They ignite my creativity and I love the solitude. Some people like to unplug at the beach and sunbath, I like to wander in cemeteries; to each her own. Here are some of my favorites from this year’s travels.
I Brake for Cemeteries
More than once this year I found myself on road trips, suddenly slamming on the brakes, backing up or turning around, to go back and investigate a cool looking cemetery.
Highway 1 RIP
During my Northern California Road Trip I found myself mesmerized by a glowing, rickety fence as I was driving out to the lighthouse to catch the sunset. I stopped and turned around, parked along the side of the road, and explored this beautiful old cemetery with its wood fence at sunset instead. After all, we’ve all seen lighthouse sunsets a million times, but cemetery sunsets – well…they other-worldy.
I also came across this beauty while on that same trip. It was perched out on the coastal cliffs of the Mendocino Coast on Highway 1 near Westport. The wind was howling like a werewolf that day and I parked to go walk around the cemetery hoping I wouldn’t blow off the side of the cliff. I just couldn’t stop thinking about what a beautiful view these people had.
Hiking Through Cemeteries
In Spain I found myself doing a lot of hiking this year, and when you hike, you are bound to come across cemeteries. I always check the gate to see if they are open, and they usually are. Creeeeeeeekkkkkk, the gates are always rusty, maybe due to the sea air, but it adds to the ambiance. I found them in Girona, and in the cute down of Cadaques while hiking through. But my favorite was cemetery I found was in Castello d’Empúries, an old medieval town I was walking through in Catalonia. I went out of my way to go see it when I saw it mentioned on the map, and when I got there it was completely empty. It was huge and had clearly grown over the years. Some parts were neat and beautifully kept up and some were crumbling. I loved seeing the differences in tombs and upkeep. But for some reason the place touched me – especially the grave of David Busser who passed in 1994. He had such an old run down grave with stenciled writing that I didn’t really understand, leaving my mind go wild with stories.
Outside of Spain, while hiking around Block Island Rhode Island in New England, I came across this cemetery on a hill with two little lone trees. The overall setting of this landscape and crooked looking cemetery is what caught my eye and drew me away from the local farmers market I was supposed to be at and instead. I found myself wandering through gravestones instead; sometimes cemeteries have a special pull I can’t ignore.
Cemetery in the City
They say that New York is a city that never sleeps, but cemeteries are all about sleep. You don’t find many of them in the heart of NYC, as it’s prime real estate for the living. I was surprised when I was walking through the East Village on a photo assignment and came across Marble Cemetery with a perimeter of apartment buildings. It was locked and I was unable to get in to wander; however, I did stand there with my face pressed against the iron gate taking it all in. I couldn’t help but wonder what it was like to live in one of the apartments that looked out over this little city cemetery.
A Canadian Chinese Ghost Town
“Would you like to see the Ghost Town?” our guide asked. Immediately I lit up…yes – of course the answer is always yes when it comes to seeing old abandoned places!
In this odd historic tale dating back to 1858, gold fever had gripped the Cariboo Chilcotin Coast area of BC Canada. At the forks of the Quesnel and Cariboo Rivers, was one of the biggest, rowdy gold camps on the entire west coast with over 5,000 people in the 1860’s. However as transportation lines changed, people moved further north and the thriving little town of Quesnel Forks was left behind. It then became a thriving Chinese community with over 200 people living there, still mining and doing business. During the 1920’s most of the mines closed and it was abandoned in 1956. The area is slowly being restored and the buildings are being rescued from a slow death in the soil. While I visited the region during my recent grizzly bear trip, we went to visit the abandoned site (now labeled a ghost town).
The old cabins and stores full of broken windows were fascinating, but my real love was visiting the Quesnel Forks Cemetery. On the far right side of the fenced off cemetery was the Chinese section giving the cemetery a real ‘worldly’ feel. However when you look closely, you’ll see many of the Chinese graves dug up. Due to the Chinese belief that the soul could not rest, and was doomed to wander the earth until the person’s bones were returned to the birthplace in China, there was a large effort put in place in the 1920’s to move the bones and remains back to China to ultimately rest in peace.
So I didn’t see a grizzly bear on that trip to BC, but I did see a ghost town and a cool cemetery…a pretty decent trade off.
As you travel the world, be on the lookout for cemeteries, they will most certainly be a window into the culture you are visiting. But it will also be a window into your own creativity and curiosity too!