I like to go to the less visited places in the world, and that desire takes me to some pretty remote and unusual places. And even within those places I like to visit less popular spots, which is why I have a love of visiting and photographing cemeteries around the world.
Even though I hate any kind of scary horror movies, I love cemeteries. It’s because I look at cemeteries as a story – a bunch of different stories. It’s a place for me to be creative, daydream, contemplate life – and death. They are places that few people go and look at while traveling but I always make a stop when I see a cemetery along the road.
Mountain View Cemetery Oakland
One of my favorite cemeteries I visited this year was Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland; I loved it because it surprised me and exceeded my expectations. Yes – a cemetery can indeed exceed your expectations! I first heard of it from my friend Colleen who lives in Oakland. She was helping me plan some activities for my recent 24 hours in Oakland trip, and one of her top suggestions was visiting the Mountain View Cemetery.
I was intrigued, most people don’t suggest to visit cemeteries, but as she continued to explain, I realized Mountain View was much more than a typical cemetery. She told me Oakland locals use it as a park in the middle of the city. They walk, run, and walk dogs in it. The Boy Scouts use it for excursions. Colleen even taught her teenage daughter how to drive there, as it was a safe place for a kid to learn how to drive. I was astonished, but when you live in a big metro area, you take advantage of every quiet place you can find!
When I went to visit the cemetery, I stopped in at the visitor center/funeral home to talk to some of the people in the office about the ‘local park concept’. The manager told me about various activities at the cemetery open to the public.
“We wanted to change the idea that the cemetery is not just a place for burying the dead, we wanted living people to enjoy it.”
Mountain View was designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the same person who designed New York City’s Central Park. Olmsted’s intent was to create a space that would express a harmony between humankind and the natural setting. In the 19th century, park-like cemeteries, such as Mountain View, represented the peace of nature, to which humanity’s soul returns. This reminded me a lot of the Skogskyrkogården cemetery in Stockholm, which received UNESCO world heritage status for its design; blending nature and architecture into a seamless whole in the early 1900’s.
Having a ‘big name’ like Olmsted also attracted some of California’s wealthiest people to spend eternity. The history is rich here – literally. The big Oakland and Bay Area moguls are all buried here in some incredibly architected crypts. Take a wander around the cemetery and see names like the “chocolate king” Domingo Ghirardelii, Big Four railroad tycoon Charles Crocker, Oakland mayor Samuel Crocket, and Hearst Castle architect Julia Morgan.
The Best View in Oakland
It is also well known among locals that the cemetery actually has the best views in the whole city. The landscape is vast and hilly, and if you drive up to the highest hill you can see all of Oakland, the port, Bay Bridge, and San Francisco! Colleen and I went up to the top to enjoy the view. The top hill is also where the Asian part of the cemetery seems to be so we stopped and took a look at some of the grave sights too.
To learn more about the cemetery and its intriguing history and design, they offer docent led tours twice a month.
And the final thing that sets this cemetery apart from all the others I have visited is they have a special local Halloween celebration within the cemetery. The Annual Pumpkin Festival celebrates Halloween with pumpkin patch meadow free pumpkins, activities, onsite food trucks, and treats for the kids! Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland could very well be the coolest cemetery around!
Speaking of cemeteries around the world, I’ve seen my share this year on my travels and always try to get out and capture their feeling and stories if possible. Here were a few of my favorite cemetery travels this year.
North Island New Zealand
I came across this historic cemetery in the little town of Russell in the Bay of Islands. Russell, formerly known as Kororareka, was the first permanent European settlement and sea port in New Zealand. It is situated in the Bay of Islands in the far north of the North Island. I visited the town and surrounding area at the beginning of the year with friends from the area. They took me to this historic cemetery and church where you find the country’s oldest Catholic building, built in 1841.
An old tiny chapel and cemetery on the roadside near Cleveland Tasmania stopped us in our tracks. It seemed to appear out of nowhere. We walked around for about 30 minutes photographing it. I later found out that the big Tasmania homesteads all had their private churches since the area was so vast. This was likely an old homestead chapel and cemetery.
It doesn’t get more extreme than Tuktoyaktuk Canada perched on the Arctic Ocean. When I find a cemetery in a super remote place, I’m even more fascinated. This one had an old rickety entry gate that was completely covered up in a couple of feet of snow pack when we visited it in early April. In fact you could barely see the gravestones in the snow!
We did a lot of driving in Norway – and quite frankly I can’t even remember where exactly this cemetery was! However I do remember going by it and then turning around and going back to it as it looked so beautiful with the green grass and bright blue skies!
Lameque Island New Brunswick
It was a cold, dark, dreary day as we drove around Lameque and Miscou Islands on the Acadian Peninsula. I got out of the car long enough to just snap this pic low to the ground as the wind howled off the water and into my face!
This was the last thing I was expecting to see at the top of California’s Mammoth Mountain at 11,000+ feet! We took the gondola up to the summit and walked around at the top to enjoy the views and came across this grave site/memorial. We asked the volunteer ranger what it was about, but he didn’t know either; a mystery at the top of Mammoth Mountain! But it wins for memorial with the best view!
Tolar Grande, Argentina
The Northern Argentinians seemed to believe in beautiful gravesites. Every time I saw one in the small communities we went through they’d be placed in the most beautiful places on hills or at the base of a hill. We found this on the way to Tolar Grande, a remote mining village in Northern Argentina. This one caught my eye because of the colorful mountain backdrop.
As the sun went down and turned the mountains pink and orange near Cafayate Argentina we came across this walled cemetery. It was sparse, with only a few grave sights scattered around which to me made the place more special. A beautiful setting and a simple burial in this remote area.