Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cemeteries: Millions of untold stories

I love cemeteries. Always have. Whenever I come upon them, I want to stop, stroll around, look at the names of those who have lived, loved and passed on. Especially here in the Northeast where, more often than not, the cemetery turns out to be old or even historic.

Last October, the Tour de Bronx bike ride took us through Woodlawn Cemetery. The list of eternal residents is a Who's Who of bygone New York society and culture: J.C. Penney, Joseph Pulitzer, Irving Berlin, Frank Woolworth and Celia Cruz, to name a few. Like mansions for the dead, giant mausoleums display in death the wealth that many of the interred must have enjoyed in life.

On my first trip from LaGuardia Airport into Brooklyn, I got my first look at Calvary Cemetery in Queens. There, the horizon of the cemetery blends into the Manhattan skyline, making the distant skyscrapers look like just more headstones and monuments.

Last winter, I rode solo down the Ocean Parkway bike path, a route through Brooklyn that ends at the Coney Island boardwalk (and which is the country's oldest bike path). Along the way, I stopped at Washington Cemetery, a Jewish graveyard full of poignant headstones etched with likenesses of the deceased.

Before moving out of Virginia, I spent a day in Harper's Ferry, a historic town at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. On the hill overlooking the town, I found an old graveyard with markers old enough that the dates had long since been weathered away.

And just last week, while watching "House Hunters International" (one of our favorite shows), I found a cemetery I want to visit in the future: Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Perhaps best known for being the last resting place of Eva Peron, the place looks like a city within a city, with narrow alleyways that invite exploration.

Why do cemeteries fascinate me so? Most people probably find my interest morbid. But that's not it. When I walk past the headstones and gaze at the names and dates, I think about the stories that each one represents. A life lived, whether short or long; love, whether unrequited or consummated; dreams realized or unfulfilled; hardship endured or fruits of labor enjoyed; loved ones left behind.

Put simply, when I walk through a cemetery, I feel the millions of untold stories swirling all around me. I read the scant clues provided by the names, dates and brief epitaphs and let my imagination fill in the rest. For me, ironically, there is no place more full of life than a cemetery.

Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires, Argentina

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Blogger usamctwo said...

I have always enjoyed cemeteries too. Fabulous for bird-watching. Always thought I wouldn't mind living next to one either. Quiet neighbors....

August 19, 2008 12:55 PM  
Blogger Peggy said...

Am catching up on Stricklandia for the past couple of weeks. This was a great blog about cemeteries. I also love strolling through old cemeteries and looking at the names and the dates of birth and death. We've had a couple of interesting cemetery experiences. One, on a small island in Norway where I discovered, by chance, the cemetery that was the final resting place of my Sydnes grandmother's ancestors. The other was in the small town of Bethel, VT where we found the gravestones of your Grandmother Gerry's Chadwick and Spalding ancestors. We wrote down information off the stones, but I just wish I had taken pictures. This was one of the events that inspired me to start my genealogy research hobby.

August 26, 2008 8:37 AM  
Anonymous Nohra Cecilia said...

I thought I was the only one who liked cemeteries!!! For the same reason than you, I enjoy these peaceful places so much. I also love to read the names and the dates of birth and death, and I use my imagination to guess who they were.

PS:I love and enjoy cemeteries, but I don't go there by myself...(Lol!)

April 5, 2010 4:22 PM  

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