Showing posts with label tombstone tourist. Show all posts
Showing posts with label tombstone tourist. Show all posts

Friday, March 23, 2018

Why Do We Wander Cemeteries?

I’ve done a lot of interviews since my book The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide came out late last autumn, and the one question everyone asks is, “Why a book on cemeteries?” My answer begins, “Cemeteries are usually viewed with reservation because they deal with the dead.  Some people see them as a necessity to endure; others simply avoid them at all costs.  And still others hardly give them a thought. But then you have the “Tombstone Tourist.” For those of us who proudly answer to this title, the answer is simple – because there’s so much history and beauty to discover!

For centuries, our ancestors have gone to cemeteries to pay their respects. But since their lives dealt with death regularly, there was nothing eerie about walking through the graveyard. We, however, are far removed from death, and its after effects. The ancient Chinese believed that when a family member died, they became godly beings who retained their individual identities. These ancestors could then offer family members a connection to Tian, or heaven. The thought that your ancestors are watching out for you, like guardian angels, is a comforting thought.
Then during the Nineteenth Century garden cemeteries were developing around the country. These cemeteries were treated like parks – the perfect place to take a stroll or enjoy a quiet carriage ride through the “City of the Dead.” These graveyards were well landscaped with towering trees, beautiful lakes and winding roads where visitors could stroll while admiring ornate sculpture, massive mausoleums and intricate stones - an outdoor art museum available for all to enjoy.
Then somewhere during the 20th century, we Americans became wary of the graveyard thanks to horror movies and urban legends. Because of medical advances, we don’t interact with the dead the way our ancestors did, and this distancing creates fears we're uncomfortable dealing with. There is even a name for those who fear cemeteries - coimetrophobia. Sorry to say but you have more to fear from the living than the dead in a cemetery. I’ve had a few uncomfortable situations in cemeteries that had nothing to do with ghosts or ghouls, and plenty to do with the living. This is why I always remind those heading out to do research, or just enjoy an afternoon, always be aware of your surroundings and the people in your vicinity.

In other countries, going to the cemetery is commonplace. When I was in Edinburgh Scotland last summer, I ventured to Greyfriar’s Kirkyard close to the downtown area in search of the Greyfriar Bobby statue. I was pleasantly surprised when I walked through the gates and saw people enjoying the cemetery like a park. Some used table ledger stones as tables for an  impromptu visit, others sat among the mausoleums chatting on cell phones, and some picnicked, and painted. And there was no disrespect intended by anyone. It was actually a wonderful example of how other countries are more comfortable concerning the circle of life and death than we tend to be. Perhaps we would find ourselves more in touch with life, and death if we shook off that fear and took time to walk and admire what cemeteries have to offer.

For Tombstone Tourists, part of the acceptance of cemeteries may come from the way we were raised. I remember going with my grandmother on Decoration Day (the forerunner of Memorial Day) and tending family graves. Grandma would brush the stones clear of leaves and grass, and then plant some flowers or place live stems near the graves. While I was too young to help with the decorating, I always enjoyed looking at the stones, reading the names, and figuring out how old someone had been when he or she died.

Most of us will visit a cemetery to acknowledge the memory of someone buried there, and to honor them. Visiting also offers us a sense of closeness by being at the spot where that person’s earthly remains are interred. I have experienced this when visiting the graves of my ancestors. To realize that this is where my great-great grandparents are buried makes for a meaningful moment that so many genealogists relate to.

Regardless of why you go to the cemetery, next time stop and really experience the moment. Listen to the birdsong, smell the fresh cut grass, feel the breeze brush past your cheek, and look for those fascinating symbols and epitaphs on the stones; those reminders that our stories do go on …
~ Joy

Friday, January 19, 2018

A Tombstone Tourist Making a Difference in Chicago

Photo by Mike Gustafson
For Tombstone Tourists residing, or planning a visit to Chicago, there’s a new cemetery web site created by Barry Fleig that offers historical and contemporary graveyard resources for the Windy City. Plus a lot more!

 Fleig began the  Chicago and Cook County Cemeteries Cemetery Guide in August last year. His site has a listing of more than 800 Chicago area graveyards, plus numerous Native American burial grounds. The web site contains thumbnail sketches on 273 cemeteries, and more than 250 cemeteries have been cross-referenced for easier research. More than 300 Jewish cemeteries can be found in the Chicago containing more than 175,000 burials. According to Fleig, these small cemeteries make up a patchwork of burial grounds located mainly in Jewish Waldheim Cemetery in Forest Park, a suburb west of Chicago.

Tracks leading into Rosehill Cemetery
Besides burial site information, Fleig has also written numerous blog posts detailing some of Chicago’s lesser known cemetery wonders including facts about daily funeral trains that ran through Chicago in the 19th century, information on three cemeteries located at O’Hare Airport, a cemetery that has a elevator, and a cemetery that held a liquor license. The Windy City has its share of history, and forgotten cemeteries abound under some of its most famous buildings and tourist sites.

Barry Fleig
Fleig, a cemetery historian, focuses on finding cemeteries that have disappeared. He was instrumental in the rediscovery of the Cook County Cemetery, the site of more than 38,000 burials on property that once belonged to the Chicago State Hospital on the city’s northwest side. To date, nine acres have been preserved under the Human Grave Protection Act.

Whether you’re planning a cemetery outing in Chicago, or just want to learn more, visit Chicago and Cook County
~   Joy

Friday, June 2, 2017

I'm Back!!

Hello Tombstone Tourists! 

WOW! Where has the time gone? It's been a busy six months, but I turned in my final book corrections yesterday so this seemed the perfect time to dive back into A Grave Interest. (And you wouldn't believe how I've missed it!)

Regarding the book, I already have a title and publication date so it finally seems real. In fact, Family Tree Publishing is taking preorders. The title is The Family Tree Cemetery Field Guide and it will be released on September 22, 2017.

What's it About?
It’s full of tips and tricks to help you locate your ancestor’s graves plus those illusive death records that can lead to other clues in your genealogy search. Plus, I share some stories of how cemetery research has led me into some interesting findings; an unknown family member, a sudden profusion of ancestors, and a family secret of monumental proportions. Suffice it to say I'm excited! 

Jesuit Cemetery
Thanks for your patience while I tackled this milestone. Now, back to cemetery jaunts and writing about what I find along the way. Next Friday, we'll take a look at Jesuit cemetery tucked away at a resort.


Friday, May 9, 2014

The Tombstone Trail: An Innovative Idea

There are wine trails, bike trails, bourbon trails, food trails, art and culture trails – but have you ever been on a Tombstone Trail?

The nation’s only historic cemetery trail tour can be found in Noble County Indiana along the Grand Army of the Republic Highway (U.S. 6) and State Road 9. 

The trail was founded by John Bry, executive director of the Noble County Convention and Visitors Bureau in 2010. What began as a trail for Noble County now includes DeKalb, Koscisuko, Whitley, and Huntington Counties as well.

Bry wanted to create something that tied together Hoosier history and genealogy, with area cemeteries and included profiles of the famous and infamous of Indiana’s history. Volunteers have researched and pulled together over 80 stories including tales about architects, a Noble prize winner, and soldiers who served in the War of 1812, Civil War, both World Wars, and Vietnam, along with accounts about a Salvation Army donut girl, the last Miami Indian Chief, and Indiana author and naturalist Gene Stratton-Porter.

If you are a Tombstone Tourist, you are aware that cemeteries are rich repositories of history, art, architecture, and stories. This Trail is a creative way to coax others into the graveyard for a chance to explore what is really there and admire the monuments and stories of those who have gone before.

The Tombstone Trail offers self-guided tours of 10 cemeteries over an 85-mile radius. Last year the group published pdfs and books on each cemetery and offered them for sale on their website Those wanting to take a tour should purchase a pdf or book to learn more about the stories of a certain cemetery. Each book contains a map with the graves marked. Once at the cemeteries, QR (quick response) codes are located at the gravesites for more information.

The Tombstone Trail is beginning its fifth season late this summer with guided tours for groups of 10 or more held during the autumn; some tours may be conducted by candlelight! Self-guided tours may be taken year-round. Some of the cemeteries on the guided tour trail may change each year so that each season offers new stories and some old favorite. Proceeds from all tours and books go to historic cemetery conservation. 

Cemetery locations include the Old Kendallville Cemetery, Lake View Cemetery, Rose Hill Cemetery, and Oak Park Cemetery in Noble County; Syracuse Cemetery in Kosciusko County; Blue River Cemetery, Greenhill Cemetery and South Park Cemetery in Whitley County, and Mt. Hope Cemetery and Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Huntington County. For more information about touring the Tombstone Trail, contact the Noble County Visitors Bureau at (877) 202-5761 or visit them on Facebook @

Bry’s idea of a Tombstone Trail is slowly spreading; there are now over 30 cemeteries involved and the trail also includes cemeteries in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

What a great way to introduce people to the cemetery with all its beauty and history: a chance for people to learn about some of our country’s famous, infamous and not-so-famous “permanent” residents of those silent cities of stone.

~ Joy

Friday, July 29, 2011

Forgotten Assets

I am in Kansas City, Kansas, attending and presenting at the Midwest Family History Expo this weekend!  I have not attended this conference before, but with over 80 presentations offered, this looks to be a very busy and informative two days!  I will talk about cemetery research on Saturday and show some examples of what we "Tombstone Tourists' love to do.

Unfortunately, in all of my excitement in getting everything ready....I left my blog research and pics for today's blog on my home computer, back in Lexington.  My apologies!  Look for it next Friday.

This coming Tuesday, we'll take a look at the Lexington (Kentucky) Cemetery in our monthly 'Cemeteries Worth the Visit' blog!

Have a great weekend!

~ Joy

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Are You a Tombstone Tourist?

Cemetery in snow

When someone asks what I do for fun, I reply that I’m a tombstone tourist.  It’s nice that there is a word to describe those of us who love to go to cemeteries.  Otherwise, we would have to do a lot of explaining, (which I did until I found ‘the word.’)

A winter sunset in
the cemetery
Brian Neighbors -
A Tombstone Tourist
Tombstone tourist is a term that caught on after Scott Stanton published his book by the same name in 2003.  (The book is about popular musicians and where they are buried.)  Before that, those of us who frequented cemeteries were known, singularly, as a ‘taphophile’ – someone who has “a passion for and enjoyment of cemeteries”. Or in the plural form, by the term ‘taphophilia.’ 

Neglected Crypt
Military Cemetery
Of course, there are other terms that attempt to describe those of us who love visiting graveyards, searching for tombstones and admiring mausoleums.  Just a few of the more popular are ‘grave hunter,’ ‘cemetery enthusiast,’ and ‘graver.’  All sound a bit adventurous, a bit like a PBS documentary title. But I prefer being called a  ‘tombstone tourist.’  It has a more up-beat sound and it makes more sense to me, because we are tourists – on a journey, making discoveries, enjoying ourselves, and our pursuit.   I know I am not a graver - it just sounds a bit odd and morbid to me.

Sunlit Mausoleum
Frankfort, Kentucky Cemetery
When asked what a tombstone tourist is, I can talk (at length) about the cemeteries I have visited, and the ones I want to, expounding on the treasures found there – the exquisite architecture, the impressive history, the genealogical aspects, the magnificent statues, the puzzling symbols, and the fact that I get to enjoy all of this – outside – without crowds, deadlines or paying an outlandish amount for an entertaining afternoon.

Sunlight on a stone
Old Cathedral,
Vincennes, Indiana
And we have history!  Tombstone tourists have existed for thousands of years.  In China, ancestor worship – where family members visit the graves of ancestors, decorate them and ask for their guidance or favor - has been in practice since ancient times. In numerous countries, pilgrimages are still made to the burial sites of saints and other religious figures, to honor them and seek assistance.

Autumn in the cemetery
A Tombstone Tourist Day for me
The advent of the internet has changed what we do, in a way.  Now, you can ‘visit’ a cemetery on line.  While it’s not the same as strolling through a windy autumnal cemetery, searching for an ancestor’s grave, it does make sense if time or finances are holding you back from making the trip.  You can still locate an ancestor’s final resting place on the internet, complete with a photo, on sites such as and  Or visit the websites of some of the most famous cemeteries in the world and see them vicariously - still an adventure.

An undisturbed path
through the snow
Summer in the cemetery
But a true tombstone tourist relishes that walk among the stones, surrounded by nature and the elements.  There’s something about following a cemetery road or graveyard path, wherever it may wander, and being surprised, and delighted, by the great discoveries you make just around the bend.  Nothing can take that thrill away.

Tombstone Tourist?  Yes, that’s me!

~ Joy