Whether you’re up for the macabre or historic, you’ll find both at cemeteries. These locations offer a peek into not just history, but also culture. Contributing writer Lea Donosky has rounded up 10 interesting and unique cemeteries from around the world.
The approach of Halloween and Day of the Dead reminds us to visit some fascinating cemeteries. Many of these “final destinations” offer special tours and events in the fall, but travelers should consider a visit any time of the year. To help you become a “tombstone tourist,” here is a guide to 10 special cemeteries, chosen for their beauty, history, spookiness….and just plain spirit of fun.
The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, Romania
The cemetery in this isolated town in northern Romania lives up to its name. Visitors can’t help but smile at the sight of more than 600 hand-carved wooden crosses with colorfully painted markers depicting the everyday lives of the deceased. The crosses have colorful paintings that detail the daily life of the dead—a woman baking bread, a musician playing an instrument, even an envious priest looking at a group of drinking men. The epitaphs, usually written by family members, can be humorous, poignant, and sometimes biting.
One translation about a mother-in-law:
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
For if she comes home
She’ll bite my head off
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Tarrytown, New York
Thirty miles north of New York City is Sleepy Hollow, the village made famous by the legend that bears its name. Washington Irving, the author of the classic story of a headless horseman, is buried here along with businessman and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie and New York socialite Brooke Astor. There are tours year round, particularly in the fall.
Saint Louis Cemetery in New Orleans, Louisiana
Three cemeteries make up Saint Louis Cemetery, all of which have above-ground vaults due to water table problems and the city’s Spanish and French cultural roots. The most famous is Cemetery 1, resting place of many prominent New Orleanians. The most visited vault is that of the Glapion family, which is believed to contain the remains of 19th Century Voodoo priestess Marie Laveau. The vaults of Cemetery 2, a few blocks away, contain several jazz, rhythm and blues greats, plus the early 19th century pirate Jean LaFitte.
Xoxocotlan Cemetery in Oaxaca, Mexico
This cemetery is alive with activity during the Day of the Dead or Dia de los Muertos festival, when family and friends gather to remember those who have died. Altars are built for loved ones, candles are lit, and gifts of food and flowers are delivered to grave sites. There are strolling musicians, family picnics, and vendors selling pan de muerto (bread of the dead.) The holiday is celebrated October 31 through November 2 each year. The cemetery is about 15 minutes from the capital of the state of Oaxaca, which is worth a visit of its own. Oaxaca, with its historic city center, is considered the culinary capital of Mexico and is particularly known for its moles, or sauces.
Highgate Cemetery in Hampstead, London, United Kingdom
London lays claim to a number of famous burial sizes such as Westminster Abbey. Also worth a visit is Highgate Cemetery, located in the village of Hampstead, about four miles northwest of central London. Karl Marx, the grandfather of Communism and author of The Communist Manifesto, died penniless in London in 1883. Today, his grave is the cemetery’s most visited. Don’t overlook a couple of famous writers—Mary Ann Evans, who in the 1880s wrote under the pen name George Eliot in order to be published, and Douglas Adams, author of the 20th century science fiction comedy A Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. While in the neighborhood, join locals for a stroll across Hampstead Heath, a Central-Park sized expanse of woodlands, meadows, and ponds.
Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, Georgia
Oakland Cemetery, with its view of the glittering, modern skyline of Atlanta, offers a variety of tours, including an evening “Capturing the Spirit of Oakland” tour leading up to Halloween from October 17 to 25 this year. Enjoy the lush rural garden-style cemetery with winding paths, large shade trees and flowers, making it the forerunner of public park development in the U.S. Visit the graves of Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell, golf great Bobby Jones, Civil War soldiers, and Civil Rights pioneers. Afterward, refresh at the nearby Six Feet Under Pub and Fish House.
La Recoleta in Buenos Aires, Argentina
Located in the affluent and fashionable neighborhood of the same name, the cemetery is laid out in sections like city blocks. Tree-lined main walkways branch into sidewalks filled with elaborate marble mausoleums in a variety of architectural styles. Several of Argentina’s presidents, Nobel Prize winners, and poets are buried here. A much visited spot by tourists (and Argentine children on school trips) is the resting place of first lady Eva Duarte de Peron. Known as “Evita” by the masses and later Broadway theater and moviegoers, she died in 1952 at the age of 33. Her body, though, traveled more over the next two decades than most people do in a lifetime, before being interred in 1976 in the Duarte family mausoleum.
Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague, Czech Republic
As many as 12,000 tombstones and an estimated 100,000 bodies are crammed into this city block-sized graveyard dating from the 15th century, making for an eerie and moving sight. With internments restricted to the Jewish Quarter of the City, the congregation was confronted with a dilemma. Jewish law prohibits destruction of Jewish graves and removal of a tombstone. The solution was to add more layers of soil on the existing graves, take out old tombstones and place them upon the new layer of soil. Today, there are 12 layers with tombstones at all angles. Symbols adorn the graves, such as the lion etched on the tomb of Judah Loew Ben Bezalel, the chief rabbi of Prague in the 16th century. According to legend, Bezalel made a golem, a magical being, out of clay to protect the city’s Jewish community.
Pere LaChaise in Paris, France
More than a million and a half people visit this vast cemetery each year. So come prepared—pre-plan your visit and download one of several special Pere La Chaise apps. Among the most visited of the tens of thousands of monuments: Lead singer of the Doors, Jim Morrison; French Torch Singer Edith Piaf, and writers Marcel Proust, Moliere, and Oscar Wilde. Don’t expect to plant a lipstick red kiss on Oscar Wilde’s tomb, though. The smack tradition—which was inspired by Wilde’s quote, “A kiss may ruin a human life”—became so overwhelming that a protective glass barrier was erected in 2011 to make it kiss-proof.
The Flavor Graveyard in Waterbury, Vermont
There is no trick to getting a treat at this cemetery. The Flavor Graveyard, where discontinued Ben & Jerry’s flavors are laid to rest, is right next to the Waterbury, Vermont ice cream factory. So pay your respects to the dearly departed 31 pints—among them Ethan Almond, Economic Crunch, and White Russian—and then stop by the factory for a tour and a tasting.
Want to learn more about Halloween activities this year? Check out:
- Zombie Events to Help You Prepare for the Apocalypse
- 15 Cities with Family-Friendly Halloween Activities
- The Best Places to See Fall Foliage Around the Country
By Lea Donosky for PeterGreenberg.com