I don’t remember when I first realized how much I love cemeteries. It may have been back when I was a kid and walked to my piano lessons every week. There was no piano teacher in my immediate neighborhood and I walked about thirty minutes to get to my lessons. At the time (and no, I won’t say when it was!), no one worried about a kid out on city streets alone.
My route took me by a city cemetery, and I remember looking through the iron fencing around it and thinking how peaceful the place seemed. I never ventured inside, not because I was frightened, but because I didn’t know anyone who was buried there.
I did visit other cemeteries, of course. One of my grandmothers dragged (and I use that word appropriately) us with her once in a while to clean up the graves of long-gone ancestors. I remember walking to that cemetery, too, and packing a lunch to take along. Food was probably the one way she knew she could keep us quiet and bribe us to help her work!
What I do remember very clearly is when this vague interest in burial grounds blossomed into a full-blown obsession. It was 11 years ago this past Halloween. It was a Sunday, and somehow, I found out that a local trolley company was doing a day-long tour called “Stones and Bones.”
Yup, a cemetery tour.
I was fascinated by the history of the cemeteries we visited, and grateful to finally have a chance to stop in at some city cemeteries that are not safe to travel in alone. I loved hearing about the art and the architecture, about the symbolism found in headstone carvings and the hints of family history that can be found in the names and dates etched for all eternity into the stone.
In the last 11 years, I’ve made good use of my cemetery interest. My Pepper Martin mysteries involve a cemetery tour guide and over the years, I’ve gotten to know the volunteers in a couple of the local foundations that work to preserve local cemeteries. Recently, it all came full circle. You see a couple weeks ago, I hosted a tour in a historic cemetery.
It was called Killer Cleveland and on the tour, I took groups of visitors around to “meet” the victims and perpetrators of some local (and very old) homicides. It was a gray and gloomy afternoon (how appropriate) but our intrepid tourists showed up anyway and hiked along with me through the battered headstones. At some of the graves, I told the stories of the macabre murders. At others, re-enactors took over and played the roles of victims–and murderers.
It was a great day, and I know we helped spark an interest in local history. I also know that somehow, the Universe has been pushing me all these years, nudging me to this place where I am more involved in something I find fascinating.
As for that cemetery I used to pass as a child, it’s still there and I’ve visited a time or two. These days, I actually go inside!