Growing up alongside a cemetery, film aficionado Karie Bible found solace and entertainment amidst the tombstones. The practice, though seemingly peculiar, was routine for the Texas native who found their beauty unimaginably appealing.
Decades later, relocating to Los Angeles led her to Hollywood Forever, one of the most historically significant cemeteries in the nation – a true homage to the architects of Old Hollywood. Paying her respects to personalities such as Marion Davies, Cecil B. DeMille, and Judy Garland, she found herself drawn towards the countless narratives each grave had to offer. Twenty years have passed since then, and Bible has become the official tour guide of this revered necropolis, dutifully escorting visitors around the cemetery every month.
Passion pours from her every word as she spends her days with “tombstone tourists” – this niche group of individuals who journey across the globe, intrigued by the history and the sense of connection that graveyards offer. Touring cemeteries might not be a traditional tourist activity, but for those fascinated with history and aesthetics, these places are a treasure trove of knowledge and intrigue.
To enthusiasts like Joy Neighbors, a well-known author in the field, these graveyards present themselves as art museums. Visitors learn about the stories of the people buried there, the era they lived in, their stature in society, and much more from the tombstones and their unique designs.
Apart from these, cemeteries satisfy a more complex desire – the need to establish a sense of connection with the afterlife, and to legitimize one’s preoccupation with death. This concept of “dark tourism” is now being studied and taught by academics like Sue Slocum, an associate professor of hospitality at George Mason University, throwing light on the human fascination with mortality.
Many of these cemeteries have turned into major landmarks owing to their magnificent architecture, significant residents, and entrenched histories. For example, Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, is a memorial for numerous Confederate soldiers and Spanish-American War veterans, captivating historians and tourists alike.
However, Bible believes that cemeteries are more than just attractions filled with history. Her experience has taught her that they mean different things to different people, and some even use them as a haven for peace, refreshment, and reflection, akin to parks.
Despite its somber reputation, she has noticed an increase in the participation of families, joggers, and even musicians who have started using cemeteries as open spaces. This signifies a change in societal perception that has been predominantly American – to use cemeteries as places of quiet reflection rather than avenues for leisure or recreation.
However, respect for the sanctity of the space is paramount for any visitor. Bible believes that each milestone, each tombstone, each name stands testament to a life lived, and hence deserves to be treated with the utmost care and respect. Therefore, a conscious approach is required when making a visit, one needs to be considerate of the ongoing funeral services or any private gravesites, and abide by the specific guidelines put forth by each cemetery.
It is indeed a delicate balance of interest and respect, curiosity and consideration that is required when stepping into these landscaped fields of history. The experience should be about more than just visiting the dead; it is about understanding and respecting the stories that lie underneath, embracing a piece of history, and reliving the memories etched in stone.