What is it about graveyards that intrigue us so much? Is it the idea of walking among the dead? Or perhaps it gives us time to reflect on our own mortality, an afterlife, reincarnation… For whatever reason, I thoroughly enjoy visiting graveyards when I travel. I guess it allows me to imagine the stories of the people who once were, and to marvel at the sometimes precarious and glorious locations of these final resting places. For example:
Westminster Abbey in London (humbly) boasts the forever sleeping grounds of kings, queens, poets, and inventors. This Gothic building is stunning inside and out, and appears to have a bustling economy all its own. With regular worship services, a gift shop (!) and gardens, I would consider the lines of tourists a fare trade-off to be surrounded by centuries of history and architecture.
Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest cemetery in the city of Paris and sprawls out over 100 acres and contains over one million permanent residents. Royalty and other noteworthy call this their finally resting place, the two most notorious being Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Over the years, fanatics have vandalized and defaced the tombstones, which are now guarded or encased for protection. Of course I wouldn’t think twice to hop a fence and spend a few quite moments alone with either…a little wine, a book of poetry. Ok, I’ll stop.
Arlington National Cemetery is a somber reminder of the casualties of war. John F. Kennedy’s eternal flame resides here, and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is faithfully guarded receiving the Changing of the Guard ceremony once an hour on the hour. I have been to Virginia and have walked the white headstone lined rows; in 8th grade, my class was given the opportunity to travel to Washington DC and surrounding areas to see our history book come alive. Another stop on our tour was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, an experience I can still remember freshly. It was dusk and humid. I couldn’t stop sweating as I approached the black wall with thousands of names etched into it. The air was extremely thick and there were hundreds of people around, but it was deathly silent. I reached out to touch the wall, and saw a man with a small piece of paper and a pencil shading over an engraved name. I looked away, and glancing up I saw the space around me illuminated by lightening bugs. It was a very surreal moment for my 12 year old self to grasp, but I can still recall that day vividly.
OK. Now back to my neck of the woods. A few short weeks ago in mid- November, I knew the busty, balmy days of fall were running thin so I felt an urge to escape to a few graveyards for a photo opp and general enjoyment. With my 7 year old in tow, we visited two cemeteries, took pictures, and marveled at the unapologetic show the leaves were giving us that day.
The first graveyard we visited was the Multnomah Park Pioneer Cemetery located on 82nd and Southeast Holgate, just east of downtown Portland. Based on information from several websites, the cemetery was established in 1888 by several families, including the Lents family- who later established the neighborhood of Lents near by (were I currently live!) There was an actual service taking place while we were there, so we didn’t stay as long as we would have liked to, but we still managed to get some interesting shots. A majority of headstones were marked in Cyrillic script and surrounded by masses of floral arrangements, and the juxtaposition of laser-engraved marble headstones to those apparently carved or etched by hand was eerie but intriguing.
Located in the Buckman neighborhood of Southeast Portland, the Lone Fir Cemetery sprawls out over 30 wooded acres and remains an attraction to tourists and locals alike. According to the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery website, I learned that the first burial took place around 1846 and is the final resting place to many pioneers, immigrants, and former Portland politicians. The cemetery has an active volunteer group which maintains grave sites as well as hosting events through out the year, including the Halloween inspired Tour of Untimely Departures.
Among the many buried here, I wanted to quickly highlight Dr. Hawthorne, the man who established the Oregon Hospital for the Insane back in 1862, and who’s surname has contributed to street names, a bridge, and an entire neighborhood district. According to the Friends of Lone Fir Cemetery,
“Dr. Hawthorne was forward-thinking, realizing that those in his care maintained their humanity and deserved ‘moral treatment’. He gave his patients time outdoors, holiday celebrations, religious observances and musical performances. They grew their own food and all who could were engaged in gainful activities.“
Along with Dr. Hawthorne himself, many of these patients are laid to rest at Lone Fir.
Our visit here was spent marveling at the brilliant foliage, and relishing the final days of fall. Whenever I visit the cemetery, I feel invigorated by the natural surroundings, and I feel grateful that the city I live in has respect for the past and the people who shaped it.
So dear readers, I challenge YOU to seek out an adventure in graveyard hunting.! Do a quick internet search and I think you will be surprised to see how many forgotten graveyards exist, tucked away in corners of your town or city, just waiting for you to come and explore. Leave a comment below and let me know what you find!
Next time, on Graveyard Shift Travel: a birthday romp around the city in search of chocolate, booze, and an Italian shopkeeper.
“Y NO ME DIGAS POBRE POR IR VIAJANDO ASI. NO VES QUE ESTOY CONTENTA? NO VES QUE VOY FELIZ?”