Stressed Out? Try A Walk In A Cemetery

Cemeteries get a bad rap in the United States. The only time of year we really pay attention to them is Halloween, and then, it’s to equate them with fear or evil. I suppose Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day give cemeteries a little love, but those holidays are more about who’s in the actual graves, and not about the places themselves.

Unlike many of the world’s cultures, which celebrate or dignify death, we avoid it. So it’s no wonder that most Americans find cemeteries creepy. That said, I’ve met a number of people like myself who enjoy exploring cemeteries when they travel. Some enjoy the religious, spiritual, historical, or cultural aspects, others like visiting the gravesites of famous people. Many find wandering through graveyards peaceful and relaxing, a place for quiet contemplation.

The latter is the primary reason I enjoy visiting cemeteries, although I also use them as a way to find out more about the city, village or country I’m visiting. I look at the names on headstones, trying to discern the immigrant origins of the residents, or imagine what circumstances led to the death of, say, so many townsfolk in a given year. I also like looking at surnames, especially in 19th century American cemeteries, because they’re often (forgive me) amusing.

%Gallery-165496% Boulder, Colorado’s, Columbia Cemetery was established in 1870. It’s filled with pioneers, Union soldiers, miners, even an infamous 19th century “lady of the evening,” and a recently identified Jane Doe from a 1954 murder case. There are also lots of great surnames: Goodnow; Sex; Belcher; Hussie; Slauter, and Liverhaste.

Built on 10.5 acres near Chautauqua Park, and overlooked by the famous Flatirons, the cemetery is a favorite spot for locals to run, walk their dogs (how many other cemeteries have dog waste bags at their gates?), or go for a quiet stroll. I live right up the street, and visit at least once a week, using it as an interesting detour on my walks downtown.

My favorite cemetery of all time is Telluride’s Lone Tree, which I’ve written about previously. Located toward the end of a box canyon with waterfall, it’s not only beautiful, but historically fascinating. The Telluride Historical Museum occasionally offers tours of Lone Tree, but you can just as easily visit yourself.

While I find many small-town graveyards interesting and a good place for a mental time-out, some big-city cemeteries are bona fide tourist attractions, yet remain peaceful oases. I highly recommend Paris’ Pere Lachaise, for its elaborate tombs and grave markers, many of which belong to the likes of Frédéric Chopin, Edith Piaf, and yes, Jim Morrison.

At La Recoleta Cemetery (Cemetario de la Recoleta) in Buenos Aries, you can visit the tomb of Evita Perón, as well as those of many of Argentina’s most famous political and literary figures. It’s worth a visit regardless, for the architecture of the mausoleums, which range from Baroque, Art Noveau and Art Deco to Neo-Gothic.

[Photo credits: fall cemetery, Flickr user JamieSanford; Chiloe, Laurel Miller; La Recoleta, Flickr user pablo/T]

I see dead people

I have succumbed to the fascination in viewing dead people. I’m not talking about funerals, but about viewing dead people who have been dead awhile, as in years and years. The recent public viewing of Padre Pio, a Catholic saint, in San Giovani Rotondo, Italy has brought back memories.

Ho Chi Minh was my first preserved body tourist attraction. Mao Zedong was the second one. I wasn’t really comparing which of the two looked better when I went back for a second gander at Ho Chi Minh, but preservation has treated him better, in my opinion. Neither of these former leaders looked real, though–more like odd wax dolls.

Of all the interesting sites one can see in Beijing and Hanoi, the draw to their mausoleums is impressive. Tourists line up in the midst of people who come for patriotic, reverent reasons. The pomp of such attractions interests me as much as the attractions do themselves. Each place has rules to follow. For example, line up single file and check your umbrella. There are no umbrellas allowed Ho Chih Minh’s masouleum from what I recall. I have a memory of chekcing mine.

The changing of the guards and the hushed tones as people file past the glass sarcophagus, perhaps thinking how similar the glass case reminds one of the fairytale Sleeping Beauty, also add to the mood. But, there will be no waking up here. There is no lingering, no stepping back for a second glance. When one walks past Mao and Minh, it’s in single file at a steady slow pace and then, whoosh, you’re out the door.

In San Giovani Rotondo, it looks like people have some time to linger for a decent look at Padre Pio–even snap a photo. Padre Pio, was a mystic monk who is said to have had stigmata, bleeding on his hands and feet, similar to where Jesus’ wounds would have been. Death seems to have taken the stigmata away. There aren’t even traces.

The picture I saw of Padre Pio startled me at first. “Wow! he looks great,” I thought, but then read that the face is covered by a silicon mask made to look like his face. Evidently, his actual face isn’t quite as pristine. It’s not clear how long the saint will be on view before he’s buried again.

One of these days, I may head to see Lenin. His is the first body to have been preserved for generations to come. There are rumors that perhaps all of his body parts aren’t real anymore, even though these bodies go through special cleanings to keep them in shape for onlookers and admirers.

The photo by steepways is tagged as Lenin’s death mask. If I’m feeling ambitious, there’s Kim Il-sung, the former North Korean leader. He’s in Pyongyang. Neil has been there as chronicled in his series “Infiltrating North Korea.” Here’s a post on Kim to get you in the mood.