Haunted Graveyards

Image

 

This monument, in Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, is the subject of many legends.  Legend has it the girl Inez was hit by lightning, and the monument vanishes during thunderstorms.  Legend has it she died of tuberculosis and the statue weeps on the anniversary of her death.  Legend has it she comes out to play with children who visit the cemetery.  People who visit the grave often leave stuffed animals.

In the world of my Haunted series, cemeteries are very rarely, if ever, haunted.  In those metaphysics, a haunting is the result of a deep attachment to a location (or sometimes a person) that keeps a spirit bound to the physical world and unable to transcend to the spiritual.  The attachment isn’t to the body, and thus places like funeral homes and cemeteries aren’t haunted. (Unless they’re haunted by former funeral directors or gravediggers!)

In real life, I’m intrigued by tales of haunted monuments.  Chicago has several, including one in Rosehill Cemetery, where I used to work (a tomb for a mother and child that is said to be enshrouded with mist on the anniversary of their deaths).  Even if there is nothing paranormal going on (and I remain agnostic on the subject) the psychology of it is fascinating.  We are simultaneously frightened of and drawn to the restless dead.  We want to believe that when we talk to a loved one at their grave, there is more listening than birds and worms and cold earth.  But we’d still run in terror if someone or something were to talk back.

My husband’s family lives in the Chicago area, so chances are we’ll be visiting in the near future.  I’m going to have to visit Inez.  I’ll even bring a stuffed animal, in case the legends are true, and the girl, so young and yet so ancient, still wants to play.

Gravedigger, when you dig my grave…

Image

 

I’ve always been fascinated by memorial art.  One purpose of art is to encapsulate and express human experience and emotion.  What is more common to the human experience than death and loss?  And who can look at the beauty of a memorial like the one above and not feel the grief?  I’ve viewed the memorials in many famous cemeteries around the world. During my brief stint as a family service counsellor for a funeral home, my office was in Chicago’s historic Rosehill Cemetery, and I spent a fair amount of time exploring.

There’s been a fairly recent trend amongst cemeteries that the only memorials allowed are the metal plates placed flush with the ground.  They’re easier for the cemeteries to maintain: just run a mower right over the plates rather than take the care and time to cut the grass around a headstone.  I refuse to go along with it.  When I die, I want to be buried in a cemetery that allows headstones, obelisks, mausoleums, statuary. 

I don’t expect that my family will be able to afford more than a simple headstone, mind.  But a cemetery is a business.  They make their money by selling plots.  And if people refuse to support cemeteries that are phasing out art in the name of convenience, then cemeteries will have a financial incentive to continue to support memorials that might take time to maintain, but are ultimately timeless.

Snow in the Cemetery

Image

When I was working for a funeral home in Chicago, my office was in the administration building at Rosehill Cemetery.  I’ve always loved cemeteries, and Rosehill is fantastic.  The monuments are beautiful, and the place is steeped in history.  There are Civil War soldiers, famous people, and a number of reported hauntings.  The mausoleum has hallways of family burial niches, little rooms closed off by padlocked wrought iron gates through which you can see the sarcophagi, the mini altars, all suffused with light tinted by the Tiffany stained glass windows.

Of course, the best part of being excited about something is sharing it with others.  So one weekend I took a friend of mine who had similar proclivities to Rosehill to show him around. It was a cold and overcast day (in other words, your typical Chicago December). We started at my office, then headed toward the mausoleum, which was all the way on the other side of the (very large) cemetery.  The road wound through the grounds, lined with headstones and statues and individual mausoleums, and was a very pleasant walk.  By the time we got to the mausoleum, though, we were very grateful to be out of the cold.

Once we had explored the mausoleum (lingering at the Shedd tomb, the largest in the building and a beautiful combination of opulence and decay) we headed back through the cemetery.  It had started to snow while we were inside, and the fine layer of white accented the monuments, adding another layer of beauty to them.  It was wonderful.

Then the snow got heavy.

We were a third of the way through when visibility narrowed to fifty feet.  The snow covered the road, and shrouded the monuments in a thick blanket of white. My friend and I were in the middle of a huge cemetery with no road, no landmarks, and we were freezing cold.

Obviously, we managed to make it out alive. (Unless this is being written by a ghooooost…wooooo!  Okay, maybe not.) But what if we hadn’t?  The cemetery is huge.  Many parts of it are populated with graves that are old enough that no one visits them anymore.  If we had frozen to death out there amongst the headstones, the heap of our huddled bodies covered with snow…when would we have been found?  Perhaps we would have tried to pry the wrought iron gates open on one of the individual mausoleums.  Maybe when we were found our fingers would be raw to the bone from scrabbling at the chains and padlocks and hinges.  Maybe the cemetery would have had two more ghosts.

Brrrr.