Best Cemeteries of 2017: Year In Review (Part One)

During the end of the holiday season I enjoy seeing everyone’s year in review posts across social media. It reminds me of a eulogy recounting all the good and letting go of the rest. It seems fitting to share my own 2017 memorial of memorials here. I chose my top ten but to keep word count reasonable split them into two posts. In no particular order here are the first five of my highlights from the past year!

5. Hollywood Forever Cemetery (Los Angeles)

In July my boyfriend and I traveled to Los Angeles. Of course my first request was to see the dead famous of Hollywood Forever Cemetery. While the list of celebrities was impressive on its own, what I found more touching was the amount of care and attention given to non-celebs. Burial sites like this are often covered with colorful trinkets and mementos:  IMG_3701.JPGEven if visitors go to see the lipstick-speckled tombstone of Johnny Ramone, they leave with a sense of celebration for all those laid to rest here. Hollywood Forever also hosts an amazing year-long event series including outdoor movies, concerts in the mausoleum, and a renowned Dia de los Muertos celebration. You can tell L.A. city-dwellers honor the cemetery as part of the community fabric and it’s anything but a somber place.
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4. El Campo Santo Cemetery (San Diego)

We visited El Campo cemetery during the same California trip and remarked on how different it was from the one we saw in L.A. El Campo was only in use from 1849-1880. Some of its 477 inhabitants have been paved over by the sidewalk and street. This occurred after the fall of Old Town in which the cemetery was abandoned and a streetcar line built directly through. It is affectionately known as the “Sidewalk Cemetery.”
IMG_3713 2.JPGThose interred include some of the region’s earliest pioneers. A group of native people who were executed for carrying out a raid against the burgeoning town of San Diego are also remembered. Infamous criminal, James “Yankee Jim” Robinson was hanged and buried for stealing the town’s only rowboat in 1852. He is said to haunt the adjacent Whaley Family Home. After much local petitioning in 1993 radar was used to locate bodies of those forgotten under the asphalt. Their remains are now marked by small round discs like the one shown below.IMG_4480.JPG

3. Clover Cemetery (Alton, OH)

If you’ve ever been in the car with me I’ve likely made you pull over to look at some cemetery by the side of the road. This one I spotted just outside Columbus in Prairie Township. It was first used in 1824 and I couldn’t find anything past the 1950s. This cemetery is technically abandoned as evidenced by multiple stones heaped in a pile of one corner. However the grounds are still being mowed. Small outpost cemeteries are interesting to me because those buried might have been members of an early church or extended families who shared a plot. If you were traveling through the region in the late 1800s/early 1900s and happened to die you would have also been placed here as it was cost prohibitive to ship bodies long distances by train (not to mention preservation techniques were not supremely advanced).

2. Mount Calvary (Columbus, OH)

This cemetery has stolen my heart as a favorite in Columbus. The best part is the astonishing collection of Victorian era photo-ceramic memorials that adorn many headstones. The phenomenon is often found in Italian-American Catholic cemeteries of which Mount Calvary is one. IMG_4479.JPGAfter the invention of the daguerreotype in the 1830s ceramic portraits were quick to follow in 1854. Because photography was still relatively inaccessible and expensive a person had few pictures of themselves. The use of photo porcelain on monuments was widespread in Italy and sources suggest that the practice of affixing one’s portrait was a way for immigrants to maintain cultural ties. I especially love the ones that have sturdy covers. The tombstone below has two marked “Father” and “Mother” on metal lids that reveal a stunning photograph beneath.IMG_3964 3The other sobering thing is the number of babies buried at Mount Calvary. Toward the back fence is the oldest, most heavily populated area of young children and infants. I also found one of the saddest memorials ever–a handmade stone from 1916 with a girl’s ceramic photograph and epitaph explaining her death from falling down a well. She was only four. The cemetery is still active and also houses notable native, Anna Marie Hahn who was the first female serial killer executed in the Ohio electric chair in 1938.IMG_3975 3

1. Green Lawn Abbey (Columbus, OH)

The Abbey has been my saving grace this year. I’ll be honest that making friends post-college has been hard. Not to mention I have to explain that most of my hobbies center around cemeteries and death. Since I started volunteering to clean marble and help with events I’ve finally found my taphophile tribe. The historic mausoleum was built in 1927 and holds many Columbus-elite including the inventors of Swisher Sweets cigars and a famous magician. If you’re in the Columbus area and interested in volunteering please look us up here.

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…Thanks for getting through the first half. Check back tomorrow for part two!


(All photos by Alysen Wade. Please do not recreate without credit.)


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