My niece and I attended a "Historic Cemetery Walk" last week as a
Halloween-season fundraiser for a local charity. The tie-in between Halloween
and cemeteries was a clever "hook," and I was happy to support a good
cause and to spend some quality time with my niece. But, truth be told, I like
cemeteries any old time of year. They're great places for urban and suburban
Nothing Creepy About It
Strolling a cemetery? Why on earth would I do that? Sure, I'd rather be in the
mountains or at the beach when I go for a hike, but sometimes I'm stuck in
town. And when that's the case, where else besides parks and golf courses can
you find more rolling lawns and beautiful landscaping than a cemetery? Given
the snooty attitudes of golf course patrons and staff, not to mention the
expensive maintenance paid for by those exorbitant greens fees, strolling on
golf courses is usually not an option. Parks are grand, though sometimes
dangerous for a woman walking alone. Cemeteries offer a pleasant alternative.
Sprawling And Park-like
Not every city can boast memorial facilities such as the 200-acre Arlington
National Cemetery near Washington, D.C., or world-famous Forest Lawn Memorial
Parks and Mortuaries, with six locations in the greater Los Angeles area. But
most have room to ramble a mile or two, and you can't beat the scenery.
Well-maintained cemeteries can be truly beautiful, with velvet green lawns,
grave markers that rival sculptures, pristine landscaping, and, of course, lots
of exceptional flowers. The roads and paths that wind their way through the
grounds to provide access for those who come to memorialize their loved ones
also provide superior walking routes. It's often a good idea to stick to the
paths as opposed to walking on the grass or gravesites (see
Older cemeteries have a charm of their own. Sometimes overgrown and in
disrepair, they can be places of quiet beauty as well as a testament to an
area's history. These cemeteries tend to be better suited for walking among the
gravesites, and reading the inscriptions on the older markers can be
fascinating. I've found myself pulling weeds that block an old headstone, or
tilting up a fallen marker in places like this -- not the best prescription for
an aerobic experience, but it's good for the soul.
Mind Your Manners
But let's not forget: a cemetery is a cemetery. It's primarily a place for
memorializing the dead, and certain courtesies apply. The following etiquette
guidelines were adapted from several western U.S. cemeteries' websites:
* Respect the privacy of those visiting gravesites.
* Respect those attending funerals/memorial services by avoiding that area.
* Do not interfere with interment/maintenance/memorial staff activities.
* Take care when walking across interment sections (gravesites); some
cemeteries prefer you walk on established paths or roads exclusively.
* Exercise care around markers, vases, sprinklers, and other fixtures.
* Picnicking may be prohibited (and is a little tacky anyway).
* Lying down on benches, lawns or graves may be prohibited (and is
* Many cemeteries prohibit pets anywhere on the grounds.
* Feeding birds and other wildlife is discouraged.
* Children should be accompanied by an adult.
* Do not pick flowers, or disturb landscaping or flowers at memorial sites.
* Smoking is discouraged and may be prohibited.
It's all pretty much common sense stuff. Remember that cemeteries are
places of the spirit and should be treated with respect.
I suppose there are some who might feel that my taking recreational walks in
a cemetery is somehow inappropriate or even disrespectful regardless of the
courtesy I exercise when I'm there. But I hope, when I die, if my remains end
up in a cemetery, people will feel free to wander around and enjoy the beauty
of my little piece of earth.
Sally O'Neal Coates is a travel writer and inveterate hiker who believes in
taking advantage of scenic walks wherever you find them. She writes weekly for