Where do you go first when you visit a new locale? I’m not talking about getting settled in your hotel, bed & breakfast, Air BNB, tent, et al. What is it you want to be sure to experience ? Art? Architecture? The great outdoors? Foodie destinations? Historical spots?
My favorite would fall under the “historical spots” category. Now, don’t be too quick to judge my fascination or think me maudlin. One place I want to hang out in wherever I go is a cemetery.
I love the architecture, the sense of family amongst a group of headstones, the flora and fauna. And they make for incredible photo opportunities. Cemeteries are peaceful places and great to hang out in as long as they are in a safe location. I’ve been in graveyards where I was the only person save one who was following me around. Not cool!
Today, I am in Charlottesville, Virginia. My oldest daughter, Kate, graduated from the University of Virginia as did her partner, Vincent. So, I’ve spent a lot of time here taking her to lunch, hanging out on campus and passing through for a coffee on the way to Smith Mountain Lake. But I’ve never been to a C-ville cemetery.
My interest in cemeteries amped up when I visited Boston with my husband on a business trip almost 20 years ago. When I travel on these conferences, he is busy most of the day and I am free to explore. One day I decided to find the original Cheers bar as I was a fan of the show back in the day. Inevitably, I got lost and “had” to wander. (So blessed that I had no cellphone with the option to Mapquest my way to the location as I would have missed an amazing experience or two.)
The first was a lady in a doorway with every color of electrical tape on her body a la Native American warpaint though I’m sure our nation’s First Citizens were much more artful and purposeful with their body art. I felt compassion for her and tension as she was angry.
Back to the point — I stumbled upon a small cemetery between two wings of a high-rise building that was obviously ancient. It was a warm day and the shade was welcome. I strolled and skimmed names on the markers. That’s one of the reasons I love these places. Ancient names we don’t see in today’s society and some of the deceased’s taglines are intentionally hilarious.
As I wandered I found a mass grave in a back corner of over 150 people in about a 12-by-12 foot spot. I have no recollection of why but remember some of the dead were children. I moved to the right and as I perused the stones I found Benjamin Franklin’s parents’ graves and Paul Revere’s among others. Who would have thought it? I love happy accidents, don’t you?
I’ve visited many cemeteries since then in Lexington, Williamsburg and Smith Mountain Lake, Virginia, New Orleans, Louisiana, etc. Today, I visited Riverview Cemetery on a misty, dreary, appropriately-atmospheric day. The view from the hill was breathtaking even in the foggy conditions. And, you guessed it, it made for the perfect backdrop for the destination. Due to weather and the isolation of the location, I did not get out so my car windows were worn out traveling up and down to allow for the perfect shot. As you can see in the attached photo gallery (all from Riverview) the clouds dusting the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains in the distance were breathtaking.
Save for the groundskeepers I was alone in that memorial yard and was pleased to be. It was a moody morning after too little sleep in a so-so hotel. It was a brief overview of the serene spot without the joy of walking among ancestors, but a thoughtful stop on my way to work and shop at the Downtown Mall.
I’ve also included a small headstone sales office on a corner I passed on the way to Riverview Cemetery. Never seen anything like it. You can see for yourself in a photo here. Looked to me like an edifice erected in a bygone era itself.
What are your favorite cemeteries, if you are given to this predilection? Anyone who has any fave memorial spots would be most welcome to share them in the comments below.