Photo by James Pintar/Shutterstock.com
Photo by Zack Frank/Shutterstock.com
Cemeteries in New Orleans are famous for their above-ground architecture.
Graveyards aren’t always spooky—with their history and architecture, sometimes they’re downright delightful.
Legend holds that Halloween marks the thinning of the “veil between worlds,” bringing the living closer to the dead—and making it the ideal time to walk through a cemetery. Cemeteries may seem like morbid places to visit, but many have beautiful landscapes with intriguing architectural elements and plenty of local history. These places—a Wild West graveyard in Tombstone, Arizona, 200-year-old “cities of the dead” in New Orleans, the woodsy locale of the Headless Horseman in New York—are repositories of U.S. stories. And they’re all worth checking out on a trip to get your Halloween fix.
Although the Crescent City is home to more than 40 cemeteries, its oldest and most storied is St. Louis No. 1. Founded in 1789 by Spanish royal decree, the narrow, block-long graveyard just off the French Quarter is filled with more than 700 tombs of 100,000 dead—and remains an active burial site. Most of its graves are above ground, formed with marble and centuries-old stone dredged from the nearby Mississippi River, making for a maze of crypts and vaults. The cemetery’s appearance prompted Mark Twain to call it a “veritable little city” for the dead. Saint Louis No. 1 serves as the final resting place of historical figures from the prominent, like New Orleans native and civil rights activist Homer Plessy (of landmark Supreme Court case Plessy v. Ferguson), to the more infamous, like voodoo queen Marie Laveau, whose ghost, some allege, still walks the burial ground. The cemetery is only accessible through approved guides, but many tours visit it daily.
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Bonaventure often lands on lists of Most Beautiful Cemeteries, and visitors revere its scenic location on the Wilmington River. Once praised as “incomparable” by Oscar Wilde, the graveyard has been a public cemetery since 1907, with haunting angelic statuaries, Spanish moss-draped live oaks, and avenues lined with azaleas. Bonaventure’s popularity skyrocketed after it was featured in the best-selling book—and later, the movie adaptation—of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, with Danny Hansford, whose murder inspired the story, buried nearby. Look for the graves of poet Conrad Aiken and lyricist Johnny Mercer (of “Moon River” and “Jeepers, Creepers!” fame). The Savannah cemetery is open to the public daily, with no admission fee, and is included on a number of guided tours.
Perhaps not the most famous cemetery in Los Angeles, Westwood is tucked away behind Wilshire Boulevard, making it smaller and more intimate, but no less star-studded. The green, tranquil park holds the gravesites of many industry greats, including Dean Martin, Natalie Wood, Farrah Fawcett, Jack Lemmon, Florence Henderson, Truman Capote, and Marilyn Monroe—where her ex-husband Joe DiMaggio famously placed a 20-year order of red roses, delivered three times a week. One of Westwood’s newcomers is Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner, buried in the crypt next to Monroe’s. Consult the park’s leaflet to find the unmarked graves of Roy Orbison and Frank Zappa. Westwood is open daily and included on several guided tours.
Known as the Cemetery of Architects, Graceland on Chicago’s North Side is the final resting place for the city’s most famous architects, hoteliers, and developers—and for their lavish monuments in different styles.
Among the most well-known memorials are large Egyptian revival pyramids by architect Richard E. Schmidt and the Carrie Eliza Getty Tomb, featuring an archway with elaborate bronze designs, built for the late lumber baron’s wife by noted architect Louis Sullivan (the “father of skyscrapers”). The Getty Tomb has been described as “the beginning of modern architecture in America.”
Graceland’s other famous burials include railroad magnate George Pullman (of the Pullman sleeping car and eponymous company town), Marshall Field, and, more infamously, Allan Pinkerton, founder of the union-busting Pinkerton detective agency. The cemetery, close to Wrigley field, is also home to several baseball legends; look for a large, carved baseball marking National League founder William Hulbert’s grave and Cubs player Ernie Banks’s monument, with a baseball mitt and glove atop it. You can take a self-guided walking tour of Graceland, or the Chicago History Museum runs an organized tour.
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Founded in 1660 and now a stop on Boston’s Freedom Trail, Granary is among the most historic U.S. cemeteries. The modest burial ground near the Massachusetts State House has gravesites for a multitude of founding fathers and Revolutionary War heroes, including Paul Revere, Benjamin Franklin’s parents, and three signers of the Declaration of Independence. (It may come as no surprise that, among the latter, John Hancock has a notably large obelisk monument among the Puritan headstones.)
Although nearly 5,000 people are buried in Granary, there are fewer than half that number of grave markers; sometimes up to 20 bodies were interred at each plot to save money. Faded gravestones and tall shade trees give the 400-year-old burying ground a spooky feeling, where visitors report seeing floating orbs and shadows. Granary is a public cemetery, free to visit, and is included on number of guided tours (ghost-themed and otherwise).
Tarrytown, New York
Established 1650, Sleepy Hollow serves as the final resting place of Washington Irving, whose famous horror story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” is set nearby. With views of the Hudson River, Gothic monuments, and 300-year-old oaks, the cemetery has what Irving called “a witching influence of the air” where one “begins to grow imaginative, to dream dreams, and see apparitions.” If this weren’t enough of a reason to visit for Halloween, the cemetery lists more than 50 more famous burials, including Andrew Carnegie, Walter Chrysler, and William Rockefeller. In 1989, the cemetery also served as the location for the Ramones music video “Pet Sematary,” where four band members were “buried alive.” Sleepy Hollow visitors can take a self-guided tour, or the cemetery offers daytime and evening lantern-led tours as well as fall special events.
Set in a desert, Boot Hill is a distinctive cemetery of the Wild West. Named for cowboys, outlaws, and gunfighters, or those who “died with their boots on,” the graveyard’s some 250 burials are marked with piles of stones and simple grave markers with block-letter inscriptions like “MURDERED.” Established as Tombstone’s City Cemetery in 1879, most of its original markers were wooden crosses, replaced when the cemetery was revitalized and rechristened as Boot Hill in the 1920s. Boot Hill’s notable burials include Billy Clanton, Frank McLaury, and Tom McLaury—the three men killed during the famed Gunfight at the O.K. Corral—Dutch Annie, “Queen of the Red Light District,” who gave to the down-and-out, gambling maven and opium den purveyor “China Mary,” and other gamblers, miners, and swindlers. Admission to the graveyard is $3; open daily.
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