Some of a city’s most interesting sites are often its graveyards. This Halloween, let the ghosts guide you through forgotten or quirky corners of local urban history. Many offer special tours around this time of year, but they’re worth exploring anytime. Here are a few standouts nationwide.
1. Pinewood Cemetery, Miami
Tucked among ritzy homes in Coral Gables, the city’s oldest cemetery is easy to miss. Its earliest graves date to the mid-19th century, dug for pioneer settlers who built what became South Miami. No one has been buried here since the 1940s, so the site was long forgotten and overgrown until locals rediscovered and restored it in the 1980s. Few of the some 200 plots have markers, upping the spook factor and the appeal to paranormal investigators.
2. St. Roch Cemetery #1, New Orleans
Inside the gothic chapel of this unusual New Orleans cemetery is a side room filled with prosthetics. Marble bricks on the floor are inscribed with “thanks” or “merci.” There are also crutches, heartfelt thank-you notes and coins, all left in recognition of answered prayers. Some of these ex votos date back generations, since the chapel’s founding in the late 19th century. No longer associated with a parish, it has a creepy, voodoo feel.New York Marble Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of the author.)
3. New York Marble Cemetery, New York City
Thousands of New Yorkers pass by this grassy spot every day without noticing it, located as it is behind iron gates on Second Avenue in the East Village. They’re open only once a month from April to October, but you can peer through the grates to see the empty, parklike space. None of its 2,080 mid-19th-century graves have stones: They’re all in underground vaults, with names are on plaques along the walls. Around the corner, check out the New York City Marble Cemetery, where tall gravestones are easy to see.
4. Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland
If this 1863 graveyard seems like an unusually beautiful park, that’s because it was designed by one of the country’s greatest landscape architects: Frederick Law Olmsted, designer of New York’s Central Park. Avenues and hillside paths are lined with oak, cedar and cyprus trees, so poking around the tombstones feels rather romantic. Many important Bay Area citizens are buried here, like chocolate king Domingo Ghirardelli and Hearst Castle designer Julia Morgan. Climb up to the crest of the hill for a beautiful view over Oakland.
5. Rosehill Cemetery, Chicago
With 350 acres, a pond, woodland and native plants, this North Side spot is as much a nature preserve as it is a burial ground. Yet as you listen to birdsong you can also see the graves of Civil War soldiers and generals, Chicago mayors, shoe manufacturer Milton Florsheim and wiener king Oscar Mayer.Bonaventure Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of the author.)
6. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah
Dating to 1846, this famous burial ground sits on a bluff above the Wilmington River, just east of downtown Savannah. The 100-acre site is filled with evocative gravestones under trees dripping with Spanish moss, whose many pathways make it an atmospheric and peaceful place to stroll. Notable people underground include songwriter Johnny Mercer and poet Conrad Aiken, plus many a local character.
7. Mount Moriah Cemetery, Philadelphia
Strolling through this overgrown and dilapidated cemetery in the southwest of the city, it’s hard to believe that it was once one of Philadelphia‘s most important. Spanning over 50 acres on Cobbs Creek, it was where wealthy Philadelphians were interred in the 19th century. It’s a spooky, gothic site: the brick Romanesque gatehouse is covered in vines, tombstones are knocked over and weeds obscure pathways. Local volunteers are working to tame the site, before it gets fully reclaimed by nature.King’s Chapel Burying Ground. (Courtesy of Dial_m)
8. King’s Chapel Burying Ground, Boston
This 1630 cemetery is as old as the city of Boston itself and the final resting place of early settlers like John Winthrop, first governor of Massachusetts, and Mary Chilton, the first woman to step off the Mayflower. Look for Joseph Tapping’s unusual headstone, which depicts a skeleton and Father Time battling over death. Located on Tremont Street, it is connected to an Anglican church and a peaceful spot right in the middle of town.
9. The Los Angeles Pet Memorial Park, Calabasas, CA
Leave it to Angelenos to devote 10 manicured acres to their departed animals. Founded in 1928, in an era when pet funerals and obituaries were in vogue in Hollywood, it is the oldest pet cemetery on the West Coast. Its thousands of graves include boldface canine and feline names, like Droopy, Humphrey Bogart’s dog, and Charlie Chaplin’s cat Scout. The cemetery is still open for business; internments start at around $600.
10. Congressional Cemetery, Washington, DC
Overlooking the Anacostia River, these 35 acres are home to a more motley crew than Washington DC‘s famous Arlington National. There’s Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, composer John Phillip Sousa, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover, Native American chiefs, congressmen—and brothel owner Mary Ann Hall, whose rich and famous clients are likely buried nearby.
Cover photo Boston headstone courtesy of JB.