Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Give Me A Graveyard

I’ve always loved roaming around graveyards—the older, the better. There’s something about being in the presence of these old souls that experienced the life that I write about that makes me feel peaceful. Not sad or solemn. Just peaceful. Especially when the fog rolls in.

My obsession with old graveyards began long before I started doing any genealogical research, but that’s the excuse I use when someone asks me why I venture in when most would rather stay in the car.

Of course, roaming old graveyards does not come without peril. Over the course of my years, I’ve been scared out of my wits. Not by ghosts, which is what you’d expect, but by humans. I’ve been chased off private graveyards by men wielding shotguns. My sister got sucked into a grave when the ground around an old headstone gave way. It rattled her so much, she gave up helping me look for Jedediah Smith’s mother’s grave and left the cemetery. I trespassed on an old farm to find my Shank relatives’ graves and a man walked out of the fog dressed in 19th century farmer’s clothing. As it turns out, he was Amish, and was quite helpful, but gave me a fright at first.

This past weekend, I was in the DC area for a visit with friends and my brother, who was in town for a conference. Sunday morning was heavy with fog. A perfect day for going to a graveyard. But this was a graveyard like no other. Arlington National Cemetery still was decorated with Christmas wreaths—one at every grave. As my friend waited in the car, I began walking closer to the graves, snapping frame after frame. The air smelled of balsam from the wreaths, and was moist with fog. I stared at row after row of the good men and women who served and, at various times, fought, for our country, and thought about those battles. The Civil War, World War II, Vietnam, Afghanistan. All were significant events in my life, and they certainly were significant to those brave souls who rest in this beautiful cemetery today.

Who would have thought that one of my favorite moments of the weekend would be standing alone in a foggy graveyard, smelling the pine? I think anyone who knows me well could have predicted that one.


  1. I loved Arlington when my husband and I went there last year. We also took in Gettysburg, which really is a massive graveyard. Like you, I like to wander around in them--especially pioneer graveyards. There is one in SW Portland (OR) that is just a tiny little blip on a hillside above a golf course parking lot. But the names may or may not be part of my history, so it was kind of a family reunion to be up there.

  2. I love wanding in old graveyards, too! We have a lot of history where I am in North Jersey, and lots of very old graves. I would love to go to Arlington!

  3. I, too, enjoy a good cemetery prowl, and put it to good use as a volunteer on a website called "Find a Grave" where you can request someone local to go out and photograph a certain gravestone for you. It's a great resource for genealogists!