Cemetery Walks are very popular programs, and not just at Halloween! In fact, you can plan a cemetery walk in a variety of themes, including local history, art and architecture, cemetery symbolism or nature.
Here are some tips to get you started on planning a local history focused cemetery walk:
1. Take a stroll through your cemetery and see what you can find. Bring a pad of paper and a camera with you. Do you recognize any names? Are there any unusual monuments or symbols? Are there any interesting epitaphs? Make notes and take pictures.
2. Check with the cemetery to see what kind of records they have. If the cemetery is still in use, chances are good they will have records you can use to help identify people. If it is an older, abandoned cemetery it might be more difficult to find information. Visit the local history room at your library too.
3. Just because the name is right doesn’t mean it is the person you think it is! You may need to dig a little to confirm an identity. People often named children after themselves and the “Jr” or “Sr” may not have made it onto the stone. Confirm birth and death dates with historical records to be sure you have the correct person.
4. Visit your museum’s archives and search the clipping files for notable names. Usually the obituary will list the burial site. If you have a major cemetery in your town, you might be able to add some interesting people by finding them on paper first. Then visit your cemetery’s office to find the plot.
5. When planning your walk, be sure to choose graves that are relatively close together. Try to cluster graves together to minimize how much your guests will have to walk without seeing anything. You can create more than one walk if you have enough graves and they are at opposite ends of the cemetery.
6. Choose between 10 and 20 graves to visit. The total time for your walk should ideally be about 60 to 90 minutes. Anything longer than that is too long. Instead of one long tour, cut your walk in half and create two walks out of it.
7. People love to look at historical photographs. Use your archives to find 1-3 photos for each grave you visit. Some ideas include a portrait, home, business or advertisement related to the person you’re “visiting.” Make color copies and laminate them. When you get to a grave, pass the photos around so everyone in the group can see them.
8. Create a binder for your walk with a detailed map so you can get around while leading a group. Purchase pocket folders for your binder to hold the photos for each stop.
9. The day before the tour, visit the cemetery and place marker flags near each gravestone to help you find them. At first it is helpful to have the markers to rely on to find your way. The more you do your tour, the less you will need them.
10. As a courtesy, you should let the cemetery know when you will be holding a walking tour. They may want to know your route so they can be sure it is mowed and cleared of sticks or leaves before you come.