Cemeteries as Museums

Cemeteries as Museums
Despite their reputation as a creepy place to visit (especially around Halloween!), Cemetery Walks are among the most popular public programs at my museum. We have a waiting list EVERY TIME I do them.

No, it isn’t about a morbid fascination with death.

People come on my tours to learn about their community through the stories of the people who are buried there. Each person has life story to tell, full of funny anecdotes, business histories, civic involvement, and social activities.

On my tours, I pass around historic photos relating to the person we are “visiting” – including a portrait of the deceased, advertisements for their businesses, photos of their home, and other interesting documents. In a way, my tours bring people back to life as we stand in front of their graves.

Cemeteries are also a treasure trove of beautiful artwork. Some of the most talented sculptors’ and artists’ work can be seen in a cemetery. Beautiful angels, dazzling stained glass windows, and stellar landscape design are commonplace in just about every cemetery.

Cemetery symbolism is a hidden language that, when decoded, can tell volumes about the deceased, their life, and their death. For example:

* A broken tree trunk or column indicates a “life cut short” – meaning, someone who died long before their time

* The Greek letters “Alpha” and “Omega” are often found on gravestones, symbolizing “the beginning” and “the end”

* Lambs are often used to commemorate the death of a child

Guided tours and books about cemeteries delve into the histories of the individuals who are buried there, telling complex and simple stories about our collective history.

Check with your local cemetery or historical society to see if walking tours are offered. If not, read up on cemetery symbolism and take a walk through a cemetery on your own. When you take a closer look, you will be amazed at what you’ll find.

You Should Also Read:
Association for Gravestone Studies

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