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Exploring Historic Cemeteries, Part II

We continue our visual tour of selected locations from Loren Rhoads’ cemetery travel guide

Sunday, November 4, 2018

In Part I of our cemetery tour, we looked at locations in the U.S. and Canada. This time it’s Europe’s turn in the moonlight. The tour is based on 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die, a book by San Francisco author Loren Rhoads that was published last year by Black Dog & Leventhal.

As before, we looked mostly for places likely to be of interest to steampunks, due to their history, aesthetics, or the individuals buried within. We limited the tour to cemeteries mentioned in the book.

Her criteria? “I wanted to talk about places that were beautiful, because I wanted to encourage people to visit,” she says. And “I wanted to talk about history, especially places where history has changed over time,” or places that she deemed “historically important.”

Loren Rhoads

Rhoads acknowledges that keeping the list to 199 was a challenge, and many places deserving of recognition were omitted. For example, you won’t find Abney Park, the cemetery in London that inspired the name of the famous steampunk band.

Some of these places are also highlighted on her Cemetery Travel blog, which includes a “Cemetery of the Week” in addition to essays and book reviews.

People who like to visit cemeteries are sometimes referred to as taphophiles. Rhoads considers the term “too clinical” and prefers to think of herself as a cemetery “devotee.” She’s also a published author of science fiction, fantasy, and horror tales.

A few places of note:

Highgate Cemetery, London. A trip here in 1991 led to her current fascination with cemeteries. It was her second Cemetery of the Week. “In the 19th century, people flocked to Highgate Cemetery,” she writes. “They brought picnics and strolled the lanes, marveling over the wealth of statuary and beautiful greenery.” But in the 20th century, it was abandoned and became “choked with weeds, shadowed by a dense forest of ornamental trees, and colonized by wildlife from the Heath.” In 1975, a group formed to restore the cemetery, and eventually gained ownership. Among those buried here: Karl Marx, George Eliot, and Douglas Adams of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame.

Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh, Scotland. This was Cemetery of the Week #172. “For the past twenty years, Greyfriars Kirkyard has been considered one of the most haunted graveyards in the world,” she writes. “Visitors have been scratched, bruised, and bitten” near the mausoleum of Sir George Mackenzie. In 1677, Mackenzie was appointed by King Charles II of England to punish “anyone who refused to swear loyalty to King Charles or rejected the Church of England. . . In all, Mackenzie is blamed for the deaths of nearly 18,000 people during the eight years dubbed ‘the Killing Time.’”

The Kiss of Death

Cementiri de Poblenou (Poblenou Cemetery), Barcelona, Spain. The Cemetery of the Week for Oct. 7, 2016, is known for monuments created “by some of the most important sculptors and architects working in Barcelona in the 19th and 20th centuries,” she writes. Works there include “The Kiss of Death,” a statue above the grave of textile manufacturer Josep Llaudet Soler.

Starý Židovský Hrbitov (Old Jewish Cemetery), Prague. This was her Cemetery of the Week for February 23, 2011. “Founded in 1478, the Beth-Chaim (Hebrew for House of Life) served as the only Jewish graveyard in Prague for three centuries,” she writes. “Penned in by buildings on every side, the Old Jewish Cemetery could only increase in height. 12,000 surviving tombstones totter over the graves of an estimated 20,000-100,000 people. The ground consists of twelve layers of graves.” It’s now part of the Jewish Museum in Prague.

199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound. Links to the booksellers are on her website. On the Amazon page, you can see the complete list of cemeteries by clicking on the book cover.

Now you can take a visual tour in the gallery below.

Editor’s note: This was originally intended to run before Halloween. After last weekend’s shootings at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, we decided to hold off out of respect for the victims and their loved ones. Those who wish to assist the families and the synagogue can do so through the Tree of Life website.

The photo of “The Kiss of Death” is by Jon Ander.


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