Grave Hunting 101

coimetrophile (noun) a person who has an interest in visiting cemeteries.

It’s true. I like cemeteries… No, I love them. Kind of weird, I know. I don’t even believe in being buried (my husband is under strict instructions to donate my body to science). My curiosity always gets the best of me and this is the perfect hobby for an introvert; I can learn from people (the dead) without actually having to spend time with people (the living). Grave hunting helps me with genealogy studies, it educates me, it drives me to learn about people who may be forgotten, and it makes me feel like an amateur archeologist. I mean, it’s not like I’m conducting late night rituals or robbing graves.

I Knew If I Waited Around Long Enough Something Like This Would Happen

The tombstone of George Bernard Shaw, Irish playwright

Graveyard vs. Cemetery… These words are used interchangeably today, but many years ago that was not the case. Graveyards came before cemeteries. Hundreds of years ago it was churches who controlled burials and they did so on the church grounds. So, you had to be a member of that church (or at least a practitioner of that religion) in order to be buried in that graveyard. Cemeteries emerged by the early 19th century due to population growth of cities and towns. They are often nondenominational and run by a council or corporation. In most cases the land was donated by a wealthy man of the community. The word “cemetery” derives from the Greek “koimeterion,” which means “resting place.”

Grave Hunting Tip: the oldest graves are closest to the church.

What about “memorial parks?” This is another step in the evolution of burial grounds. My dad is buried at Schuylkill Memorial Park in Schuylkill Haven, Schuylkill County, and there are no headstones at all, only flat grave markers which allows for easier grass cutting. Frankly, it’s a little boring as far as landscaping is concerned. Whereas cemeteries designed to serve a second purpose as a garden park are charming, peaceful and picturesque.

Here Lies John Yeast, Pardon Me For Not Rising

The tombstone of John Yeast, Ruidoso, New Mexico

My favorite cemetery is the Charles Evans Cemetery in Reading, Berks County. Charles Evans was a prominent attorney and through his philanthropy and dedication created, “a nonsectarian cemetery removed from the city’s noise and bustle, where friends and relatives might linger and meditate.” The cemetery, referred to as The City of the Dead, has been serving the community since 1846. It is home to over 30 different types of trees and even more varieties of birds. The main entrance exhibits a Gothic Revival arch and the winding narrow roadways reveal above-ground crypts (mausoleums), obelisks, monuments, and a beautiful stone pavilion… among other interesting sights.

Another attractive funerary park is the Charles Baber Cemetery in Pottsville, Schuylkill County. (What is it with rich guys named Charlie generating cemeteries?) This story is quite similar to the previous one; wealthy dude wants to leave a legacy to his hometown. At the time at which these types of cemeteries were first commenced they were located on the edge of town, but, as stated before, the population grows and development engulfs what once offered panoramic vistas and tranquil places to simply sit in quiet reflection.

Grave Hunting Tip: do your research. Some of these cemeteries are absolutely enormous.

Let’s not forget roadside graveyards. We’ve all see them. They seem oddly located, don’t they? Most likely, that road you’re driving on wasn’t there a century ago. The Flowery Field Cemetery, positioned on Peach Mountain, just west of tiny Wadesville, Schuylkill County, is home to a handful of graves. These people were of German descent and presumably worked (or were related to someone who worked) the nearby coal mine known as the Flowery Field Tract. Although many passersby don’t even realize that it is there, it is not completely forgotten as there are always flags placed at the graves of Revolutionary and Civil War veterans.

That’s All Folks

The tombstone of Mel Blanc, Man of 1000 Voices

So, what’s the moral of this story? First, it’s okay to like walking through cemeteries. Second, someone believed, quite strongly, in this burial practice. It meant something to that person. I can’t help but wonder if I’ll be remembered after death, so, this can be a way of paying it forward (literally). Finally, I am an advocate of respect. Death is a part of life. It is the one thing we cannot escape and whether or not I believe in this tradition I would never belittle or denounce another person’s ideology. In return, I hope others would respect my own convictions concerning life and death (Karma’s a thing). Peace always, my friends.


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