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Cemeteries and graveyards are quiet communities, which practice (as far as we know) the good neighbor policy.  The residents enjoy visitors, and are always willing to lend an ear.

Shadows cast from gnarly tree limbs, swirling leaves, and lichen covered stones can be irresistible for photographers. Some visitors enjoy the peaceful setting – walking pets around the perimeter, partaking a lunch on a bench or blanket, meditating, or engaging in a “romantic” rendezvous. Last year, “Laid to rest” took on a different meaning for a New Jersey woman, when a tombstone fell over, crushing her leg, during a sexual escapade.  (A resident’s judgment?)

Curiosity is often peaked as to the stories of the silent residents. Were their lives happy, or end tragically?

Find a Grave ( sometimes offers clues, which relies on volunteers to post photographs of gravesite markers, and information about the deceased.

Association for Gravestone Studies ( offers suggestions on difficult-to-read stones, such as taking a digital photo, and inverting colors on your computer.

While some claim that grave markers should remain untouched, others insist that cleaning them shows respect. On a practical level, cleaning them makes it easier for those researching ancestral roots.

A simple cleaning can be accomplished without damaging the stone.  Spray with water, scrape most of the lichens off with something simple as a Popsicle stick, and rub flat surfaces with a natural bristle brush.  Spray chlorine for the remaining lichen, and brush a little more.  (Some household cleaners will leave a residue that can promote algae growth, so it’s best to avoid them.)

If you’re content to stay at home, and read a good graveyard mystery, check out Amanda Stevens’  “The Graveyard Queen” series.  It has a good balance of interesting information on gravesites, and spooky happenings.

Do you have any good cemetery stories?

My parents’ hometown was a four-hour drive, which my family would undertake each holiday, as both sets of grandparents still resided there.

Memorial Day was predominantly spent with my paternal grandparents, whose families had immigrated to the town in the late 1880’s, and so had a fair number of gravesites to visit.  I would follow my grandmother around their one-acre property as she gathered calla lilies.

At the cemetery, as the adults walked from grave to grave of loved ones, laying down the flowers and reminiscing about each lost relative, I would venture off, walking between the sites (mindful of stepping on someone) and reading the gravestones. Sometimes, there would be a quote which would offer a clue about who was buried there.  I especially liked walking to the back end of the cemetery, where it had become neglected and overgrown; only sporadic bits of markers remained.  I wondered who they had been and why they were forgotten.

My father confessed his curiosity, as well, not only about the forgotten, but all of those who were buried there.  Who were they?  What were their stories?  He thought it would be grand if each gravestone had a button you could push, which would play a recording of the deceased’s story.

Little did he know that years later, QR codes would come along, holding a brief biography of a decedent, tastefully embedded on a gravestone.  Imagine, after visiting a loved one’s burial site, strolling around meeting his or her “neighbors” with a simple scan. 

Another way to share a condensed bio is through Find A Grave (, where you can search for graves at cemeteries around the world. It’s volunteer-based, so it’s up to individuals to post a photograph of the gravesite and type in information.  Photographs of the deceased can be uploaded as well.  It’s a free service. 

Obituaries provide one-time glimpses into lives of loved ones.  These two options provide ongoing introductions and storytelling. 

Who would you like to be remembered?

You Are a Classic

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