Friday, June 6, 2008

Strolling through the Cemetery

It feels like northeast Ohio is waiting in line for a shower in a hot, steamy bathroom. Summer has arrived! When it’s not too awfully sticky, I love taking walks around our town. We have a couple pretty parks nearby, and it’s nice to get to the store, library, and post office on foot if I want. This country girl never thought she’d be happy as a “townie”, but it does have its perks.

We also have a beautiful cemetery right near our house that’s perfect for strolling through. It’s interesting to read the gravestones and wonder what the people’s lives were like. I’m saddened when I see dates that aren’t many years apart, thankful when I see veterans’ graves, and encouraged by epigraphs that point to Jesus.

During my many walks through the cemetery, I’ve often thought what a great place it is for writers to get inspiration. (I hope that doesn’t seem morbid, and I’m sure there are plenty of authors out there who would agree with me!) It’s just brimming with unique names, and the inscriptions and images engraved on the stones often pique my curiosity. What a great way to get a character and story going in your head!

So, have you ever walked through a cemetery and found inspiration for your writing? If you have, leave a comment and tell us about it. If not, try it sometime. I wouldn’t go after dark, though, which is probably why I edit romance, not mystery or suspense! :-)


Mary Connealy said...

There's an old country cemetery about a mile from my house, back in the woods, very neglected. Most of my husband's ancestors are there. I used to go out there with my children once in a while and we'd trod the overtall grass and talk about, those two are the original Connealy's who came to Nebraska. This is your great-great-whatever great-grandfather and this one is his brother.

My mother in law is very old time American and also Old time in our town. There are streets and townships bearing her family name. Going to the cemetery with Marybelle is fascinating. We can go into the oldest part of the cemetery and she says, "That's my father's mothers family (they're the real old timers) and tell stories about settling Lyons, Ne. and it's seriously fun. Which is a little weird, huh?

Mary Connealy said...

I remember going to the cemetery on Memorial Day years and years ago and walking along, looking at graves other than the ones we came to decorate. I came to this marker that had a child there, the birth and death date in the same year, then I looked down the line and saw another and another and another. Five in all. The same last name, I assumed brothers and sisters from a family that lost baby after baby. Really sad and it really sets the imagination off.

And I remember my grandma talking about the Flu Epidemic...sometime around WWI I think. She said look for the year (I can't remember now) and that year just kept coming up, and with young adults. Young men. She said it killed so many people. Especially the young and healthy because they didn't take the flu seriously and expected to keep working through it, while the children and elderly took to their beds and were more likely to survive because of that.

Mary Connealy said...

One more.

My dad inherited a funeral plot, two actually side by side.

He'd already inherited one from his father so he knew where he and my mom would rest, beside his parents. It was in the same cemetery in Lyons.

So he asked me if I wanted the cemetery plots.

Sure, why not???

I went and tracked down where those plots were once and they're in this really, really, really old part of the cemetery.
Old cemeteries are a lot different than new ones, grand headstones and memorial words worth reading.

And my husband and I will be in there. I've always said my only interest in a head stone was flatness. I hate the thought of being something a gardener has to mow around for all eternity. Just slap it right down at ground level so he can run the Snapper straight across me.

But now I'm not so sure. I'd like to match that old part of the cemetery somehow. Not be flat and modern in the midst of all that old grandeur.

And the gardener is going to have to weed whack everyone else anyway, he probably won't mind adding me.

Kathy Kovach... said...

Three posts on cemeteries, Mary? Is there something I don't know about you?

I had to answer this one because I have written a short story that was inspired by an old hillside cemetery in Silverton, CO. My husband and I celebrated our 25th wedding anniverary in Silverton --Get it? Silver anniversary? Yes that was intentional. The best way to see Silverton, which is an old mining town high up in the Rockies, now turned into a historical tourist trap, is to park your car in Durango, hop on the Durango & Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad and meander up through alpine valleys and rocky cliff faces. (Ooh, I like that. Must use that somewhere.) You can take a day trip and come back whenever you want, but we chose to stay in a bed & breakfast and hoof it all over Silverton.

In my story, "A Grave Promise", my heroine takes the same path we did, only she's following a mysterious stranger. He eventually leads her to the Hillside Cemetery where all her questions are answered.

You can read that story on my Stories & Devotions blog at

In that cemetery, I was struck with how well you could research the history of a place there. Reading the stones and markers, I could tell when an epidemic hit, when they had their worst winters, and their social structure. There was a whole seperate section just for Italian immigrants. Other sections too for various immigrants, but I can't remember all of them now.

It struck me so deeply that I had to write that story.

Pam Hillman said...

Three posts on cemeteries, Mary? Is there something I don't know about you?


I haven't been to a really old cemetary in ages. Must plan a trip soon. What does that SAY about us?

Years ago, my cousin and I vacationed with our grandparents. At week's end on the way home, we detoured by Granny's old stomping ground. We saw the church where she grew up and toured the cemetary. Lots of graves from the 1700-1800's.

Mary Connealy said...

I once wrote a short story about a cemetery...long ago. Very much a horror story, really creepy about a bunch of punky teenagers and some open graves that had their names already carved on them and


(that is a scream of horror btw)

CHickey said...

As a child, my cousins and I used to play hide-n-go seek after dark at the country cemetary near my grandmother's house. We'd make up stories to scare the you know what out of ourselves! Great times!

Janet Spaeth said...

I went to the cemetary on Memorial Day, and as we drove out, I saw some really old stones, so I stopped to take a look. One was so old the lettering had totally worn off, and another was for a young woman who died when she was 19. She was buried next to her husband--the stone said they'd been married a year--and we wondered if she died in childbirth.

As much as we might long for those simpler days, it meant shorter lives, especially for women and children. I think of my kids and how they're protected by immunizations and medications, and I have to say a HUGE Thank You Prayer! (I also include thanking Him for not letting me die when I was 19! Was I going-to-heaven material at 19? Well....)

Janet Spaeth said...

Must be Friday (or I'm inspired by Mary). I forgot to add that the headstone did, indeed, give me an idea for a story!

Erica Vetsch said...

I love to walk cemeteries in MN. There is one in the town of New Prague (pronounced with a long a) where all the headstones are of Czech immigrants. There are Norwegian cemeteries, Irish, Swiss, German...lots of individual pockets of immigrants.

I always wonder about their lives, about who they were, what they dreamed about becoming, what they thought of their new country.

Janet Spaeth said...

Okay, I have to say this. If you get your mouse near the picture on this blog entry (or the last one), you get this:
Hummers. After Dark. Babysitting Jobs. Bikinis. Amish.


Janelle said...

We have an old cemetery out in our pasture. There's a historical marker out on the highway that talks about one of the leaders of the Battle of San Jacinto that used to be buried there. They ended up digging him up and moving him closer to Austin, I believe. But there's many markers and family plots still there. From what I understand, armies camped out near there as they prepared for battles. We've found canon balls, bullets, belt buckles, and uniform buttons out there using metal detectors. Very cool. I've always enjoyed wandering around out there. There's another tiny cemetery about a mile from there where there used to be a small settlement. To this day I can go out there and find buttons, broken pottery, marble doorknobs, even children's marbles of different sizes and porcelain doll pieces. It's at this smaller settlement that got my writer juices flowing. It's out there where my very first historical manuscript was thought out. It's a favorite place for me to spend time.

Pam Meyers said...

I've been at Write to Publish for the past two days so I'm coming in late here.
I have done extensive family history research in past years and spent hours tramping through a very large cemetery in Springfield, Ohio where my family on my dad's side is buried all the way back to the late 1800s. I would sit there staring at these monuments belonging to my g-g-grandparents and wish they could be like Lazarus and come out and talk to me. Their lives all sounded so interesting. I learned a lot from one who had a lot of German written on the stone. My German friend translated and it was a Christian testimony!

What may sound even stranger is that I took pictures of all the stones. Too much to remember LOL

On a trip to Alabama, my cousin and I tramped cemeteries belonging to our ancestors from before the Civil War. One has our ancestor's slaves buried a short distance away which was interesting. In fact, the very first novel I wrote (and still unpublished as it should be in its present state LOL) was inspired by that particular plot.
There is a lot to learn and imagine by spending time in cemeteries. Especially the old ones!

Anonymous said...

Just to let you know that The Edit Cafe was awarded the
E Award of Excellence by Seekerville.

Kim Vogel Sawyer said...

My first historical, WAITING FOR SUMMER'S RETURN, originated in a tiny country cemetery back in 1981. The book didn't hit the market until 2006. That's a long time to have an idea rolling around in the back of your brain.

Inspire said...

Not long ago I heard the story of my great-great grandparents' romance. He was Irish Catholic. She was from a predominate Washington, D.C. family. When my great-great grandfather asked her father for her hand, he turned him down and threatened to cut her out of the family. They ran away and married on Christmas Day 1862.

My brother has been researching the family tree. One day while looking for information online to help him, I came across the Congressional Cemetery which has their records online. I found my great-great grandparent's actual picture of it and the exact location. Then I found some of my father's ancestors. I don't live far from Washington, so my brother and I are planning a trip to the cemetery. Seeing their names, reading the words 'beloved wife' made them more real to me. They were not just a name on a family tree. I've since gotten three photographs of them.

There is romance in their story even 146 years after their meeting.
I don't know if walking through a cemetery inspires my writing, but finding the graves of those who went before me does.

Inspire said...

If I could add. I write historical fiction. I live in a historical town, Frederick, Maryland. The cemetery, Mt. Olivet, holds the grave of Francis Scott Key, the composer of the Star Spangled Banner, Barbara Fitchy, Revolutionary War generals and soldiers. One thing I do find inspirational in historical cemeteries is the inscriptions of the headstones and the monuments.

JoAnne said...

Wow, fascinating (and some funny!) comments from everyone! Thanks! And thanks to Seekerville for the award. We are honored!

Becky said...

I have to comment that I've always been intrigued by a small cemetery near my house that has been nearly lost in the woods. I remember visiting it with my grandpa and hearing about the people. They were freed slaves from the Carolinas (I think) who were moved north by benefactors who gave them hilly OH woodlands to farm. They made a road connecting their homes that locals called the African Trail. The last of those families left a couple years ago to go into a nursing home. Most of the old road has gone back to woods and is unkept. The new owners of the cemetery land have it posted for no trespassing, but I'd sure love to go up that weedy lane again and walk the old church yard and cemetery.

Crystal Laine Miller said...

I'm always behind on your blog and then want to comment. (We've had power outages and a lot of storms lately.)

Anyway, just this week I found out that during the gas boom around here (in the 1800s) Belgians came to our area to be glass blowers. There is a section in the local cemetery dedicated to them! Their glass blowing efforts are a big collector item, I guess. I knew about the gas boom, the buttons made from all the mussels in our Mississinewa River, the Miami Native Americans, and a multitude of other stuff, but it wasn't until I heard about the Belgians buried in the cemetery here that I found out about them.

Yes, I'd say visiting the local cemeteries is a good place to find out things.