5 Famous Cemeteries Worth Seeing before You Die
Spooky yet surprisingly beautiful
With Halloween once again fast approaching it seemed like a good time to talk about famous cemeteries. Here are a few I have seen along my travels.
French Emperor Napoleon established Pere Lachaise cemetery in 1804. He regarded it as a burial ground for all people regardless of race or religion. Today the grounds are still inclusive of Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. There is a waiting list, however. People are just dying to get in there…
Far from spooky, the cemetery is a beautiful sanctuary of vast, ornate tombs and vaults that could serve as a studio apartment. When the sun is shining it casts a dreamy light onto the elaborate gravestones that are interspersed with carefully maintained trees and foliage. As the world’s first “garden cemetery” the design was based on traditional English gardens. Lovers of design and architecture appreciate the striking sculptures, graves, monuments, and mausoleums.
When they say “rest in peace” they aren’t kidding there. Roaming the immaculately kept grounds there is an almost overwhelming feeling of serenity. Some of the greatest artists and minds of all time are buried there. When visiting the tombs of Frederic Chopin, Oscar Wilde and (of course) Jim Morrison, it is easy to see why they were given this as their final resting place.
Another cemetery not to miss while in France is Normandy. The mood is quite somber compared to Pere Lachaise which seems more fitting given the reason for its existence.
Almost 130,000 soldiers, both Allied and German, lost their lives in Normandy in 1944. Now it is home to twenty-seven military cemeteries, each designated by a specific nationality. The American cemetery, which overlooks Omaha beach at Colleville sur Mer, is one of the most visited in Normandy. It is composed of perfect rows of white crosses and Jewish stars. Their sharp contrast with the green, perfectly mown, lawns and deep blue sea below inspire awe and offer an idyllic space for reflection and to pay homage to the veterans who gave their lives for our democracy.
Like Pere Lachaise, Highgate contains some impressive vaults and tombs. Unlike its Parisian influence, it is decidedly not as well manicured. The mature trees with exposed roots force many of the headstones askew adding character as well as shade. The shrubbery and wildflowers provide a haven for birds and small animals, including this little black cat we found roaming the gravestones.
This is the final resting place of a Gen X favorite, George Michael, as well as Karl Marx. Highgate Cemetery holds over 170,000 people in 53,000 graves. Just don’t visit them after dark. Highgate Cemetery is said to be haunted by spirits who won’t be singing Wham songs.
Living in Los Angeles I drove by this cemetery a million times. I finally visited for the first time when attending a funeral for a friend in 2008. Since then I’ve visited a couple of times for the annual Day of the Dead festival and an outdoor movie on the lawn.
Founded in 1899, the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Sites exactly one century later. With a backdrop of bright blue skies and palm trees, it contains many mausoleums and elaborate rooms filled with stained-glass windows and vaulted ceilings. It is one of the few cemeteries in America that does not ban monuments atop the graves and it prides itself on welcoming all people of all tradition, faith or culture.
Many of Hollywood’s founders and luminaries consider Hollywood Forever the cemetery of choice. Visitors come from all over the world to pay respects to some of their favorites stars. Among the famous departed laid to rest there are Judy Garland, Bugsy Siegel, Dee Dee Ramone, Chris Cornell and hundreds of others. Rather than a mourning of death, the atmosphere there is one of a celebration of life.
Lafayette Cemetery No. 1
Lafayette is among the famous cemeteries and the site of many popular films. Its rows of large above-ground tombs, sometimes referred to as “cities of the dead” provide the perfect spooky backdrop. Some of the movies include Interview with a Vampire, Dracula 2000 and Double Jeopardy. Anne Rice’s The Witching Hour features the cemeteries tomb for the Mayfair Witches.
Nestled in the heart of the Garden District, this city-operated cemetery is the oldest of its kind in New Orleans. Still a fully functioning cemetery today, Lafeyette’s older crypts with their gentle decay tell the tales of the city’s past. Its opulent grounds appeal to those with truly extravagant and flamboyant tastes. In fact, author Anne Rice staged her own funeral there in 1995. The procession included the traditional horse-drawn hearse and a brass band to play dirges.