Visiting the Dead

Cemetery in Lyons France
Cemetière de Loyasse, Lyons France

Destination: Cemeteries

Books: Ghosts in the Cemetery and Ghosts in the Cemetery II by Stuart Schneider

FYI: This book was published by Schiffer, the publisher of Quincy Tahoma: The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist, which I wrote with Charnell Havens. They gave me a copy for review.

I stop along country roads so that I can visit the dead.  The longer they have been dead the better.  That sounds rather irreverant? But the choice of burial markers and inscriptions hint at stories of whole lives–even regions.  I cannot resist seeing the ghosts of former lives revealed in a cemetery, even while I feel a bit creepy about it.

Cemeteries can be gardens, or woods–peaceful places for contemplation.  They can be displays of wonderful carving by unknown sculptors–stonemasons who in former days might have been building cathedrals. The writing on the stones can be terse or poetic. The size of a monument can say “modest”, “died broke”, or can arrogantly proclaim “I was rich and important.”

Ghosts in the Cemetery and Ghosts in the Cemetery II (and his soon to be released book III) take the “ghosts of former lives” phrase I used in the first paragraph much more literally than I do with my tombstone tromping.  Schneider and “Rebecca Benjamin,” who is listed as the photographer in the first book*, do not just photograph the stones and trees and mounds of earth, they photograph the ectoplasm–the wispy remains–the ghosts.

As Stuart Schneider‘s web site says:

Old cemeteries are like outdoor museums or stone gardens. They have character.  The headstones and mausoleums are all that remain of the stontmason’s art and nature has weathered the stones, adding moss, age, and patina.

Schneider, who has eclectic interests, has written or– excuse the expression– ghost written dozens of books. One of his subjects is Halloween, and these two Ghost books fit right in to Halloween thoughts.  He takes the photographs for these books, and wisely is not telling HOW he takes them, beyond the fact they are taken with a digital camera. That is key, because official ghost busters only accept film photos where they can examine the negative as well as the print.  He says he has no interest in convincing skeptics. Fair enough. That might be a full time job in an age when we can no longer trust digital photographic evidence.

Besides, it does not matter to your enjoyment of the book whether you are skeptic or believer. The photographs are beautiful in themselves, like this evocative shot taken in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, in the area made famous by Washington Irving with his spooky stories.

Ghosts in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
Ghosts in Sleepy Hollow Cemetery

Not only are the photos lovely to look at, but Schneider’s research has turned up delightful stories to go along with each place he photographs.

If you want to use these books as a kind of travel guide to cemeteries worth seeing, the first book features the northeastern United States and one place  in Quebec. Book II, subtitled Farther Afield, also features many in the eastern United States, but wanders to Arizona for the mining town of Jerome and the San Xavier Mission Cemetery in Tucson. Without any particular logic, the book visits one foreign country, going to the Pere Lechaise in Paris and to Lyon, France.  Pictures from that one at top of page and here…

A little ghost in the Lyons Cemetery
A little ghost visible in the Lyons cemetery.

*Rebecca and Benjamin are Schneider’s two children–so Rebecca Benjamin is, in effect, an ectoplasm herself. The author/photographer invented “her” for his first book because he was afraid that he would anger people who bought his other books, particularly ghost hunters. Since he got acceptance, he “lost” Rebecca in subsequent books.

All photos here are the copyrighted property of Stuart Schneider. You can see more of his ghost photographs at the Schneider web site.

Your turn. Do you visit cemeteries? Any to recommend? Every photographed a ghost?

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About Vera Marie Badertscher

A freelance writer who loves to travel. When she is not traveling she is reading about travel. When she is not reading or traveling, she is sharing with the readers of A Traveler's Library, or recreating her family's past at Ancestors In Aprons . She has written for Reel Life With Jane, Life is a Trip and other websites. Also co-author of a biography, Quincy Tahoma, The Life and Legacy of a Navajo Artist. Contact Vera Marie by e-mail.

5 thoughts on “Visiting the Dead

  1. A funny coincidence – three of the houses/apartments I’ve lived in over the years have been neighbors to cemeteries. One had a family of adorable groundhogs, but I’ve never seen a ghost in any of them. (The haunted dorm I lived in for 2 years in college… that’s another story!)

  2. have you seen the episode of the television show Who Do You Think You Are in which Lionel Ritchie finds the cemetery where one of his ancestors is buried? I believe the show is still available on the nbc website, if you’ve not seen it. based on what you’ve said I think you would find it interesting.

    I do not enjoy visiting cemeteries, though I have been to a number of them.

  3. Interesting. I have explored some of London’s cemeteries, but never have seen a ghost. Thanks for sharing! -r

  4. What fascinating books. Hmmmm….as you said the photograph is beautiful whether it can be proven to be completely accurate. As for cemeteries – I have always found them fascinating – especially the older ones. I love looking at the grave markers- reading what they say- and then imagining what the person was like who was buried there….at one time I was planning to write a book based on an old cemetery here in Singapore (near Fort Canning)- …a fictional piece based on the ‘research’ I did at the cemetery :)…aah, but I never got around to it!

  5. I visit cemeteries wherever I go; they always communicate a deep sense of the human struggles that have gone on there. Favorites are in Downieville, California, a tiny gold rush town, and in Edinburgh Scotland down in Princess Park.

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