Call me grim, but I love graveyards. I love exploring them, reading tombstones, and sometimes I’ll picnic in them (if there’s a good tree around you can be sure to find me tangled in its branches). I treat them like parks – I enjoy their beauty, I respect them and I surely keep them clean. My favorite types of graveyards to visit are ones with lots of character and even more history. I’ve made it a point to check out graveyards in every country I’ve visited so far, but three tend to stand out because of their fancy artwork, hilarious legends and wildly extravagant tombs.
Greyfriars Kirk: Edinburgh, Scotland
Fun fact about graveyards in Scotland: they are the second most popular place for public sex! And Greyfriars Kirk is no exception. During my visit I didn’t see anyone doing the naughty stuff, but I did see the cutest couple doing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” dance amongst the grave sites. Greyfriars Kirk is one of the most historic graveyards in Scotland for several reasons:
- Before the Anatomy Act of 1832, there was no legal way to obtain a corpse for medical study. Therefore, grave robbing during the 1800’s became a very lucrative business… but even better if the bodies were fresh. Because of the lack of suitable embalming techniques, scientists would pay a hefty price to obtain a fresh corpse. That’s where Brendan Burke and William Hare come in. Two lazy grave robbers who thought exhuming recently deceased individuals was too much hard work. They found that it was much easier to get a
person drunk and suffocate them instead – a murder technique that would later be called “Burking” and brought forth the London Burkers, imitators of the Scottish duo. This led to the invention of the “Mort-Safe”, a cage that was placed over the grave, preventing anyone from stealing a body in the name of science.
- Urban legend has it that it is home to the world’s most active poltergeist at Mackenzie’s tomb.
- It is home to “Greyfriars Bobby“. The cute tale that Disney recycled time and time again about a cute pup who was so loyal to his master, the groundskeeper, that when his master passed, Bobby stayed by his grave. What an adorable story of a man’s best friend.
- Greyfriars Kirk is just below the Elephant House Cafe, the place where J. K. Rowling wrote the first two Harry Potter books. When you sit in her seat overlooking the graveyard, you can see the view that inspired her to write such an imaginative tale.
Ohlsdorf Friedhof in Hamburg, Germany is the world’s largest graveyard park. In fact, it’s so large that it has it’s own public transportation system complete with 2 bus lines and 25 stops. It’s 966 acre, has 1.8 million people buried there, 12 chapels and 11 miles worth of streets. The entire park is pristine as it is a German tradition for gardeners to tend to a person’s grave for the rest of eternity, transforming each plot into a miniature garden for future generations to enjoy.
Many of Germany’s late greats are buried here – celebrities, politicians and the extremely wealthy have some of the most extravagant tombstones, colosseums and statues marking their final resting place. The average joe can grab a plot here too, but they have to pay a hefty price. Some even begin making payments while they are alive to reserve they place at Ohlsdorf Friedhof.
Old Burying Point (Charter Street Cemetery): Salem, Massachusetts
I do enjoy hunting through Puritan headstones. It’s like a scavenger hunt! How many cherubs, weeping willows and Death’s heads can you find!? Old Burying Point in Salem, Massachusetts is known for being America’s second oldest graveyard. It is also the resting place of famous residents of the time of the Salem Witch Trials including the trial’s judges Jonathan Corwin and John Hawthorne. Sadly, victims of the trials are not buried here, but there is a memorial beside the graveyard.
This might be a small graveyard but it has large trees which are fun to climb. Take that and add in some history, American heritage and New England culture and you have a fun place for a picnic!