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Tombstone Tourist

The term “Tombstone tourist” (or taphophile) describes an individual who has a passion for and enjoyment of cemeteries, epitaphs, gravestone rubbing, photography, art, and history of (famous) deaths. The term has been most notably used by author and biographer Scott Stanton as the title of his former website and book, The Tombstone Tourist: Musicians (2003), about the lives and gravesites of famous musicians.

Tombstones themselves are artwork from days gone by and were carefully created and designed to mark the places of the departed. Even in present-day, old-world craftsmanship is reflected in marble, bronze, granite, and sandstone being among many of the materials used for markers.

The earliest grave markers are believed to date back to 3000 B.C. in the Roman and Celtic cultures. Slate was the first widely used material for headstones from around the mid 1600’s to about 1900. The most obvious reason that headstones and sometimes literally piles of stones were used was due to the belief that this formed a spiritual barrier, preventing the deceased individual from rising after death and wandering again among the living. There were all kinds of theories about the placements and orientation of the deceased along with preferences about what times of day were most appropriate for preparing a freshly dug grave.

Taphophiles enjoy visiting cemeteries for many reasons. Perhaps it starts with the wrought iron gates or fences that protect these cemeteries. Once inside, perhaps we are drawn to the unique photography experiences. For example, there may be lichen covered tombstones or statues or other architectural components. Perhaps there are headstones with strange markers. We can enjoy life while walking among the dead—exactly what cemetery planners two centuries ago had hoped for.

Once we start reading the headstones/tombstones we may become hooked. After all, you can tell a lot about a person from their tombstone. Questions often pop into our minds, leaving us with a mystery to solve. What inscription did their loved ones choose to carve in stone in remembrance of them? Do they have a simple rectangle of marble or an elaborately chiseled angel? Are there flowers, and do they look fresh? Did they have a family, children, parents, spouse? Were they in the service, an explorer an artist, a poet? Were they someone of status or wealth? Were they a part of the gold rush or the witch hunt?

In conclusion, cemeteries are a place of loved ones now gone. No two cemeteries are the same. Each is unique to the area and time. Each cemetery tells a story of a time, of a place and the people who lived and died there. There are cemeteries of faith and service, of wealth and poverty. There are ones above ground and mausoleums. By being a taphophile, I’m recognizing these people existed. I hope, one day, someone will do the same for me. I’m considering being a volunteer for a cemetery clean up to help beautify and preserve an important part of my local history for generations to come.

sources Cemeteries are peaceful, open spaces – they can be for the living too by Katherine Feeney, Sat 25 Jun 2022 Why I love graveyards: peaceful spots for quiet contemplation by Sarah Biddlecombe

• www. “10 tips for researching historic cemeteries and burial grounds” by Sarah Heffern Why do you like cemeteries are you a taphophile? Posted by Diane Kaylyn Neldon Brians on October 21, 2018’s Most Beautiful Cemeteries A visit to these hauntingly beautiful cemeteries illuminates more than just mortality by Lanee Lee, Travel + Leisure, October 22, 2014 “Cemeteries peaceful resting places or competitive interactive arenas” September 9 2014, by Kate Meyers Emery

• Stressed out? Try walking in a cemetery by Laurel Miller on Sep 18, 2012 5 cemeteries to revitalize your southern gothic By RODNEY CARMICHAEL Friday May 1, 2015 Cemeteries are peaceful, open spaces – they can be for the living too by Katherine Feeney, Sat 25 Jun 2022

• www. “10 tips for researching historic cemeteries and burial grounds” by Sarah Heffern

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