If you have ever visited a cemetery, you might notice that items are often left on display by headstones. I’ve seen flowers, wreaths, poppies, crucifixes, stuffed animals, toys, framed photos, food, stones (common in Jewish cemeteries that I’ve visited near and far), notes/letters and candles just to name a few. These are usually left to show enduring love and to continue the connection.
I’ve had the opportunity to visit some famous people’s grave sites and as a death doula, I can understand that people still wish to feel that connection. One way to continue this connection with the deceased is to leave gifts that express the individuality of the famous people.
This type of activity is a form of thanotourism, something that I practice when I travel, and I am not the only one. “Visiting cemeteries on vacation helps me understand what the surrounding community values; it makes me feel more connected to people, to the past, and to life itself," says Loren Rhoads, also the author of Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel. “Search Facebook, and hundreds of cemetery-centric groups or pages pop up. The nonprofit Association for Gravestone Studies has 11 chapters in the U.S., and gravers, who record and photograph headstones, are a growing subculture. The most haunting cemeteries, however, have an appeal that extends well into the mainstream. (Paris's Père Lachaise cemetery, for instance, attracts more than 1.5 million annually.) They lure visitors with a combination of natural beauty, ornate tombstones and crypts, notable residents, vivid history, and even wildlife.
My daughter and I took a two-week trip to Paris, France and London, England over one Christmas holiday. We had a chance to see Buckingham Palace from the outside, not inside, as well as Green Park. If I ever go back to London, I’ll want to stop to visit the floral tribute garden, but I won’t leave a marmalade sandwich, as had been the touching tributes left by many mourners. No doubt this brief custom arose due to her late majesty’s and Paddington Bear’s televised Platinum Jubilee video where they shared tea.
Neither my daughter nor I are fans of Roald Dahl, despite seeing Matilda on Broadway. Unlike us, those who are devotees leave onions at his gravesite, in Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire, England, as it was his favourite vegetable. Due to his infamy as a children’s book author, other common items left at his gravesite by devoted fans are toys and peaches.
Another author, Douglas Adam, of ‘The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy’ fame, also has a gravesite in London at Highgate Cemetery. Devotees of his literary works add to the growing container of blue ball point pens. It is quite the site to see.
In Paris, we were fortunate enough to visit the resting place of a few famous people at Père Lachaise Cemetery. For Victor Noir, a French journalist we both resisted the “custom” of giving his sculpted figure a kiss and his private parts a rub. Doing so, according to folklore is supposed to improve your fertility.
At the same cemetery is author Oscar Wilde’s gravesite which is covered in lipstick kisses. Since a glass barrier is erected to prevent further damage, it was easy for both of us to resist in partaking in this custom.
Finally, at the same cemetery is the gravesite of Jim Morrison, famous as a singer for The Doors. His gravesite is now fenced in, but features common things such as candles, flowers, photos, notes, wristbands and chewing gum. Before being fenced in, it was common to find empty alcohol bottles, joints, and cigarettes around his gravesite.
I lived in Ontario for several decades before moving back to Nova Scotia (just before the COVID pandemic-related restrictions were enforced). My daughter and I often visited the New York area as it was a short flight from Toronto to spend a weekend watching Broadway shows. We would often take the double decker “hop on hop off” bus to explore the neighbouring areas. One time, while exploring the Queens area, we stopped at the Machpelah Cemetery to see Harry Houdini’s grave. Decks of individual playing cards are often left by adoring fans.
I suppose in some way, that going to Hollywood’s Walk of Fame, which I have also done with my daughter, is also a common variation of thanotourism, albeit some of those stars are still alive. When visiting Los Angeles, California, she enjoyed finding her favourite actors and actresses and being photographed beside their sidewalk stars.
In conclusion, graveside rituals are just one way to foster your connection with a loved one or a celebrity. Perhaps this blog has inspired you, on your next trip, to check out the local final resting spot of a celebrity yourself. Such beautiful burial sites may be the final destination for the deceased, but for those of us still traveling, they can be decidedly uplifting.
https://www.msn.com/Strange things people leave at the graves of famous figures
https://www.ranker.com/ Unusual Things People Leave At The Graves Of 16 Historical Figures - And Why, by Melissa Sartore, Updated September 19, 2022
https://www.mentalfloss.com/ 10 Graveside Traditions at Famous Tombs, By Bess, Lovejoy, Mar 19, 2019
https://www.grunge.com/ GRAVESIDE RITUALS AT FAMOUS BURIAL SPOTS EXPLAINED