Monday, September 26, 2016

Ghosts in a Cemetery

The idea of a haunted cemetery is a cliche.

Cemeteries, by mere concept, are scary places for people who fear running into someone who is dead but somehow still popping up for a visit. (I am excluding zombies and vampires from this, by the way. I don't generally use the term "un-dead" when talking or writing about ghosts, simply because zombies and vampires are still walking around in their own dead bodies, and that's something quite different from the manifestation of a dead person's spirit.) If you are someone who believes that a person--or at least some aspect of a person--survives physical death, then a cemetery could indeed be a scary place. Especially if it's old, or has a lot of mausoleums, or - biggest cliche of all- has tombstones that are tilting or fallen over.

I also associate cemeteries with scary things and I have used them in my own work. Bridgeton Park Cemetery, which is based on a real cemetery or two close to where I live, has been popping up in my work since I wrote Dead of Summer years and years ago. My short story, Hunting Spirits (soon to be made available again!) begins in a cemetery. When I told my webmaster that I wanted my website and matching business cards to be "eerie", he immediately went with a cemetery-based theme.

When I was a little kid, there was a cemetery some miles north of my house that we would pass when we were bringing my non-driving uncle back to his residence after dinner with my family. I was (and still am) a sucker for a car ride, so I usually went along. And when we passed that cemetery, I would squeeze my eyes shut and not look until we were safely past it. I found out years later that the cemetery was actually the site of one of Chicago's most historical hauntings, but I didn't know that when I was a kid. I just thought the place was creepy.

Yet, as I have spent more time researching-, talking and writing about-, meeting people who see-, and collecting-, experiences about ghosts, the more I think that no ghost in his or her right mind would bother haunting a cemetery. The places keep regular hours and close at 5 pm, or 7 pm, or at dark, and a lot of them have locking gates. Why would a ghost hang around someplace where no one was ever going to see him? What would be the point? Better to turn up in someone's mirror at home, or in someone's basement, or even someone's car, don't you think? At least there would be some sort of reaction to that type of a visit.

Fall is approaching and if I turn my head to look out the window, I see the tree branches bending and swaying with a fairly brisk breeze, scattering already-browned leaves all over the grass and turning their branches into the bony, skeletal arms I will see until spring returns long months from now. I've read many times over that fall is when the "veil between two worlds" is the thinnest, when those denizens of the afterlife can more easily cross between their domain and ours. Halloween is a celebration of that. And I'm seeing ads already for holiday decor: witches, black cats, tombstones, and ghosts. These are the days, the times, when my stories make the most sense to me; the days and long nights filled with more than just darkness and autumn moons.  

And although I know that the ghost tour I'm going on at the end of October will more than likely include a cemetery, I think the scariest stuff I'll run into will not include any cemeteries. Meeting a ghost in one's own bedroom is a lot scarier, don't you think?


  1. You aren't by any chance talking about driving past Rosehill, are you? And did you know most of Lincoln Park used to be a cemetery?

  2. Yes, I did know about Lincoln Park, to tell you the truth. I also know there are still a few gravestones there. Not sure where they are (although I have an idea)but I feel like I've run into one or two of them.

    You know, I don't know the name of the cemetery. It's the one on Sheridan Road (after it's stopped being Lake Shore Drive) just north of Rogers Park, or maybe right on the border of Rogers Park and Evanston. It's right across the street from Lake Michigan, and it's where your dad had his sighting of an historical Chicago ghost.