Cemetery Recipes: Mom’s Christmas Cookies

Christmas time is almost here! For me, Christmas is synonymous with holiday baking! What better time of year to warm the house with the sweet smell of cookies in the oven? So, I thought it’s the perfect time to try out another tombstone recipe. I have been saving this one specifically for this time of year—Mom’s Christmas Cookies. 

This cookie recipe can be found on the backside of a beautiful, large black marble tombstone. This is the gravestone of Maxine Menster.1 It can be found in Cascade Cemetery, in Cascade Iowa. The front of the stone has a beautiful sand-blasted winter scene, of a lovely detached house surrounded by forest. You can view the front of the stone on Maxine’s memorial page on Find A Grave.

Maxine’s family wanted to do something special to remember their mother and chose the sweetest way—with the family sugar cookie recipe. Jane Menster, Maxine’s daughter has said that when they were trying to think of something specific to her mother to put on her stone, “It was her cookies.”2 

Maxine passed away in 1994, so this recipe has marked her grave for decades. According to Atlas Obscura, this recipe was part of a long-standing family tradition, where they would bake this cookie recipe on Christmas Eve, then hang the sugar cookies on the Christmas tree. They would be an early morning treat on Christmas Day.3

Here’s the recipe:

Mom’s Christmas Cookies

Cream:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup oleo

Add:

  • 2 beaten eggs
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Add:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 tsp. salt

Add alternately with 1 cup cream.

Chill and roll out with flour.

Bake 350 degrees oven, and frost.

Most tombstone recipes use short form when it comes to the instructions. Instead of turning to Google, I thought I would ask my Mom. We went through the recipe together and talked about each step, and how long to chill the dough. My mom is an avid baker, especially at this time of year. We had a nice chat about baking instructions and tombstone recipes in general. I have yet to find a Canadian one. 

I was also surprised to find out that my mom was familiar with the tradition of baking cookies to put on the tree for Christmas morning. It’s not something we ever did when I was growing up. We also had dogs. She recounted a story about putting candy canes in the tree one year and coming home one day to find the tree on the floor. My dog Shadow had gotten a little too excited about finding candy in the tree. No foodstuffs ever went into our tree after that. 

After our chat, I got to baking cookies! This recipe is very straightforward. There is one ingredient that some people might question, the 1/2 cup of oleo. What is oleo? Turns out that it is just an older term for margarine. Mixing everything was a breeze and didn’t take that long at all. The biggest question I had about the recipe was how long to chill the dough. My Mom had suggested an hour. After an hour in the fridge, I got to work on cutting out the shapes. 

I am not a traditional Christmas person and don’t actually own any Christmas cookie cutters. I choose to go with a skull, tombstone, and bat for my shapes. I also didn’t have any frosting on hand, so instead, I opted to use sprinkles. My usual go-to for baking is cupcakes, so I have a lot of sprinkles on hand—just not Christmas ones. So I used black sanding sugar, red and black nonpareils, black bats, and purple, red and black sprinkles. 

I left the cookies in the oven for about 10-14 minutes and ended up baking 4 trays of cookies. This recipe makes a pretty big batch.

They turned out delicious! I think this will be my go-to sugar cookie recipe moving forward. They are very easy to make and so tasty, especially right out of the oven. I ate way more of them off the cookie sheet than I should have, but I just couldn’t resist. I also really enjoyed making this recipe because it prompted some good conversations with my Mom. Usually, when I make tombstone recipes, I talk out loud to the deceased, talking through the recipe. This time around it made more sense to talk about Mom’s Christmas cookies with my own Mom.

Thank you, Maxine, and the Menster family for sharing this delicious recipe with the world!

Have you made this recipe before? Or do you have a go-to Christmas cookie recipe? I would love to hear about it in the comments. 

Thanks for reading!


References:

  1. Maxine Kathleen Poppe Menster | Find a Grave
  2. Family cookie recipe stands the test of time | The Gazette
  3. The Menster Christmas Cookie Gravestone | Atlas Obscura

A Gift Guide for Taphophiles

It’s almost Christmas time, and the hustle and bustle of Christmas dinners and get-togethers are right around the corner. I love finding unique and meaningful gifts for my loved ones. It’s a great feeling to see someone close to you, open up a unique gift that you know they are going to love! These types of gifts also don’t need to cost a fortune, and supporting a small business is always a bonus. I have been eyeing a few fun and interesting cemetery-related items online myself. Unfortunately, I don’t have any taphophiles in my family to buy for, but I thought maybe some of you might.

So this year, I thought I would try my hand at writing a little gift guide for those looking for some inspiration for your cemetery loving friends and family, or maybe your own Christmas wish list.

Below is my round-up of some unique, beautiful and practical cemetery-related items that I think any taphophile would love!

Cemetery Photography by Chantal Larochelle is not affiliated with these brands and artists. I do not receive any proceeds from sales. Just sharing products I love!

A Tomb With a View – The Stories & Glories of Graveyards | Indigo Books

If your taphophile friends and family like to read, you can’t go wrong with a cemetery book. I’ve heard excellent things about Peter Ross’ new book, and hope to pick myself up a copy if I don’t get one for Christmas. “A book for anyone who has ever wandered through a field of crooked headstones and wondered about the lives and deaths of those who lie beneath.” – Indigo.ca

Cooking with the Dead: A zine of Tombstone Recipes | Etsy

A unique full-color illustrated zine by Reading Reliquary. This 20-page booklet features recipes found on tombstones from “Alaska to Israel”. There are a bunch of other spooky-cute items available in their Etsy shop, such as stickers, bookmarks, and another zine about the language of floral symbolism on tombstones. Unfortunately, some items don’t ship to Canada.

Custom Graveyard Garden Stakes | Etsy

Cursed by Design offers a set of 6, 3D printed garden stakes. You can customize them with any of the 40 available herb names, or you can personalize them with your own names. They would be perfect for a taphophiles herb garden!

Death’s Garden Revisited: Personal Relationships with Cemeteries | Blurb 

This new book of essays, edited by Loren Rhoads, illuminates the reason why people visit cemeteries. This collection features 40 personal essays, written by cemetery tourists, genealogists, geocachers, anthropologists, and more. A great addition to any taphophiles library.

Deaths Head Enamel Pin | Etsy

This gorgeous 1.5” soft enamel Deaths Head pin, by Verona Black, would look striking on a jacket, camera bag, or anywhere really. It also has some interesting symbolism behind it. A Deaths Head or Skull effigy is a form of Momento Mori, a reminder of your mortality.

Gravestone Casting Wall Art | The Gravestone Girls

Their online store is filled with beautiful castings of old New England gravestones. Their pieces range from small magnets to large castings. They all feature unique gravestone symbolism. The Gravestone Girls, who are fellow taphophiles, have over 30 years of experience working in old cemeteries. So you can be certain that these beautiful gravestone castings have been made with every precaution taken to not harm the gravestones. 

Gravestone Symbols T-Shirt | The Order of the Good Death Store

This unisex t-shirt features some beautiful gravestone symbolism, illustrated by Meagan Meli. The symbols are also accompanied by their meanings. Perfect for those who would rather be visiting a cemetery. I know I would personally try to find all the symbols on it if I ever wore this while visiting a historic cemetery.

Gravestone Types Classic T-Shirt | Red Bubble

I feel like t-shirts are always a safe bet, especially if they have some cool graphics. This t-shirt by Shaded Grove Art on Red Bubble features a bold, but simple design that lists different types of gravestones. It’s a little bit classic, and a little bit nerdy, a great combination.

I Brake For Cemeteries Bumper Sticker | TalkDeath

Does your vehicle brake for cemeteries? This is a fun novelty accessory, but I can see how this would come in handy on cemetery road trips. Other drivers should be warned! 

Natural Spectrolite Tombstone | Etsy

These beautiful miniature tombstones from WHCrystal are made from spectrolite minerals that flash beautifully in the sunlight. These would be a very unique addition to someone’s rock and mineral collection, or as a stand-alone piece. I just love the look of these little gravestones.

One-year membership to AGS | Association for Gravestone Studies

A one-year membership to AGS is a gift that keeps on giving! Members receive some great benefits throughout the year, like The AGS Quarterly, filled with cemetery and gravestone-related articles. They also receive the monthly e-newsletter that features special announcements, news articles, and event information. Membership also includes the next published issue of Markers, their annual journal full of definitive cemetery and gravestone articles. You also get member pricing for the AGS Annual Conference, that’s also known as Cemetery Camp.

Pocket Cemetery – Cemetery illustrations | Etsy

Landis Blair is an amazing illustrator and is offering pre-orders of this beautiful Pocket Cemetery booklet. “A convenient reminder of your pending mortality.” This 24-page booklet contains 21 black & white illustrations of a variety of cemeteries and is estimated to ship by the end of November. They also offer prints and stickers in their Etsy shop.

Tombstone Zip Hoodie | Find a Grave

Did you know that Find a Grave has an online store? My favorite item in their shop is this grey zip-up hoodie, perfect to keep you warm while you wander cemeteries and fulfill photo requests. 

There you have it, 13 gift ideas for the taphophiles in your life.

Thanks for reading! 

Cemetery Book Review: The American Resting Place

It’s been a little while since I shared a book review on the blog. I have some catching up to do on my reading. There are a lot of cemetery-related books in my to-be-read pile! Now that October has come to an end, I should have a bit more time to read through them. There are quite a few I am really looking forward to getting into. 

I did manage to get some reading in last month, so today I wanted to talk about The American Resting Place, by Marilyn Yalom, with photography by Reid S. Yalom. “Four hundred years of history through our cemeteries and burial grounds.” This book, published in 2008, by Houghton Mifflin Company, boasts 64 pages of beautiful black and white cemetery photographs and traces a path across America, looking closely at the ever-changing ideologies on death, burial practices, and history.

Here is the book synopsis from Goodreads

“Cemeteries and burial grounds, as illuminated by an acclaimed cultural historian, are unique windows onto our religious, ethnic, and deeply human history as Americans.

The dedicated mother-son team of Marilyn and Reid Yalom visited hundreds of cemeteries to create The American Resting Place, following a coast-to-coast trajectory that mirrors the vast historical pattern of American migration.

Yalom’s incisive, often poignant exploration of gravestone inscriptions reveals changing ideas about death and personal identity and demonstrates how class and gender play out in stone. Rich particulars include the story of one seventeenth-century Bostonian who amassed a thousand pairs of gloves in his funeral-going lifetime, the unique burial rites and funerary symbols found in today’s Native American cultures, and a “lost” Czech community brought uncannily to life in Chicago’s Bohemian National Columbarium.

From fascinating past to startling future–DVDs embedded in tombstones, “green” burials, and “the new aesthetic of death”–The American Resting Place is the definitive history of the American cemetery.”

The first 64 pages of the hardcover version of The American Resting Place consist of glossy black-and-white photos. They range from lovely landscapes to detailed close-ups. It’s a feast for the eyes before you even get into the meat of the book. The book chapters are broken down into geographical locations, but there are also a couple of chapters on the history and evolution of death and burial practices. Because the photos are presented at the front of the book, it requires some flipping back and forth to reference them when they are mentioned in the text. That would be my only negative critique of the book. 

Otherwise, Marilyn and her son Reid take the reader on a very well-researched and informative trip across the state, taking us along with them on their journey, as they explore funerary art and burial practices. I was a little afraid when I started reading this book that it would be incredibly dry and academic, but the information is presented in a tone that is relatable and keeps you interested. I would love to see something similar written about Canadian cemeteries and burial grounds. 

This would be a great read for anyone looking for information specifically on American burial rites and practices. It is very fascinating stuff, so I think any taphophile would love this book for their bookshelf. The copy of The American Resting Place I found was a previously loved library book. I am a bit sad it was retired and will no longer be discovered by curious readers, but I am very happy to have it now in my collection. I hope there are many more copies of it out there, in other libraries that are piquing the interest of budding taphophiles.

As usual, I am always on the hunt for cemetery-related book recommendations. Please feel free to share in the comments. If you are an author and have a cemetery-related book you would like me to review, please reach out at hello@chantallarochelle.ca. I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!

Celebrating the last weekend of October

October is coming to an end. This post-pandemic Halloween season has felt a bit more normal because of all the fun spooky activities happening. It’s been a whirlwind of a month for me, between pumpkin patch activities, a haunted holiday, watching way too many horror films, and visiting cemeteries. I even put up my own little front lawn cemetery for the trick-or-treaters on Halloween night. 

This year, I was able to visit some cemeteries a little farther away from me, in Cobalt, Haileybury, Huntsville, and Penetanguishene. I am looking forward to sharing more about those visits in upcoming posts. You can read about my visit to the Beck House and the Presbyterian Cemetery here.

I also had a chance to participate in this year’s Cemetery Scavenger hunt, put on by TalkDeath. I wrote a bit about TalkDeath and their annual event last week. You can read it here, in case you missed it. This cemetery scavenger hunt takes place globally, so you can participate from anywhere. All you have to do is visit a local cemetery. In some areas, you can participate with TalkDeath members in person. This year there were members at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal, and General Protestant Cemetery in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

My mother and I joined in from Park Lawn Cemetery in Sudbury, Ontario. It was so much fun! Although we were the only ones in the cemetery searching for clues, it was still a nice way to spend some time on a Sunday afternoon. Park Lawn Cemetery is not the oldest cemetery in the city, as it was established in 1924. But it is a large one, which I thought would be an advantage to searching for clues. I may have been half right. We started strong, finding a few clues pretty quickly, but we started getting stumped. We fanned out and as I searched I fell into my normal cemetery photography mode, which is a little bit slower-paced. I did eventually manage to find 12 of the 20 clues, but it was way too late to place in the top 5. I think the fastest time may have been 12 minutes!

I was no where close to that time, but that’s ok! It was a great opportunity to get outside, enjoy one of the last beautiful weekends of October, visit a cemetery and spend some time with my mother. We spent about an hour in the cemetery. After I submitted my photos, we wandered around a little bit, enjoying the weather and looking at the beautiful stones. We also found some interesting epitaphs that I think will require some research, later on, to learn their story.

I think this years Scavenger Hunt was a success! I can’t wait to participate again next year! It was a really fun way to close the cemetery season for me. 

If you are not aware, November usually brings with it some pretty cold weather here in Northern Ontario, and that means lots of snow. I’m not fond of winter, so I tend to stay indoors during the colder months. That means my cemetery visits are pretty much done for this year.

That doesn’t mean that you will stop seeing content from me! 

In the colder months, I focus on editing the monstrous number of photos taken over the summer. I’ll be doing portfolio updates in the coming months, adding to what’s currently on the website. I’ll also be doing more work uploading memorials to Find a Grave, helping clean up their cemetery map information for Ontario, and transcribing photos. I’ll also be sharing more cemetery road trip stories from over the summer, and cemetery book reviews. I’ll also be taking some time to bake and share some more tombstone recipes. I don’t think I have made one since the spring!

That being said, I hope that you have had a wonderful October, were able to enjoy some fun activities throughout the month, and got to visit a cemetery or two! I would love to hear about your October adventures in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Halloween Cemetery Scavenger Hunt

Looking for something different to do this Halloween? 

This Sunday, October 30th, is the 2022 edition of the TalkDeath Halloween Cemetery Scavenger Hunt.

TalkDeath is a hub for a changing death-conscious public. They aim to bridge the gap between death professionals and the general public and help people make informed end-of-life decisions. This is the third annual Halloween Cemetery Scavenger Hunt. It seems to be getting bigger and better every year!

This years event starts Sunday afternoon, at 1 p.m. EST/10 a.m. PST, and you can join in from anywhere in the world.

To participate, all you have to do is visit your favorite local cemetery, the more historic the better, and follow along on TalkDeaths Instagram account for the clues! It promises to be a fun day of cemetery wandering as you explore the gravestones to match the clues, like symbols, names, and dates.

When you find your matching monuments, DM TalkDeath your findings. The first 3 people to DM their complete findings will win some beautiful prizes, like a 3D-printed skull planter, beautiful artwork, memorial pins, and more. 

Full event details, as well as rules and clues, will be rolled out on TalkDeaths’ social channels as we get closer to the event date. So check back often to stay up-to-date.

I missed out on this fun event last year, so I wanted to help spread the word about it this year. As long as the weather holds out, I will be participating from Park Lawn Cemetery to try and find all the clues. It’s a fairly large cemetery, and I haven’t visited it since 2011, so I thought now would be a good opportunity. I am planning on making an afternoon of it as my mother will be joining me as well. A scavenger hunt is a great opportunity to get some friends together for a fun outing and do something a little different for Halloween.

Have you done a cemetery scavenger hunt before? Will you be participating this year? I would love to hear about your experience in the comments!

Thanks for reading!

Haunted Cemetery Road Trip – The Beck House

Last weekend, my fiancé Chris and I spent the night at a haunted Airbnb. Since we’ve been engaged, it’s become an annual tradition to have a haunted holiday in October. Last year, we spent the night in room 105, the most haunted room at the Inn at the Falls in Bracebridge, Ontario. This year, we spent the night at the Beck House in Penetanguishene, Ontario.

The Beck House, built in 1885, is one of the oldest standing buildings in Simcoe County.1 It was built by Charles Beck, a wealthy lumber magnate, for his wife Emelia and their nine children. Charles, who also went by the name Carl, was mayor of the town from 1892 to 1895. In 1903, he was the first person to buy an automobile in the area.2 Sadly, two of his nine children died in the house, at a very young age. Emelia, their mother, also passed away young.3

Today the house has been converted into apartments for permanent residents, but two apartments on the top floor are available to rent through Airbnb. Many visitors to the Beck House have reported flickering lights, hearing footsteps, and unexplained knocking. Some have even heard disembodied voices, and have felt invisible hands tucking them in at night.

The house itself is just beautiful and is quite imposing as you come up the driveway toward it. The red brick, slate roof, and Queen Anne revival design give off elegant but spooky vibes.2 The house was decorated for Halloween when we arrived, which added to the spooky atmosphere, with pumpkins on the stairs, and ravens perched on the veranda railing. 

As you enter the house, you are greeted with large whiteboards that are covered in writing from visitors’ past. Here, people shared their experiences, thanked the hosts, or just marked that they were there. Some guests recommend what to keep watch for, like the doll in the green dress, or suggested other interesting places to visit in the area, like the Asylum Point Cemetery.

Walking up to our room, was like walking through time. The beautiful winding staircase, with its creaky steps and beautiful hardwood railing, almost seems to go up forever. Among a smattering of Halloween decor, were more historical pieces, like vintage dresses and a spindle wheel. Even more gorgeous antiques waited for us inside apartment 302.

The apartment is beautifully decorated with antique furniture and items. I especially loved the decor in the red room, with its gold cherub lamps, antique rocking horse, and a gorgeous dressing table complete with an antique mirror. There is also a little alcove in the living room area that is filled with vintage hats and hat boxes. All these little touches add so much to the space and the experience of staying there.

The Beck House, Apartment 302, Penetanguishene ON ©2022

We checked into our room at about 6 p.m., and after briefly exploring the space and dropping off our things we headed out for supper. We made mental notes of the position of the doll in the green dress, just in case. We had a lovely supper at Flynn’s Public House, downtown. The downtown core looks lovely, but we didn’t have much time to explore it. After supper, we visited Discovery Harbour to experience Pumpkinferno, a display of meticulously hand-carved jack-o-lanterns. It was magical! Walking among hundreds of lit jack-o-lanterns while Halloween-themed music plays is the epitome of Halloween. There were also some haunted attractions there to visit like Grim Reaper’s Grove, Macabre Mansion, and the Ghost Ship. They even had a little cemetery set up. After enjoying some hot chocolate, we headed back to the Beck House and apartment 302.

The doll in the green dress had not moved, and nothing seemed to be out of place. We settled in the living room to decompress from the days’ travels and adventures. In the dining room, there is a notebook filled with previous guests’ experiences, I read a few while we had some snacks. We decided to spend some time alone in each of the rooms, to see if a spirit may want to reach out. I took the red room, while Chris took the green room. I read with the light on, now and then peeking at the rocking horse to see if it was moving. Chris sat in the dark in the green room, with only the light from his phone as he scrolled on social media. He didn’t experience anything either. After a while, he joined me in the red room. We decided we would spend the night in the green room, as we could hear another tenant’s TV below us. Then we retired to bed. 

I don’t generally sleep well when we stay at haunted locations. I think it’s because I am afraid to miss out on seeing something supernatural happen. Eventually, I did fall asleep. Nothing peculiar happened, although. At one point during the night, Chris seemed to be having bad dreams. He was moving a lot in his sleep and even cried out. At exactly that moment I heard a creak in the floorboards. It sounded like it came from the doorway of the bedroom. We had gone to sleep with the door open. I didn’t see anything in the doorway. The rest of the night was uneventful.

In the morning, we packed our things and said goodbye to the Beck House, but we still needed to say goodbye to Carl and Emelia. After a nice big breakfast at Phil’s Casual Dining, we stopped in to visit the Presbyterian Cemetery. 

At the back of this pretty little cemetery is the Beck Mausoleum. It’s a rather imposing structure, flanked on either side by lovely white planters. The door is firmly locked, with a charming cast iron gate protecting it. I’m not certain of who rests within the mausoleum, but I would think that Charles, Emelia, and some their children, if not all, are laid to rest here. I thanked Carl and Emelia for our lovely visit in their house and paid my respects. Directly in front of the mausoleum, there are many grave markers for later generations of Becks. This is the only mausoleum in this small cemetery, standing like a sentinel keeping watch.

Beck Mausoleum, Presbyterian Cemetery, Penetanguishene ON ©2022

We did visit a couple of other spots in Penetanguishene, but that will be a story for another day. I hope you enjoyed this Haunted Cemetery Road Trip story. Have you ever spent the night in a haunted hotel? Do you have any October traditions? I would love to read about them in the comments!

Happy October and as always, thank you for reading! 

References:

  1. Haunted Simcoe: The Beck House | Barrie 360
  2. Carl Beck House | Penetanguishene Heritage
  3. Facebook post, October 9, 2018 | The Beck House

My Local Haunted Cemetery

It’s October, so I wanted to continue my theme of spooky blog posts. Today, I wanted to talk a little bit about haunted cemeteries, and in particular my local haunted cemetery.

Just like Elm Street, every town has one, right?

We often see supposedly haunted cemeteries in TV and movies, and there are MANY stories from all over the world about them. Some of the most haunted cemeteries that come to mind are Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans and Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery in Chicago.

Saint Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, Louisiana is very well known, not only for its above-ground crypts but also as the final resting place of a famous Voodoo priestess, Marie Laveau. Her ghost has been seen wandering the rows of crypts at night. I’m sure you’ve also heard of the ritual that visitors often perform at her grave, in which they draw an X on her crypt, and turn around three times in hopes of having their wish granted. People also leave small offerings at her graveside.  

Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery in Chicago is also an allegedly haunted location. “In the 1920s and ’30s, the cemetery’s pond was reportedly a dumping ground for bodies murdered by Chicago’s organized crime families. Now the area is reportedly haunted by numerous ghosts, including a lady in white holding an infant, a black dog, and strangely, a phantom farmhouse.”1 You may have seen the reportedly authentic photo from 1991, of a ghostly woman sitting on a gravestone. This amazing infrared photo, if it is indeed authentic, was taken by Judy Huff, a member of the Ghost Research Society.2 The photo was taken during an investigation at Bachelor’s Grove, and there was reportedly no one in the area when the photo was taken. 

Looking a little closer to home, one of my local cemeteries is said to be haunted. I have visited the Lasalle Cemetery many times, during the day and in the evening. I have never had any experiences myself, but I do recall hearing many stories about it while I was growing up.

I remember being at a sleepover when I was in high school. There was a group of us, staying up late and watching movies. The conversation turned to scary stories and my friend’s older sister stepped in to tell us a story that had happened to her while visiting Lasalle Cemetery at midnight with some friends. Thinking back, this was a long time ago so the details are a little fuzzy. I do remember she had said she was there with a couple of her friends. They had driven into the cemetery through the entrance that takes you directly to a large cross with three statues.

They got out of the car to look around, all the while making jokes and laughing. She was uncomfortable and creeped out a little by the statues and the large cross that loomed before them. She said something about looking at the statues and getting an eerie feeling. Her friends continued to make jokes and her uneasiness grew. She suddenly felt the need to get away from there, and when she happened to look up at the cross and statues, the statues had all changed! While before they had pious faces, with their eye looking upward to Jesus on the cross, they now were looking directly at her with grimacing faces. She screamed and got back into the car, screaming at her friends that it was time to leave. 

Needless to say, the story freaked us out! But did it happen? Or was this a tall tale told by an older sister trying to scare her younger sister and her friends? 

In 2018 I came across an interesting article promoting a local Haunted Walk for October. The article talked about local haunted locations around town, Lasalle Cemetery was one of them. My interest peaked. The article doesn’t have a lot to say about the haunting in the cemetery, aside from reported “ghost duels”, which sound incredible.3 The article did suggest that there were more stories to be found on Reddit.

In the Sudbury Ghosts thread on Reddit, many people have chimed in with personal ghost stories, like hearing strange sounds coming from the cemetery, or seeing running figures that seem to disappear into thin air. Someone in that thread also mentioned the “Grave Guardian” and asked if it’s just an urban legend.4 That’s the second time I’ve heard that name.

Years ago, It came up during a conversation with a co-worker. He mentioned this Grave Guardian, but I don’t recall any of the specifics. It’s interesting to note that after some online research, I have yet to find any stories or experiences about this supposed spirit. Apparently, there is a “legendary” story revolving around the Grave Guardian, but I haven’t found it.

One of the best references I have found so far is from an article by Week in Weird, about a ghostly video that was taken at Lasalle Cemetery. That article, written in 2016 states that Lasalle Cemetery is known for being “incredibly paranormally-active” with a “legendary” story. Unfortunately, these stories must have been kept in private circles as there is not much to be found online, aside from reports of disembodied voices and a theory that the Grave Guardian is connected to the largest gravestone in the cemetery.5 Even the video that the article references has since been taken down. The video supposedly shows a fully-formed apparition manifesting behind the videographer. The consensus seems to be that this video was legitimate, and not a hoax. I reached out to the video creator but didn’t get a response. 

In my research, I found another video about Lasalle Cemetery, that had also been taken down. This video was created by Golden Ghost, a local paranormal investigation team. I reached out to them to find out why the video had been taken down, and if they had any stories they could share. I heard back from Austyn, the Team Leader and CEO of Golden Ghost. He had some interesting stories to share with me. He has also heard the stories about the Grave Guardian but has yet to make contact. The closest his team has gotten is hearing mentions of the Guardian through the spirit box they use during investigations. He went on to tell me about some interesting experiences he has had with his team, and what he would call an evil entity. This entity seems to be attached to a certain section of the cemetery. That was why the video was taken down; to keep the location secret in hopes of protecting others from encountering this malicious spirit.  

Could that area of the cemetery be the one with the largest gravestone? Could this evil entity and the Grave Guardian be the same spirit? This is just speculation of course, as the stories of the Guardian have been fairly neutral. If you can call them stories. There are no real stories to be found about this supposed Grave Guardian. This leads me to think that it’s just that, a tidbit of a story that people share when conversation turns to ghosts and the supernatural. People have heard of it, but no one has any personal stories to share, except for the name, which gets shared again and again. It is a good name for a ghost, after all.

Isn’t that how urban legends start? What do you think?

Thanks for reading!


References:

  1. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery | Graveyards.com
  2. Girl on the gravestone | Ghost Research Society
  3. Ten haunted habitations and spooky sites in Greater Sudbury | Sudbury.com
  4. Sudbury Ghosts r/Sudbury | Reddit
  5. Ghostly Video: Apparition Manifests Behind Videographer Inside one of Ontario’s Most Haunted Cemeteries | Week in Weird

Cemetery Tours in Ontario

It’s my favorite time of year again, October! I love crisp sweater weather and crunchy leaves on the ground. Dead leaves are one of my absolute favorite smells. It’s also the best time for leaf peeping, and of course, visiting cemeteries. 

This is also the time that you will see Cemetery Tours being advertised. The gorgeous fall colors are a lovely contrast to the beautiful grey tombstones. Cemetery Tours are a great opportunity to photograph a new cemetery, learn about local history and take a nice cemetery stroll. You may even hear a ghost story or two.

Cemetery Tours are usually put on by local Museums or Historical Groups. The tour guide will lead you through the cemetery, explaining the history of the place as well as highlighting the stories of historical figures buried within it. Sometimes they will also talk about famous and infamous graves. Some tours have guides that dress up and use a lantern to light the way, while other tours have actors dressed in period clothing that will tell the life stories from the deceased’s graveside. Some tours are self-guided. On this type of tour, you will be provided with a map with points of interest marked on it. You can do these tours at your own pace. 

I love cemetery tours! You can learn a lot about the history of your local cemeteries, and notable graves and may even learn some obscure trivia along the way. It’s also lots of fun to meet people with similar interests on these tours. 

So for today’s blog post, I wanted to share some Cemetery Tours that are happening this fall in Ontario.

Fergus: Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge (Poorhouse) Cemetery Tour

October 21, 22, 28 and 29 at 7 p.m. and 9 p.m.

$15 +HST a ticket

It’s that time of the year where everyone loves hearing scary stories, but real history holds some of the scariest and unnerving stories. Join us as we take a trip through the real history of the House of Industry and Refuge and explore some of the more unsettling stories of inmates and staff that called this place home.

The Museum which is housed in the Old Poorhouse building still looks after the graves and these tours are an opportunity to tell the stories of those that lived, died, and still remain on the site.

Enjoy a lantern lit tour of the Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge (or Poorhouse) Cemetery. Between 1877-1947 the building was the Wellington County Poorhouse and over 600 people died on site during those years. Those that had no family or friends to claim their body were buried here, and 271 burials took place over those years.

Please be aware there are no accessibility routes for this tour. This tour is designed for a 14+ audience.

Tours begin at 7:00 pm and 9:00 pm on the front steps of the Wellington County Museum. 

Grimsby: Queen’s Lawn Cemetery Tour

Tour Queen’s Lawn Cemetery by lantern light and hear true eerie stories of past Grimsby residents.
3 tour dates available:

  • Wednesday, October 5 at 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, October 12 at 7 p.m.
  • Wednesday, October 19 at 7 p.m.

Pre-registration is required and limited space is available. Groups are kept small to ensure a quality tour. Tours are approximately 1 to 1.5 hours and are recommended for ages 12+.

Tours will be held rain or shine. The tour will be canceled in the case of extreme weather and refunds will be sent if the museum does have to cancel.

Please contact the Grimsby Museum for any questions you may have at museum-public@grimsby.ca or 905-945-5292. *This event is subject to a minimum registration.

Hamilton: Stories in the Stones

The Stories in the Stones Tours tell fascinating stories through free guided walking tours at Hamilton Cemetery each Saturday between May to November.

Local historian and storyteller Robin McKee guides you through historic Hamilton Cemetery with various themed tours he has created. Themed tours will include early settlers such as Robert Land and George Hamilton, victims of the Desjardins Railway Disaster.

Tours start at 11 a.m. at the Cemetery Gatehouse (777 York Blvd.) across from Dundurn Castle and run for approximately 1.5 hours. Tours take place rain or shine and tours and dates are subject to change.

They also offer a History Unearthed historical walking tour.

Kenora: Lake of the Woods Cemetery Walking Tour

$11.62 per person

Come and explore the dark side of Kenora’s past in the largest graveyard in Northern Ontario— the Lake of the Woods Cemetery.

The tour looks at Kenora’s history through the lens of true crime tales, and murder mysteries, the Ontario-Manitoba border war, sickness and disease, and one of the most famous (and grisliest) bank robberies in Canadian history. These true stories of real people combine to give a history of Kenora like you’ve never heard before.

We’ll explore these topics and more on this guided tour in Kenora’s silent city of the dead.

London: Mount Pleasant Cemetery Tour

Takes place on Saturday, October 8 and Sunday, October 9.

1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. start times. $15 / person

Join us at the historic Mount Pleasant Cemetery for a tour diving into the history of the cemetery’s architecture and the unique ecosystem that make the grounds beautiful and serene. Learn details about the culture of death during the Victorian era, and the art and architecture carved into the monuments and gravestones at the Mount Pleasant site.

Niagara Falls: Drummond Hill Cemetery Tours

October 15, 16, 22, 23 at 2 p.m., 3 p.m., and 4 p.m.

These tours offer a unique opportunity to discover Niagara Falls through a visit to one of the most historic cemeteries in Canada. Led by a costumed guide, the human drama unfolds as guests wander the grounds and happen upon theatrical performances that provide a glimpse into the lives of some of the people from our City’s history.

Ticket price $12 per person or $10 per museum member. Tickets must be purchased in advance; rain or shine and they are non-refundable. 

Post tour refreshments and open house are offered at Battle Ground Hotel Museum just across the street.

Niagara-on-the-Lake: Niagara’s Dark History Tour

This tour features only dark history and strange stories of Canada’s Prettiest Town, Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Featuring the true villain of the 1813 burning, a disgruntled British politician. With a disappearance that almost ended Freemasonry, the lover’s public execution and standing up to slavery with violence. This tour includes a leisurely walk through Ontario’s oldest cemetery, stories of Niagara’s daredevils and a hidden historic fort.

Owen Sound: Self-guided Cemetery tours

Greenwood Cemetery, “The People’s Cemetery,” is home to many of Owen Sound’s luminaries, from political leaders, ship captains, and Victoria Cross winners to remarkable women, African Americans, athletes, pioneers, and religious, business, and medical leaders. It was established in 1858.

The four self-guided walking tours available are Tour 1, 2, and 3 in Greenwood Cemetery and The People’s Cemetery tour. 

Ottawa: The Beechwood Stroll

The Beechwood Cemetery Stroll is a guided historical tour through Beechwood, the National Cemetery of Canada. 

Tours are given on the last Sunday of each month, rain or shine, and begin at 1 p.m. Tours start from the Beechwood National Memorial Centre, located just off the Beechwood Avenue entrance.

The Beechwood Cemetery Stroll is led by trained volunteers and focuses on local history and notable features and sections within this National Historic Site. The tour is free of charge, and is family friendly. The route for the Stroll is a gentle 1.5 hour walk and is wheelchair accessible.

Penetanguishene: Meet the Spirits of St. James on the Lines

Tour St. James on the Lines Cemetery by lantern encountering many spirits of Penetanguishene’s past. Discover the significant history of the church. Light refreshments to be served after your tour.

Tickets are $10 per person for this one-night-only event, happening October 14. There are two start times to choose from; 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. At the time of this writing, the 8 p.m. tour is sold out, but there are a few tickets left for the 7 p.m. tour.

Toronto: Toronto Cemetery Tours

Re-living history through guided tours of Toronto’s beautiful, historic cemeteries. Cemetery tours are announced regularly on their Facebook page. 


This is just a small selection of the cemetery tours being offered this year in Ontario. Some events will be announced closer to their event date and may be a one-night-only affair. I would recommend searching often for cemeteries near you so you don’t miss out on a fun opportunity. The other option is to do your own self-guided tour, by doing the research beforehand on historical, infamous, and famous graves. 

Have you been on a cemetery walking tour? What was your experience? I would love to read about it in the comments.

Thanks for reading! 

Cemetery or Graveyard?

What do you think of when you hear the word cemetery? Is it different than what you picture when you hear the word graveyard? Today these words are used interchangeably to describe a place where we bury our dead, but a cemetery and graveyard are not really the same thing. 

When you hear the word graveyard, you might picture traditionally shaped gravestones, overgrown with ivy, that are just barely visible through a mist. That’s what I picture anyway. I can thank TV and movies for that imagery. 

The term graveyard was first recorded in 1765-75 and is quite literally, a yard filled with graves, attached to a small rural church.1 As defined, graveyards are small and located directly next to a church, usually with not a lot of property room to expand. You might also hear them called churchyards, burial grounds, or burying grounds. Usually, only those members or parishioners of that specific church are allowed burial in its churchyard. Very rarely were exceptions made.

I have visited a few graveyards over the years. In my experience, they are generally well-kept and maintained. I have yet to find one like the movie version I described above. The ones I have visited were bright, usually sitting next to a little white chapel with stained glass. I have rarely been able to visit inside the churches at these graveyards, but there is the odd time that you will find the door unlocked.

A cemetery is defined as an area set apart specifically for graves, that is not adjacent to a church. It is interesting to note that the term cemetery was first recorded in 1375-1425, and is Greek for “a sleeping place”.2 This is a reference you might come across often in a cemetery. I have come across many epitaphs that read along the lines of “He is not dead, but sleepeth”. Both religious and non-religious people are buried in cemeteries. Cemeteries are often quite large, and can sometimes contain sections for different religions and denominations. There are such things as public or community cemeteries, and also religious-specific cemeteries, not connected to any particular church. These are often found on the outskirts of cities and towns, but more and more are now within city limits due to urban sprawl. 

At this point, I have visited more cemeteries than graveyards as they are much more common in my area. They are often so large that I will visit them multiple times to photograph them a section at a time, like Lasalle Cemetery. The largest cemetery I have ever visited is Greenwood Cemetery in Sault Ste Marie. That cemetery is so large it crosses two streets! I only had a chance to visit a small portion of it, but I hope to go back in a year or two. 

The terms cemetery and graveyard will continue to be used interchangeably, and you will always be understood regardless of which term you use. But now you can be a little bit more specific when talking about a cemetery or graveyard, or you can pull out this little tidbit of information if the need ever arises.

Thanks for reading!


References:

  1. Graveyard | Dictionary.com
  2. Cemetery | Dictionary.com

Cemetery Book Review: In the Land of Long Fingernails: A Gravedigger’s Memoir

For this month’s cemetery book review, I wanted to share an old favourite of mine. I first found out about Charles Wilkins’s book In the Land of Long Fingernails: A Gravedigger’s Memoir, in the book section of Rue Morgue MagazineRue Morgue has always been a great resource for discovering new authors. 

This book, first published in 2008, is a coming-of-age memoir set in a Toronto cemetery in 1969. It’s filled with weird-but-true events, that could only happen while working in a cemetery.

Here is the full book synopsis: “During the hazy summer of 1969, Charles Wilkins, then a student at the University of Toronto, took a job as a gravedigger. The bizarre-but-true events of that time, including a midsummer gravediggers’ strike, the unearthing of a victim of an unsolved murder, and a little illegal bone-shifting, play out amongst a Barnum-esque parade of mavericks and misfits in this macabre and hilarious memoir of mortality, materialism, and the gradual coming-of-age of an impressionable young man.” – Goodreads.com, In the Land of Long Fingernails

I enjoyed this book immensely, I couldn’t put it down! It’s a very easy read with great pacing. I found I devoured it quickly. I think it also helped that I felt a connection to this story because it takes place so close to me, in Toronto, Ontario. The specific Toronto cemetery is never named in the book, but being that I live about 4 hours away, I know I can visit it someday. There are some incredibly funny moments, but also some somber ones, creating a balance between the anecdotal stories. It’s a fascinating memoir but also a great insight into the everyday work life of a gravedigger in the late 60s.

I highly recommend this book if you’re looking for a light read, that could also fall into the feel-good read category. It’s also a quick read, which would make it a perfect choice if you need a break from heavier or academic content.  

I am always on the hunt for cemetery-related book recommendations. Please feel free to share yours in the comments. If you are an author and have a cemetery-related book you would like me to review, please reach out at hello@chantallarochelle.ca. I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading!