Book review: Going out in Style

Have you heard of #mausoleummonday?

It’s a trend on social media in the cemetery community that uses that hashtag, to showcase the beauty of mausoleums. Unfortunately, mausoleums are not a common sight here in Northern Ontario, so I have not had the chance to visit or photograph very many. This is one of the reasons I found Doug Keister’s book Going out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity so interesting. For this month’s book review, I wanted to share it with you. 

Douglas Keister is a photographer, author, and co-author of forty-five critically acclaimed books, twenty-five of which are on architecture.1 Going out in Style, published in 1997, showcases some of America’s most beautiful and unusual mausoleums. This coffee-table book is filled with gorgeous full-color, glossy photos, each accompanied by short descriptions that give a small taste of their stories and histories.

“From a nationally renowned photographer and author team, Going Out in Style: The Architecture of Eternity provides an engaging and at times surprising look at America’s forgotten architecture: the mausoleum.

Elegant, full-color photographs display the grandeur of the mausoleum, documenting the work of some of America’s most noted architects and in some cases the only remaining examples of a particular architect’s work. Additionally, photographs of the interiors of some mausoleums show rarely seen Tiffany stained-glass windows.

Going Out in Style takes readers into beautiful and historic cemeteries in such cities as New York, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Boston, Chicago, New Orleans, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and many others.” – Synopsis from Amazon.ca

This is a beautiful book! I was lucky enough to find a first edition hardcover copy, with glossy pages. All the photos are beautifully shot, really showcasing what makes each mausoleum unique. I loved that they took advantage of the book’s large size by including full-page images. There is also a paperback edition available, that is printed on uncoated paper. I have been told the uncoated paper dulls and muddies the photography. That just seems wrong for a photography book! 

I enjoyed exploring the histories of all the beautiful mausoleums presented, but it did feel like much more could have been written about them. Sometimes I found the descriptions to be just too short! I’m sure whole books could be written on some of them. Because I am not very familiar with mausoleums and their architecture, I did enjoy learning more about the different styles and periods and found myself trying to figure them out before it was noted in the description. 

One of my favorite aspects of the book, was when we were given a look inside the mausoleums. That was by far my favorite chapter. Some of them are just as ornate on the inside, as they are on the outside, while others are very plain compared to their exterior. Some mausoleums hold amazing pieces of art, like Tiffany stained glass windows. It was lovely to peek inside, into what we often don’t get a chance to explore.

I would highly recommend this book and think it would make a great addition to any taphophile’s library. I would especially recommend it to those who love mausoleums or those interested in learning more about architecture. My only note would be to make sure you get the hardcover edition! 

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I am always on the hunt for cemetery-related book recommendations. Please feel free to share any 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!

References

  1. About Douglas Keister

Book review: Tales and Tombstones of Sunset Cemetery

I haven’t posted a book review in a little while, so I thought I would review this month’s AGS book club pick: Tales and Tombstones of Sunset Cemetery: Tracing Lives and Memorial Customs in a Southern Graveyard by June Hadden Hobbs and Joe DePriest. Having just come out this year, 2022, this book takes a look specifically at the stories and tombstones of those buried in Sunset Cemetery in Shelby, North Carolina. Here is the book synopsis:

“This book relates the stories of the people buried in Shelby, North Carolina’s historic Sunset Cemetery, a microcosm of the Southeastern United States. The authors, an academic and a journalist, detail the lives and memories of people who are buried here, from Civil War soldiers to those who created the Jim Crow South and promoted the narrative of the Lost Cause. Featured are authors W.J. Cash and Thomas Dixon, whose racist novel was the basis for The Birth of a Nation. Drawn from historical research and local memory, it includes the tales of musicians Don Gibson and Bobby Pepper Head London, as well as a paratrooper who died in the Battle of the Bulge and other ordinary folks who rest in the cemetery. A bigger responsibility is to give a voice to the silenced, enslaved people of color buried in unmarked graves. Cemeteries are sacred places where artistry and memory meet–to understand, we need both the tales and the tombstones.” – Goodreads 

I enjoyed this book. Although I have never visited this cemetery in person, I feel like I have spent many hours walking among its stones. This book is very well written and the photos by Hal Bryant that accompany the stories are beautiful. What I found really interesting about this book is that it’s almost like 2 books in one. One is a journalistic look at the stories of the people behind, or should I say beneath the tombstones. This storytelling dives deep into the history of Shelby and its residents, painting a bright and sometimes dark picture of life there and its community members. The second is a look through the lens of gravestone studies, examining the tombstones themselves; looking at the different types of monuments, the symbolism chosen for the stones, and how different time periods would reflect those choices. When visiting a cemetery we often don’t know who the people are, that the tombstones represent. This book sheds light on the diverse cross-section of stories that are buried beneath the tombstones. 

I read this book in early April when my local cemeteries were still covered in snow. I loved being able to “walk” around Sunset Cemetery via this book. This would be a great read for those looking to cemetery travel, without actually traveling. This book touches on many interesting facets of history, accompanied by beautiful tombstone photos that accent the storytelling. Because of this, I highly recommend it to anyone interested in gravestones, history, or good storytelling.  

Have you read this book? Have you visited Sunset Cemetery? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review: City of Immortals Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris

For this month’s book review, I wanted to look at Carolyn Campbell’s debut book, City of Immortals Père-Lachaise Cemetery, Paris. I found out about this book through the Association for Gravestone Studies. It is February’s book, for the AGS book club. 

City of Immortals is in part history, a first-person account, and a guided tour. Carolyn takes us through the rich history of this legendary necropolis, while also sharing her connections to it. She also sheds light on the stories of the most notable figures laid to rest at Père-Lachaise. This book also includes 3 guided tours and an illustrated map, with detailed directions to take you throughout the cemetery.

“This first-person account of a legendary necropolis will delight Francophiles, tourists, and armchair travelers while enriching the experience of taphophiles (cemetery lovers) and aficionados of art and architecture, mystery, and romance. Carolyn Campbell’s evocative images are complemented by those of renowned landscape photographer Joe Cornish.” – Book synopsis 

This is a beautiful book. It boasts a built-in ribbon bookmark, a satin finish cover, glossy pages, and a pull-out illustrated map of the cemetery. The illustrated map was a lovely surprise. I enjoyed this book, for the most part. I loved exploring the rich history of the place. The only aspect of the book I didn’t like was Chapter 3 – Conversations with the immortals. In this chapter, Carolyn holds Q&A conversations with some of the more notable figures buried in the cemetery. I assume she did her research to come up with the answers to her interview-style questions, but these notable figures have passed on—some over a hundred years ago. It sometimes comes across as she is putting words into these people’s mouths. I understand it as a narrative device, but I think it may have been a poor choice. That chapter could have been better used to describe more of the rich history of the cemetery, while the information gleaned from her “conversations” could have been included in the tours. That being said, the walking tours are very well directed and had me feeling like I was wandering the graves in person. This book would be a great resource to bring along if I were to ever visit in person. I also have to mention the gorgeous photography in this book. It runs the gamut from detailed shots of individual tombs while also showcasing the beauty of the landscape as a whole. 

Overall, I did enjoy this book. Especially now, during a pandemic, it’s a great way to travel without leaving the comfort of my couch. It also is a good starting point for planning a future trip when things return to a more comfortable state of normal. I would say this is a great addition to any cemetery or travel library and would be a valuable resource as a guide to visiting Père-Lachaise Cemetery.

Have your read this book? What did you think? Have you ever visited Père-Lachaise Cemetery? Tell me about it in the comments.

Thanks for reading!

Book Review: Understanding Cemetery Symbols by Tui Snider

I mentioned in a previous post, that I wanted to add book reviews to the blog. I am an avid reader, of both fiction and non-fiction, and I think this platform will be a great way for me to share some of my favorite cemetery-related books. I am hoping to share some great resources, and good reads that you may want to add to your own book collections. 

Understanding Cemetery Symbols: A field guide for historic graveyards by Tui Snider

I discovered Tui Snider through another blog that I follow – Spooky Little Halloween. Tui had done a guest article: 5 common cemetery symbols and what the mean. I wanted to read more of her work and found her book Understanding Cemetery Symbols.

This book is a great resource for learning more about symbols that you may find in your local cemeteries. It’s filled with photos to help you visualize the symbols for easy recognition. It also goes in-depth on a variety of symbols that can be found; like the different meanings for hands, and the many varieties of statues. The book is also laid out in a way that makes referencing it very easy.

I only purchased this book this year, but it has become a go-to when trying to decipher the symbols I come across.

You can read more from Tui at her website. She also puts out a weekly newsletter every Sunday, detailing new articles and what’s new on her youtube channel. 

I look forward to reading some of her other works in the future! 

Have you read this book? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks for reading!