Cemetery etiquette

“Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” – Chief Seattle.

This sentiment embodies my mindset when visiting cemeteries. They are beautiful places to visit. But you must always be mindful that cemeteries are resting places for lost loved ones, and deserve respect. I always keep that in mind when visiting cemeteries. I would never want to intrude on someone’s grieving, interrupt a funeral service or meddle with someone’s memorial items. Because of this, I tend to follow my own set of etiquette rules when visiting a cemetery.

When encountering people I always try to keep my distance – It doesn’t mean that you should turn around and leave if you see mourners. But realize that your presence there might not be understood or wanted. For these reasons, and out of respect of the mourners, I will spend my time in other areas of the cemetery to not bother them. This does not mean you should always stay away from people though. In my travels, I have found the groundskeepers to be very friendly, and will sometimes point out interesting stones. They are very proud of their work maintaining the grounds and some of them love to chat.

Always leave with what you brought in – It’s completely fine to bring food with you for a snack in the graveyard, or to walk your dog. As I’ve said before, cemeteries are a beautiful place for a walk. Just make sure you pick up after yourself and your furry friend! Some cemeteries do have trash bins that are accessible, but when visiting older hidden away locations, there may not be any. I always carry a plastic bag in my camera bag just in case.

Do nothing that would harm or destroy a tombstone or memorial – I would never displace or move around memorial objects or grave goods. I always leave things as they are for my photos. I find that the found objects are more meaningful that way.

Be respectful – I sometimes clear away debris from stones; leaves and dirt that obscure the inscription. I also sometimes pick up over-turned items if they have fallen. If items are far away from a tombstone, I find it better to leave them where they are, just in case you accidentally place them on the wrong grave. I think that cleaning tombstones (with water and chemicals) should be left to professionals. There are resources out there to help you get started in the right way if that is something you are interested in getting into, and ALWAYS get permission before you start.

A note about gravestone rubbings and castings – These seem like a fun idea to get a nice souvenir but some of the methods used for rubbings and castings can be very damaging to stones. If the stone is too fragile it can break. Castings are also dangerous to stones as it can remove pieces of the stone while also leaving stains and residue that is hard to remove. I’m sure there are resources out there on how to do this kind of thing safely, but I would be very cautious and make sure your technique is perfected before trying it in the wild. And again, ALWAYS get permission before you start.

Do you have any questions about cemetery etiquette? Or do you have any unwritten rules that you follow when visiting a cemetery? Please share in the comments!