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!

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!

Cemetery 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

Cemetery Book Review: Sacred Ground Loyalist Cemeteries of Eastern Ontario

Last month, I was pleasantly surprised when an author reached out to me and asked if I would be interested in reading and reviewing his new book. Based on the title alone, I was very interested!

The book is called Sacred Ground: Loyalist Cemeteries of Eastern Ontario, Volume One by Stuart Lyall Manson. This book, published in 2021, focuses on Loyalist cemeteries in Eastern Ontario, and the stories behind the Loyalists buried there. 

For the book review this month, I wanted to share my thoughts about Sacred Ground. Canadian cemeteries and history is something I am always interested in reading about. I will also admit that while I read along, I created a map of all the cemeteries explored in this book. I would love to visit them all one day! So who or what are loyalists, you may be asking. Loyalists were American colonists who supported and fought for the British cause in the American Revolutionary war. Thousands of these Loyalists settled in British North America during and after the war. They left an indelible mark on Canada.

From Global Genealogy:
“This book describes six notable loyalist cemeteries situated in the Eastern Ontario counties of Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry. They are: Trinity Anglican (Cornwall); St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic (St. Andrew’s West); Iroquois Point (Iroquois); Knox-St. Andrew’s United (Bainsville); Maple Grove (Cornwall), and the Pioneer Memorial (South Dundas). 

In each chapter the author discusses in depth, an individual cemetery containing United Empire Loyalist mortal remains. Numerous cemeteries in this region contain many such burials… all of the sites described in this book also contain non-loyalist burials. An historical overview of each of these burial grounds, along with biographical information on specific loyalists with particularly-remarkable stories. The locations chosen for this volume are based on geographic distribution, religious diversity, and other factors. The book is based on rigorous primary and secondary source research.

Sacred Ground: Loyalist Cemeteries of Eastern Ontario complements other publications that list burials or transcribe tombstone inscriptions. Those publications are important resources. This book supplements that basic data with greater historical context and additional research into the lives and experiences of these men, women and children who laid the foundations of modern Ontario.” 

As mentioned above, the book is broken down into six chapters, each focusing on one loyalist cemetery. Each chapter provides an interesting look at the cemetery itself, and it’s history, along with the history of the notable loyalists buried within it. The stories of the cemeteries themselves are fascinating, and made me want to visit them to experience them for myself. The history of the cemeteries are deeply explored, delving into the history of the Loyalists laid to rest within them. In the life stories of the loyalists, we also get a look at broader historical aspects, such as slavery and colonialism. This book is extensively researched and it shows; it’s filled with old illustrated maps, letter samples, and many lovely gravestone photographs. 

I enjoyed this book immensely, and found it very engaging. There are some incredibly interesting histories and stories in this book, like the Pioneer Memorial in South Dundas. It isn’t a cemetery per say, but a memorial made from bricks collected from the buildings demolished before the flooding for the Seaway project. This memorial is the new home for the tombstones of those who are buried in the now sunken cemeteries. They moved the headstones, but didn’t move the bodies! There are quite a few historical gems like that to be found in this book. I am looking forward to the next volume. I would highly recommend this book to those interested in Canadian and Loyalist history, as well as genealogists and those interested in tombstone mysteries. 

I am always searching 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!

Cemetery 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!

Cemetery 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!

Cemetery 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!