Established to Eccentric: Cemeteries To Die For
Add These Cemeteries To Your Travel Bucket List
By Jill Webb
Death isn’t the first thing you think of when brainstorming travel ideas, but the world is full of stunning cemeteries you will be dying to visit.
Author Loren Rhoads’ newly released book 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die provides readers with a detailed guide to exploring international burial sites. Between the final destinations of iconic celebrities to some of history’s most symbolic landmarks, here is a handful of the notable burial sites the book explores.
The Meditation Garden at Graceland
When Elvis Presley was 22-years-old, he bought the 23-room Graceland Mansion in Memphis, Tennessee. Twenty years later in 1977, Presley died of a heart failure and was buried down the street from his home in Memphis’s Forest Hills Cemetery.
His mausoleum was a popular destination, with over a million people visiting in the month following his death. It was so popular that three men trespassed his mausoleum during his first month at the cemetery.
“After that, his father Vernon petitioned the city to change its zoning laws so that Graceland could host a burial ground. The Meditation Garden became Elvis’s final resting place,” Rhoads writes.
The Meditation Garden was added to the mansion when Elvis was still alive in 1964. It has a beautiful fountain with six jets in the center, a pergola, and arched stain glass windows.
In 1978, Graceland opened to the public as a museum. His mother, Gladys, father, Vernon, and grandmother, Minnie Mae, are buried there also. Elvis’s stillborn twin, Jesse Garon Presley, has a cenotaph there, but his remains are in Tupelo, Mississippi.
“Each year, 600,000 people visit the Graceland Mansion in all its exuberantly decorated glory and pay homage at the King’s grave,” Rhoads writes.
The Meditation Garden at Graceland, 3734 Elvis Presley Boulevard, Memphis, Tennessee
The Great Pyramids
Put in your headphones and blast Fleetwood Mac’s “Seven Wonders” if you’re traveling here because it’s the only one of the ancient seven wonders that still exists.
The Great Pyramids of Giza in Egypt is a must-see spot for history buffs because the site dates back to 2584 BC.
The Great Pyramid is the tomb of the Egyptian pharaoh Khufu. “Archaeologists think the pyramid may have been robbed as early as the First Intermediate Period, between 2181 and 2055 BC,” Rhoads writes.
Two other pyramids sit beside Khufu’s in descending order of size and age, Khafre and Menkaure’s tombs. Menkaure’s pyramid went through backlash for workers in 1215 AD.
“Workmen attacked the pyramid for eight months, before admitting defeat,” Rhoads writes. “It is so immense that the stones they removed are barely missed.”
The Great Pyramids, Nazlet El-Semman, Al Haram, Giza Governorate, Egypt
Hollywood Forever Cemetary
If you’re old Hollywood, you need to check out the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in California.
Legendary stars of Hollywood’s early days are swarmed to the graveyard to cement their stardom. The continuous lure of the cemetery is the big names buried there, including Judy Garland, Mickey Rooney, Jayne Mansfield, Douglas Fairbanks, and Rudolph Valentino.
Garland isn’t the only draw for “The Wizard of Oz” fanatics. Terry, who played the legendary pup Toto, was buried by her owner and trainer Carl Spitz after her death in 1945.
“The old Hollywood glamour wore thin and the cemetery fell on hard times, compounded y damage caused by the Northridge earthquake in 1994,” Rhoads writes.
“Luckily, the cemetery was rescued in 1998 by a young entrepreneur who changed its name, showed movies on the mausoleum walls, booked concerts, hosted a huge annual Dia de los Muertos event– and generally lured young people back to the graveyard.”
As the cemetery got back it’s vigor, it has become a resting place for punk icons, including Johnny and Dee Dee Ramone who were both laid to rest in the early 2000s.
Hollywood Forever Cemetery, 6000 Santa Monica Boulevard, Hollywood, California
If you want to see beautiful, decorative works of art that double as tombstones, book a flight to Romania to go to Cimitirul Vesel.
Also known as the Merry Cemetery, the graveyard is one of Romania’s most popular tourist sites. Located behind the Church of the Assumption, the cemetery’s emblematic headstones were started by woodcarver Stan Patras.
“In 1936, loan Stan Patras started carving crosses to mark graves in the old church cemetery. Over the next 40 years, he carved several hundred,” Rhoads writes.
“Each was individually tailored to the deceased: Mothers cook for their families, shepherds tend their flocks, priests envy carousers.”
The intricate crosses are exceptionally colorful with blue as the background to represent the color of heaven and freedom. Some of the more recent crosses have poems inscribed onto them also.
Patras died in 1977, but not before he could design his own memorial, which resides at the front of the church. It reads “Creatorul Cimitirului Vesel”, which means creator of the Merry Cemetery.
His apprentice, Dumitru Pop, carries on his legacy with creating about 20 to 30 monuments per year.
Cimitirul Vesel, Sapanta 437305, Romania
Bob Marley Mausoleum
Reggae star Bob Marley truly went back to his roots when his time came.
After a cancerous wound was revealed due to a game of pickup soccer whilst on tour, the disease spread after Marley decided against surgery for religious reasons. Four years later in May 1981, Marley died in Miami, Florida.
His body was brought back to his home-country Jamaica, where a service was held at National Heroes Arena in Kingston. 150,000 people came to pay their respects, setting the record for the largest gathering in Jamaica’s history.
After the funeral, Marley was brought back to his family’s compound at Nine Mile, where he was raised.
“Now he lies in an eight-foot-tall marble mausoleum, with his Bible and red Stratocaster guitar at his side,” Rhoads writes. “When his dreadlocks had fallen out from the radiation, his wife, Rita, saved them to be buried with him.”
In his Rastafarian-colored grave, every little thing is gonna be all right for the late Marley.
Bob Marley Mausoleum, Nine Mile, Saint Ann Parish, Jamaica
Catacombes de Paris
Fun fact, this next spot wasn’t originally intended to be a burial site. Catacombes de Paris started out as tunnels that miners extracted gypsum out of to build the city.
During the reconstruction of Paris in the 1780s and while fearing infectious diseases, the city fathers of Paris decided to would be a good idea to clean out Paris’s old graveyards, including Cimetière des Innocents.
“It was impossible to even consider individualizing the remains,” Rhoads writes. “After the bones were loaded onto carts, priests chanting the funeral service followed them to the underground quarry.”
The ossuary was filled by 1786, with the bones of approximately six million people, including Saint-Germain, Montesquieu, Robespierre, and countless others.
A sign warns visitors “Arrêtez. C’est ici l’empire de la mort.” which translates to “Stop. Here is the kingdom of death.” This sign protected the French Resistance hiding in the catacombs from a group of Nazis who turned back once they reached the haunting message.
Catacombes de Paris, 1 Avenue du Colonel Henri Rol-Tanguy, Paris, France
The Taj Mahal
When Mughal emperor Shan Jahan’s favorite wife laid on her deathbed in 1630, she requested that her husband “build her the most magnificent tomb the world had ever known,” Rhoads writes.
So, after spending 32 million rupees, employing 20,000 workers, and a 20-year-process, the late Empress Mumtaz Mahal’s wish had been granted with the stunning Taj Mahal. That’s some serious husband goals right there.
Located in India, the 216-foot-tall building has a beautiful garden, a mosque, a guesthouse, and more. The enormous white marble mausoleum is one of the world’s most famous burial sites, bringing three million visitors to the ground every year.
The Taj Mahal, Agra, Uttar Pradesh, India
Paying your respects
From celebrities of the seventies to the ancient seven wonders, this book contains a great amount of century-spanning history, fascinating culture, and beautiful sights. While there are vast differences among the 199 places listed, one thing holds true for all of them that Rhoades urges visitors to keep in mind.
“Rule number one about visiting cemeteries is to be respectful. Don’t interrupt or impede mourners,” Rhoades writes. “Even cemeteries that are closed to new burials deserve to be treated like something precious and irreplaceable because they are.”
About the author
Loren Rhoads is the author of Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, Morbid Curiosity Cures, and the Blues, and the editor of Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries. She is the monthly cemetery columnist at Gothic Beauty and wrote about cemetery travel for almost five years at Gothic Net. She has served as a cemetery consultant for Travel & Leisure, The Weather Channel, Mental Floss, Atlas Obscura, the Horror Writers Association, the Death Salon, the Chicago Tribune, and more. Her well-trafficked blog, Cemetery Travel, details her first-hand visits. She lives in San Francisco.