It’s that time of year! If you’re anything like me, when October rolls around everything is SPOOKY! Cemeteries are fascinating to visit any time of year, but especially right now when remembering ancestors is so important.
In no particular order, here are the 13 spookiest cemeteries:
This Victorian cemetery was opened in 1839 as one of London’s “Magnificent Seven” park cemeteries. These seven cemeteries were created in the 1830s as an effort to relieve the overcrowded churchyards closer to the center of the city. A highly sought-after burial ground, Highgate has around 53,000 graves, one of which belongs to Karl Marx. By the end of World War II, the cemetery had been neglected and was widely overgrown and rundown, adding to the already spooky atmosphere.
In the 1970s, the cemetery was the focus of a media sensation involving claims of vampires and other supernatural activities.
Opened in 1789, St. Louis Cemetery №1 is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans and houses many early prominent citizens. The most notable being the resting place of Marie Laveau, aka the “Voodoo Queen.” During her life, she sold charms and gris-gris (a type of voodoo talisman), told fortunes and advised residents of every social standing. Until the last decade, visitors of her tomb would scratch Xs into it in hopes of Marie Laveau granting their wishes. In 2014 a restoration of the tomb was completed and a large fine will be given for anyone who attempts to write on the tomb.
The cemetery is known for the striking architecture of the above-ground tombs. In 1975, it was added to the National Register of Historical Places and has undergone preservation and restoration work.
Established in 1804, Père Lachaise Cemetery is the largest and most visited cemetery in Paris. But it wasn’t always that way. The cemetery was established by Napoleon (yeah, THAT Napoleon), but it was basically unknown — being considered too far from the city and not blessed by the Church, which was an issue for Catholics — until the administrators concocted a plan to get more publicity. They had the remains of the famous playwright, actor, and poet, Molière transferred into the cemetery. That was enough apparently, and there are now more than 1 million bodies buried in the cemetery.
Other notable graves in the cemetery are those of Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison.
Still in Paris, the underground catacombs are also very well known as a spooky burial spot. In the late 18th century, many cemeteries in Paris were becoming overcrowded with improper burials, open graves, and unearthed corpses. Since they were becoming a health hazard, from around 1787-1814, corpses were moved to the underground tunnels that had existed under Paris since the Roman era (dug for the limestone). In 1867, The Catacombs were open to the public.
The creepiest aspect of The Catacombs is the skulls and bones arranged in patterns on the walls. Before 1810, the tunnels were simply a depository for bones, but a renovation was done to make them a visitable mausoleum.
The Old Jewish Cemetery is the oldest surviving Jewish cemetery in the city of Prague, with the oldest burial date being 1439 — though, it was probably used well before that. It was used for burials for just over 300 years, with the last burial being 1787. The burials stopped when a decree went out banning the burying of bodies in residential areas. Jewish values meant that preexisting graves could not be moved, and buying more land to expand the cemetery was difficult. This led to layers of graves. More dirt would be piled on top of existing gravesites, and in some places, twelve layers of graves exist. As many as 100,000 bodies are buried in the cemetery.
Today, the cemetery is held up by retaining walls and is a forest of headstones, commemorating those buried multiple layers deep.
Located in an upscale neighborhood of Buenos Aires, Cementerio de la Recoleta housed many of Argentina’s most prominent and wealthiest families and people. It opened in the late 1800s and was renovated in 1881. The urban environment in which the cemetery is located means space is limited, so the mausoleums are small and often contain more than one member of each family. In the cemetery is the infamous tomb of Rufina Cambacérès, who was allegedly buried alive after being mistakenly pronounced dead.
The cemetery has also become a popular hangout for stray and feral cats, who sleep among the graves.
Just across the water from the city of Venice is an island, which houses a city of the dead. Napolean (yeah, him again) took over the independent Republic of Venice in 1797 and declared the dead could no longer be buried in the city. Before the declaration, the dead had been buried in the churches or under paving stones, which was obviously a health hazard. The island was named for the already existing church built on the island in 1469 and dedicated to the archangel Michael. The island is still used for burials today.
Just off the coast in St. Andrews, Scotland stands a ruined Roman Catholic cathedral, which was built in 1158. It was the center of the Medieval Catholic Church in Scotland until Catholicism was outlawed in the 16th century during the Scottish reformation. The cemetery is set amongst the ruins of the church. The oldest graves (13th c) are in the cathedral itself as well as a relic containing bones of St. Andrew.
Still in Scotland, the graveyard surrounding the Greyfriars Kirk in Edinburg was established around 1561 and takes its name from the Franciscan friary that was on the property until 1560 (the friars wore grey habits). It’s considered the most haunted place in Scotland. One of the ghosts allegedly returning from the grave is that of George Mackenzie or “Bluidy Mackenzie,” a cruel lawyer who allowed the torture of protesters in the 1630s.
Famously, JK Rowling took inspiration from some of the names found on stones in the graveyard, including Tom Riddell and William McGonagall.
A history of witch hunts and executions has led to Salem, Massachusetts to be considered one of the most haunted towns in the USA. In 1692, 80-year-old Giles Corey was accused of using witchcraft and was tortured onsite after refusing to admit either guilt or innocence to the charges. He was basically crushed to death by rocks that were piled on a door, which was laid on top of him. Though he denied his guilt, he used his final words to curse the town of Salem.
While not very well known, the official name for the Witches Cemetery is actually Stamps Cemetery. Located east of Nashville and almost in the middle of nowhere, situated amongst the trees and fields, are gravestones etched with pentagrams (thought to be symbols of witches). But, it’s unknown today what the symbols meant to the people buried there, though there have since been alleged rituals and sacrifices practiced there.
In the town of Săpânţa, Romania, the Cimitirul Vesel (Merry Cemetery) is home to over 800 cheerfully coloured wooden crosses, each depicting the life of those who are buried there. Illustrations, creative epigraphs, and even poems are present on these crosses. The tradition was started by Stan Ioan Pătraş, who started carving crosses for the local cemetery in the 1910s and by the 1930s he began carving witty poems and illustrating images of the deceased — often in the way they died. When Stan Ioan Pătraş passed away, the tradition was continued by his apprentice, Dumitru Pop.
One clever epitaph reads:
Underneath this heavy cross / Lies my mother-in-law poor / Had she lived three days more / I would be here and she would read / You that are passing by / Try not to wake her up / For if she comes back home / She’ll bite my head off / But I will act in the way / That she will not return / Stay here my dear Mother-in-law.
The forest surrounding Mount Koya houses the largest cemetery in Japan. The area was settled in 816 and is known as the center for the Shingon sect of Japanese Buddhism because it’s home to the mausoleum of Kobo Daishi, the founder of Shingon Buddhism. There are now over 200,000 tombstones lining the way to Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum. The mausoleum is situated behind a temple where 10,000 lanterns are kept lit at all times.
Perhaps this cemetery is not very creepy, having a more meditative feeling, it still deserves to be on the list.