Maybe it was my Catholic upbringing that always made me associate cemeteries as hallowed ground, rather then something more sinister, but they never creeped me out, as they seem to do with so many people.
There were two particularly old cemeteries near where I grew up, that as teenagers, we would sneak into to try and scare ourselves shitless. Both were old family plots, and admittedly both were trespassing situations. Some of my friends wouldn’t even get out of the car to go to them, and it seemed like these outings always ended up with a lot of screaming and panicked runs back to the car, yet I always found it interesting to read the names and dates on the stones . I’ve been a bona-fide history nerd from a young age, so I think that part appealed to me.
I bring this up because an increasingly popular October tradition are cemetery tours, and while the October timing obviously is meant to appeal to horror fans and Halloween buffs, a majority of these tours lean towards historical antecdotes, rather than scares. That being said, a lot focus on the more lurid aspects of history. It seems like a fun Halloweenesque activity, as well as an unorthodox way to learn something new.
The Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia is creme de la crème of cemeteries as cemeteries as leisure destinations go. This over 175 year old cemetery has monthly tours on topics such as “Scandals & Suicides,” “Spirituals and Spiritualists,” “The Confederates of Laurel Hill”, “Hot Spots and Storied Plots,” “Crooked Croonies,” and “Legendary Civil War Ladies” (I’m interested in all of the above). During October they do offer a Haunted Halloween History Tour. What’s cool about this place is that they also have cemetery events: yoga, concerts, art exhibits and movie nights. The Antemortem Society is a young professional group that helps volunteer, fundraise and promote the history of the cemetery. I fear that if I lived in Philly, I might join up.
As I mentioned, a majority of the other tours, while occurring in the fall, are more focused on history than the macabre. Although reportedly one of the most haunted places in the nation, Gettysburg’s Evergreen Cemetery has a 90 minute historical tour. Doylestown Cemetery, similar to Laurel Hill, has a variety of different tours scheduled throughout the year. The Erie Cemetery webpage has a walking tour you could download, as does the Allegheny Cemetery in Pittsburgh’s Lawrenceville neighborhood.
Hellertown, in the Lehigh Valley has cemetery tours in August for two days leading up to their annual community day. The Dearly Departed Players is a historical acting troupe up my way in Lackawanna County, who performs skits based on cemetery residents. They recently did a tour in the Dunmore Cemetery.
If you don’t want to venture out to a cemetery yourself, because they do scare you, but are still somewhat intrigued, check out this blog by a gentlemen who seems to travel solely to cemeteries.