Enter if You Dare: Grave Tourism

Graveyards are generally defined as burial grounds built before the mid-19th century, usually on rocky earth not needed for farming, or a patch of ground close to the church. Cemeteries, Greek for "sleeping place,” are more modern-day developments. They often include greenery, garden paths, statuary, and other pleasantries meant to encourage the public to visit.

Create Your Own Ghastly Graveyard
For a Halloween thrill, you can create an old-world cemetery right outside your own door with decorative tombstones. Offered in a variety of realistic shapes and sizes, these all-weather markers have the look of natural carved stone and are embellished with spooky slogans and devious imagery. Halloween Tombstones turn your lawn into an eerie graveyard by night. Add animated zombies or a grave-keepers to keep the terror rising. If creating your own isn’t quite enough and you find yourself craving more, venture out across the USA to take in some notably ominous graveyards.

Westminster Hall Burying Grounds and Catacombs, Baltimore, Maryland
In 1849, Edgar Allen Poe was buried in Westminster in an unmarked grave. As time went on, the site grew over with weeds. When word of this neglect reached Poe's beloved mother-in-law, Maria Clemm, she wrote Poe's cousin, Neilson Poe, in Baltimore begging him to make it right. Neilson had a headstone made, but it was destroyed in a freak accident.

With pennies from schoolchildren and gifts from friends, enough money was collected to commission a monument for Poe, which was dedicated in the front corner of the cemetery in 1875. His wife, mother-in-law, and presumably Poe himself, are all interred at the monument (a rumor circulates that Poe's remains were never moved, and that he still lies in an unmarked grave at the rear of the church).

Since 1949, on the anniversary of Poe's death, someone has entered the cemetery and left a partial bottle of cognac and three roses on Poe's grave. The roses are likely for each of those buried below. The cognac...no one knows. In 2007, then 92-year-old preservationist, Sam Porpora, claimed to be the "Poe Toaster." Porpora said the scheme was a promotional stunt aimed at keeping the Baltimore churchyard well preserved. However, some skeptics don't believe Porpora's claims. What’s more, the practice mysteriously stopped in 2010.

Machpelah Cemetery, Queens, New York
Harry Houdini could escape from anything — prisons, straight jackets, water torture cells — why not death? Here's how the story goes: prior to his last tour, Houdini made a pact with his wife Bess that whoever died first, the other would send back a secret, ten-word message that only the two of them would know. On Halloween night 1926, Houdini died from complications resulting from a ruptured appendix. Every year on the anniversary of his passing, Bess held a séance in hopes of making contact with her husband. She tried for ten years, and then snuffed out the light beside his portrait in her home.

Since the 1940s, magicians have taken up the cause. Every year around Halloween, illusionists from around the world pay tribute to Houdini by holding a candlelight procession through Machpelah Cemetery. The ceremony is private, and the date and time of the event changes every year to keep curious spectators away. Houdini is interred in a 24-grave family plot (he was the son of a rabbi from Appleton, Wisconsin) and has his given name on the stone: Ehrich Weiss.

Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia
As you park near the entrance, you can't help but walk under the live oak and moss canopy that leads you to the river and the grave site of songwriter Johnny Mercer in Section H. One section over is a bench marking the spot for novelist and poet Conrad Aiken, where legend has it that you can drink and never get drunk because the ghosts of the past will steal the spirits from your drink before you have a chance to consume them. Two of the cemetery's more recent residents include Jim Williams and Danny Hansford, the real-life characters from the best seller Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

Various locations in Los Angeles, California
Why not surprise cultural icons born on Halloween? No presents required, but bring flowers! John Candy can be found in Holy Cross Cemetery. Michael Landon is resting at Hillside Memorial Park. And Ester Williams is buried at Glendale Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Garden of Ascension along the walkway.

Side trip: In 1993, outside the Viper Room, 8852 Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, River Phoenix suffered cardiac arrest around 1 am on Halloween. Efforts to resuscitate him failed. Although he was cremated and his ashes scattered over the family ranch in Florida, the front sidewalk of the Viper Room has become a shrine to the film star each Halloween. Fans scribble graffiti on the wall near where he collapsed, and flowers mark the spot where he died.

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