What is the Strangest Thing You Have Ever Seen in a Cemetery? We asked both Cemetery Professionals and Enthusiasts.

Cemeteries are beautiful places to reflect. If you spend enough time in cemeteries though, you are likely to see the occasional strange thing. From reports of enthusiastic nature to the supernatural, we asked cemetery enthusiasts and professionals “What is the strangest thing you have seen in a cemetery”. These are their answers.


“This one happened in Charter Street in Salem. I was trying to get a stubborn woman to stop using a tomb as a bench when a barefoot goth woman charged out from the bushes (she later informed us she was trying to coax out a wild rabbit) and started swearing at the woman, saying she was disrespecting the dead. The woman started yelling back at her, meanwhile I’m between them being a polite and anxious nerd, trying to explain why sitting on tombs is bad for preservation. The woman finally got up, with kind of a ‘f**** you’ sort of attitude about her in regards to the goth lady. She made it out like she did it because I was being polite, but she was completely ignoring my initial polite requests and only responded when the other lady yelled at her.” Jude Valentine, Cemetery Enthusiast, Salem, MA


“Lying down in the cemetery across from Back Beach in Rockport with a group of friends, to try and get a glimpse of Tom Selleck in the parking lot below. It was about 9 pm, dark and creepy, not knowing whose grave we were lying on🕸🕷. The next day we said, ‘What were we thinking?’ ” Sue Davis, Cemetery Enthusiast, Massachusetts


“In the late summer/early fall of 1775 an epidemic of the Bloody Flux (shigella) took many lives, mostly children. In my town 27 died and 25 are remembered on gravestones and on the 240th anniversary of their deaths I visited each grave. One of the first were siblings who died likely within hours of each other. As I stood at twilight in that small burial ground I was overcome with sorrow for their mother, wondering if she had even been able to leave the house to see them buried as she was likely caring for other children hoping they did not follow their siblings to the grave. As I was leaving I snapped a photo and came home to see this in the photo, never in almost 50 years of photos had this happened before.” Judy Cataldo, Cemetery Enthusiast, Massachusetts


“Being chased by some geese in mating season. We were looking for a gravemarker and got too close to the females and we were chased downhill backwards by the males. We were afraid of them biting our behinds if we turned our backs to them.” Carolyn Thompson, Cemetery Enthusiast.


“Over the years I’ve seen a lot of things in the cemetery. My family and I used to be the live-in caretakers for a cemetery. During that time we saw a lot of crazy, and hilarious things. I have tons of stories about gang fights, running off prostitutes, odd funerals, etc. However the “strangest“ thing that I have ever experienced while working at the cemetery is… I was working in Breda Cemetery here in Natchitoches, LA. While I was working on resetting a fallen headstone; a pair of feral cats just out of the kitten age started watching me.Feral cats in a cemetery is not unusual so I did not pay that much attention. After a while I noticed that they were matchbooked each had the opposite patterns in their fur. Then I noticed that each was missing one eye (the opposite eye). While they moved around to watch me they kept putting their heads together making their good eyes stay on the outside. They slinked around and watch me work for sometime like this. I got quite creeped out and finally had a thought to try to take a picture of them but every time I pull the camera out they ran and would return once I put the camera away. They stayed with me all day continuing to look at me with their heads together. I’ve worked in that cemetery here many times before and since I’ve only seen those cats that one time. It’s crazy but I had the feeling they were just there to supervise that one restoration.” Jason Church, Stone Conservator, Louisiana


“Thinking we were seeing a ghost shuffling through the autumn leaves in the Howard Street Cemetery… only to be scared enough to scream and jump… by a skunk that popped out from under them!!!” Debbie Baggaley Randall, Massachusetts


“One area of an African American cemetery that I restored 2 yrs ago was very active. They loved to play with my phone and every time I went in one area someone would find the wedding march on my phone. I would just stand there and let them play it. And yes my husband actually heard it too.” Linda Small, volunteer at Raven Rock State Park in North Carolina and cemetery adventurer.


“Location: Wyuka Cementery, Lincoln, Nebraska
This Receiving Vault is the oldest building in the cemetery, constructed in 1886 from designs by John H. W. Hawkins, a Cornell graduate.
The Receiving Vault was built to hold caskets of remains when the ground was too hard-frozen in the winter to open graves…
I was in Wyuka cemetery scrubing my parents graves in the military section…when i was done i thought id walk around and take pictures of some of the victorian grave markers…
I came to the old receiving vault and the doors were open….so i thought id step in and take a look and get some pictures.. it was starting to get dark..
I heard a golf cart pull up and suddenly the doors closed on me !! And i heard the golfcart drive away…the security guy had locked me in..
I started yelling and banging on the door ..and as i stood there i had that hair on the back of your neck feeling someone was standing behind me i could clearly hear someone breathing behind me…
I thought id faint..
After about an hour of being in there i heard the golf cart pull up….
But no one came to the doors for about what seemed like forever..
I was crying and begging to get out…
Suddenly the door flew open and a flashlight hit me in the face and both me and the security guy looked shocked..i said you locked me in!
I told him what happened..
He laughed and said
You dont know..
I heard you crying and wailing and i didnt know if i wanted to open it now or in the morning when it was daylight out…
You scared the daylights out of me…lol ..i didnt know who or what was in there..
And i said i dont know who or what was in there with me!
We had a little laugh he said this is one i wont forget…lol… and he took me to my car and opened the gates and let me out…
I never peeped around the graveyard at closeing time again thats for sure”
Amateur headstone cleaner and cemetery enthusiast, Sheree Niki Ficarro Richmond


“I found a sealed jar of assorted peppers behind a tree. I posted a photo of it, and got all kinds of suggestions – voodoo, someone’s forgotten lunch, an offering to an ancestor. It eventually disappeared.” Pete Mahoney


“I started my genealogy research in late 1999. My first roadtrip in search of ancestors took me to the panhandle of Florida to find the burial location of my great and 2nd great grandfathers. When I pulled into the rural cemetery I realized it wasn’t going to be an easy task with no specific location. I said outloud…”I’ve traveled a long way to meet you. Help me find you.” I drove in and turned down one of the far right lanes…parked, got out and walked right to them. That overwhelming connection has never been forgotten.” Gale Wall, Genealogist


Author, Loren Rhoades gave us a link to her story. https://cemeterytravel.com/2011/10/04/weekly-photo-challenge-sunset/ Here is an excerpt “I don’t have a photo from the night I watched sunset in the graveyard, but I can tell you a ghost story about it…”


“We spent two weeks in Europe, and drove from Bergen, Norway to Berlin last summer. We were looking for those adorable European squirrels with red fur and ear tufts the whole trip with no luck. Then, sitting on a bench in a graveyard in the former no man’s land of the Berlin wall, a red squirrel magically appeared to drink from a dripping spigot right next to us. In the same cemetery, there were also mausoleums with bomb damage from the war, and no new interrments from before WWII until after the Berlin wall was razed.” Laurie Moran, The Cemeterrarium, Massachusetts https://instagram.com/thecemeterrarium?utm_source=ig_profile_share&igshid=jerydhxz3z34


“I once accidentally dug up a 19th century coffin handle! I told my boss that I was done digging after that.”

Ariana McSweeney,Preservation Craftsperson, Mount Auburn Cemetery


“We did see 50 different species of birds in one morning on a bird walk, even a Bald Eagle. Christine Lutts Friends of Greenlawn, Salem, MA https://friendsofgreenlawn.org/


“Working in recording an old African American cemetery (Glennwood Cemetery in Huntsville, AL) there was one spot that always gave all three of us a bad, uneasy feeling. Turns out that was because the embankment on that side was eroding and the bodies were very close to sliding out into the street. That was also the cemetery
I used to find myself humming old hymns all the time in certain areas. Very peaceful, wonderful place, not scary at all, just seemed to contain so much history it seeped out.” Claire Woerner


“The first gravestone I ever restored by myself was John G. Lipe, who died at the Battle of Bayou Menard in Indian Territory fighting for the Confederacy under Cherokee Brigadier General Stand Watie. I felt very connected to that grave, I could not shake the feeling for days, I felt as if it was the most important thing I had done in my life up to that point.
I had a dream a week later that a man in Confederate uniform handed me a niche local history book. I found my copy of that same book and found a poem John G Lipe had written predicting his death, along with a photo of John that proved to me that he was the same man from my dream.
The strangest part, though, was that in the book I read that two of my direct ancestors were saved along with roughly 80 other Cherokee Braves by John G Lipe, his actions to save my ancestors resulted in his death.
I visit his grave many times a year.

Here is the poem he wrote one week before he died:

‘I stand at the portal and knock, and tearfully, prayerfully wait,
O! who will unfasten the lock, and open the beautiful gate?

Forever and ever and ever, Must I linger and suffer alone
Are there none that are able to sever,
The fetters that keep me from home?

My spirit is lonely and weary,
I long for the beautiful streets.
The work is so chilly and dreary,
And bleeding and torn are my feet.’ ”

Kristy Fleming


“My first ever paranormal experience was while I was transcribing epitaphs in a old, well kept cemetery. It was during the day; no wind at all; and I was standing still, copying the epitaph of a lovely slate stone. That was when I felt a very distinct, downward tug of my jacket. There were no branches, no vegetation, nothing around me. It was a slow tug, not a quick one. I apologized if I was annoying anyone, and moved to one side. It was awesome.” Annie Foster Boyles, Cemetery Enthusiast, NJ


“While working at Glenwood Cemetery in Everett as an 18 year old in 1996 a very old man asked us if he could have the earrings his wife was wearing, the cemetery foreman had to get the undertaker to open the casket so he could take the earrings off a corpse. Another time we got a grave started but couldn’t finish it by the end of the day. We put a big plank over it, and the next day discovered that an entire family of skunks decided to take shelter under the plank. We used rakes to lift the board up far enough that it would fall towards us when we let it go and ran like hell. When we dared to turn around the skunks were waddling off in the other direction… One time I was investigating a cemetery in Billerica when I noticed a guy lurking sketchily around the outskirts. I thought he was going to rob me or steal my car or something. When I got within earshot he told me that he lived nearby and thought that spirits followed him home from the cemetery and were causing poltergeist activity in his apartment. He thought they were ghosts of soldiers, so he put on his old ROTC uniform and went to the cemetery at night and saluted the veterans buried there. He claimed all the disturbances stopped after that… Also, recently in RMBG, I found the remnants of what was described to me as an “inept revenge ritual” – a black plastic hand, some glittery black craft sand, a smashed crystal phallus, and the rock that did the smashing.” Brendan O’Brien, Rumney Marsh Burial Ground, Revere, MA.


“At Pidcoke Cemetery in Texas, I saw a purple golf bag with a ladybug toy & a sunflower in a tree.” Deborah Gliva, Cemetery Enthusiast


“Inside the first picture I found this on the ground. A small black probably velvet bag with small bones perhaps from a bird sticking out. This was in San Fernando Cemetery I in San Antonio, Texas.” Stephanie Timothy-Ivey, Cemetery Enthusiast, Colorado


“There was this time we were run out of a cemetery by an angry gang of turkeys. http://facebook.com/ALRedgrave/videos/vb.502056213/10155442036441214/ Gobble gobble.” Redgrave Research


“I was fairly young when this story took place so my memory and my childhood imagination may have warped the story a bit but this is what I remember. My grandparents always used to take us to forest lawn which is a huge cemetery in the heart of Buffalo NY.

Anyways I remember walking with them and I somehow found myself falling behind until they were a good deal ahead of me on the path. Then all I remember is a very loud man’s voice from behind say ‘hey! Watch where your going’ then something pushed me and I flew forward and hit my lip on a gravestone in front of me. I ended up not needing stitches or anything but still shook me yup, not to mention the fact that no one was around me. I attribute getting pushed to a spirit that didn’t want alittle kid like me playing around on top of them.

I learned that day to not step on top of a
grave and I still don’t to this day.” Cameron Mansell, Cemetery Enthusiast


“When I was in a Charleston cemetery, I found a piece of freshly baked cake on a plate on a grave. Someone later told me it was possibly voodoo related. I did not touch the cake, just went on my way. The other happened many years ago when I found a bra on a stone bench that’s part of an elaborate memorial for a well-known hospital founder at Atlanta’s Westview cemetery. I also left the bra where it was.” Tracy Muller Rylands, Cemetery Enthusiast, Dunwoody, GA


“Jeff Osgood (Clay of the Dead). I was a gravedigger for two summers at Wooster Cemetery in Ohio. We had a burial during a particularly wet week had been raining for days. The coffin was in the vault and it was all in the hole. The dump truck on the edge of the hole had just dropped in initial layer of dirt. I grabbed shovel. We typically jumped in the hole to move the dirt to the edges to avoid pockets that would promote sinkage later. I was moving to get into the hole when the entire earthen wall above the dump truck gave out. The truck teetered back and fell into the hole. If It happened a second or two later, I would have been in the hole and certainly been crushed to death-two bodies in the same hole. Chills me to this day.”


“One time, with you actually, while resetting a fallen stone we hit coffin while digging. I believe it was a 4yr
old child born around 1621. Got to hold the coffin handle in my hand.” Taylor Mortimer, Epoch Preservation Intern


“I was as Greenlawn cemetery planting flowers at my grandparents/uncle/ancestors grave and my shovel hit something that looked like a ring. Freaked me out for a minute until I realized it was a metal ring from what was probably an ornate fence.” Jennifer Nisbet


“Strangest thing for me was seeing a doll on an isolated country graveyard, it was back by the treeline, kind of creepy. It was the grave of a young girl, run over by a stagecoach. There was a plastic bag with notes in it, scraps of paper written back and forth over a few years time between ppl researching the story and someone who might have been a relative. One called themself the ‘graceful ghost, there was a copy of the article from 1800s about the accident. I haven’t gone to that yard in years…I should go see if it’s all still there.” Amy Jones, Cemetery Enthusiast, New Jersey


“I have seen a few strange things in cemeteries. Mostly they involve people but this one involves an albino rat at Howard Street Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts.

I was working on a slate stone that had been broken and was partially underground. It was a complicated repair and I was very much absorbed in what I was doing when I saw an albino rat slowly walking across the wall nearby. He walked toward me and was very friendly. He had to be a pet. I couldn’t abandon what I was doing but I posted about it in real time to get advice and ended up calling the police line to see if they had a call of an escaped pet rat. I was concerned it would be easy to spot by the local hawk who was very violent and who I had named murder hawk. This went on for an hour or so while this rat walked around the work site. He eventually found some food and disappeared behind a gravestone. Some back story is that people say this is the area where Giles Corey was pressed, long before it was a burying ground. There is some debate around that. However, it is local legend that he haunts the site. So that is how I was one box short of having a pet albino rat named Giles Corey.” Rachel Meyer, stone conservator Epoch Preservation, author of this article.

Do you have a strange story? Leave it in the comments. Also, visit us on Facebook and on Instagram @EpochPreservation.

We Asked Both Cemetery Professionals and Enthusiasts, Why is Graveyard Preservation Important? This is what they said.

Old graveyards have been falling into ruin for decades, some longer, but there is a resurgence of enthusiasm to save them. I think it is because of the increased interest in genealogy and our ability to share stories easily with one another. Whatever the reason, more and more people are taking an interest in preserving burying grounds and cemeteries. I asked my fellow professionals and enthusiasts why is preserving graveyards so important? I have also included some links to their projects where available.

Charter Street Salem, MA


“I think that cemetery preservation is important because the grave markers are the last tangible evidence of our founding members of society. History is not abstract when we can tie it to a specific person or event. In cemeteries we can do that.” Jason Church Feel, Materials Conservator, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT). https://www.ncptt.nps.gov/articles/cemetery-conservation/


“Graveyard preservation is important because they are our history. The stones are a public museum of our craftsmen, historic figures and natural habitats meant to be enjoyed and celebrated.” Crystal Daley, Cemetery Trustee, Danville, NH co-founder restoration of FPBG Gloucester, MA http://www.facebook.com/firstparishburialgroundgloucester/

First Parish Burying Ground Gloucester, MA


“Cemeteries act as open-air museums that better connect us to ourselves and our communities. They provide tangible links to the past and clues to unraveling our history. Here we find the people who made us what we are and by preserving their graves, we are helping to preserve their stories.” Jen Ratliff, Salem, Massachusetts, Archivist and Historian http://www.historybythesea.com


“One of the founding principles of Mount Auburn was the idea that cemeteries could be pleasant and peaceful places for the living. This informs a lot of our conservation practice – we are working not only to preserve the memories of the dead, but also to provide a beautiful space in which the living can contemplate our shared history.” Ariana McSweeney, Preservation Craftsperson, Mount Auburn Cemetery http://www.mountauburn.org


“If people from our storied past were to come back to life, the historic part of the cemetery is the only part of town they would still recognize… We are fond of the quote by William Gladstone that states ‘Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.’ ” TJ Cullinane, President of The Friends of Forest Hill Cemetery, Derry, NH


“Graveyards are the final resting place for our loved ones. Without continued care for the gravestones, the inscriptions will weather away, at which point, these people exist only as a memory.” Joshua Gerloff, MA co owner Epoch Preservation http://www.facebook.com/epochpreservation/


“Graveyard preservation is important for the community, history and people buried there. It showcases our local history, ancestors, stories and the beauty of how it was many years ago and should be preserved for generations to come.” Christine Lutts, Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery Salem, MA https://friendsofgreenlawn.wordpress.com

Greenlawn Cemetery Salem, MA


“In some cases, the stones are the sole record of a person’s existence. They also make history very personal and tangible.” Paula Lemire, Albany, NY – historian at the Albany Rural Cemetery http://albanyruralcemetery.org


“For me, not only do I get to stand with my ancestor by their grave, but I think of all the other family members that stood in that very spot.” Angie Wagner, VP of Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Advance, MO http://pleasanthillcemeteryadvancemo.org/


“Cemeteries are the Keys to our heritage.” Judy Ann Gilliss – History Buff, MA, Magnolia Historical Society, MA


“Graveyards are a local history museum and an art museum, surrounded by local flaura and fauna. Where else can you visit your ancestors, learn more about the past residents of your town, be inspired by sculpture, and befriend a squirrel, all in one place?”. Laurie Moran – taphophile and cemetery inspired artist. https://instagram.com/thecemeterrarium?utm_source=ig_profile_share&igshid=jerydhxz3z34

Charter Street Cemetery Salem, MA


“So often, a gravestone is the only remaining trace of a person’s passage through life. By preserving graveyards, we preserve the memory of lost lives and allow future generations to become curious about the past.” Robin Hazard Ray, Docent, Mount Auburn Cemetery. http://www.mountauburn.org


“Cemeteries are like time capsules of an area’s unique history. Each stone is an irreplaceable record of an individual and the time they were here on earth. I find the symbols, poems and epitaphs add to these individual’s life story. I start researching and feel I get to know not only the people of the time, but also get a snapshot of the town as well. I see the hardships, loss and celebrations when I start connecting a town’s genealogy.” President of The Union City Historical Society and stone preservationist in Union City, MI. https://www.facebook.com/groups/270307273437214/


What he tells visitors on his cemetery tour. “We drive by cemeteries all the time. Sometimes without knowing it. Unless there is a funeral or it’s Mother’s Day or Memorial Day, or a day like today, we don’t stop or give them much thought. But they are there year ’round. The headstones are sometimes worn from the weather or the years or neglect – or sadly from vandalism – but the worst damage is that of the people if forgotten. These headstones are like bookmarks. Each one represents a life. People die twice… once when they die and the other is the last time they are spoken of. Being dead isn’t so bad – but being forgotten is horrible. … Then I close with the Shakespeare quote from Hamlet. ‘This grave shall have a living monument’ — us!” Mike Gillett, SE Michigan. genealogist, cemetery enthusiast, and Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactor.

Old Hill Burying Ground Concord, MA


“My reason is mostly emotional. Every human being is special and their grave is their final resting place. No matter how much time has gone by, graves should be respected. The deceased were someone’s mother, father, child…it doesn’t matter how much time has passed. Graves are to be respected. Treat them as you would the graves of YOUR loved ones.” Viki Satkiewicz Gayhardt, cemetery appreciator, NH


“Is to preserve these outdoor museums, public art, memorial architecture and cultural heritage, and the community history.” John Dill, Bureau of Cemeteries Operations Manager City of Norfolk, VA


“Preservation of all history is very important, without knowledge of history, people live meaningless lives. Everyone who has ever lived had or has a life’s story.” Clay Beiser, Iowa, cemetery enthusiast and history buff.


“Cemeteries offer a hidden treasure chest into the past. There is no better time than now to help raise awareness to such important information and stories. It is absolutely vital to our communities to help preserve these markers and to keep these stories flowing for generations to come. Green-Wood Cemetery was once 2nd to Niagara Falls in terms of tourist attractions during the Victorian Era, I hope we all can bring that sort of wonder and amusement back to these such special grounds our world has to offer!” Wesley Painter, Brooklyn, NY
Historic Research – GREEN-WOOD Cemetery http://www.green-wood.com


“Gravestones and graveyards can tell us a lot about the local history, including epidemics of diseases. Gravestones aren’t getting any younger. With harsh weather conditions continually eroding away stones, it is extremely important to preserve what remains; using current best practices cleaning up stones, transcribing, if possible, what is written on the stones, and mapping the gravestones in the graveyards for future generations.” Jennifer M. Day, New Hampshire, genealogist and FindaGrave contributor. https://www.findagrave.com/ https://billiongraves.com/


“Shakespeare’s gravediggers called graves “houses that last ‘til doomsday.” For many, the graves that mark these houses are their last sign to the world that they existed. They may not make it as far as doomsday, but it’s an important responsibility to make sure these signs last as long as possible.” Brendan O’Brien, Member of Rumney Marsh Burial Ground Committee, Revere, MA https://www.facebook.com/rumneymarsh.burialground.7


“Because when studied closely, graveyards offer inclusive and accessible information about our cultural attitudes and their changes throughout history. A neglected cemetery can attract unwanted behavior into a community. Neighborhoods are improved when free from the issues caused by neglect in their backyards. A town or city that cares for its cultural resources, cares not only for its past but for its present and future.” Rachel Meyer, co owner Epoch Preservation, Stone Conservator to Salem, MA and author of this article. http://www.facebook.com/epochpreservation/

If you want to add a quote about why Graveyard Preservation is important, please comment below. Feel free to add the state or country you are in and a link to any projects you are involved in.

All photos courtesy of Rachel Meyer and are subject to copyright.

Author’s Ledge. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Concord, Massachusetts

A series of granite markers point the way to Author’s Ledge. The resting place for some of our country’s most beloved writers. Visitors leave pens and pencils. Please enjoy these photos and a few quotes from these celebrated authors.
Thoreau is the first of the writers one happens upon when climbing the hill.
“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Nathaniel Hawthorne, Sophia Peabody Hawthorne and family.
“Every individual has a place to fill in the world and is important in some respect whether he chooses to be so or not. “
Alcott family plot.
“We all have our own life to pursue, our own kind of dream to be weaving, and we all have the power to make wishes come true, as long as we keep believing.” Louisa May Alcott
Ralph Waldo Emerson. “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”. Beautiful rose quartz monument.

So You Want to Save a Graveyard? These are the first ten things to do!

Graveyard restoration is satisfying work. It is not however easy work. So I want to help make it easier for you with a few tips to get you started.

Lots of people who are in this field are doing it because they happened upon a site in neglected condition and they were able to make a difference in a way that nobody was able to before. Most of the people who are in this field see the potential in often neglected sites that others do not see. If this could describe you, then know that there are definitely resources out there to help you in your project regardless of your budget. We want you to succeed!

Now without going into the difference between a burying ground and cemetery, I am going to refer to both as graveyards. Since we work in both cemeteries and burying grounds, this list applies to both.

1. Who owns the Graveyard? So you found a graveyard that has been neglected and you want to find out why or you want to volunteer your time landscaping or cleaning it up. The first thing you need to do is find out who owns it and get permission to pursue improving it.

Graveyards can be city owned. They can be privately owned. They can be abandoned (noone owns them). They can even be undiscovered and technically someone owns the land but doesn’t know it is there.

The first thing I would do is Google it. However, if no answer comes up I would call the Department of Public Works in the city or town it is in. They will know if they do or do not own it. If the municipality doesn’t own it but doesn’t know who does, I would then call the Historical Society.

Sometimes just expressing concern is enough for someone to take responsibility but sometimes it takes more than that.

Either way, contact the owners and try to be polite. You don’t know why the place is the way it is. Maybe there are money issues, or it was left to noone in particular and they have been waiting for years for someone like you to help.

2. Is it on Google Maps? Anyone can add a location to Google Maps. If you go on maps and see that the site isn’t on it, you could add it. This will make it easier for volunteers to find it and will help families visit. You will want to do your research on its name before doing this. Some graveyards have been called multiple names and you will have to choose one to put on the map. Choose the commonly used name. You are going to want to be consistent with the name. It may take a while for it to be approved by Maps.

3. Get a sign. So you have permission to work in a graveyard and have found the proper channels to go down to get approval for the projects you want to do. Proper signage lets visitors know that the site is cared for.

Signs can be simple with just the name and date established. Some signs have rules, like “no gravestone rubbing” and “no dumping of trash”. Some have hours like “open sunrise to sunset”. Some have detailed histories. Some say who is caring for the site and how to contact them. Signage helps communicate how you expect people to treat the site going forward.

4. Give your site a Facebook Page or Facebook Group. Having a page specifically for the graveyard you are working on will help you recruit volunteers and raise interest. Do your best to post regularly so people see that your project is active.

Share your posts to local history groups.

5. Document those stones! Join Find a Grave or Billiongraves or even do it the old-fashioned way by making a paper map and a corresponding list of names. Trust me when I say future gravestone restorers will thank you for helping them know there are things missing and where out of place stones belong.

6. No Available Funds? Crowdfund! You probably won’t collect a fortune. Often you will collect enough to get started with small projects though. Also, you could look for small, local grants to get started.

7. Get an education. Attend workshops and join related groups.

If you are near where we work, we like having interns and volunteers and in exchange you learn some of the basic skills you will need for your projects.

If you join groups like The Association for Gravestone Studies and pay attention to opportunities to learn new skills, you can often find workshops that are inexpensive near you.

Read the book A Graveyard Preservation Primer by Lynette Strangstad. There is some common sense stuff in there that may help you get started. Get the most recent edition.

Read up on state and local laws and ordinances. This will help you know what to put on signs.

Before you even attempt to landscape a site yourself, you will need at least some instruction. There is more to think about with graveyard landscaping than you may think and you wouldn’t want to cut down historic plantings.

There is definitely a lot to know about gravestone preservation. You will need to know what materials are okay, how to assess a stone, and a long list of other things. Many of us have seen the results of well intentioned people using the wrong materials and techniques. Please seek out training before working on stones or hire someone with that training.

8. Recruiting volunteers. So you are ready to host your first cleanup. There is trash to pick up and volunteer shrubs to remove, etc. So who are you going to ask?

Try your Facebook followers, your friends, the Historical Society, the Scouts, the ROTC, the Rotary Club, environmental groups, and other community organizations.

No matter who you ask, try to make sure they are happy to be there so they want to keep volunteering. Bring water, sunscreen, and bug spray. Sometimes you can get donations of supplies from local hardware stores and other businesses.

9. Research the history of the site. Who is in it and what is unique about it? Knowing the history of the site will help you apply for National Historic Registry status which will help you apply for grants.

What stories can you find out to bring interest and show others how important it is not to lose the graveyard as a cultural resource? Try going beyond the stories everyone else tells. It is necessary, however. if it is an old burying ground, to point out founding families. If you want to get replacement veterans markers, you will want to know who the veterans are. Also, who are the artists, the business owners, the underepresented groups, the inventors? Was there an epidemic?

Who were the carvers? There are books on this topic.

10. Don’t give up on your project. This is where most projects fail. It gets difficult and people give up. But even if you just do one small thing everyday, it will make a difference to your site. I have met people about to stop but they chose to do one more thing instead and ended up meeting the right volunteer or coming across the right opportunity that ended up making a big difference and reignited their enthusiasm.

Invest in your volunteers. They need to know how to keep things going if you need to take a break or do something new. This may be the most important thing to do. It won’t take long for a site to return to the state you found it in.


I really hope this list helped you. It is in no way complete but should get you started. I wish you well on all your journeys and adventures. I hope someday you will remember back to when you started and you will help someone learn the things they need to know to succeed. We need to inspire one another. Graveyard restoration is satisfying work. It is not however easy work. Nothing worth doing is.

Respecting Graveyard Creatures during Landscape Preservation.

Abandoned graveyards are refuges to the wild. The weeds grow sometimes into jungles. Some have been abandoned for decades and have become forested. If you take on the restoration of an abandoned space it is kind to show compassion to its occupants.

When you clean a stone, carefully remove the spiders. Leave the wild growing milkweed, save the monarch eggs from the small plants in the mowing paths and raise and release them.

Be mindful of the creatures of the graveyard. Make friends with the crows. Smile with the grinning grasshopper and maybe leave a little of the wild where there are not stones.

I suggest taking a look around any project you are about to start. Apart from looking at historic plantings that should be saved also look for plants that attract pollinators. If a plant is in the way can it be moved elsewhere? It is good to remember that an alternative to mowing near stones is planting low growing native ground cover. This both protects the stone from breakage caused by landscaping equipment but creates a more natural looking landscape.

Of course ultimately in order to restore a site there will be some landscaping needed but make decisions knowing that we share these places with all kinds of creatures that need to be protected and respected.

Grasshopper on a tarp covering a gravestone at First Parish Burying Ground Newbury, MA.

Neighborhood cat looking for squirrels at Charter Street in Salem, MA.

Followed by Ducks at Greenlawn Cemetery Salem, MA.
Wild Burdock attracts bees at Broad Street Cemetery Salem, MA.
One of the many butterflies raised from eggs saved from the paths at First Parish Burying Ground Newbury, MA.

Collecting monarch eggs on milkweed leaves at First Parish Burying Ground Newbury, MA.
Spider on a stone at Old North Burying Ground Ipswich, MA
Lady bug at First Parish Burying Ground Newbury, MA
Neighborhood Cat at First Parish Burial Ground Gloucester, MA.

Getting ready for the 2019 Preservation Season

Welcome to our first post! This is Rachel, conservator for Epoch Preservation and I want to offer you this blog as a way for you to get to know what we do and find ways to be a part of it, learn skills, and start your own projects.

I have an upcoming EVENT on March 24th at the Hive and Forge, Salem, MA. It is a Death Cafe. At 11am. I will be bringing photos of interesting things from my work with Epoch Preservation and as the stone conservator to Salem.

Stay updated with this blog to learn more about upcoming events and educational opportunities. Also, feel free to message me with ideas for future posts.

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