Monday, October 27, 2008


I have a confession to make. I am a taphophile. It sounds sinful, doesn’t it? A taphophile is someone who frequently visits cemeteries to read epitaphs. What better time than Halloween to announce my addiction?

Visiting cemeteries started shortly after I began writing historical romance. Reading the epitaphs brings me closer to the actual people who lived during the time period I write about. Their stones are theirs. Their last remaining mark on the world. Some headstones in northern New York proclaim the woman are “consorts” to the men lain to rest beside them. So many consorts in this area, women who were not married to the men they lived with. In all probability, there were no ministers to marry them in the area. Shows how remote their lives were. How small their world, communities shut out against an entire world. Very different from today’s society of the Internet and cell phones.

I traveled to Salem, Massachusetts two years ago just to visit the Old Burying Grounds, the nation’s second oldest cemetery (The Old Burying Grounds in Hartford, Connecticutt being America’s oldest cemetery). Buried here is a passenger from the Mayflower, the actual judge and a few jury members of the Salem Witch Trials. Here, I was right in my element. Almost every stone is adorned by an eerie skull or a ghoulish grim reaper or hour glass. I bought quite a few cemetery books there (I’ve never seen books on cemeteries before coming to Salem.) and learned that each macabre carving means something, and each is reflective of the Puritan “fire and brimstone” religion at the time. The skull, for example, is symbolism that one would be cast in hellfire if not leading a godly life. The hourglass and/or a snake biting its own tail: our short time here on Earth. Even a simple rosette symbolizes love and eternity. All very interesting. All reflective of lives and lifestyles lost if not for the stonecarver’s timeless mark.

So this Halloween if you happen to see me lurking in your cemetery, I’m not trying to find a ghost. I’m just trying to learn something about the people from our past.

Happy Haunting!

~ Nancy