Tag Archives: graveyards

Lafayette Cemetery

     I have an obsession with graveyards.  I must have been a groundskeeper in a past life, although my paralyzing fear of insects contradicts that possibility.  Maybe I was an archaeologist?  I also like to look at bones.  In fact I have an uncanny ability to find bones in cemeteries.  And NO, I’m not digging them up!  I just wander where others don’t I guess and maybe move a rock here or there, but that’s a blog for another day…

The photos in this blog were all taken inside Lafayette Cemetery in New Orleans, LA.  The Lafayette Cemetery is located in the Garden District of NOLA, which took me a half hour bike ride, a 10 minute walk through the French Quarter, across Canal Street, one streetcar (the green line), plus walking 15 more blocks to get to.  Might I suggest a driver?  Or at least a bigger map?

In my previous post about the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, I explained about the four kinds of tombs located in the graveyards and showed photos.  You can check out the history about that graveyard here.

Most of the tombs in Lafayette are family and society tombs.  I think the wall tombs here are some of the longest as well.  The markers for the tombs can be really interesting to read.  Some are sad, you’ll see tombs where a family’s children have all passed at young ages.  However there’s also a tomb in the corner where one man’s first and second wife are buried with him!  Crowded much?

In the St. Louis Cemetery post I also talked about the difference between restoration and renovation when it comes to preserving these crypts.  Just like the Save Our Cemeteries organization, Lafayette is part of a research project that involves mapping, tomb and name listings, and historical exploration.  For more information about the Lafayette Cemetery Research Project, check out their site!

I think one of the most fascinating things about this cemetery is the diversity within its walls.  It was built on property owned by a French plantation woman in the 1800’s, Madame Livaudais.  Since its French beginnings, it has come to be the final resting place for Civil War soldiers, Creole Americans, German immigrants who became merchants and entrepreneurs in the New World, and the Irish immigrants who did all the dangerous labor of the day.  It even houses a few families of African descent.  Because of this, the cemetery remains non-denominational.  A side note of which allows Lafayette to be filmed for movies, television, and documentaries.  The Catholic Church has forbidden further filming in the St. Louis Cemetery after Peter Fonda’s LSD trip in the film, Easy Rider took place on one of its society tombs.

Looks cozy, no?  If you’ve ever heard that New Orleans crypts are “Nature’s Crematorium,” that’s not exactly how it works.  I did learn that New Orleans uses wooden coffins to this day to place the bodies in the crypts, but they don’t really cremate inside them.  It would have to get MUCH more hot inside them.  These tombs are more like a crockpot, hot enough to decompose over time, but if you only want your ashes left around, you really ought to opt for the fire.  Tombs still in use remove the markers, break the plaster wall, and bag any remaining bones for DNA purposes, and then sweep the bag into the back of the tomb where it drops into the pit.  This practice allows generations of families to be buried together.  It’s not uncommon for some of these tombs to hold more than 40 people.  Imagine the family feuds possible over that timeline!

There’s something beautiful about the variety of graveyards we have.  The architecture, the historical significance, the climates and locations they’re built upon, the people inside all hold such interest.  I haven’t met too many people that aren’t interested in cemeteries; it’s anthropology when you think about it.  To think the crypts of New Orleans began as a solution to burial problems of the sandy, swampy, below sea level city have now become a major tourist attraction and warranted preservation societies like the Lafayette Research Project and Save Our Cemeteries.

What do you think?  Do the variety of burials in our country interest you?  What about them? 

What’s Your Epitaph? Review: The Graveyard Book

Nobody Owens is a boy who lives in a graveyard.  His parents are ghosts, his guardian walks the border between the living and dead, his tutor is a shape shifter, and his best friend thinks he’s imaginary.

But Nobody Owens isn’t the boy’s real name.  And he isn’t a ghost.

Spanning over 10 years to complete, author Neil Gaiman watched his toddler son ride his tricycle around a cemetery and a story was in the making.  It’s interesting that the first draft of his story actually started at chapter 4.  In his acknowledgements he credits a variety of friends and family that introduced him to graveyard history, folklore, and my favorite ghouls, all of which helped to construct the Newbery winning graveyard book.

I really enjoyed the style of Gaiman’s voice.  In several chapters you don’t know, but you do know, who is doing the talking.  There’s a kind of mystery to the book.  He takes you into a wonderfully unique cemetery in Scotland.  A graveyard with a mixture of tombs, and characters, on the outskirts of town.

One thing I found that set Gaiman’s book apart from mainstream fiction is how many characters he introduces.  There are lots.  The editor in me panicked the first few chapters in, “Neil, what are you doing?  Who are these people?  Do I need to  remember them?  Should I have brought a highlighter with me?  A notepad?  A three-ring binder?  Wait, I’m ok, this is different, but I get it.”  He does have a large cast of characters, but they’re very unique.  And while some may make a short appearance, the way he introduces them is so cool.  After he names a character in the graveyard, he writes in parentheses the epitaph on their tombstone.  I loved it!  But can’t you just imagine this cooped up writer in an office madly scribbling epitaphs on a piece of napkin or back of a billing statement, trying to get it just right?  That kind of detail is exactly what would slowly and agonizingly drive me to lose it, but I’d have to have each one just right.  Gaiman nails it here!

The Graveyard Book may be shelved on the young adult bookshelves, but this is a book anyone will enjoy.  It’s a fast read with a captive setting and well plotted storyline.  Illustrations by Dave McKean also add a fun touch to the story.

What would your epitaph read?

Too morbid?  Just tell us what book you’re currently reading!


Mastering the Art of the Semi-Plot: A Tale of Plotting Gone Graveyard

Today my goal was to outline my entire story.  From beginning to end.  A bold task that required getting up early and focusing by planting my butt in a chair for the time it takes to drink a venti passion tea.  Three hours later (I savor my drink, ok?…I got lost in social media, ok?), I had at least figured out the “want, motivation, but” for my protagonist, that wasn’t difficult.  But I got stuck on my antagonist!  I know what he wants, but I have no motive, and without that motive I can’t outline major turning points!  Damn it all to hell!  Excuse me, I needed to get that off my chest.

If I lost some of you at “want, motivation, but” it’s a plotting tool I learned at the Writers Institute by the wonderful Lori Devoti.  Lori is a paranormal romance author and if you want a great deal on e-books, she’s running one on her blog right now.  What Lori showed us at the conference is a chart where you list what your character wants, which needs to be the goal of the story so it has to allow growth in your character.  For example, someone’s goal might be to save her marriage.  After you’ve named the goal, you have to know the motivation behind it.  What is it that drives the goal for the character?  What is the best thing that could be if they get their want?  And finally, you put the BUT in there.  The obstacle that prevents them from achieving their goal.  For example, if the goal was for the character to save her marriage, but her husband dies, her motivation and goal become something different, possibly about creating a better life for her child.  Lori’s advice was to draw up this chart with the protagonist and the antagonist side by side because as much as you can pit them against each other with conflicting wants, motives, buts, then the easier it will be to plot them against each other.

Today my problem is that I haven’t figured out my antagonist’s motive yet.  So I decided to stop staring at a blank piece of paper and definitely STOP getting lost in social media world, and do some research for the book to get my brain spinning again.  So, I spent the better part of an hour walking through a graveyard.

Part of my walk in the Oak Grove Cemetery

No, no, this wasn’t a suicide mission.  Not in the slightest.  It’s the main setting of my story, and I thought a stroll through my character’s world would help clear up the muddy bits.  Despite the fact I had to hide my camera from the protective groundskeeper who kept driving past me while I sauntered around, it was a productive visit.  I got several great shots that will help me create scenes in the graveyard.  And best of all were the names!  Many of the graves in this cemetery are from the 1800’s and the names and variety in the tombstones was something spectacular to see.  I also found the FREAKIEST tree that may or may not make its way into the story (I’m almost too creeped out to write about it).

I still haven’t quite nailed down a motive that doesn’t leap beyond the borders of “yaah, right, Witkins!” so I’ll keep working on that.  But I still consider this a productive day that will help me when I am scene building.  I mean, look where I was!

I like the way the different kinds of trees overlap here. Each a different color and texture.

What do you think?  Any advice for this stuck writer?  What helps you sculpt your characters and outline better?

Also, don’t miss out on a chance to win a free book!  Read my review of The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, leave a comment, and you’re automatically entered to be a part of the World Book Night Giveaway!     

Style Tips from the Happiness Project

Surely this day would never come.  Me, get a stylish blogger award?  And it happened without me having to bargain for it!  I mean no one was trapped under something heavy, or starving, or having an allergic reaction, or unable to zip their pants on their own!  It just happened!  Woohoo!  I always new I was stylish!

My Mrs. Peacock costume on Halloween. We dressed up as characters from the boardgame Clue.

So how did this eighth wonder of the world occur?  It’s all thanks to Mckenzie at the Unabridged Girl.  Always so supportive and genuine, her blog is like checking in with your bff to see what’s up.  She shares her struggles, so you ask if you can buy her some chocolate, when she is consumed with sweets, she writes flash fiction, shares writing quirks, and tales of friendship.  Thanks Mckenzie, it’s always fun to read your blog!

If I am understanding this blogger award thing correctly, it’s the new century’s popular way of sending a chain letter, right?  Only I don’t have to pay any money to a cause that helps gorillas in a zoo or buy girl scout cookies.  I can handle that.  I do have to share with you some tidbits you might not know about me though.  I’ll try to make them interesting.

  1. I think croutons are a perfectly acceptable snack.
  2. The sun hates me.  I literally break out into hives if I don’t wear SPF 80.  Although once, it happened in my childhood bedroom, and the only light on was a nightlight.  Nature vs. Jess vs. Nurture?
  3. I loved the french film, Amelie, so much when I saw it, I rewound it (dvds weren’t out yet), and watched it all over again immediately.
  4. I love graveyards and walk through them as much as possible.  On occasion, I’ve been known to tamper with some graves, but I swear it’s always respectfully.  I think graveyards are full of stories.

Last summer in the cemetery attached to Boston Common. I can't help myself, I love creepin' in the crypts!

5.  I’m more beatnik than hippy someone told me.  I’m quite liberal, I believe in being environmentally friendly, I am pro-diversity, I like to write and listen to music.  But, I’m more content with a cup of coffee in my hand than a joint.  🙂

6.  In high school, my favorite musician was Tori Amos and I have all her albums!  One year for my birthday, my best friends decorated my locker with the lyrics from Raspberry Swirl.  They rock!  If interested, my new favorite singer is Serena Ryder, she’s pretty rocker!

7.  Audio books have become my new favorite way to multi-task.  I listen to them while I get ready in the morning or drive home sometimes.  I find them especially wonderful when reading a book centered around a different culture or country.  I like hearing a native speaker read it aloud, I can appreciate the voice of the characters more this way.

And now, to award the Stylish Blogger Award to some of my favorite bloggers:

Stylish Blogger Award

Mark My Words: Mark is my go to guy for a laugh and a Portland, OR fix.  If you love to laugh or love Portland and miss it like I do, you will get along well with Mark.

Mostly Bright Ideas: Charles is my role model wannabee.  He writes eloquent, succinct prose and makes it look so easy I want to slap him, but I won’t because his writing is too damn good.  Suck it, Charles!  You’re amazing!

Conjuring My Muse: Margaret Reyes Dempsey is my roommate in a parallel life.  So Madge, (I’m nicknaming you), it’s your turn to buy the TP!

Whenquiet’s Blog: Living my dream life in France and writing beautiful, moving poetry, she knows how to instill peace in her readers.  I always find beauty in her blog.

Happy reading and writing!

Ghostly Goodness

A page from Tim Burton's "The Meloncholy Death of Oyster Boy and Other Stories" Click image for goodreads synopsis.

Resolution Update

  1. Watch a Jane Austen movie. I am currently watching the newest BBC version of Emma since I’m reading that book and enjoying picking up on all the little things that bring the quirks of the townspeople to life.
  2. Cleaning my room of clutter. Not yet, too busy coughing on everything and carrying kleenex in my arms everywhere I go.  Still on my to do list.
  3. Journaling for my own enjoyment. Yes.  And still recounting five things to be grateful for each day.
  4. Finish writing the icy mausoleum scene in my story. Not yet, but I at least reread what I have so far and found some great things to edit.  To inspire more graveyard goodness, I’ll share with you one of my favorite true life ghost stories below.
  5. Blog ahead at least 2 posts. When did I agree to do that?  My readers love my pantser style.  Ok, on the to do list.

Ghost Story

You can believe in ghosts if you want to, you can choose to call me crazy too.  I’m not sharing this story to change anyone’s opinion of the afterlife, I’m just sharing what happened to me as I recall it.

When I was in high school, I worked in a video store for several years.  I had my suspicions at night that someone was in the building.  I would hear the sound of tapes (yes, it was all VHS then)  being picked off the shelves and put back down down.  We had all metal racks in the store.  The other clerks I worked with said they heard the same noises when they were alone in the store too, but our manager always denied hearing anything.

I would disregard the noises like the rest of us do when we hear creaks and cracks in our own home.  But, there was more creepy happenings.  My then neighbor worked out of town and enlisted me to take her dog for walks after school and I would often walk her up to the video store.  Our store was family and pet friendly; we kept dog treats behind the counter for when people would come in with their pets.  So little me would walk this giant white dog into the video store and head back to the comedy and drama racks or pick up my paycheck from the back office.  The thing was this dog, who any other time would run up to people, chase squirrels, lick you to death, would get close to the back door of the office and would just sit down and halt to an abrupt stop.  She would not budge.  She’d stare at that door and I’d be pulling and pulling her leash to round the corner with me, and she’d be dragged across the carpet, and eventually bolt past the door and halfway down the next aisle before calming down.  I’ve never seen her do this anywhere else.

My friends at the time were obsessed with ghost stories.  And one night when I was closing, and it was quiet in the store, my two best friends and a coworker came over with a ouija board.  I will tell you right now I will never use a ouija board again in my life.  I agree with those of you who think it’s a scam and not real, and I agree with those of you who think it’s a doorway to the spirit world.  Why both?  I really believe it depends on the person using the board, and when we had just any friend use the board we would get gibberish answers, but when my best friend and I used the board, we who could finish each other’s sentences, we would get creepy real answers.

So, my two friends and coworker planted themselves in a back corner of the store in the action movies and asked the ouija board some questions about who worked in the store, what film title someone who wasn’t touching the board was looking at, and eventually who was it that lived in the video store.  Amazed, they ran up to me at the counter and told me there was most certainly a ghost in the store, and he was 13 years old.  He knew all the initials of the people that worked in the store.  They had learned his family died in a fire years ago.

I had had enough.  This was not appropriate at work, and I told them to pack up and get going.  I walked home, went about my evening, got ready for bed as normal.  My routine at night consisted of looping headphones over my bedpost and listening to one of the mixtapes I made while I fell asleep.  That night, I remember waking up and thinking I had only been asleep a short while, but the music wasn’t playing.  I reached up to my dresser top and picked up the tape player.  I hit play.  Nothing.  I hit rewind, fast forward, play again.  Nothing.  “Huh, guess the tape player died.  Weird.  Normally I wake up cause it makes that slooooow, drooooning battery noise.  Oh well, back to sleep.”

The next morning, I awoke and got ready for the day.  On a whim, while waiting for my mom, I picked up the tape player and hit play.  Billie Holiday crooned, “But I’ll be seeing you…” and the whole rest of the tape was erased.

I assure you I cannot explain how this happened.  There is no record button on my player, so I didn’t accidentally tape over it.  It was not placed next to anything electronic.  Whatever, or whoever, it was, from then on, I closed the store very quickly.  And my store manager, admitted to me after I left the store years later that she did think the store was haunted.

I think I have a healthy curiousity but a great respect for the spirit world.  Have you ever worked or lived somewhere you thought was haunted?

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