Whether it’s their iconic setting, notorious residents or stories of unsavory deaths, these cemeteries across America are sure to give you the heebie-jeebies.
1. A touch of voodoo
With all the stories of voodoo that surround New Orleans, it’s no surprise that the Big Easy is home to one of the country’s creepiest graveyards. Visit the iconic above-ground graves at St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which was established in 1789 and has what is said to be the most haunted tomb in the world – of a voodoo priestess, no less!
Many visitors make the easy walk from the French Quarter to St. Louis Cemetery to perform a ritual at the tomb of voodoo legend Marie Laveau. The tradition involves performing a combination of steps, including marking three red X’s on the tomb, knocking on it and then leaving an offering for a request to be granted. What you’ll find there on any given day, according to the book “City of the Dead: A Journey Through St. Louis Cemetery #1” by Robert Florence, may range from a wedding cake couple encircled in coconut to a dead rat wearing Mardi Gras beads. Plenty of New Orleans tour companies will be happy to take you to this spot.
This cemetery is a favorite of filmmakers, with movies and TV shows like “The Heist,” “Easy Rider” and “NCIS: New Orleans” all filming scenes there.
2. Vampire haunts
Also in New Orleans is Lafayette Cemetery No. 1, a favorite of former New Orleans resident Anne Rice, author of “The Vampire Chronicles.” The cemetery is the final resting place of more than 7000 souls, yet it spans only a city block.
It was a favorite hangout of Rice’s character, the vampire Lestat, and it’s believed his tomb in the movie “Interview with the Vampire” was modeled after one on the cemetery grounds. Rice staged her own funeral at the cemetery, riding in a glass-enclosed coffin to promote her book “Memnoch the Devil,” and the tomb of her Mayfair Witches is based on several tombs there.
Lafayette Cemetery is a popular location in movies, including “Double Jeopardy” and “Dracula 2000,” as well as several music videos.
3. Creepiness from colonial times
The oldest cemetery in Louisiana is American Cemetery in Natchitoches, which dates to 1737, though there are no surviving monuments prior to 1797. Historians believe the second French Colonial Fort St. Jean Baptiste was located on the site and that all of its residents were buried there. It fell into disrepair for a time, leaving many of the graves cracked and broken, but it’s still in use. Residents of Natchitoches can be buried there, just steps away from their colonial ancestors.
Reports abound of hauntings in the cemetery, with stories of a man screaming at night and a woman hanging amid the trees. The cemetery was the site of a major scene in “Steel Magnolias.”
4. Where prisoners lie
Out West, Colorado Springs has its share of eerie cemeteries. Woodpecker Hill, named for the damage woodpeckers did to the wooden markers, is on a bluff above Greenwood Cemetery and was the final resting place of prisoners. Among them are a double-murderer whose body wriggled for 20 minutes after he was hanged, due to a malfunctioning rope, and the last man ever executed by a Colorado-designed hanging apparatus that tended to decapitate its victims.
5. Worthy of Scarlett O’Hara
Elmwood Cemetery and Gardens, which overlooks the Broad River, was founded in 1845 and once was the most prestigious and “fashionable” cemetery in Columbia, S.C. The quintessential Southern grounds feature towering oak trees, wildlife, winding roads, grand old family-owned mausoleums, obelisks and monuments, and a wrought-iron arch that beckons you inside.
The cemetery holds the graves of an estimated 500 Confederate soldiers, many without headstones, as well as a number of the South’s most prominent residents, including William and Mary Huntt. William served as South Carolina’s secretary of state, while Mary is famous for sewing the original Ordinance of Secession into her skirt and hiding the State Seal, keeping them safe during the Union occupation of the city. Also at Elmwood: a would-be bride who supposedly died the night before her wedding due to “nerves.”
6. History comes alive
Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Va., is a who’s who of American history and the second most visited cemetery in the nation after Arlington. Named for its holly trees that stand amid the hills and valleys overlooking the James River, Hollywood Cemetery is home to Presidents James Monroe and John Tyler, President of the Confederacy Jefferson Davis, 25 Civil War generals, many Virginia governors and other well-known figures.
More than 18,000 Confederate soldiers, including the first casualty of the Civil War, are buried here, and a 90-foot granite pyramid stands in tribute. One of its most recognized monuments is a cast iron dog that stands guard over the grave of a young girl who died in 1862.
As for its haunted side, the story goes that a creature covered in blood, now known as the “Richmond Vampire ,” was spotted emerging from a nearby railroad tunnel and chased to the cemetery, where it took up residence and remains in the grave of bookkeeper W.W. Poole. You can tour these historic and haunted grounds by foot, trolley or Segway.
7. Graves in grand scale
In Philadelphia, you’ll find more Civil War-era graves, including those of 40 generals, as well as a signer of the Declaration of Independence and six passengers on the Titanic. Laurel Hill cemetery, nearly hanging over the Schuylkill River, is known for its fantastic grounds, its outdoor sculpture garden and its house-size mausoleums, monuments and obelisks. The grand and ornate scale of these burial places lead you to wonder about those whose lives they represent. On one tomb, an unusual statue depicts the deceased emerging from the grave in a puff of smoke.
Nestled within Philadelphia’s city limits, Laurel Hill Cemetery, with its large cherry trees that bloom brilliantly in the spring, is a National Historic Landmark. With its massive size and grandeur, it is a true “city” of the dead.
8. Peculiar tombs
In the small village of Bethel, Maine, you’ll discover a host of out-of-the-ordinary gravesites at Woodland Cemetery. Built in the early 18th century and set apart from the town, this garden cemetery features many terraces that let the imagination run wild with what’s hiding below the next hill.
Iconic headstones include a marker sculpted as a tree stump to indicate that the young girl who is buried there was “cut down” in the prime of her life. Another monument was chiseled by Daniel Chester French, sculptor of the Lincoln Memorial. You’ll also find a lot set aside by a Civil War commander for any soldier who could not afford a burial place. While only one marker stands, it is believed that others are buried there who could not afford a marker.
The nearby Bethel Inn hosts a Ghosts and Gravestones Weekend around Halloween that shares local ghost stories and includes a tour of the cemetery.
9. Where the headless horseman roams
Dotted with live oaks draped in hanging moss, Bellevue Cemetery in Wilmington, N.C., is a favorite spot for filming the TV series “Sleepy Hollow.” Located on the outskirts of the city’s “Mansion District,” Bellevue has graves that date back to the 1800s. It may be a serene resting place during daylight, but add a little Hollywood fog and moonlight and it becomes a setting worthy of the headless horseman.
10. Buried alive
Another Wilmington cemetery, St. James Parish Cemetery, was founded in 1729 and is said to house the grave of a man who was buried alive and lost all of his fingertips trying to scratch his way out. It’s also home to Revolutionary War officers and patriots who came from England, Scotland, Ireland and France to begin a new life, and more than 60 children under the age of 5 who died from illnesses. Its moss-covered headstones and above-ground brick graves add to its spookiness.