Just as they would with an archeological dig or an ancient structure, many historical societies are using the valuable information available at cemeteries to teach local history and folklore. Many historical societies all over the nation have recognized that while historical cemeteries are first and foremost final resting places to be protected, they are also rife with important information, which - if not documented or shared with others - could be lost forever.
Some decades ago, Halloween was the only time when cemetery walks were offered. Today, tours occur more regularly, taking the focus off the spooky and putting it on the factual.
"I started out doing Halloween cemetery tours 30 years ago when I worked at the Connecticut Historical Society," said Windsor Historical Society Executive Director Christine Ermenc. "These were always wildly popular, and when I came to Windsor, there was an opportunity to work with the Windsor Jesters. So we would do Halloween 'Memory Walks' and develop biographical sketches for the Jesters [to portray]."
Ermenc thinks that perhaps one of the reasons people are drawn to cemetery tours is because death is a topic not many Americans are comfortable with. "It may be that's why a cemetery tour initially grabs attention," she said. "But you quickly get beyond that."
Recently, the society offered a walk through Windsor's Elm Grove Cemetery. Forty people turned out to visit a place that they would most likely never come to unless they had to. "People are so eager to get out and experience a landscape that is infused with history," said Ermenc. "It's like an outdoor museum."
Many names important to the history of Windsor are to be found at this particular cemetery. By combining these names with historical research in the files at the society, Ermenc was able to teach tour participants about people like Flavia Howe Thrall, who was a well-known spiritualist of her era and had office hours and clients who came to see her for her "insight" regularly. She also shared information about Amos Hatheway, who was a local businessman with a vital cotton mill, and John Dubon, who was the first farmer to introduce the shades for shade-grown tobacco.
The gravestones, too, tell about the period. "The gravestones themselves are works of art. The early ones have carvings of death's heads, angels, hourglasses… weeping willows, hands pointing heavenwards, wreaths and flowers, all of which have specific meanings," Ermenc said. There is much of this unique handiwork at Elm Grove.
Cemetery tours are no longer just for ghost hunters, but rather for those who genuinely care about the history of their family name or home town.
"It was such a deep immersion experience," said Ermenc of the tour. "I have known several people who thought they didn't like graveyards who now find them fascinating and visit them regularly after going on a tour."Copyright © 2015, CT Now