As a special Halloween treat, I have had Loren Rhoads, author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Bram Stoker nominated editor of the past magazine Morbid Curiosity, drop by to speak with us about her spooky and memorable cemetery travels as well as her other writing. I wish I would have asked her even more questions, but I hope after you read this, you’ll go learn more about Loren yourself too. Feel free to leave comments below for Loren or me if you like!
Hi, Loren! Welcome to Oh, for the Hook of a Book! It’s a favorite time of year for those of us who love the spooky things in life—October! My daughters and I have baked some cupcakes for your arrival, chocolate icing with cookie gravestones on the top. Let’s sit out on the back porch and watch the leaves change while we sip hot apple cider and share a few of them.
Loren: Thank you, Erin! That sounds lovely. I just love this time of year: my birthday is in October, the leaves change even in California, where autumn is really subtle, and one of my favorite colors is pumpkin orange. October just makes me happy.
Erin: I agree. And happy belated birthday! I’m glad I’ve made cupcakes then. 🙂 Now that we’ve had a few bites, I want to ask you a few questions.
Q: You love to travel to cemeteries and you’ve put out several books filled with essays and destinations for famous tombs and gravesites. Tell us about your books and how did this obsession start?
A: More than 20 years ago I edited a book of cemetery essays called Death’s Garden: Relationships with Cemeteries. It came out of my fascination with the different ways people interact with cemeteries.
That book led to a monthly column about my travels to cemeteries around the world for Gothic.Net. I worked there for 4-1/2 years, long enough to put together a collection of my essays that I called Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemeteries. (The second edition came out in Summer of 2017.)
To promote the first edition of that book, I started a blog called CemeteryTravel.com. It focuses on a Cemetery of the Week each Wednesday, plus reviews of cemetery books I’ve read, and travel trips to encourage people to visit cemeteries.
Because of my blog, I was contacted by Black Dog & Leventhal to write 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die. It’s a heavily illustrated full-color guide to cemeteries around the world that welcome visitors. That book came out in October 2017.
My whole cemetery obsession started the year my husband and I ended up in London by accident. We visited Highgate Cemetery and I simply fell in love.
Q: What is the most interesting grave you’ve visited and why?
A: A couple of years ago, I finally got to Poblenou Cemetery in Barcelona. There was one grave marker I wanted to see above all others: El Beso de Muerto. It’s a huge free-standing sculpture of a skeletal death bending over a beautiful young man to touch her teeth to his brow. It did not disappoint! Just imagine choosing that as the image you wil confront each time you visit your loved one’s grave.
Q: The most frightening and why?
A: I don’t know if I’ve ever visited a frightening grave. Maybe the saddest graves I’ve ever visited were outside the concentration camp Terezin (called Theresienstadt by the Nazis). The gravestones had numbers instead of names, because the corpses couldn’t be identified. That graveyard made the Holocaust real to me in a way that reading about it never did.
Q: Which ones should a traveler put on their itinerary?
A: In the US, everyone should see Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles, and Saint Louis #1 in New Orleans. Beyond that, there are so many beautiful, fascinating places. Forest Hills in Madison was really pretty. Lake View in Seattle is spectacular. In fact, I can suggest 199 cemeteries everyone should see!
Erin Notes: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is buried at Mount Auburn! This photo is from an old Publisher Weekly column from Alison Morris.
Q: What is the strangest thing you’ve encountered while wandering through graveyards?
A: I went to Kutna Hora in the Czech Republic for my birthday one year. During the Middle Ages, the graveyard there was one of the biggest in Europe. Someone brought dirt back from the Holy Land to sprinkle around the graveyard, to consecrate it. People came to believe that if they were buried in dirt that had been touched by holy dirt, they would be guaranteed to entrance to Heaven. People came to Kutna Hora to die, just so they could be buried there. At a certain point, all the bones in the graveyard were exhumed and placed in the crypt of the mortuary chapel. A woodcarver came along and organized the bones into a chandelier, a couple of chalices, a coat of arms, and four enormous pyramids. Visiting that amazing, beautiful chapel was very thought-provoking.
Q: I mentioned to you that I visited Lake View Cemetery in Cleveland this summer, resting place of President Garfield, Rockefeller, and even Eliot Ness, to name a few. How was trip? What did you see or do there that caught your interest?
A: I visited Lake View the November my dad was at the Cleveland Clinic getting an artificial valve placed in his heart. I found the Images of America guide to the cemetery in the hospital gift shop, which inspired me to borrow my mom’s car one afternoon to explore. I got to see the inside of the Wade Chapel, which was designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany who designed those beautiful stained glass windows. Tiffany didn’t want his delicate murals to be discolored by candle smoke, so he talked to his friend Thomas Edison about wiring the chapel for electricity. It was the first electrified building in Cleveland.
Erin Note: I love Wade Chapel! It’s beautiful and peaceful. I am a Tiffany fanatic and so, since there are many in Cleveland I try to seek them all out, and I had to see this one. Here’s one of my own photos of the window from this summer.
Q: What do you write about in your essays and stories about cemeteries? What do you think readers are most interested in?
A: I write about everything: history, fame and infamy, iconography and artwork, horticulture, wildlife, ghosts… Cemeteries are incredibly complex mirrors of the societies in which they exist. There’s something to appeal to everyone.
Q: How has the reception been for your 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and subsequent titles? Will you continue to write them?
A: 199 Cemeteries has done really well. Last I heard, the book was close to selling out its first edition and earning out its advance. I’ve already turned in changes for a second edition, so I’m looking forward to seeing that soon.
Since that book out, I’ve been working on a book about my local pioneer cemeteries. San Francisco, where I live, was founded in 1776 by the Spanish, but the area exploded in population during the Gold Rush. Those original cemeteries are old and fragile now, threatened by earthquakes, wildfires, and mudslides, so I feel like they need to be recorded before they vanish.
After that, I don’t know. No one’s done a definitive guide to the cemeteries of the California Gold Country. Maybe I’ll get to write 199 More Cemeteries to See Before You Die.
Q: Are there special events or visits (or both) that you do over Halloween pertaining to your interest and writing of cemeteries stories?
A: I’ve done a bunch of cemetery lectures in the last couple of weeks: at Cypress Lawn Cemetery, the City College of San Francisco, and at a literary festival in San Francisco called the Litquake. October is always my busiest month. I only got to tour one cemetery this year!
Q: I bet it is the busiest time of year, but sounds amazing. Do you feel any importance writing about graveyards or is it all just for fun and travel?
A: A lot of people write about cemeteries, from historians to cemetery tour guides to genealogists, but I’ve been blessed to be able to combine my love of travel with my fascination for graveyards.
Q: What’s on your own bucket list for graveyards to travel to?
A: My bucket list grows at the bottom! I’d like to see the Taj Mahal and the pyramids in Egypt and Happy Valley Cemetery in Hong Kong and Bonaventure in Savannah, Georgia, and the churchyard of the old leper colony on Molokai in Hawaii. I’ll be traveling to visit cemeteries until I die.
Q: Do you write other things or any fiction? What else have your written or are working on writing?
A: Thank you for asking this! I’ve written a series of stories about a young witch named Alondra DeCourval. She travels the world, fighting supernatural monsters. This year I’ve put out three ebook collections – Alondra’s Experiments, Alondra’s Investigations, and Alondra’s Adventures – each with three previously published stories. They’re available on Amazon.
Thorn Coyle, author of the Witches of Portland series, calls the Alondra stories “Sexy, spooky, fast-paced urban fantasy. There’s magic at the heart of each of these tales. Alondra herself is magic wrapped in a human guise.”
In addition, I’m just about to dive into a novel for Nanowrimo. It’s a sequel to my succubus/angel novel Lost Angels, which was published a couple of years ago. It’s time to tell the rest of Lorelei’s story.
Q: What are some of the best books in horror by women you’ve read over the last year?
A: I’ve been concentrating on getting books off my TBR shelf this year, which has meant reading a lot of nonfiction. That said, I have E. M. Markoff’s The Deadbringer ahead of me, which I’m really looking forward to. Blood Ink, Dana Fredsti’s second Lilith book, will be coming out next spring. I’ll read that as soon as it’s out.
Q: Any plans for Halloween?
A: My kid is outgrowing trick or treating, so this may be the last year we go. I’m planning to enjoy it as long as I can.
Erin: It was probably my last child’s last true Trick-or Treat too this year, but she has so much fun she said she’s never stopping.
Thank you so much for joining me, Loren! I’m a huge fan of visiting graveyards and cemeteries, which came to me at a young age when I was doing a lot of genealogy research with my family! They are so peaceful at times and full of history. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us. I hope to read more of your work and see you back here again one day! We’ll share more cupcakes!
Loren: Thank you so much for having me come by, Erin. I love to meet kindred spirits!
Erin: Me too!
Loren Rhoads Biography –
Loren Rhoads is the author of 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die and Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel.
She is also the author of a space opera trilogy, co-author of a love story between a succubus and an angel, and is working on a series of stories about a witch who travels the world to fight monsters. You can see a longer biography detailing all her work and activities here.
You can keep up with her overall at lorenrhoads.com.
Author Photo Credit: S.G. Browne
Thank you for reading!