As the supermarkets are decked out with pumpkins and the clubs are ablazing with costume parties, pretty much everyone has neglected the true spirit of Halloween – visiting the home of the dead.
Cemetery tourism is a phenomenon that is taking off in many parts of the world, and what better way to celebrate Halloween than to visit your local graveyard for some truly hidden gems. Over the weekend in Penang, I did exactly just that (and said hi to Grandma as well). Here’s why you should, too:
1. Get to know history
Cemetery tourism might not exactly be many people’s idea of a holiday, but you’ll be surprised to find so much history and culture simply by paying attention to names, dates, epitaphs and tombstone designs – all of which reveal facets of war, art, religion, disease and immigration to name a few. Cemetery tourism is a fascinating form of travel, and you don’t need to be adventurous to do so. Simply bring along your curiosity for knowledge.
2. Find famous people
The Old Protestant Cemetery in Penang is home to Captain Francis Light, founder of the Penang settlement and other early British governors. Other notable figures include Quinton Dick Thompson, the brother in-law of Stamford Raffles, the founder of Singapore, and Thomas Leonowens, husband of Anna Leonowens – governess to the children of the King of Siam who was made famous in the musical ‘The King and I’.
3. Admire tombstone art
Different tombstones reveal the artistic heritage of an era, from the gothic of the 1500s to the Victorian of the 1800s and the shiny Italian marbles of the modern day deceased. It’s no surprise then that cemeteries are a rich source of art – with everything from grand masoleums to flamboyant carvings of angels, cherubs and holy books.
4. Mourn the dead
Cemeteries can be depressing places, but often they can be enlightening as you read the elaborately-worded epitaphs and study the interesting names of the deceased. There are family plots where all members have perished from jungle fever in 1835, 19-year-old English infantries who died during World War II, husbands, wives, brothers and sisters buried side by side. In Penang’s Western Road Cemetery, there is a famous marble statue of a dog who is said to have stayed by its owner’s grave after its owner died.
5. Find inner peace
Walking around the quiet and peaceful surroundings of a cemetery can be quite a surreal experience. I especially like to go during the late afternoon, when the ghosts are asleep – I mean, when the sun is low and at its brightest around 4pm. The serene atmosphere is perfect for a moment of solitude and for picture-taking as I reflect on the fragility of life and those who have left their legacies behind.
What do you think? Will you visit a cemetery for sightseeing? Let me know in your comments below.