Some Grave Thoughts

The Return of Thrills and Chills

Graveyard, boneyard, and cemetery are just a few words used to identify a final resting place. This collection of synonyms (some a little more euphemistic than others) is just one aspect of the graveyard that fascinates me. A graveyard can be a bit of a contradiction. It is both a source of history and an end of it. It is a solemn place that is often ornately decorated. It is a place where people are both remembered and forgotten. The graveyard is both literal and symbolic. These contradictions are worthy of a close study and a bit of conversation.

“Saint John’s Cemetery”

We walk, pedal, and drive by graveyards on a regular basis. Some of you, like me, may live near or grew up next to a graveyard. They play important roles in our lives and in our art. Graveyards in one form or another exist in almost all cultures and throughout time. October is the ideal month to take a closer look at graveyards as place and idea.


Where is the Scare?

Searching for a Real Scare

Halloween is the one time a year when we search out scares. The rest of the year we avoid them. I started the month of October with a few scary movies, a couple of suspenseful stories, and one haunted house without any real scares. I’m not saying I haven’t had a few startles and jumps, but I haven’t had a, “What’s that in the in the shadow, under the bed, in the closet?” kind of scare in quite a while. Is this because I’ve grown immune to the standard scares provided by movies, stories, and such? Have I been overexposed and desensitized? Has it all become too cliché? Maybe I’m in the minority but I do enjoy a good scare once in a while so this Halloween season is not off to a good start. Then I got to thinking about what used to scare me.

One source of a few childhood scares was a graveyard next to the grade school I attended. I was a latchkey kid (do people still use the word latchkey these days) and on my way home I either walked around or through that graveyard. One cold and rainy fall day (I’d like to say it was during October but my memory isn’t what it was) in third grade a few friends and I were sharing scary stories toward the end of the day. They were rather typical Scooby Doo style scary stories until an eighth grader decided to join the conversation. Most of the common school stories about the graveyard were a bit over the top and populated with demons, ghosts, and other various monsters. These things still scared me a little but I was at that point in my life where I knew they weren’t real. The story the eighth grader related to us was different. Although it is a pretty standard urban legend I didn’t know it at the time. He told us the story of a group of teenagers who drove a car into a tombstone while trying to leave the graveyard after a night of drinking. All of the teenagers, save one, gathered around the damaged tombstone, mocked the deceased, and laughed at the damage they caused. The teenagers drove off and were in another accident, this time hitting a telephone pole. All the teenagers, save the one, died in the accident. A couple of friends and I cut through the graveyard to verify the eighth grader’s claim. There was a tombstone near the access drive that was damaged. We didn’t say much the rest of the walk home. I lived the farthest so those last three blocks alone in the cold and rain were an eerie kind of quiet. That quiet was broken by the sound of skidding tires on wet pavement and the sound of metal on metal. A fender bender in light rain was a simple coincidence, but for a nine-year old it was enough to make me sprint that last half block and turn on every damn light in the house.

I visited my mother yesterday and took her hound dog for a walk. We took a roundabout way through the neighborhood and cut through the graveyard on our way back. The tombstone is still there (and with 35 years of life experience I realized the damage was from weather). But as I stood before that tombstone my heart began to race. For a brief moment I felt that fear, maybe not the fear but the memory of the fear from that afternoon in third grade. H.P. Lovecraft wrote, “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.” As we grow up and gain life experience less and less remains unknown so less and less remains scary.

I’m not saying there isn’t plenty of unknown out there for me to be afraid of, but for now I’m thinking back to those original scares, that time when there was a little more unknown than known. Instead of movies, stories, and such that simply rehash the known, I’m going to revisit the ones that made me turn flashlights toward the shadows, check under the bed, and keep the closet door open. I’m hoping to bring back some of those old scares. Tonight is Jack Nicholson in The Shinning. What are you watching?


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