Taphophilia. Some people have it their entire lives without even knowing it. Some people acquire it later in life. When the Hidden Gem Restaurant Challenge took us to The Hole In The Wall in Blairsville, we discovered that one of the Picky Peaches is afflicted. We had no idea! Judging by the number of websites and blogs devoted to it, taphophilia is much more common than we thought. Even if you don’t have it, you probably know someone who does. They may not talk about it because they find it embarrassing and don’t want people to think they’re weird. Read on as we bring it out in the open to dispel the stigma.
Before you get all anxious and start searching WebMD, you should know that taphophilia is the love of cemeteries and graves (“taph” from the Greek for tomb and “philia” meaning fondness or affinity). Admit it, we had you going for awhile, didn’t we?
You’re probably wondering what in the world this has to do with the Picky Peaches. Well, things don’t always go as planned, so we have to be flexible. Sometimes, Plan B turns out to be a bonus. In this case, after lunch at the Hole In the Wall, we were headed to a llama farm. After making several turns down narrower and narrower country roads, we got there and it was closed. So, we headed back the way we came and there was a cemetery at the stop sign. That’s when one of the Peaches, who shall remain nameless, but who happened to be driving, said, “Let’s stop there!” Friends, this was the day that Peach 1 and Peach 3 discovered that Peach 2 is a taphophile. She’d made us stop at a cemetery before, but she was related to somebody in that one. None of us knew a soul in this one! As we got out of the car, we saw a herd of white sheep in the pasture across the road with one little black sheep. When we went for a closer look, we discovered that it wasn’t a black sheep at all, but a cute little black pig! Anyway, back to the story.
This particular cemetery, near Blairsville, has glorious views of mountains in the distance. As we roamed around this peaceful setting, we began to wonder about these people and their lives. One man was obviously beloved by many. Athletic shoes were piled around his headstone and his students had placed a granite bench at their coach’s feet so they could sit there when they visited.
As it turns out, Peach 2 likes to visit cemeteries for peaceful reflection. She particularly likes older tombstones. Based on the dates of birth and death, she imagines what their lives may have been like and what may have caused their demise. Sometimes, the sadness becomes palpable when she realizes a young mother lost several of her children in a matter of months, or when she sees that a mother lost her sons on the battlefield. How did they pick up the pieces and move on?
Since our visit, we’ve become curious about what draws people to cemeteries. Here’s what we learned. People become taphophiles for a variety of reasons. None of which are morbid or creepy.
Many taphophiles have a keen interest in history, art or religion. Those who call themselves tombstone tourists usually have a special interest, such as visiting the graves of 1970s rock musicians who died young, or former U. S. Presidents, or famous authors. You can create your own list.
Once a grave is located, some people mark their visit by making a rubbing on the tombstone, with a carbon pencil and paper, or by taking photos. Peach 2 uses shaving cream because it settles into the grooves and the rain washes it away, leaving no disfiguration. Some visitors leave a bottle of whiskey or other trinkets. Peach 2 often wonders what the visitor is thinking when they leave these little gifts — especially the whiskey. Disturbing or removing any of these little gifts would be, shall we say, hauntingly uncool.
Historically, coins left on military veterans’ headstones have special significance because the coins let the deceased soldier’s family know that someone had stopped to pay their respects. A penny indicates a visitor. A nickel means the visitor was at boot camp with the deceased. A dime means the visitor and the deceased served together. A quarter has the most significance because it means the visitor was present when the soldier was killed in battle. After Memorial Day, the coins are collected and the money is used for cemetery maintenance, the cost of soldiers’ burial or the care of indigent soldiers.
Some taphophiles are art lovers who focus on the exquisitely carved angels and other statuary. One of the most-recognizable angels in the Southeast is located in Oakdale Cemetery in Hendersonville, NC. The hand-carved, Carrara marble beauty owes its popularity to author Thomas Wolfe’s vivid description in his 1929 novel “Look Homeward, Angel.” She really is breathtaking.
The practice of visiting cemeteries isn’t new. Some of you may remember Decoration Day, which was devoted to visiting the cemetery where your family was buried to pull weeds, clean headstones, plant flags and place flowers. You had to do it, or people would talk about you and say how sorry you were for neglecting your family. Decoration Day was usually scheduled for early May so the cemeteries would be tidy for all the visitors on Memorial Day. This was a big event in Atlanta’s Oakland Cemetery in the 1800s.
If you’re interested in genealogy, then you know that cemeteries can be a treasure trove for filling in missing names and dates from your family tree. Check findagrave.com, where volunteers have meticulously mapped and catalogued thousands of graves in public and private cemeteries. Thanks to this website, Peach 1 recently had a crazy adventure locating her great-grandmother’s grave, which involved two octogenarians in the back seat, three large dogs, a translator, a very muddy dirt road and a trailer park. We are not making this up!
Now that you know you aren’t weird, here are some helpful tips for planning your next cemetery visit: Visiting after dark without permission is frowned upon and may result in flashing blue lights. If a funeral is taking place when you visit, please be quiet and refrain from taking pictures. Wear flat shoes. The ground may be uneven and you may have to walk a long way. Be respectful. This is hallowed ground.
Psst! Go before you go. Cemeteries usually don’t have restrooms.
To visit a famous local cemetery, we recommend Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. Founded in 1851 and designed like a park, it’s the final resting place of author Margaret Mitchell, Atlanta Mayor Maynard Jackson, golfer Bobby Jones and others. Oakland Cemetery, 248 Oakland Ave. SE, Atlanta, 30312.
Hours: Monday – Friday 9 a.m. – 5 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. – 8 p.m.
For tickets and tour information, visit oaklandcemetery.com
Please leave a comment on pickypeaches.com telling us about your visits.
Join us next week for a mouth-watering recipe, perfect for a chilly winter evening.
Until next time, Love and Peaches!