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Mike Yardley: The rise of 'Tombstone Tourism'

Mike Yardley,
Publish Date
Sunday, 9 June 2019, 11:20AM
Tombstone Tourism is becoming more and more popular. (Photo / Supplied)

Cemetery tourism seems to be trending around the world. it seems to be. The Aemricans have nicknamed tombstone tourism, and as D Day has illustrated, war graves are immensely popular pilgrimages too. In Bali, death tourism has gone next level. There’s been a bit of news coverage recently about how you can visit the northern island village of Tunyan, to see and even touch bodies that are laid out to rot in bamboo cages, instead of being buried or cremated. Tourists are flocking there. How crass is that! And once the flesh has rotted away, the skull and bones are added to a shrine under a sacred tree. That’s too macabre for my liking, I’ll stick to the stand-out cemeteries around the world.

Paris reigns supreme in these stakes with Pere Lachaise considered the world’s most visited cemetery.  First established for Paris’ rich and famous, business boomed and headlining the roll call of famous corpses buried there is Jim Morrison, who’s grave has been repeatedly graffitied. All manner of unmentionable offerings are laid at his gravesite, particularly underwear. Other luminaries at Pere Lachaise include Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde, Gertrude Stein and Frederic Chopin.

If you’re in London, Highgate is fantastic. The most famous recent arrival to be interred at Highgate is George Michael, although his grave is currently off-limits to the public. But like a lot of the most famous cemeteries, it’s the landscaping, the ostentatious tombs and museums that pull in the crowds. Highgate’s so called Egyptian Avenue is very stately, home to Karl Marx and George Eliot.

If you’re a classical music fan and find yourself in Vienna, you must stroll through Zentral Friedhof, a veritable symphony of music gods. Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and Strauss all lie at rest here,  and Mozart’s got his own cenotaph.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery is classic Hollywood, with palm trees, swaggering peacocks and stuffed with dead celebrities. Johnny Ramone’s tombstone is a life-size statue of himself. People go ga-ga over Judy Gardland’s grave, then there’s the likes of Mel Blanc and Rudolph Valentino. So it’s the place to schmooze with the ghosts of golden age Hollywood. There are even tour guides on hand.

Buenos Aires – Recoleta Cemetery would take the cake for me, in the beauty stakes. It’s like a small city lined with streets of marbled mansions. Thousands of them. Huge, ornate mausoleums – like trophy homes, housing the remains of Argentina’s one per centers. And as much as the extravagance and elitism is shameless, the sense of history and sheer artistry of Recoleta is impressive. Of course, it’s most famous resident is Eva Peron.

Other stand-outs include Calvary Cemetery in New York City, with towering tombstone monuments to mimic the city’s skyscrapers. There’s also a huge contingency of mobsters buried there, and the grounds served as the set for a burial scene in the Godfather. Mount of Olives cemetery in Jerusalem is pretty special. Jewish people earnestly believe they’ve got the front-row seat here, on Judgement Day. And Moscow’s prestigious cemetery is a stunner too, stacked with the who’s who of the Soviet Union, all the way through to Raisa Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.

I appreciate that strolling through graveyards might creep some people out. But it never ceases to amaze me how you don’t just get a history lesson, but a personal sense of resonance with famous individuals. It’s a bit like seeing Elvis’ grave at Graceland. Somehow, even in death, there’s a very human connection. Seeing their final resting place makes them feel more real, more relatable.

Mike Yardley is our Travel Correspondent on Jack Tame Saturday Morning.  

ON AIR: Heather du Plessis-Allan Drive

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