To take a lunch with the dead

Lunching in cemeteries was not always the cringe-inducing activity it is today. The Victorians loved a good shady spot under a tree to enjoy the more park-like cemeteries that developed in America around the mid-1800s — they were intended to be recreational areas for people to visit the dead and enjoy some leisure activities.

Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, NY is a great example. Look how soul-crushingly lovely it is (probably not as much at this time of year).

Of course, other cultures had, and still have, similar traditions of eating with the dead as a way of maintaining communication post mortem. Here’s a great shot of some women and children eating amongst the gravestones in Russia in 1919.

Of course there is no reason, other than your own cultural biases, why cemetery lunching cannot still be a popular activity. So many of our cemetery properties are well maintained parks, but just sit there as empty monuments to the dead. The idea of it being “respectful” to have cemeteries empty and silent is a very modern one indeed.

Mara (Order editor and writer and corpse from Monday’s home funeral shoot) and I enjoyed this picnic in Inglewood Cemetery in Los Angeles last year. Frankly, the Order should make more of an effort to eat at cemeteries, if only to set a precedent of acceptance of the practice. Also, you know, to eat.  EAT.

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  • When I mentioned picnics in a local cemetery, the City Clerk looked at me like I had two heads!!
    However, I can tell you this….if I want to have a picnic beside my father’s grave, I doubt the City could stop me! 

  • Lovely! If you’re not familiar with Letterboxing, it’s a super cool crafty outdoor activity for which a cemetery is an ideal location. Check it out! Also you’d love our Mountain View Cemetery up here in Oakland.. huge, gorgeous and full of history. Come visit sometime. 🙂

  • ameth.jera

    On Memorial day we would drive to the cemetery to tend the rosebushes planted on the graves of my great-grandparents. After fertilizing the roses and mulching around them, we would have a grand supper at the nearby picnic tables.My grandmother and her sister would make fried chicken, coleslaw and numerous salads, and we’d all sit down to eat among the graves under the oaks. It’s one of my most cherished childhood memories.

  • Megan Curran

    When I lived in Philadelphia, I often had lunch or a snack in a beautiful historic cemetery there. There was a daycare next door, so it would be lovely and quiet at one moment, and the have the sound of children playing in the next moment. 

  • Jed

    Hello from the UK – I am loving this blog –  found via The Good Funeral Guide so thank you for your fresh and refreshing insights! I visited a London cemetery ( I’m a funeral celebrant) and one family has purchased  all the niches in one section of the indoor catacomb columbarium. The whole (living) family regular visits those who are ‘sleeping’ and take chairs and picnics and party on for hours… especially on Boxing Day ( Dec 26th)

  • Alexis Zirpoli

    I didn’t actually picnic in cemeteries, but I used to go to Laurel Grove Cemetery in Paterson, New Jersey.  I moved back to Paterson for a short time in 1990, and the cemetery was the only place I could go to find peace and solace. The grounds were amazing. Sometimes I would plop myself down next to an interesting grave and write poetry – imagining that the spirit of the person interred was helping me write it. 

  • Mark

    I and a group of my friends have been resurrecting (heh) this practice with an annual costume event, the Elizabeth Siddal Memorial Romantic-Era Cemetery Picnic.

    People wear clothing from any time during the Romantic period (~1810-1913), bring period-appropriate china and flatwear and Victorian-style al fresco foods in wicker baskets, mason jars, etc., and we have lunch under an oak tree in a quite rural cemetery, amidst headstones from the mid-1800s. After eating, we have readings from poets and writers of the period.  A wonderful moment of time travel.

    If you like the concept, you can crib from our ideas if you like:

  • Mark

     …should be “quiet” cemetery. Sorry.

  • I lived for a year across the street from the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, and loved to walk and sit and read there. The cemetery security would lurk close by, but they never asked me to leave. I did have a friend visiting from out of town try jogging through the cemetery once — they did ask her to leave. Jogging was deemed inappropriate. 

    I just found this site today — I’ve been a big fan of the “Ask a Mortician” video series — and it’s wonderful. Thank you for the great posts!

  • Bellissima

    More than once I’ve taken lunch to Woodland Cemetery in Dayton, Ohio. There is a gazebo there on a hill that overlooks the city. I go and eat lunch and then go for a walk and look at the gravestones. It is beautiful there.

  • Addie Firebird

    I am looking for a place for a tea party in NJ. Anyone know of a place?

  • Chiefraz

    A few summers ago, a group of us went to Fall River, MA and went on the Lizzie Borden tour. We had a picnic lunch at the cemetery at the Borden family plot.