Notes from a Cemetery

The story is incredible. Scattered all over London are cemeteries known as the Magnificent Seven. The most famous one is the Highgate Cemetery. More than anything else, it offers a strange and creepy peek into the lives (no, the deaths) of people. The saddest ones are often the ones of little children. But mostly the cemetery is near derelict. The graves are ornate, the memorials tall and they spill with verbosity. But trees grow in absurd spots. They crowd over the headstones, pulling them in various directions.

There was also this dark sense of comedy that hit us. Like this twin headstone, of a husband and wife. The wife appears to have died a year before the husband. For some reason, the wife’s epitaph states “Loved by Many”, but the husband’s reads “Loved by All”.


But both rr and I fell in love with a rather simple one that had the word DEAD on it, but no name or date. The sheer simplicity and anonymity of that grave was compelling. Like some person’s last joke. And another, which had us giggling, making us look extremely inappropriate – Gordon Bell. (Middle name Ernest, though he placed no importance on it).

The headstones of important people who died in the 19th century – or the first half of the 20th century were covered with platitudes. A good husband, great leader, member of so and so council. Line after line. But the more recent the grave, the simpler things got. For instance, the one for Douglas Adams has nothing but his name on it. But the most visible one is the memorial for Karl Marx. For some reason, the head bust looks extremely unpleasant.

The overwhelming essence of the Gothic touch has a macabre feeling about it. Well, I guess no cemetery is cheerful. But as the headstones go green with moss and tumble one over the other, the place almost feels like a woodland. We even spotted a fox – furry and plump sitting and staring at us.

And for some reason that brings me to the idea of Legend Tripping. Which sounds so marvelous. Even as a phrase.

14 Comments

Filed under History and Monuments, London, Photographs

14 Responses to Notes from a Cemetery

  1. Very interesting! I wonder if anyone has ever done a cultural study on headstones or epitaphs. I find epitaphs to be very intresting. Sometimes they tell you more about the person than an entire autobiography. I am surprised that Douglas Adams’ had nothing on it, I guess he finished up his share of jokes in his books. :)

  2. rr

    Heh. Only with you could one find such laughter in death :-)

  3. rr

    PS Why haven’t you mentioned your new toy?

  4. new toy? now i’m curious.

    but i loved the pic of the nameless tombstone. typical brit humor, i would call this!

    just saw the movie ‘death at a funeral’. nowhere in the league of ‘four weddings and a funeral’! (thought i should put this in here since we are talking about graves and epitaphs and death) :)

  5. Reminds me of how J.K. Rowling would write about cemeteries and graves. Douglas Adams’ could have at least said “Don’t Panic”! :|

  6. I went to HighGate for a darshan of K.Marx’s bust too.
    But I still remember the one for a pet cat curled in repose, sculpted in stone, sharing gravespace among the many humans- great and small.

  7. “More than anything else, it offers a strange and creepy peek into the lives of people”

    Am reminded of ‘The unbearable lightness of being’. When Franz, who hates his wife and would’ve left her, dies, she claims his body and has the words “A return after long wanderings” written on the tomb stone, which would be so far away from the truth.

  8. Vinod Khare: Am sure there’s a lot of stuff written about grave poetry. As for Douglas Adams – it was so apt. :)

    rr: What to do? One is struck by the futility of everything sometimes. As for the new toy – one fears that it raises the bar of expectations!

    guruprasad: Just a new camera. :) I saw Death at a Funeral too! Liked it quite a bit – very witty and dark, even if a bit politically incorrect.

    Adithya: Not just the number 42?

    maami: Oh, I missed that one. I did see a dog or two though. I have discovered that I do indeed love cats – perhaps not as much as I love dogs. Thank god it’s a grave though – I find the whole idea of taxidermy for pets very very creepy.

    avinash: Es muss sien! A quote from one of my favourite books.

  9. dipali

    Nice post- when you come to Cal I’ll take you to some beautiful old cemeteries.

  10. I was walking around Fort Kochi the other day with a friend when she pointed a board that read “Dutch Cemetery”, and she asked, “How does it matter if it is Dutch or not Dutch?” Got me thinking a lot!

  11. You are a story teller!

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