"Once More Around the Crypt"
That was the headline on a story I wrote in my sportswriting days about a high school track team which, since it didn't have an all-weather track at the school, did its early spring training in a couple of nearby cemeteries.
I found it ironic that young, healthy athletes would prepare their bodies for grueling athletic competitions by winding their way through the final resting places of many of their community's founders and civic leaders. Cemeteries truly are fascinating places.
When I was doing research for my book on the last tour of singers Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, I used cemetery records to track down the family of one of the long-lost musicians from that tour.
As I prepared to visit Holly's grave in Lubbock, Texas, I was told that fans often showed reverence for their fallen hero by leaving guitar picks stuck in the ground surrounding his modest grave marker. What I found instead were shards of broken beer bottles, which I had to carefully remove before shooting a photo of the site. Such is the nature of many celebrity graves.
For most of us, cemeteries are more than tributes to our personal pasts. They offer an enduring record of our collective histories as well.
It's possible to do some cemetery research online, but many of us prefer to stand on the ground of our ancestors. If a personal visit is in your future, here are a few tips from genealogist Annita Zalenski of Totowa, N.J.:
- Make your visit in the afternoon. Many cemetery staffers are busy with funerals in the morning.
- Bring a spray bottle to help you see fading inscriptions on tombstones.
- Bring garden clippers to remove overgrown weeds.
For more tips on how to do cemetery research, go here.