For the 50+ Traveler

I love to visit cemeteries. To some, this may sound morbid, since death is a subject that many avoid. But I find that graveyards are often beautiful, inspiring, and restorative.

There are many other reasons to visit these peaceful spots -- for their historical, artistic, religious, and cultural significance; for a respite from rushing to tourist sites; for the proximity to people I admire and a way of honoring them; and for the dramatic stories the stones tell.

I chose the following cemeteries because they are diverse geographically and artistically. Each is a resting place for the famous and the infamous, each reflects the culture and history of its location, and one is even on the cutting edge of eco-friendly green alternatives to in-ground burial. You can wander (or even scuba dive) in these cemeteries independently or take tours or -- in some -- picnic, watch movies, celebrate holidays, bird-watch, and more.

1. Green-Wood Cemetery

Brooklyn, New York City

With almost 480 acres of graves, a world-renowned arboretum, and a prime site for bird-watchers, people have long traveled here to visit everyone from politicians like Tammany Hall’s Boss Tweed to artists as diverse as Louis Comfort Tiffany (who also designed several headstones at Green-Wood) and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Some of the mausoleums are grand, like that of Charles Feltman, who introduced hot dogs on a bun to Coney Island. And some are modest, like the grave of the late conductor and composer Leonard Bernstein -- belying his larger-than-life talents (I visited his grave on the 100th anniversary of his birth and was greatly moved by its simplicity).

The cemetery occupies a Revolutionary War site, with graves of soldiers who fought in those battles, as well as some who died during the Civil War.

Getting There And Getting In

Admission to Green-Wood Cemetery is always free. To visit by subway, take the R train to the 25th Street station in Brooklyn. If you’re driving, there is free parking within the grounds. Trolly tours and private walking tours were suspended at times during the pandemic, so check hours. Self tours are available by downloading the Green-Wood mobile app or by following the map.

Pro Tip

If you have time and transport, Woodlawn Cemetery is heaven for jazz buffs. Here in the Bronx, on the northern edge of New York City, you will find the graves of W. C. Handy, Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, Max Roach, and such non-jazz greats as song king Irving Berlin and writer Herman Melville.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery, California.

2. Hollywood Forever Cemetery

Hollywood, California

It seems appropriate that Paramount Pictures is located at the south end of Hollywood Forever Cemetery since so many of its permanent residents were in the business. Here you can visit the graves of such luminaries as Judy Garland, Cecil B. DeMille, Rudolph Valentino, Tyrone Power, Douglas Fairbanks, Jr., and Jayne Mansfield (George Harrison was cremated here, but his ashes were scattered in India.)

The giant 62-acre cemetery is also a cultural center pre- (and hopefully post-) COVID, with concerts, outdoor films, and such events as the largest Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration outside of Mexico.

Getting There And Getting In

There are regularly scheduled walking tours of Hollywood Forever Cemetery, which is open seven days a week. Parking is available within the gates, but public transportation is easy: The No. 4 bus from Los Angeles will leave you just a few minutes’ walk away. Maps showing the gravesites of celebrities and others are available at the cemetery’s flower shop for a fee, or you can download one here.

3. Mt. Moriah Cemetery

Deadwood, South Dakota

If you are enthralled by the romance of the Wild West, you’ll want to visit Mt. Moriah Cemetery, which is situated in a town transformed by the rough and tumble of the Gold Rush of 1874. Here you’ll find graves of the madams and the murderers, the sharpshooters and the peddlers, the pioneers, and of course the miners who dreamed of striking it rich.

Perhaps the most famous of those buried here are “Wild Bill” Hickock, who was killed in a gunfight in 1876, and Martha Jane Canary (“Calamity Jane”), who died in 1903. The story is that Calamity adored Bill, but the feelings were not mutual. Someone made her spirit very happy, though, since she was buried next to Bill for eternity. Here you’ll also find the grave of Seth Bullock, Deadwood’s first sheriff and a familiar figure to fans of the HBO series Deadwood.

Getting There And Getting In

Mt. Moriah Cemetery is located in the famous town of Deadwood in the Black Hills, about 45 minutes from Rapid City, South Dakota. The visitor center is open from Memorial Day to mid-October, seven days a week. Those who have difficulty walking (the cemetery is built on hilly terrain) might choose a bus tour. Read about the cemetery’s colorful history in its brochure here.

Arlington National Cemetery, Washington, D.C.

4. Arlington National Cemetery

Arlington, Virginia

More than three million people visit Arlington National Cemetery every year. One of the main tourist destinations is the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, dedicated in 1921. Another popular site is the tomb of President John F. Kennedy, only the second president to be buried at Arlington (his wife Jackie Kennedy and his brothers Robert and Edward Kennedy are also buried here). Some 400,000 veterans are buried in the cemetery, from Revolutionary War troops to those who died in more recent 21st-century battles. Arlington’s 600+ acres are also populated with monuments and memorials, from the Nurses Memorial to those who died on the Space Shuttles Challenger and Columbia.

Getting There And Getting In

For those who want to avoid the journey to Arlington National Cemetery by car (Washington D.C., traffic is notoriously challenging), consider the one-mile trek from the Lincoln Memorial over the Arlington Memorial Bridge. Also consider the Blue Line Metro (check here to make sure that the metro is running; it may be closed for construction at times in 2021). Once you’ve arrived there are narrated tram tours every hour; tickets can be purchased online or in person.

A variety of tour companies in Washington, D.C., offer everything from hotel pickup to hop-on-hop-off, moonlight, and electric cart tours, too.

Pro Tip

Due to security concerns, visitors 18 years of age and older must present a valid U.S. state or federal government-issued photo identificationfor entry. People who are not U.S. citizens must have a valid passport.

5. St. Louis Cemetery No. 1

New Orleans, Louisiana

St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is said to be one of the most haunted cemeteries in the world. Here, the veil between the living and the dead seems very thin. Built in 1789 and located just blocks from the Mississippi River, the cemetery is known for its elaborate above-ground mausoleums (so built because of the city’s historic flooding). Since many of the large family tombs look like miniature houses and the rows resemble streets, some call the cemetery The City of the Dead. Perhaps the most vivid spirit of the cemetery is the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans, Marie Laveau, born in 1801 in the French Quarter. Some visitors claimed to have heard chanting near her tomb in the foggy evening hours.

Getting There And Getting In

Because of vandalism, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 is only accessible by guided tour. Tickets are available at the Basin St. Station Information Center or when you buy a Hop-On Hop-Off three-day pass for New Orleans. Among the many tours offered in New Orleans is the No. 1 Voodoo and Cemetery Tour.

Pro Tips

Another grave that draws a crowd at Cemetery No. 1 is one that is empty -- so far. It is the future resting place of actor Nicolas Cage, who purchased a white, nine-foot-tall pyramid inscribed with the Latin phrase Omnia Ab Uno (translated as “Everything from One”).

Saint Louis Cemetery No. 2 is just a few blocks away from Cemetery No. 1 and features a section for departed New Orleans jazz musicians. Cemetery No. 3 is farther away but is similarly elaborate. These cemeteries have experienced closings because of COVID; check current status on these sites before you go.

6. Neptune Memorial Reef

Key Biscayne, Florida

Neptune Memorial Reef first opened to the public in 2007. This artificial reef is created from cremated remains blended with natural concrete and marked by memorial plaques. Modeled after an artistic conception of the Lost City of Atlantis by sculptor Kim Brandell (complete with sunken columns, roadways, and statues), the structures at Neptune are being built to promote coral and marine organism growth. According to a study by the Department of Environmental Resources Management of Miami-Dade County, marine life has been thriving and multiplying at the site. When all phases are complete, the memorial reef will cover 16 acres, with space for more than 250,000 memorials.

Because of land scarcity and rising costs, alternatives to in-ground burials in cemeteries may grow in the future. That’s another reason to visit historic cemeteries now; they are links to our collective past and places of great beauty and peace. Our visits help keep them -- and our memories -- alive.

Getting There And Getting In

Neptune Memorial Reef is about three miles east of Key Biscayne in Miami. The caveat when it comes to visiting loved ones at this “eco-friendly resting place” is that you’ll need to be dive-certified to reach the site because it is located 40 feet under the sea. Miami-based outfitter Deco Divers offers trips to the reef from the Miami Beach marina, as do several other dive companies.