I’ve been obsessed with cemeteries since I was a child. It all began when my mom, needing to attend night classes for her Master’s program, hired an unusual babysitter. The lady was nice enough, but she happened to be the daughter of a cemetery caretaker. Yes. Our sitter lived in a graveyard.
On that cold autumn afternoon, darkness descended before my brother and I had so much as swallowed down a decent after school snack. Cozy in the caretaker’s cabin, we started in on our homework when the babysitter encouraged (okay, maybe pushed) us out the front door. “Go get some fresh air before supper.”
I clung to my big brother’s arm, looking at the gray tombstones through my fingers. “What’re we supposed to do out here?” I asked.
“Well, how about hide-and-seek?” she offered. “My brother and I spent hours playing that out here when we were kids.”
That was a long night. And, toward bedtime, I was grateful to see the beam of mom’s headlights flash through the front window. I had nightmares after that. Well, in truth, I’ve always had nightmares. But after that experience, graveyards burrowed under my skin. My new two-headed fascination and phobia began.
Fast-forward to 2015. Traveling through London with my family, I stumbled across a book, HAUNTED LONDON. During an hour of down-time in the hotel, I read it cover to cover. Inside the author mentioned a place called, “Crossbones Cemetery.” A quick Google search and I found out it was a stone’s throw away from our hotel. I was determined to see it myself. Click here to book a haunted London walking tour!
The Crossbones Cemetery holds somewhere around 14,000 women and their children. There are no gravemarkers and prayers were never uttered over any of the bones within the property grounds. These were London’s castaways. Women of the night or Churchill’s geese for the orange hoods and white cloaks they were required to wear, these women were seen as too steeped in sin to warrant niceties like church rites and grave markers. That was 200 years ago.
Modern Londoners are atoning for the mistakes of their forefathers. On numerous occasions, developers have attempted to morph the property into a parking lot or other profit-churning venture. It’s always been fought and defeated. And now, well, what’s happening leaves me speechless.
IMG_6299Londoners come together once a month at Crossbones Cemetery. After uncovering the names of the women and children, they write those names on pieces of ribbon and tie them onto the surrounding fence. Slowly, they are remembering the dead, honoring their lives and reclaiming those lost souls.
As I tied our flower offering to the fence, I stood in awe. There was an overwhelming sense of peace at Crossbones. And love. And forgiveness.
This week, not because it’s Halloween, but because history lives and breathes in these sacred spaces, walk a cemetery. Take a photo. Tidy the leaves off a grave. And maybe utter a name etched into a tombstone. Who knows what this simple act will do for you or the person buried beneath your feet?