Old City Cemetery Committee, Inc. - Tombstone Etiquette

Tombstone Etiquette
by ChrisTina Leimer

While we're certainly not one for creating rules, even those of us with the best intentions sometimes act in ways that unintentionally cause damage to others or their property. Many cemeteries are privately owned yet we generally have open access to them, and for free. So, let's try to keep it that way by following a few guidelines suggested by funeral directors and cemetery caretakers. Likely, much of this etiquette will be obvious. If so, then we can just use it as a reminder that, in visiting cemeteries, we are guests, of both the living and the dead.

Disturbing Others
Most of the people visiting cemeteries are people in mourning or people who are visiting their long deceased loved ones. Please allow them their solitude and privacy. Don't photograph them. Don't initiate conversation, but of course be friendly if they address you. Many of the cemeteries we visit may still be active. If you see a funeral, leave the area, and don't photograph.

Moving Things
Objects in cemeteries were placed there by caretakers or by survivors of the deceased. Even if you think the arrangement would be more aesthetically pleasing some other way, or that objects couldn't have been placed there on purpose, or that weathering has caused an unintended configuration, leave things where you find them. Don't temporarily rearrange items for a photograph, moving markers and mementos can damage them. Take pleasure in photographing things the way you find them.

Those of us who love cemeteries want them preserved and protected but it is not our responsibility to make unauthorized repairs. In fact, some adhesives can actually cause damage. Instead, report damage to the cemetery caretaker, church or government office in charge of the cemetery. If a diligent search turns up no one who is responsible, perhaps you have a civic project in the making.

They may be gorgeous and fun but doing them can damage old stones. If you want to get rubbings, first get permission from the caretaker or official in charge of the cemetery.

Taking Things
The desire for souvenirs can be tempting but removing anything from a cemetery that we did not place there is not only theft, it denies others the opportunity to experience what you enjoyed.

Take away any trash you bring or, if they are available, deposit your trash in the appropriate trash containers. Leaving cemeteries the way you found them is a sign of respect. If the cemetery is trashed or vandalized, again, try to find out who is responsible for its upkeep before jumping in and cleaning house.

Cemetery Rules
Please follow cemeteries' specified open hours. Usually they're posted. Sometimes there are other posted restrictions such as no dogs or bikes. Obey all posted cemetery rules.

Copyright 1996 ChrisTina Leimer 
The Tombstone Traveler's Guide 



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