When most people go on vacation, they go to see the sights. Sometimes that’s a historical place, a famous art museum or a natural wonder.
For Loren Rhoads, it’s cemeteries.
Since 2011, the writer has maintained the blog Cemetery Travel.
“At first, it started out as something I’d add as a stop on the trip,” she said. “Now, though, cemeteries have become a destination for me.”
Her 240-page book, “199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die,” came out on Tuesday and features photos and stories of cemeteries from around the world, including two in Utah. Rhoads has been to 60 of the sites in her book, and she recalls her Salt Lake visits with fondness.
Several years ago, she was in Salt Lake City for a convention and stopped by the Mt. Olivet Cemetery. She remembers the snowy mountain backdrop and the deer that were unafraid of human visitors.
Mt. Olivet did not make her book, but the Salt Lake City Cemetery and the Mormon Pioneer Memorial Monument, more commonly called the Brigham Young Family Memorial Cemetery, did.
For Rhoads, it’s the stories that draw her to a graveyard. She likes to see which families were prominent in the area, as illustrated by the names on buildings or street signs.
“My favorite is sculpture; if there’s an angel, I’ll hike through any amount of brambles to see it,” she said. “There are museum-quality works out in the elements for anyone to look at.”
The Christmas Box Angel at the Salt Lake City Cemetery, of course, caught her eye.
She writes about it in her book, mentioning that families who have lost a child often leave food or trinkets at its base.
While Rhoads finds peace away from the crowds in cemeteries, she does believe in ghosts. She has never seen one in a cemetery, but she had an encounter at the purportedly haunted Forest Hill Cemetery in Madison, Wis. It was a hot summer day when she walked through a cold patch at the cemetery in an open area.
“I didn’t see anything or hear anything,” she said. “But that cold patch was still there.”
The belief in ghosts is shared by Kristen Clay, owner and director of Story Tours: Ogden and Salt Lake City Ghost Tours, which has hosted ghost tours through the Salt Lake City Cemetery since 2002.
“We share the stories of some of the people buried there, tell some of the odd myths and dispel some of the [misconceptions] about the place,” Clay said.
She recounted several stories, but one of the most famous is of Jacob Moritz. He ran the Salt Lake Brewing Co., one of the largest breweries outside Milwaukee. He ran for governor, but he fell out of favor with the Liberal Party after he defended a polygamous family who had been incarcerated in Utah for practicing polygamy after it was outlawed, but whom the federal government wanted to prosecute again on federal charges, Clay said.
Moritz was dismissed from the case for refusing to try them again. While it gained him favor with the Mormons, he lost his gubernatorial election in a landslide to Simon Bamberger. The two are buried facing each other in the Jewish section of the Salt Lake City Cemetery.
Moritz fell ill and traveled to Germany in hopes of finding a cure. He ended up dying there at 39, and his wife returned to Utah with his remains. Shortly after he was interred in his mausoleum, a legend started that those who circle the mausoleum three times while repeatedly chanting the name “Emo” and then peer inside will see a pair of red, glowing eyes.
One of Clay’s storytellers has a copy of a photo taken by someone who followed the ritual, and it shows a face inside the grate over the tall mausoleum, Clay said.
People on tours and cemetery workers have heard the voices of children laughing or seen the spirits of children playing hide-and-seek at the Salt Lake City Cemetery, Clay said.
The thought of ghosts is a comfort to Rhoads.
“I’d like to think that our loved ones come back and check on us,” she said.
Regardless of a person’s belief about ghosts, Rhoads encourages everyone to visit cemeteries.
“It shows what people value: Are graves labeled ‘mother,’ ‘father,’ ‘sister,’ ‘brother’? Are there religious or Masonic or other fraternal organization symbols, or are there poetry excerpts or flowers?” she said. “You can learn a lot about what’s important to people. It’s different in different places, and I find that fascinating.”
199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die
By Loren Rhoads
Published by Hachette Books and Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers