When I’d first decided to set down roots here in Charm City, I signed up for a slew of social groups on Meetup.com, because that is how single, childless adults go about befriending one another in this day and age. Since settling in, I’ve slowed down a bit with regard to joining things, but sometimes I do like to skim the contents of my spam folder looking for Meetup group invitations with the worst titles. (My personal favorite: “Sarcastic Funny Hot Girls That Don’t Know It, With Wine!”) Last week, I was doing this when I discovered an invitation to a new group titled: “Grave Friends of Baltimore.”
Intrigued, I clicked through and read the description: “For people who want to spend more time in the glorious cemeteries in the Baltimore area.” Within mere hours of the group’s formation, some 88 members had already joined – including myself, naturally. For, dearest readers, there was no possible way I could not sign up for this. If, for no other reason, than to turn up and see who would belong to such a group (aside from yours truly)?
The first meeting of the Grave Friends was at the historic Green Mount Cemetery, which I have been meaning to visit for some time now. The famous cemetery spans 68 acres, comprising a vast amount of green space in the middle of a blighted urban area. Really, the contrast is striking. Just outside the forboding walls are shells of abandoned buildings, accumulated detritus and a huge renovated apartment complex intended to lure in enough artists to kickstart gentrification. Passing through the cemetery gates teleports you into another world entirely. Green Mount was designed to mimic sprawling, Romantic English estates (think Downton Abbey, but with slightly more dead people). Several gorgeous sculptures designed by Hans Schuler, acclaimed Baltimore-based artist, keep beatific watch over the grounds.
Many of the dead and famous are interred here, including John Wilkes Booth, renowned actor and play ruiner. His gravestone was left unmarked by his mortified relatives, but you can still easily find his resting place in the Booth family plot – it’s the one that has all the pennies on top of it. Other noteworthy bones: Preston, Calvert, Sisson, Abell. Baltimore residents might recognize these names from such activities as “driving around,” as these are the names of various major streets. I am ashamed to say that I have neglected to educate myself in the local history thus far, and know nothing about these names beyond transit purposes.
As curious as I was about the dead people I didn’t know, though, I admit to being far more curious about the living. What kind of person would join this Meetup group? Would they be adult goths? Satanists? Residents at Sheppard Pratt (whose founder, by the by, had been apparently very certain that he would ascend to Heaven)? This first gathering’s attendees seemed to be chatty, mildly oblivious women and silently awkward men. We were led in a vague and meandering way by a mousy woman wearing a Jelly Belly print backpack. She sort of knew historical facts a little better than the rest of us, who hadn’t researched anything at all, and she would volunteer knowledge when available. Mostly, we walked and gawked at tombstones, and tried to stay warm in the intensifying cold.
“Where are all the famous people? Is this a famous person?”
“Is Johns Hopkins around here?”
“Nah, I’m pretty sure he’s somewhere else.”
“Oh, how sad. A child died!” (Over a hundred years ago).
“Look! He’s looking right at us!”
Startled, I looked away from the tombstone I’d been scrutinizing. Instead of a zombie, about 50 feet from us stood the biggest fox I have ever seen. He stared at us, at this motley group of graveyard gawkers, not seeming terribly bothered by us. He gazed at us for a while, then darted off between the tombstones before any of the cameras in our group could capture his soul.
It was actually quite pleasant to walk along the manicured and well-maintained cemetery paths – or would have been, with 20 extra degrees. Though there was a ton of cemetery left to explore, the bitter cold began to drive people off. I stuck with the tour until we found one of the cemetery’s most unusual highlights – a tombstone in the shape of an Ouija board, honoring the board game’s inventor – and then I definitely had to peace out, for the wind chill had dropped to 23 degrees.
Reluctantly, I separated from my new companions and tried to remember which way the entrance gate lay. I knew I was somewhere in the middle of a sea of dead. I am hopeless when it comes to navigation in a non-grid territory (part of this can maybe be blamed on my Kansas upbringing, but really mostly it’s cognitive deficiency*). As the wind sharpened and snow flurries began to torrent down, my mind entertained the possibility of getting lost in the cemetery. Would I make it back to the car before the sealing of the gates at 4:00? Would I be trapped here, amidst the acres of bones?
Luckily, my feet are a lot smarter than my brain, and they steered me in the correct direction of the car. I would not join the dead of Green Mount – at least, not that particular day. I intend to return under more temperate conditions to explore the swath of the cemetery that I missed, maybe this time accompanied by an actual expert. Still, all things considered, I greatly enjoyed the outing and would go again to future creepy Meetups. It was certainly a way to kill some time.
* I might sheepishly mention I also had possession of a map, which you can purchase at the gate for a dollar. Also, the city horizon is pretty much unmistakeably visible from any point in the cemetery, which sits atop a mount. Still – I was cold and there were probably not-nice ghosts shambling around, okay?!
Kim Le is a writer and shiftless gadabout who hails from the distant wheat fields of Kansas. Obsessions include sustainability, yurts and extreme DIY. Also, she makes sculptures out of food, mostly potatoes. She never updates her blog at http://badmetaphor.net.