You think you're spooky? San Francisco author Loren Rhoads — former editor of gruesomely entertaining true-tales magazine Morbid Curiosity — visits cemeteries for fun. Just in time for Halloween, we quizzed her about her macabre life touring graveyards.
Photo of St. John's Cemetery by Loren Rhoads
io9: The first issue of Morbid Curiosity came out in 1997. What inspired you to start the magazine?
Loren Rhoads: When [my husband, Mason Jones, and I] first moved to San Francisco, we hooked up with the RE/Search Publications people right away. They were doing all this cool stuff, and it was just two people in an apartment. It seemed really manageable. You didn't need to have a big office, or publishing house, or anything. We tried publishing a couple of books, and my husband started a Japanese music magazine called Ongaku Otaku. He kept getting all this cool stuff in the mail, and I was like, "I wanna get cool stuff in the mail, too! What kind of magazine do I need to publish to do that?" And I wanted to get people to tell me their deep, dark, secrets. So I made Morbid Curiosity. [Note: if you missed the mag, which ceased publication in 2006, check out anthology Morbid Curiosity Cures the Blues.]
Were you always morbidly curious, so to speak?
I grew up on a farm, so things were dying all the time [around me]. My mom was a city girl, and at first she was like, "Let's go out and name all the animals!" and we got really attached to them. That lasted, like, one season. After that, it was just kind of easy come, easy go.
How did you get into cemetery travel?
I started visiting cemeteries totally by accident. We were flying to Barcelona for a Survival Research Labs show, but it was right when the first Gulf War was ramping up [in 1991], and we missed our connection. We were re-routed through London right when the US started bombing Baghdad, so we decided we'd stay [until it was safe to travel again]. It was a nightmare. But while we were in London with no guidebooks or plans or anything, we stumbled upon this gorgeous picture book of Highgate Cemetery. We decided to visit it, and it was really beautiful and overgrown — they shot some of the Dracula movies there in the 1970s — and I kind of fell in love.
And then, the second half of our trip was always to go to Paris. So we went to Père Lachaise to see Oscar Wilde. And that was it! Totally smitten. And now I do this website, Cemetery Travel, where the goal is to get people to visit cemeteries, either in their local communities or on vacation.
Do you plan trips around cemeteries that you want to visit?
It's a combination of that and "I'm gonna be in Toronto anyway, what should I go see while I'm there?" Portland was the last big trip I did. There's a really beautiful graveyard there, [Lone Fir Cemetery].
Your guidebook, Wish You Were Here: Adventures in Cemetery Travel, recommends resting places of the famous, but also graveyards that are notable for other reasons, like setting, history, or particularly striking examples of sculpture. How do you find out about the off-the-beaten-path ones?
When I go someplace, I've gotten fairly bold about asking people, "Do you know of any cool graveyards?" Half the time, people recoil in horror, but other times, they're like, "Oh yes! My grandmother is buried in this gorgeous place, and you should go." We were in Niagara Falls last summer, in one of the tourist restaurants, and asked if anyone there knew anything about graveyards. So they got this guy out of the kitchen who was Niagara Falls native, who told us about [Drummond Hill Cemetery], which was a battleground in the War of 1812. I never would have found it if I hadn't asked.
Do you have a favorite?
That's like picking my favorite kid! [Laughs.] It changes day by day. I prefer cemeteries that have flowers, and greenery — I like them to feel kind of lively, with squirrels and birds and people going through. I've been in graveyards that are broken, and the stones are all worn, and that makes me sad. I think it's important to visit those, too, and draw attention to them. But I'd rather see a garden, I guess.
It's interesting that you live in San Francisco, since most of the city's cemeteries were moved out of town in the 1940s.
Well, they keep finding them. San Francisco's not that old, so I don't know how you could forget where the cemeteries used to be. But it seems like every time they open a hole someplace, there's another graveyard!
Loren Rhoads is also the editor of fiction, poetry, and non-fiction collection The Haunted Mansion Project: Year Two; co-author (with Brian Thomas) of fantasy novel As Above, So Below; and is working on a space-opera trilogy. The first book, The Dangerous Type, will be released in 2015. Author photo by Mason Jones.