“What are you doing today?”
“I’m going to walk around in cemeteries.”
“Be careful; people do all types of things in cemeteries.”
This conversation with my mom had me wondering if I should paint my nails black, put on some makeup, and don a ritual robe to fit in with all the people I might find at the cemetery engaging in bizarre and unnatural rituals that day. Am I listening to the right music? Should I put on a Cure album or something by The Sisters of Mercy when I drive into Oak Hill Cemetery so the throngs of miscreants reading Baudelaire and smoking clove cigarettes don’t eye me suspiciously?
No, just act natural. Be true to yourself, I thought. And I pulled into the cemetery with Donna Summer singing “MacArthur Park” on the stereo, driving through the winding, circular roads, until I found a spot to park that wasn’t blocking one of the lanes.
Before I was struck by the beautiful, sloping hills, trees, and varied burial markers, I couldn’t help but notice that the cemetery was only occupied by a groundskeeper, someone jogging, and a woman on a yoga mat with her dog. No strange professors with shifty eyes dressed in Victorian suits lurking amongst the graves with hunchbacked assistants, no covens of witches chanting and drinking blood, nothing like that. What a let down! Or, perhaps a relief. You can’t be too careful these days.
For instance, there may be crazed, deranged history buffs who frequent Oak Hill Cemetery to see the graves of famous Lawrence residents like Lucy Hobbs Taylor, who was the first woman dentist in Kansas; or poet Langston Hughes’s grandparents; or the Quantrill Raid Monument, which memorializes those who lost their lives in the raid on Lawrence, who were the reason why this cemetery was built in the first place, because their first burial ground, Pioneer Cemetery, was too far from town, inaccessible, and difficult to upkeep. Historians and history buffs are a strange lot, perhaps even moreso than librarians or archivists, and you never know what they’re capable of. Especially in a cemetery.
But if you dare walk in Oak Hill Cemetery, the following is some of what you might see: