Cemetery Etiquette for Ghost Hunters

Enthusiastic ghost hunters sometimes forget that — for many people — cemeteries are solemn places with clear rules of etiquette.

Here are a few suggestions for your visits to cemeteries:

  • Not everyone believes in ghosts. In any cemetery, you may find genealogists, historians, and descendants of the deceased. You may also find people who love to photograph (or transcribe) headstone engravings, or families making gravestone rubbings. Babbling happily about ghosts may distract or offend these people. Many people expect respectful silence in a cemetery. If someone is visiting the grave of a recently deceased family member, your comments may upset them. They may prefer to think that every departed person has crossed over, and is in a happier place… not lingering around a cemetery. It’s best to speak in subdued tones, and not approach strangers unless they initiate conversation.
  • Joking is generally inappropriate.I’m not saying you have to be dour, but some jokes are in very poor taste. Sure, people get nervous and manage to say the worst possible things, sometimes. Try to avoid offensive patter. As a guideline, here are a few “jokes” that could irritate the dead, and probably annoy the living as well:
    • “Oops, didn’t mean to shout loud enough to wake the dead. Ha-ha-ha.”
    • “Gee, he must have been a cheapskate, not giving his wife her own headstone.”
    • “So, when do the ghouls show up, huh? Ha-ha-ha.”
    • “Let’s leave soon, I’m feeling dead tired.”
    • “Can’t you take a joke? I mean, hey, you’re looking pretty grave. Ha-ha-ha.”

    You get the idea. If someone starts joking, stop them immediately or leave the cemetery.  I’ve seen jokers suddenly twist an ankle where the ground had seemed perfectly level before, or encounter other odd problems. I’m still not sure if the ghosts were “getting even.”

  • Obey the laws. If the cemetery says, “Closed dusk to dawn,” get permission to visit it after hours. If you inadvertently stay past dusk, remember that you are breaking the law; leave cheerfully and quickly when you realize your mistake. Likewise, if the gate is locked, the cemetery is closed. Stay out!
  • Protect what’s in the cemetery. Do not lean on fragile headstones, much less sit on them. Don’t use shaving cream to reveal inscriptions. Many cosmetic products contain perfumes or other ingredients which contribute to decay. (Acid rain has already done enough damage.) A halogen flashlight at a sharp angle will reveal nearly as much — and sometimes more — than shaving cream would.
  • Respect the deceased. They may consider their cemetery “home,” and you are visiting — or perhaps trespassing — on their property. It’s okay to ignore belligerent, territorial ghosts, but be as understanding as you can. Step carefully on graves. Leave no litter. Speak in soft tones. Joking or loud voices can annoy or frighten some spirits. That may reduce your chances of getting a great photo. Some people recommend waiting at least a half an hour before taking photos. Then, respectfully ask permission of the deceased. I don’t do this, but many ghost hunters do. Use your best judgement.
  • Don’t bring “gifts” to the dead.  The only exceptions are flowers and liquor.
    • If you’re leaving flowers — even artificial flowers — make sure you return regularly to make sure they still look nice. (If they don’t, remove them.)
    • Some spiritual and cultural traditions include pouring liquor onto the grave of a loved one. If you do that, aim for an area where the alcohol won’t splash on anything above ground, and won’t seep into the ground to damage the coffin.  Then, be sure to fill in any depression made by the liquid.
    • (Toys, money, and other gifts not only look tacky after they’ve been at the mercy of the elements, they’re more likely to pin the spirit to the grave. He or she won’t want to leave his gifts behind.  Worse, if the gifts become muddy, sun bleached, or simply “worn down,” can you imagine how sad the ghost would feel… and how frustrated, unable to do anything about it?)
  • It may be inappropriate to take your pet into the cemetery. This varies from cemetery to cemetery.  Check any notices at the cemetery entrance. If you must bring Fido or some other pet, be certain your pet is on a sturdy leash (particularly if he is frightened by spectral appearances). Clean up after your pet. (That’s not just about waste matter, but any holes he digs.) If your pet disturbs others, including the spirits, take the animal back to the car (or return him to your home or a kennel, if it’s a hot day). Use common sense.
  • Move or remove nothing. Leave plants, markers, badges, ribbons, and so on, exactly where you found them. Do not pick anything, even autumn leaves from the trees. However, if you find obvious trash, empty beer cans, or fast-food wrappers, you can help the cemetery caretaker by putting them in a nearby trash container. (If there’s no trash container nearby, make a point of finding one, quickly.  Never take anything home — even rubbish — from a cemetery, even to throw it out.)
  • Do not eat, drink, or smoke in the cemetery. Step outside the cemetery if any of these pastimes are necessary.

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