Tips for Cemetery Tourists
Most cemeteries welcome tourists, but there are some rules and etiquette to keep in mind.
●Before your visit, read guidebooks and/or the cemetery website so you know what to expect. Check specific opening hours and holiday closures. If there is a cemetery office, ask for a map or directions to find the locations of your “must-see” grave or monuments. Some cemeteries provide guided tours for a small fee. Proceeds from these tours usually support preservation efforts, so it’s definitely worth it to fork over a few bucks.
●Most cemeteries permit photography — but check with the office first.
●Don’t lean, stand, or walk on headstones and tombs.
●If you see something amiss (i.e. vandalism), inform cemetery staff.
●Be quiet and respectful to the people around you — there may be active burials taking place during your visit.
Many of Idaho’s cemeteries have been threatened by neglect, insufficient funds, and urban renewal. We owe more to these sacrosanct places than to simply let them fall to the wayside, forgotten along with the pioneers and trailblazers that rest within. Thanks to the tireless work of Boise City Parks and many volunteers, the cemeteries on this list will remain for generations to come. However, other cemeteries may not be as lucky.
If you’re interested in protecting one of Idaho’s many cemeteries, consider starting a support group to work as a neutral party in planning for a cemetery’s preservation and maintenance. Here’s a rundown of how to get started:
●Determine — and coordinate with — the owners or governing agency responsible for the land.
●Seek funding and partners. Since cemeteries are highly local in nature, look for partnerships with historic societies or civic groups.
●Pursue historic site designation. Unless it is part of a historically significant property, or resides in a historic district, it’s hard to get a cemetery listed on the National Register of Historic Places. However, getting listed on a state or local register is still advantageous, as it makes the site eligible for funding.
●Arrange for training and technical assistance. Volunteers will need to learn necessary skills such as surveying and documentation, stone cleaning and resetting, and site maintenance before getting to work. Coordinate with local historical and preservation societies to arrange such training and connect with people who have the technical skills to help. Ask for locals knowledgeable in stone work, masonry, and ground penetrating radar (for finding unmarked graves).
●Create a map and conduct surveys. Having a detailed and accurate map of the site is critically important to the preservation process, as it creates a record to work from in the future. Mapping and surveying should include:
- All graves (marked and unmarked)
- Fences (both for the perimeter and enclosures)
- Trees and other vegetation
- Any other features or buildings.
- Develop a maintenance plan. Prioritize loose or unbalanced markers, unstable surfaces, and crumbling retaining walls. After any safety issues are resolved, move on to fixes like iron and stonework. After the initial restoration, the cemetery will require significant ongoing maintenance. Consider hiring a groundskeeper, and then relegate all non-plant related care (such as inspecting grave markers for damage) to volunteers.
For more information on cemetery preservation, please contact Preservation Idaho, the Idaho Historical Society, and Idaho Heritage Trust.
Idaho is fit to burst with everything from lively, active cemeteries to those in deserted ghost towns. The four on this list are just a few personal favorites, but there are many more in the Treasure Valley (and beyond) worth visiting — so put on a good pair of walking shoes and get out there.