Last weekend I went to North Carolina for the first time. I’ve been through it or flown over it on my way to someplace else, but this was my first actual visit. It’s absolutely gorgeous.

And they have a lot of dead folks there.

Seriously, everywhere we went there were little cemeteries just waiting to be walked through. And so we did.


The best one though- my favorite, was a large and very old cemetery that we passed on the way to Boone as it was getting dark. We both spied it at the same time, noted that the gates were open, and pulled in. No one else was there, presumably because they had sense enough to stay out of a cemetery when night was approaching.

“Just a couple of quick photos,” I said, and dashed out of the car door to start jogging through the headstones. After a few yards though I noticed something- this place was OLD. The headstones near me were very tall, thin, and toppling, reminding me of the ones I’d seen in Knoxville and Savannah. I stopped in front of one of the largest ones and could not believe how beautiful it was. It had been repaired many times over the years and as a result I couldn’t read the last name of the deceased in order to research her, but here it is. I was really moved by this one for some reason. I stood in front of it for quite some time as Shawn crept forward in the rental car behind me. Finally he got out to see what I was looking at.

DELIA This marks the sacred spot where rested the fair, the gentle, the lovely Delia. The perfect daughter, a perfect lady, she died 24th October —-, Aged 16 yrs. 


The ones surrounding me in the oldest section of the cemetery were just as amazing, carved with laurel wreaths, weeping willows, and wonderful examples of Victorian funerary art. I could have stayed all day, but it was getting dark quickly and I wanted to see the stone church on the property. By the time I got to the church the light was turning blue- all of these photos have been lightened for detail. This place is first on my list on a bright morning when I go back to North Carolina.


The church was small and crouched at the side of the cemetery, but it had some interesting features, including small buttressed sides and an outdoor hallway that had pretty lights hanging in the arches. It was all made of river stone and had large stained glass windows. To the side of the property was a labyrinth and a cremation garden. I wished we’d found it earlier, but we’d been going through another cemetery while the sun was up and we missed out on this one.

Here’s the thing- I never got the name of the church or the cemetery. I was so overwhelmed with the age of the place and the unique stones that I never even saw a sign. “Oh well,” I thought, “I’ll find it online”. NOPE. The closest town was Rutherfordton and we were off of 221. I couldn’t find it online, but maybe didn’t apply myself enough.

I would have liked to have known what Delia was like, or tried to find out more about her. Maybe on the next trip I can learn more about her and her family or speak to someone in the church about records to get the date of her death.

That’ll be another blog post.

Receiving Vaults in Knoxville, TN and the Mutant Crickets That Live In Them

Greenwood Cemetery, Knoxville, Tennessee.

First, if you live up North and are completely used to seeing receiving vaults, you’ll have to excuse my enthusiasm. On a recent visit to Knoxville my friend Keila and I decided to throw on jackets and visit the local cemeteries. It was a gray, gloomy day, the perfect kind of day to go poking around old tombstones and vaults. The first stop was Greenwood Cemetery, a sprawling place that not only included some beautiful monuments, but had one side that was more like a park, with flat markers and pretty green lawns. We had stopped there originally to look at some of the mausoleums toward the front of the cemetery that featured beautiful stained glass windows, but we got distracted and soon found ourselves walking toward the back of the property. At the very back we could see a huge obelisk standing out against the backdrop of red and yellow trees and we made our way toward it. It was the Kesterson monument, and by far the tallest structure I’ve seen in any cemetery to date. All around it were generations of the same family, and all of the markers were done in white marble. It was a pretty and peaceful spot in the landscape, the perfect place to spend eternity if you happened to be a Kesterson. Just behind it was a hill that climbed into the woods and we noticed two doors in the hillside. We wandered over, thinking it was a mausoleum at first but we noticed that there was no name on the stonework or the doors. The doors were slightly open, offering a silent invitation to enter.

“I’m going in,” said Keila, walking toward it and looking determined.

“Okay,” I said, not moving.

“Well, come with me!” she demanded, and I started laughing and followed after her.

When we reached the doors she pulled one open and it gave way with a perfect haunted-house groan of rusted hinges, sounding like they hadn’t been used in ages. She waited for me to go in ahead of her, and I stepped inside. The interior was made of old brick that formed an archway over my head. It was empty and smelled strongly of mold, dirt, and brick dust, and the smell seemed to stick in the back of my throat. I stood there for a moment and wondered if it was a receiving vault. I’d never seen one before but had heard about them, oddly enough when I was reading a biography of Lizzie Borden.

That’s when I saw Keila’s face go pale and she pointed to the ceiling right over my head with a look of horror. Crouching in the dim light above me were dozens of huge black crickets, just hanging there like bats. I bolted. We stood in the doorway and peered in for a couple more minutes before carefully shutting the door and walking to the car, breathing in gulps of fresh air. On the way to the next cemetery we speculated about the doors and why they were open, why the room was placed in the hillside like that, and what the original use had been.

Vault doors in Greenwood Cemetery.

The Old Gray Cemetery was considered to be the second oldest one on the city. It was smaller than the Greenwood and had an intimate feeling to it because it was surrounded by a low wall. The cemetery was also chock-full of Victorian funerary art. Urns and angels and open Bibles on pedestals and crumbling mausoleums! It was a tapophile’s  dream come true and Keila and I were smiling as we drove in. We rode through the front gates and noticed two men walking a dog up ahead, and a pack of homeless men wandering out the gates seconds after we pulled in. In fact, the cemetery was clearly used as a home base for several people. While we were there we saw blankets under trees, laundry hanging from branches, and it was clear that people were sleeping on the steps of some of the mausoleums, as well as doing other more unsavory things.

Maybe it was the rain, or maybe the fact that people had to live in that cemetery, but it felt like a sad place with heavy energy surrounding it where the others we had visited had and felt loved and cared for. We walked around for quite awhile looking at all of the statues and the dates on headstones. When we were making our way back toward the front I saw a large mausoleum and walked over- but then I saw the words at the top. In big official block letters that left no doubt as to it’s purpose it said RECEIVING VAULT. The doors on this one were locked with padlocks the size of my fist, which is probably a good thing. I was still anticipating an asthma attack from the first moldy vault I’d been in that day and if this one had been open I’d have been inside, to hell with the asthma.

Receiving Vault in Old Gray Cemetery.

It too been placed into the side of a hill and I climbed up to the top and found a large brick air vent. I always look for the vents on mausoleums, new and old. I think it’s interesting that some of them are decorative and covered with ironwork made to look like a small window, while others are clearly there for a grim purpose and are not so discreet. If the large air vent at the top of this vault wasn’t enough, the doors were vented as well with open latticework at the top. If Keila were taller I would have made her give me a boost to peek inside.

These structures were used to hold bodies during the winter months in colder parts of the country, and they sometimes had large shelves on the walls so multiple coffins could be placed inside and then locked up until the burial in more favorable weather. Here in Florida, we don’t see them. Here we see sandy cemeteries, vicious ground bees, and kudzu vines. Also, a decent amount magical objects, but that’s a post for another day. No receiving vaults.

A weird bit of history- Lizzie Borden’s parents were ‘autopsied’ in the receiving vault of the cemetery where they were buried. These things weren’t exactly built in an era that included brilliant electric illumination, so that must have been a major surgical feat at that time. Basically, their bodies went to the grave, but their skulls went to court.

And yes, I think she did it.

On top of the vault.