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Cemetery Etiquette

A Guide for the Taphophile

Rules for Taphophiles and Tourists

  • Observe all posted rules.
  • Keep your speed on cemetery roads to ten mph or less unless otherwise posted.
  • Stay out of cemeteries after dark. Not only is this taken as a sign of disrespect, but you may also trip and injure yourself or inadvertently damage monuments.
  • Avoid mourners. If they approach you, be honest about the purpose of your visit. If you wish to photograph them, ask their permission. On certain holidays, such as Memorial Day or the Day of the Dead, this rule might be relaxed. Many families are very willing to include a stranger in their circle and tell her or him about the loved one(s) being honored.
  • Be friendly and courteous to all that you meet.
  • Do not do tombstone rubbings on thin stones. Your weight may crack or snap the stone. (See picture at top of the page!)
  • Do not remove anything from a grave that you did not put there yourself unless it is obvious litter. This includes flowers, coins, stones, dirt, and other artifacts.
  • Observe floral regulations.
  • In some cultures, photographing cemeteries or mourners is a taboo. If told to put away your camera, do so.
  • Keep a respectful silence. Speak to your companions in a low tone of voice.
  • If asked to leave a cemetery by an employee, mourner, or officer of the law, do so without argument unless you have a legtimate purpose for being there. Tourism does not count as legitimate in some locales.
  • Do not apply shaving cream to stones. Learn to use the light to your advantage. (See Phototography).
  • Pick up any litter you may find. Leave no evidence of your visit.
  • Don't treat a cemetery visit as a party: avoid the use of all varieties of drugs, including alcohol. This rule does not apply to Clampers visiting Colma's Woodlawn Cemetery on Emperor Norton Day. A designated driver is a must, however.
  • Turn off your car radio/stereo while driving or parking in cemeteries.
  • Leave tombstones where you find them.
  • Report fresh incidents of vandalism or theft to the police.
  • Do not use cemeteries as a camping ground or a lover's lane.
  • Picnics are usually acceptable as long as you clean up afterwards.

Hospitality for Cemetery Operators

  • Post your regulations clearly at entrances.
  • Provide maps and information sheets about famous or interesting graves.
  • Provide restrooms and drinking fountains. Mourners as well as taphophiles appreciate these conveniences.
  • Be sure to cordon off the area around open graves.

Questions or Comments?
Return to the Taphophiles' Handbook
Pictures: 1. Mount Desert Island, Maine; 2. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California 3. El Sauzal, Baja California, Mexico; 4. Old Burying Ground, Concord, Massachusetts
Photos Copyright 2000 by Joel GAzis-SAx. All Rights Reserved.