Commonplace Book Entry: Cemetery Cats

My current obsession is looking up photographs of cats in cemeteries, a marriage of my two obsessions. I am not sure what happens after death, but I like the idea of cats hanging out near my grave (maybe even howe sitting on it). As I have explored in a past post, cats are associated with death and the supernatural, so cats and cemeteries are not an unlikely pair. Why are there so many photographs of cats in cemeteries? Are they trying to steal corpses? Comfort mourners? Sun bathe and chill?

In the following post, I recreate a entry from my commonplace book on this topic. So, it is a collection of sometimes unrelated pieces (texts and images) rather than a linear narrative.

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Image Source: Daderot / CC0 1.0

“In European and American tradition […] it is commonly believed cats must be kept away from corpses, because they will attack them. In fact, according to medical examiners I have spoken to, this is occasionally observed–cats are carnivorous, after all” (27). – Paul Barber, Vampires, Burial, and Death 

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Image Credit: Brett Hammond / CC BY 2.0

Montmarte Cemetery in Paris is home to a rather large community of cats. “No one is quite sure where they came form, but dozens and dozens of cats live amongst the mausoleums, quietly sunning themselves on the marble tombstones and keeping watch over their long forgotten inhabitants” (Atlas Obscura)

Graveyard Guardian
Image Credit: Bart Everson / CC By 2.0

Kasha: In Japanese folklore, Kasha is a monster cat that steals corpses out of their coffins. “Kasha are occasionally  employed as messengers or servants of hell, in which case they are tasked with collecting corpses of wicked humans and spiriting them off to hell for punishment. Other times, they steal corpses for their own uses — either to animate as puppets or to eat” (Yokai.com). They live among humans as average cats, but can grow into sizes larger than humans and are sometimes accompanied by fire.

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Barney the Cat, Imaged Credit: Guernsey Press

At St. Sampson’s Parish Cemetery on the island of Guersney (off the coast of England), Barney the Cat roamed the cemetery for 20 years and comforted mourning visitors. When he passed in 2016, he was buried in a special place and memorialized with a plaque and bench in the cemetery. Many took to social media to share their personal stories about Barney. More info (and stories): Buzzfeed.

My Cemetery Bucket List (Ongoing)

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Kira Butler from The Midnight Society recently posted her cemetery bucket list, which inspired me to create my own list in my commonplace book. My list is strictly American cemeteries (for now), because mama is broke.

Below is my list, which is always growing. Many were chosen because they are reportedly haunted (of course). Am I missing any must-see cemeteries? Let me know in the comments.

  1. Bonaventure Cemetery, Savannah, Georgia
  2. Stepp Cemetery, Martinsvile, Indiana
  3. South East Grove Cemetery, Crown Point, Indiana
  4. Bachelor’s Grove Cemetery, Crestwood, Illinois
  5. Stull Cemetery, Kansas
  6. 100 Step Cemetery, Brazil, Indiana
  7. Crown Hill Cemetery, Indianapolis, Indiana
  8. Green-wood Cemetery, Brooklyn, New York
  9. Westminster Burying Ground, Baltimore, Maryland
  10. Saint Louis Cemetery #1, New Orleans, Louisiana
  11. Saint Louis Cemetery #2, New Orleans, Louisiana
  12. Lafayette Cemetery, New Orleans, Louisiana
  13. Woodland Cemetery and Arboretum, Dayton, Ohio
  14. Unitarian Church Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina
  15. Forest Park Cemetery, Brunswick, New York
  16. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, New York
  17. Granary Burying Ground, Boston, Massachusetts
  18. The Burying Point, Salem, Massachusetts
  19. Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California
  20. Hollywood Forever Cemetery, Los Angeles, California
  21. Howard Street Burial Ground, Salem, Massachusetts
  22. Resurrection Cemetery, Justice, Illinois
  23. Cemetery Hill, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
  24. Boot Hill, Tombstone, Arizona
  25. Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia
  26. Athens Mental Hospital Cemetery (The Ridges), Ohio
  27. Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio
  28. Lone Fir Cemetery, Portland, Oregon
  29. Union Cemetery, Easton, Connecticut
  30. Graceland Cemetery, Chicago, Illinois 
  31. Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts 
  32. Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California
  33. Key West Cemetery, Florida 
  34. Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia 
  35. Magnolia Cemetery, Charleston, South Carolina 
  36. Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  37. Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, New York
  38. Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts
  39. Cypress Lawn, Colma, California
  40. Swan Point Cemetery, Providence, Rhode Island
  41. Sunset Hills Cemetery, Flint, Michigan
  42. Central Burial Ground, Boston, Massachusetts
  43. St Roch Cemeteries (1&2), New Orleans,  Louisiana 
  44. Highland Lawn Cemetery, Terre Haute, IN

Cemetery Tour: Greyfriars Kirkyard

edin4A few years ago, I traveled to Scotland for 3 months for my PhD program. As someone that has toured many small town cemeteries in America, the Scottish cemeteries were quite the cultural shock. Before reaching my final destination of Dundee, Scotland, I stayed in Edinburgh for a few days. When not drinking Scotch and reading in pubs, I was in Greyfriars Kirkyard: a graveyard that houses a loyal dog and a violent poltergeist. Burying people since the late 16th century, the graveyard is home to many interesting people and stories.

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Greyfriars Bobby was a Skye Terrier who supposedly guarded his deceased owner’s grave in the kirkyard for 14 years. After Bobby passed on January 14, 1872, he was buried not too far from his owner’s grave. When I saw his grave (below) it was covered with sticks, which I assumed were for a heavenly game of fetch. A fountain (above) was built on the corner of Candlemaker Row and George IV Bridge in Edinburgh. While some challenge the validity of the story, I think it’s too sweet to fact-check.

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While a sweet dog sleeps near his owner, another resident attacks visitors. Located in the graveyard is an eerie mausoleum (below) with the tomb of Sir George Mackenzie. Nicknamed Bluidy Mackenzie, he is buried among many that he harmed on earth:

In the 17th century, Scotland was going through an intense religious struggle, started by King Charles introducing the Common Book of Prayer and declaring all opposition to the book an act of treason and the draconian lawyer George Mackenzie was the man responsible for putting the opposition down.

George Mackenzie was a lawyer and the Lord Advocate during the rule of Charles II and quickly earned a reputation as one of the most vicious persecutors of the covenanters, the people who rose up and signed the National Covenant in 1638, around. Mackenzie’s brutal and unfeeling treatment of the protesters even earned him the moniker “Bluidy Mackenzie.” Many covenanters were imprisoned in a section of Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh, where he delighted in their torture; guards were allowed to beat the covenanters at will, and eventually their heads would decorate the spiked gate. (Atlas Obscura)

The violent history related to the kirkyard has left an aggressive residual energy, leaving many visitors with scratch marks and bites:

The earliest story relates to a boy from the adjacent George Heriot’s School fleeing a corporal punishment and hiding within the tomb. He allegedly became trapped inside and went mad as a result. More tangible as a story is the 2004 verified story of teenage Goths who entered the tomb via the ventilation slot to the rear (now sealed). They reached the lower vault (containing the coffins) broke the coffins open and stole a skull. Police arrived as they were playing football with the skull on the grass. The pair narrowly escaped imprisonment on the little-used but still extant charge of violation of the dead.

In 1998 a new phenonenum materialised dubbed The Mackenzie Poltergeist. Between 1990 and 2006 it is alleged that there were 350 reported attacks and 170 reports of people collapsing. Night-time visitors (on the ghost-tours) reported being cut, bruised, bitten, scratched and most commonly blacking out. Some complained later of bruises, scratches and gouge-marks on their bodies. No day-time events were reported. Most attacks and feelings of unease occurred in MacKenzie’s Black Mausoleum and the Covenantors Prison. As a publicity stunt this also led in 2000, to an exorcist exorcising the graveyard. (Wikipedia)

I luckily left his grave unscathed and the doors are locked, which stopped me from doing anything stupid.

If you are brave enough, maybe you can visit and sing the old children’s rhyme: “Bluidy Mackingie, come oot if ye daur, lift the sneck and draw the bar!” Or not. Probably don’t.

The poltergeist was featured on Episode 19: “Bite Marks” of the Lore podcast, which I highly recommend.

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Bluidy Mackenzie’s tomb

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I like how chill this guy looks on his gravestone.

Greyfriars Kirkyard is an interesting representation of the good and evil on earth…and in the afterlife. A place where many are laid to rest, the graveyard is alive in many ways. As the Scottish writer Walter Scott once said, “Death–the last sleep? No, it is the final awakening.”