As a child, it never occurred to me that the picnics my family often went on in an old Dutch cemetery were anything but trips to the park. We’d have sandwiches, walk around the ancient stones trying to read the inscriptions (Literacy!), figure out how old the stones were (Math!) while collecting fallen leaves and acorns from the enormous old trees that shaded the small graveyard (Science!).
Now, with the year turning towards the heart of autumn—and, of course, Halloween—people become interested in the ghostly tales of those who lived here before us. For a unique spin on the ghoulishness of late night (or midday) cemetery visit, consider checking out these local and historic cemetery tours.
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery
540 North Broadway
Perhaps the most legendary cemetery in America, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is the famed restless place of the Headless Horseman and the backdrop of epic late night ride. It is also the final resting place for celebrities of all stripes- both famous and infamous. Surrounding the Old Stone Church where families can hear the Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow retold by Jonathan Kurik and within hearing distance of the screams emanating from Philipsburg Manor’s Horseman’s Hollow, In addition to do-it-yourself tour maps, the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery offers both daytime and evening tours that are suitable for families (just make sure to read the tour reviews carefully and make sure it is suitable for your particular family!) that run from one to two hours, depending on the tour. The daytime tours are very rich in historical content and take visitors from the Revolutionary War era up through some of today’s most well known celebrities. For a trip focused specifically on Washington Irving, look for the popular one hour tour, The Original Knickerbocker.: Washington Irving and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Similarly, the evening tours also focus on the cemetery’s history and inhabitants (both corporal and non-corporeal!) while nature provides a cover of darkness and the cemetery provides lanterns for each participant. While most of the information is the same, the long shadows cast by the lanterns completely change the mood of the tour and add that skin tingling element that is so perfect in the middle and late autumn. Two of the evening tours for families are The Classic Lantern Tour and The Good, The Bad and the Unusual. Both last two hours--with one of the Classic Lantern Tours finishing up at the stroke of midnight every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in October. Out for a night without the kids? Take your friends or your beloved on the adults-only Murder and Mayhem Tour--it’s my favorite.
Oak Hill Cemetery - Nyack
North Highland Avenue
Just across the Hudson River from Sleepy Hollow is the town of Nyack, which is home to another cemetery that now serves as home to a number of historical and famous figures. Twice a year the Friends of the Nyacks hosts walking tours through the cemetery, led by cemetery’s former caretaker, Luke Conroy. Established in 1848--with the oldest headstone dating to 1790--Oak Hill Cemetery’s famous inhabitants include actress Helen Hayes, screenwriter Charles McArthur, painter Edward Hopper, Union General Daniel Ullman and author Carson McCullers. The next scheduled tour is October 19th; just in time for Halloween!
Kensico Cemetery - Valhalla
273 Lakeview Avenue
For a completely do-it-yourself cemetery tour, that can be done from the comfort and warmth of your car, on bicycle or on foot, head on over to the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla. This sprawling burial ground offers a very well designed and informative map--both in print and online--that maps out not only the noteworthy people at Kensico Cemetery, but includes information on the structures, statues and trees you will see along the route. Not sure where to start? The 98 foot tall Kensico Tower near the main entrance is a natural choice, as it draws your attention the moment you arrive.