Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America's Cemeteries

Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America's Cemeteries

by Greg Melville
Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America's Cemeteries

Over My Dead Body: Unearthing the Hidden History of America's Cemeteries

by Greg Melville


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Journalist Greg Melville’s Over My Dead Body is a lively tour through the history of US cemeteries that explores how, where, and why we bury our dead.

“Astonishing. . . fascinating . . . powerful. . .This clever, sensitive book gives us a new way to think about death, not as the final chapter, but as a window onto life in America.” —New York Times Book Review

The summer before his senior year in college, Greg Melville worked at the cemetery in his hometown, and thanks to hour upon hour of pushing a mower over the grassy acres, he came to realize what a rich story the place told of his town and its history. Thus was born Melville’s lifelong curiosity with how, where, and why we bury and commemorate our dead.

Melville’s Over My Dead Body is a lively (pun intended) and wide-ranging history of cemeteries, places that have mirrored the passing eras in history but have also shaped it. Cemeteries have given birth to landscape architecture and famous parks, as well as influenced architectural styles. They’ve inspired and motivated some of our greatest poets and authors—Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson. They’ve been used as political tools to shift the country’s discourse and as important symbols of the United States’ ambition and reach.

But they are changing and fading. Embalming and burial is incredibly toxic, and while cremations have just recently surpassed burials in popularity, they’re not great for the environment either. Over My Dead Body explores everything—history, sustainability, land use, and more—and what it really means to memorialize.

Locales visited in Over My Dead Body
Shawsheen Cemetery – Bedford, Massachusetts
The 1607 Burial Ground – Historic Jamestowne, Virginia
Burial Hill – Plymouth, Massachusetts
Colonial Jewish Burial Ground – Newport, Rhode Island
Monticello’s African American Graveyard – Charlottesville, Virginia
Mount Auburn Cemetery – Cambridge, Massachusetts
Green-Wood Cemetery – Brooklyn, New York
Laurel Grove Cemetery – Savannah, Georgia
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – Concord, Massachusetts
Central Park – New York, New York
Gettysburg National Cemetery – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Arlington National Cemetery – Arlington, Virginia
Woodlawn Cemetery – Bronx, New York
Boothill Graveyard – Tombhill, Arizona
Forest Lawn Memorial-Park – Glenwood, California
The Chapel of the Chimes – Oakland, California
Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Los Angeles, California
Nature’s Sanctuary – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781419754852
Publisher: Abrams Press
Publication date: 10/04/2022
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 256,756
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Greg Melville has worked as an outdoor journalist and a former editor at Men’s Journal and Hearst magazines. He has strong connections with magazines and newspapers, and his writing has appeared in Outside, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Health, and the Boston Globe Magazine. His work was also listed in The Best American Sportswriting 2017. He is a decorated veteran who served in Afghanistan and is in the Navy Reserve, where he is a public affairs officer with the rank of lieutenant commander. He has taught English and writing at the United States Naval Academy, where he was given the school’s Instructor of the Year Award in 2019, and journalism at St. Michael’s College in Vermont. He lives with his wife and two kids in Delaware.

Table of Contents

Prologue 1

1 Cannibals, A Coffin, and a Captain's Staff 9

Colonial Jamestown's original graves reveal America's distinctly uncivilized beginnings

2 Pilgrim's Progress? 23

To trace America's long, ongoing history of desecrating the Native dead, start at Plymouth Rock

3 … Or Give Me Death 37

Jewish cemeteries are America's first and most enduring public expressions of religious liberty-which makes them targets for intolerance

4 Where the Bodies are Buried 45

Southern plantation owners concealed the evidence of their moral crimes by hiding the bones of the enslaved

5 Out of the Churchyard, Into the Woods 59

Rural-style cemeteries transformed America's landscape, turning burial grounds into tree-filled tourist destinations

6 Underground Art 73

The Brooklyn cemetery that turned New York into America's cultural capital

7 Death Comes Equally to us All 87

Racial segregation in American cemeteries is still very much alive

8 The Tonic of Wildness 99

How Emerson and Thoreau turned a new cemetery into the country's first conservation project

9 A Cemetery by any other Name 107

Central Park, built on burial grounds, has become Manhattan's most active repository for human remains

10 Four Score and Seventy-Nine Years Ago 117

The Civil War opened the gates to the capitalism of corpses-and death in America has never been the same

11 Sweet and Fitting to Die for One's Country 129

How Arlington National Cemetery's success as a monument to war made Americans too eager to fill it

12 Keeping up with the Corpses 147

The way cemeteries set the mold for America's suburban subdivisions

13 Lasting Impressions 163

Tombstones in old boot hill graveyards keep alive the lost story of Chinese immigrants in the nineteenth-century American West

14 The Disneyland of Graveyards 175

How a Los Angeles cemetery corporatized mourning in America

15 We Didn't Start the Fire 189

Cremation now outnumbers burials in America and has surprisingly led some dying cemeteries to rise from the ashes

16 Leveraging Buried Assets 205

Facing an existential threat from Digital Immortality, cemeteries are staging a gritty fight for survival

17 Back to Nature 219

Green cemeteries return America's burial practices to the country's earliest days

Epilogue 227

Acknowledgments 231

Bibliography 233

Photograph Credits 257

About the Author 259

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