The Grave of Jack Skellington: Forest Hill Cemetery

October 5, 2015 — I know where Jack Skellington is buried. But I have no idea where to go from that sentence.

I mean, look at the skull on that tombstone. That face. Those eyes. That grin. Those…ponytails? Even without a black-cat bow tie and pin stripes, the image is spitting. The child’s conception of a skull that is Jack Skellington’s head.

But he never died, right? He’s an immortal Halloween spirit? I guess he might have died to become a living skeleton, but I don’t know that his backstory has ever been...fleshed out.

So I can only assume that the universe of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas was a parallel one. In ours, after getting shot down in his sleigh, his dirge in the cemetery ends with “Here lies poor old Jack.”

And that makes the neatly geometric town of faceless adults Derry, New Hampshire. And that cemetery of scorched stone and reindeer bone, Forest Hill.

All right. I’ve pushed this conceit far enough. Out of a 40-story window, probably.

This two-dimensional stone twin of Jack Skellington is indeed a skull, it’s just one of the unending variety of skull iconography adoring graves across New England. Every other cemetery I visit in the northeast seems to show me some new style of that particular memento mori. Just in Forest Hill, I found close to a dozen different varieties of skull. And a lot of coffins inscribed on the gravestones.

I dig a cemetery where coffins are a regular motif.

Forest Hill is off of East Derry Road (another entrance is off Cemetery Road). It’s probably one of my favorite graveyards in New Hampshire. It dates back to 1722, has some 10,000 burials, and is still an active cemetery. Many of its early 18th century stones survive, including those of the area’s first settlers. It’s also got a beautiful, classic white New England church in front of it and a wide variety of funerary iconography. Besides all the skulls and coffins, we found a range of fascinating effigies and strange angels and exotic urns and deadmarks like this Masonic stone:

It also has a celebrity grave, if you’ll allow me to count the cenotaph of the first American in space and one of the race’s few moonwalkers, Alan Shepard, which was placed on his parents' plot. Shepard was born in Derry and died in Pebble Beach California, where his ashes were scattered.

And while every grave everywhere has a story, the one people talk about in Forest Hill is that of Lucy Gregg. The story goes that Lucy died at 22 on the morning of her wedding day. They say her forever-fiancé chose her epitaph, a verse from British poet Anna Letitia Barbauld:

So fades a summer cloud away; 
So sinks the gale when storms are o'er; 
So gently shuts the eye of day; 
So dies a wave along the shore.

He also built a white picket fence around the grave. Today, the fence has been replaced by a new one, standing out among the other gray and fenceless graves.

And, of course, it just so happens to be the grave of Poor Old Jack. If you have the notion, you’ll find it in the section across the path from the well-marked First Settler stones.

Actually, there are a few headstones thereabouts that bear that same type of Burtonian skull. And a few more that have similar skulls except for the addition of a triangular nose hole. Those look a lot like Sesame Street characters to me, so I could have angled this post much differently.


  1. Went by there this morning - what a treasure-trove of great stones!

  2. Beautiful! You do what I love to do, better.

  3. My great grandparents, Jonathan and Caroline Sanders, are buried there on Eastman Avenue. Their grave is a sculpture of a log, surrounded by four stone stumps