Dead with a Drawl: Elmwood Cemetery

September 21, 2014 — I’m not the kind of guy who can tell you the best restaurants or the coolest hangout spots in a city, but I can get you to its best graveyards. And when in Memphis, Tennessee, go to Elmwood Cemetery. Before or after Graceland, it doesn’t matter.

Granted, Elmwood Cemetery has a relatively bland name. Also, if I were to list its notable interments, you’d yawn through most of them, unless you were way into local history or war dead. But Elmwood Cemetery is a dark wonderland of funeral art.

Founded in 1852, the southern cemetery at 824 South Dudley Street spreads across 80 acres. It feels like an old cemetery, with plenty of beautiful statuary aged into terrifying and mysterious forms and large trees that have been sheltering the decay that feeds their roots for 150 years’ worth of trunk rings—oaks, magnolias, and, yes, elms, although according to Wikipedia, they had to go out and transplant elms from New York since they picked the name for its nice sound.

The first line of the cemetery website reads, “Elmwood is the most historic ground in this part of the world.” It has some 75,000 people’s worth of history buried there, like an outlaw from the James gang and 2,500 yellow fever graves clumped together regardless of name and occupation, the salient point of their life apparently being that they died of plague.

As you can tell by the pictures, we visited on a muddy, drippy, gloriously depressing morning. We only spent a couple meager hours there, and didn’t get close to seeing every interesting bit of macabre stonework. Those are always my favorite cemeteries. The dead don’t change, but they’ve always something new to show you.

I don’t know what Fall is like in Memphis, but I do know I’d do it at Elmwood.