Sunday, August 24, 2008

Stones and Bones of New England

Today, I read Lisa Rogak's Stones and Bones of New England: A Guide to Unusual, Historic, and Otherwise Notable Cemeteries. In this skimpy volume, Rogak profiles several notable cemeteries in each of the six New England states, offering directions, brief descriptions, and amusing anecdotes.  Each chapter is frustratingly short and offers very little historical information.

I will read (and recommend) pretty much any book about graveyards. Still, I found this book disappointing. The author's focus is much more on curiosities than on really investigating the burying places or their histories. If that's what you're looking for, you might enjoy this book, but it wasn't for me.

Even worse, there are very few pictures. For example, there are 15 cemeteries in the Rhode Island section, but only five (small, not very compelling) photographs. At times, the only gravestone pictured is not the one that is most discussed in the chapter.

If you buy this book, be prepared for breathless descriptions like this one (for the "Spider Gates" Cemetery in Leicester, MA):
Spider Gates Cemetery is notorious for being among the most haunted cemeteries in Massachusetts . . . If you do decide to visit Spider Gates, you should know what others have reported from previous visits: peculiar noises and screams out of nowhere in the middle of the day, cold spots — a phenomenon frequently associated with a ghost passing by — and unexplained smoky, cloudlike images seen in photographs taken at the site.
So, if you're into that sort of stuff, this is the book for you. I'm not, so I found it moderately irritating.

This review is turning into more of a pan than I had originally intended. There are certainly some gems in this book. For example, I had never heard of the Ben & Jerry's Flavor Graveyard before, so I enjoyed that chapter. A few of the quoted epitaphs are genuinely interesting and I'm looking forward to tracking them down on my own. Like Ms. Rogak, I am a taphophile, and criticizing her book makes me feel like a traitor. It isn't that it was worthless — it just wasn't what I was looking for.

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