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Proper Cemetery Etiquette By Jari Mikkola, MCS, BA, CLPI
Submitted By: Admin Date: February 07, 2009, 05:38:38 PM Views: 1817

Proper Cemetery Etiquette

Not Offending Those Laid to Rest Who Have Not Moved On

By Jari Mikkola, MCS, BA, CLPI • ParaNexus Co-Founder • November 2007

Often paranormal researchers may get overly excited about the prospect of visiting a well known, or even an unknown, cemetery that is purportedly active. Before we venture into these solemn places of rest, we should not forget that we are intruding as uninvited guests. Act as you would if you were with a friend, who stopped by unexpectedly to visit someone you don’t know unannounced and you went into their home not knowing the inhabitants, or the surroundings.

While pondering this scenario, also put yourself into the shoes of the unexpected hosts. Has this ever happened to you? And how did you feel?

Here are some suggestions for proper etiquette while visiting a cemetery for an investigation:

Never, But NEVER, Trespass – Most cemeteries ‘Close at Dusk!’ Thus it is best to get permission in writing from those owning the property; whether it is a property management group, the city or township, the local police or sheriff, or the property owners. Let them know your intent, the time of your visit and the time of your departure. Should you stay past that point (for whatever the reason) you may still be breaking the law. So unless the group has made arrangements for extending the time, leave cheerfully and quickly when you realize you’ve reached your time limit. Also, should there be any gates (walk-in or driveway) that were locked, re-lock them when you leave if you have been given the keys. If you don’t have a key, and they are locked, it’s pretty likely that you are being given a BIG hint that you're not allowed to be entering a private cemetery and stay out of it!

Not All Visitors to the Cemetery Are There to Find Ghosts – It is not uncommon in any cemetery to find other people with various reasons for being there; historians, family descendants, genealogists and the like. Cemeteries are also popular locations for photographers and headstone engravers. Be sure to respect them and make yourself as unobtrusive as possible. Avoid yelling or speaking out loudly, avoid obnoxious chit-chat about apparitions, ghosts, or spirits, as many may find this offensive. Your comments may also upset others who are there shortly after interring a deceased family member. They would prefer to think that their family or friend has moved on to a better place…not hanging around as a ghost in the cemetery for eternity!

Respect the grounds and surroundings and carry yourself in silence and if you must speak, whisper softly in subdued tones when strangers are present, unless they initiated the conversation.

Show Respect for the Inhabitants – Whoever the souls are that inhabit the cemetery, they chose to remain there and may, in fact consider it their ‘home.’  Conduct yourself as you would when visiting anyone’s home. You are the visitor, welcome or unwelcome, and these spirits may even consider you as an uninvited trespasser on their property. Some of the spiritual inhabitants may find you amusing and enjoy the attention, while others may be quite ignorant and belligerent, or even territorial, but regardless of how they manifest themselves, be sure to be as understanding as you possibly can, under the circumstances.

Be respectful when walking on the graves…it’s best to walk around them if they are clearly marked. Don’t leave litter behind, and if you see a lot of litter, clean it up! While doing so, speak to the inhabitants as if you are helping them maintain house. Speak softly and in soft normal tones; avoid obnoxious and disrespectful jokes about the dead. Remember your voice will carry, and the louder the voice, the more annoyed a spirit may become, and you may, believe it or not, even frighten some spirits away, thus reducing your chances of seeing an apparition, getting great photos, or recording interaction with the spirits via EVPs.

Also watch your mouth! Vulgarity is sometimes heard in EVP recordings by the spirits. However, it’s not considered good manners to the living to be vulgar or swear in public, and you certainly wouldn’t do it in someone else home who you don’t know. It just makes good sense not to do it in the cemetery either.

Joking With the Dead – Humans often make jest when put into a ‘nervous’ or an ‘uncomfortable’ situation. But you don’t have to be morose, obnoxious, or rude when trying to be funny. As with the living, we are sometimes offended by tasteless and indignant humor. Spirits do have a sense of humor, and can appreciate ‘good’ humor. We all have a ‘spirit’ or a ‘soul,’ we as the living still happen to have a physical body, so remember, if it’s considered tasteless humor to the living, it is to the dead as well!

Here are a few tasteless ‘jokes’ that have been heard in various cemeteries which annoyed the living and could possibly irritate the dead as well:

  • "Oops, didn't mean to shout loud enough to wake the dead. Ha-ha-ha."
  • "Gee, he must have been a cheapskate, not giving his wife her own headstone."
  • "So, when do the ghouls show up, huh? Ha-ha-ha."
  • "Let's leave soon, I'm feeling dead tired."
  • "Can't you take a joke? I mean, hey, you're looking pretty grave. Ha-ha-ha."

Over time you will find that some sprits do have a great sense of humor, and if you’ve been doing this long enough you may have experienced it yourself…if not, you will. So as a courtesy to the dead if someone begins making ‘bad’ or ‘inappropriate’ jokes; put an immediate STOP to it and/or make them leave the cemetery. It’s not uncommon for these jokesters to become inexplicably hurt or have strange problems occur shortly after which may lead one to believe that maybe, just maybe, our unexpected hosts are ‘getting even!’

Help in Protecting the Cemetery – A general rule of thumb is to leave the cemetery in the same, if not better, condition as you found it. Be careful when you are close to the headstones or monuments, don’t lean or sit on them. Weather has an adverse affect on them and in climates that experience deep freezes can cause a marker to crumble and fall; not only causing damage to it, but injuring the living. Don’t use any creams, lotions, gels or sprays to reveal inscriptions on a grave marker, as this can further damage them. A trick that can be used instead is to take a strong flashlight - like a halogen flashlight and hold it at sharp angle against the marker. This will often reveal much of the inscription, and definitely be much friendlier to the fragility of the stone or marble marker. Acid rain already does enough damage without us adding to the erosion.

Remove nothing from the cemetery, unless of course, it is considered litter (like beverage cans, candy wrappers, or fast food containers) that someone else has left behind. People often bring things to a grave they consider personal and leave (or give) them for the deceased. It would be considered poor taste to ‘steal’ from the dead, and they wouldn’t much like it either!

Don’t eat, drink, or smoke in the cemetery. When taking a break from an investigation, step outside the barriers of the cemetery to do so. And worse, if you have to use toilet facilities, go to the nearest restroom! And if in a rural area where no restrooms are available, at least get far enough away from the perimeter of the property to be as respectful as possible to the spirits. Let’s not forget your privacy, you might be watched and not even know it. There have been reports of seeing apparitions or hearing voices when doing so…so don’t be startled should this happen.

Don’t take any pets with you on an investigation, and certainly not into the cemetery; for obvious reasons…After all, how would you like if someone urinated, or worse, on your plot? Not to mention that animals have an uncanny sense of paranormal acuity…it often makes them skittish and nervous…and you may end up with a neurotic animal on your hands.

It Is Generally Polite to Seek Permission From Your Hosts – As researchers, it is often a good idea to wait for at least a half an hour prior to taking photographs. This is a good time to walk the perimeter to allow yourself enough time to get used to the dark and learn your surrounding, as well as allow those spirits present to become accustomed to you presence. During this walk they will become increasingly curious about what you are doing there, this late at night, with all these people, and all this strange equipment!

Also before taking any photographs it would be considered polite to quietly ask for permission of the deceased, and in a respectful manner prior to doing so, politely announcing that a flash of light will occur. This does two things, first it notifies your colleagues that you’re about to take a flash, and second you won’t frighten the spirit away that may or may not be familiar with flash photography.  And also always be sure to say ‘thank you’ after taking the photograph. It may sound peculiar, but you may be surprised how cooperative some subjects may become, which you’ll notice in your photographs later on review.

10 Simple Rules to Remember

1. Take only photos and audio recordings; leave only footprints.

2. Do not touch the memorials or artifacts as they are privately owned outdoor sculptures.

3. No alcohol, firearms, drugs or entertainment items like stereos or iPods in the cemetery.

4. Always show respect for the dead and be polite, keep your voice down, and ask permission.

5. Do NOT bring children or pets on an investigation.

6. Do NOT litter, and refrain from eating or smoking on the premises during an investigation.

7. Do NOT destroy or take any of the plants, or bother any wildlife which inhabits the cemetery.

8. Keep your vehicle ONLY on designated roadways or in parking areas and never leave the vehicle idling, as this can damage historic structures and sculptures with the emissions.

9. Please stay on designated walkways or footpaths and only sit on seating intended to do so.

10. Never trespass and obey posted times of operation. And always report suspicious activities or vandalism to the local law authorities.

© 2007 by Jari Mikkola. All Rights Reserved. Jari Mikkola is the Co-Founder of ParaNexus and Founder/Director of World Nexus Publications which publishes the Journal of Anomalous Sciences. Jari has been doing paranormal research for the last thirty years during which time he has traveled the world extensively and has visited some of the world’s most haunted places. Secularly, he is a Computer Security Architect Consultant. For more information, please visit his website at, or email him at

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