Editor's note: North Texas resident Stacy Breen is an intrepid explorer of local culture with an instinct for making nifty discoveries. This is part of a small series on her visits to cemeteries in Texas.
The Texas Historical Commission estimates that there are 50,000 cemeteries in Texas, from small plots with unmarked graves to massive cemeteries spanning hundreds of acres.
I've been to only a fraction — but any time I visit a town, I always look to see if there's a cool cemetery close by.
It's something I would do as a teenager. Going to a cemetery was alternative, it was "goth." I may have since thrown away the black eyeliner and the Doc Martens, but I never outgrew that part — I still go to cemeteries.
There are people who visit cemeteries and people who visit graves. Visiting a grave is about connecting with the person, whether it's a loved one or a famous person like musician Stevie Ray Vaughan, buried at Laurel Land Cemetery in Dallas' Oak Cliff neighborhood.
But visiting a cemetery is about something else — it's about absorbing the aura of the place.
Older cemeteries are better. The oldest gravestones I've seen in Texas date to the middle 1800s. It seems like they used to do more to acknowledge people who were buried. Older gravestones often include a little history about the deceased, with the family lineage.
I love unique headstones. Some can get very elaborate with engravings, especially gravestones for children. They'll have little ornaments like a baby lamb. It's very moving.
It's cool to see the different kinds of stone. White marble was the most common stone used during the 1800s, then granite became more common in the 1900s. It's interesting to see the way the stone ages, with mosses and lichens blooming on the surface.
Peace and quiet
Cemeteries let you have a moment of silence. I've seen signs that say "no bike riding, no jogging." They want it to be a respectful place where people aren't doing Zumba. It's peaceful. When I was young, I remember they'd say, Don't breathe when you drive by a cemetery so you won't have bad dreams, and we'd hold our breath. But it never creeped me out.
With Halloween in the air, it seemed like a good time to make a list of five of my favorite cemeteries in Texas:
Oakland Cemetery, Dallas
A mere three miles from downtown, this is one of the most historic cemeteries in Dallas. It was founded in 1892, and has the remains of familiar names of pioneers that you see on streets like Kiest, Belo, and Caruth. It's also one of the most majestic, with nearly 60 acres that contain some spectacular tombs and crypts. It's been neglected and in August 2019, the city said it would no longer maintain the property, although there are grassroots efforts to put some kind of program in place.
Oden Chapel and Cemetery, Glen Rose
I happened upon this tiny cemetery after a day of hiking at Dinosaur Valley State Park. I liked it because it's very small and pastoral. The road leading in has a 90-degree turn right where there is a low water crossing. It made my trusty Outback skid a bit — that was a little jolting. If you visit in the spring, you'll see wildflowers blooming, and if you feel like doing a cemetery two-for-one, there's the larger, more well known Chalk Mountain Cemetery, just past Fossil Rim, only 13 miles away.
Indio Ranch Cemetery, Presidio
Indio Ranch is a lost community, and the only evidence of its existence that remains is this cemetery sitting on a bluff along the border north of Presidio. Many graves are staked with wooden crosses, or else just a pile of rocks. The site overlooks the Rio Grande and mountains into Mexico, and it's fabulously desolate, with nothing but silence. It's a good excursion if you're staying in Marfa, an hour away.
Glenwood Cemetery, Houston
Houston has dozens of cemeteries but Glenwood is the most famous. It's where Howard Hughes was buried and it's kind of a tourist destination; there's even someone who gives tours, and they're in the process of building an actual visitors' center. It's busier than what I usually like, but some of the larger plots have amazing landscaping with rose bushes, plus carved statues of winged angels and other figures. It's also a beautiful space with walkways and gently rolling hills. You could easily spend the day here.
Western Heights Cemetery, Dallas
Dallas' most legendary cemetery holds the remains of Bonnie partner Clyde Barrow in a family plot. It's obviously the reason most people go: There's a mowed path through tall grass and weeds that leads straight to the Barrow family site. But with some of the other remains here dating back to the 1850s, there are plenty of unique gravestones to see. Note: The entrance is on Fort Worth Avenue, which is no parking, so you need to park on one of the side streets.