The Unusual Practice Of Picnicking With The Dead

Amidst the shady groves of trees, winding paths, and well-kept grounds of a cemetery, the headstones lining the property serve as somber monuments of our dearly departed. Whether you see them as sacred or spooky, we don't usually associate these final resting places as picnic spots to enjoy a light brunch while sitting six feet above someone's buried relative.

However, back in the late 1800s, cemeteries were hot spots where locals would congregate to share a tasty sandwich or snacks together in a public space. Step back in time and the typically quiet, pensive atmosphere of gravesites that we are used to today is transformed into a happy social gathering among friends.

Today, we'll "pour one out" upon visiting a fallen friend's grave, but in the late 19th century, food and drinks were shared among the living at the gravesite instead. So how exactly did public cemeteries get their strangely jolly start?

Why did people once picnic in cemeteries?

Before the age of modern medicine, death constantly loomed overhead. Women died while giving birth, children died at young ages, and people died of diseases like yellow fever and cholera (via Atlas Obscura). This grim period in history left the nation with more dead than it could bury in small private plots, so larger public cemeteries were built that were landscaped beautifully.

There weren't many established parks to hang out at in those days, so people began flocking to the cemetery to picnic with their family and friends — both living and dead. The merriment slowly trickled to a halt, however, when the trash pile-up and general upkeep became too much, to the point that cemeteries eventually banned food and drink (via Connecting Directors).

Though cemeteries are generally considered hallowed ground meant for reflection and mourning, there will always be happy memories to look back on. And we all like to remember and celebrate our family history differently!

Picnicking at the cemetery isn't always strictly for one's own ancestors, either. Some people who are traveling and know that one of their favorite writers, celebrities, or historical figures is buried nearby may feel tempted to spend a little time with them over tea like this writer and her sister decided to do.

Just be sure to ask the site office for permission before you lay out the gingham for your luncheon with the dead, and don't forget to clean up after yourself.