Any time I travel, I try to go to at least one local cemetery to explore and take pictures. So as soon as I knew I was going to Denver, Colorado, I looked up area cemeteries and found “Riverside Cemetery” which was only 6 miles from my hotel.
Riverside Cemetery is Denver’s oldest operating cemetery. The cemetery lost its “handshake agreement” with the city for water rights, and because of this the cemetery no longer has water and many of the trees and plants are dying. I had no idea how I was going to get there, but after reading about this cemetery online, I knew I had to go!
Arriving in Denver
As soon as I arrived at the hotel I went to check in, since I was early they only had two floors to choose from, the 7th floor, or the 13th floor. I wanted to be as high as possible, “I’ll take 13”, I said, and was given the key after assuring the front desk person that I wasn’t superstitious. “After all” I said, “thirteen is just a number.”
After getting to my room, I tried fruitlessly to convince Anita that taking the bus most of the way and walking the last mile would be the best way to get to an “abandoned” cemetery in an industrial area of a city I had been in for no more than an hour.
She was not having it.
“Are you sure you even want to go? I don’t know how safe it is” she asked.
I assured her that I would be fine and I would have my cell phone if something happened. “Take a cab then” she insisted “it doesn’t matter how far it is, you need to take a cab.”
So I whistled for a cab and when it came near the license plate said fresh and there was dice in the mirror… Just kidding.
At about 1pm, on this beautiful sunny afternoon I jumped in a cab and asked the driver to take me to Riverside Cemetery. The cab driver turned around and looked at me seeming alarmed, “You want to go to the cemetery?” I have to admit my first thought was OK, maybe this isn’t a great idea. I mean, I know nothing of the safety of this town, or where I am going, I’m thousands of miles from home, from Anita, and I am going to a random cemetery. But no risk no reward right?
“Yup, going to the cemetery” I replied.
As the cabbie started driving he said “not to be rude, but can I ask you why you want to go to the cemetery?”
So I explained to him my fascination with cemeteries, headstones, and the people buried there, I told him I write a blog and take pictures. At this point is when he solemnly said “You know, in my country it is very very bad luck to go to the cemetery during the afternoon, very very bad luck.”
I was pretty taken aback by this and asked him what country he was from. He told me his name was Teddy and he was from Ethiopia and had moved to America five years ago. He said that it was quite a culture shock coming to America, but the craziest thing he had ever seen was this young white girl who wanted to go to the cemetery during the afternoon, by herself.
He went on to explain that in Ethiopia you could only visit a cemetery during the morning hours. And to visit during the afternoon, especially on a beautiful sunny day was such bad luck it could only mean death. When someone visited a cemetery during the day, that meant that the person was willing to die to visit their departed loved one, and it was very sad. He said “If you visit cemetery during the afternoon, everyone would watch you and say ‘who’s that crazy white girl risking her life to visit cemetery’” and he laughed nervously.
I asked him if you could visit at night. “No, no! Cemeteries are very bad places at night, no good to go at night.” I made a very weak joke about zombies and ghosts, but I have to admit I was getting a little nervous. What was I getting into?
Teddy told me that his father is buried in Ethiopia and how he couldn’t visit because he lives so far away, and how he wishes his daughter would visit but she never knew her grandfather. I told him that one day a graver like me might come by and pay his father a visit, and wonder about his story, and maybe even look him up. But only in the morning, I promised. He smiled.
Teddy said that he would love to walk around with me to see what I do and to look at all the headstones. But it was afternoon on a beautiful sunny day and he had to work afterall.
But if it was morning…
As the cab pulled into the cemetery, Teddy gave me his phone number, asked me how long I was planning on staying, and asked me to please call him when I was ready to go. I told him the cemetery closes at 5pm, so I would be leaving shortly before that.
I got out of the cab and he asked me “can I ask how old are you?”
“32”. I responded, after some mental math.
“You look much younger, be careful” – he warned. And he drove away.
I stood there for a minute watching Teddy drive away and taking it all in. Realizing at that moment that I was completely alone with only the 70,000 or so people buried there to keep me company. But the cemetery was beautiful, with large statues and monuments as far as the eye could see, I had 4 hours to explore, and after all, I had told the front desk person that I wasn’t superstitious…