Cemeteries are kind of wild. They are a testament to mankind’s inherent fear of death and subsequent belief in an afterlife. They are solely for the living, to give us a place to pour our grief. Funeral rites themselves date back to the very beginning of the human race. There is evidence of Neanderthals decorating their dead with antlers and flowers before putting them in the ground. Modern burials take a much more. . . sterilized approach. Upon death, our loved ones are whisked away to have the decaying process either prolonged and covered up thanks to embalming and skilled morticians, or placed in an incinerator and turned into ashes for the living to turn into jewelry or scatter into the wind. Whether you like standing over historical bones, are excited about the possibility of seeing a ghost, or just like to be left alone to wander aimlessly in silence, this list of CT’s top cemeteries is for you.
Cavalry Cemetery, Waterbury, CT
A hidden gem if you’re into cruising tombstones. This large and hilly cemetery is located on East Main Street, overlooking I-84. Ideal for when you want to take the scenic route to feel closer to God. In the southeast corner tucked against the farthest wall is a quiet section dedicated to stillborn babies. A statue of the Virgin Mary stands gazing adoringly at baby Jesus nestled in her arms with the inscription, “Let the little children come to me … for such is the kingdom of God. Mark 10:14.” The ground is littered with tiny, flat headstones with the names, birth, and death dates of about twenty to thirty children. If you listen closely, you can almost hear a baby’s cry in the rustling of the leaves.
The Crypt – Center Church on the Green, New Haven, CT
This underground cemetery was actually part of the New Haven Green burial ground. The grounds were originally meant to hold enough bodies for the second coming of Christ. Since that didn’t happen, and yellow fever did, they ran out of room and had to move the burial site to the Grove Street Cemetery. A few of the graves were left behind, though, and a church was built right on top of them. Pre-COVID-19, you could take a tour of the crypt. Unfortunately, COVID-19 restrictions are still in place, so you can’t visit the crypt at the moment. But it’s definitely on my list.
Grove Street Cemetery, New Haven, CT
Grove Street Cemetery is located in beautiful downtown New Haven, right smack in the middle of Yale’s campus. If you’ve ever wondered where ancient secret societies met to have their moonlit rituals, this was probably it. A quiet little bubble in the hustle and bustle of downtown New Haven, it is the oldest chartered cemetery in the nation, created out of necessity when the burial ground now known as the New Haven Green became overcrowded. Designed as a “city of the dead,” it’s walkways are named after trees, like “Magnolia Ave” and “Holly Lane.” When this cemetery was first opened, a few headstones and even a few bodies were relocated here from the Green. Some estimates say around five thousand bodies could still be underneath this public space. A number of displaced headstones are neatly lined up along the outer wall, an eerie reminder of those who were left behind. On my way out, one of the workers stopped me to tell me about one of the statues he had seen me taking pictures of, a life-size angel, eyes turned down, leaning on a huge cross with one arm and wings the size of her body. He said that I should come back and bring her a gift for good luck, and that he had seen many miracles over the fourteen years he’s worked there in regards to her. I tried to press him, but the man was clearly ready to go home. This is definitely a place I’ll be going back to, and perhaps I’ll buy a lottery ticket on the way.
Gunntown Cemetery, Naugatuck, CT
Tucked neatly amidst the windy backroads between Middlebury and Naugatuck, you’d easily fly right by this one. I know I sure did, and had to make a sketchy u-turn in a neighbor’s driveway. In high school, I heard stories about kids who would take trips there with Four Lokos, Bud Light “tall boys,” Fireball, and whatever else they could get their hands on, and go “ghost hunting.” The cemetery was once a family graveyard primarily belonging to the Gunn family during the Revolutionary War era. There have been reports of a black dog wandering through the headstones, children’s laughter, music, and even an old man carrying a lantern leading a horse. I, of course, saw nothing out of the ordinary except for the three emus strutting around a fenced-in enclosure at the well-kept farmhouse situated behind the cemetery. Emus are native to Naugatuck, who knew?
Union Cemetery, Easton, CT
Nestled on the corner of the two somewhat busy streets of Stepney and Sport Hill Road, it was hard to believe this is the most haunted cemetery in Connecticut. Legend has it that the White Lady, literally just a lady dressed in a white gown, will appear in front of passing cars at night, causing no harm other than fraying nerves and inspiring nightmares. Unfortunately, my iPhone camera didn’t catch anything out of the ordinary when I went there in broad daylight, but everyone knows ghosts are nocturnal anyway. Yucca plants, southwest natives with large sword-shaped leaves, appropriately referred to as “Adam’s needle,” dot the grounds. They are commonly found in old cemeteries and were often used as grave markers because tombstones are expensive and these plants are resilient. Accidentally brush up against one of them and you’ll see what I mean. They are also said to keep restless spirits in their graves. I guess the White Lady didn’t get the memo.
Header Photo Credit: Jordyn McClary
Jordyn McClary is a Staff Writer for The Blue Muse Magazine.