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Five Things You Never Knew About Cemeteries

MLIS Student and TikTok Star Shares Fun Facts and Viral Videos

By Karen Shih ’09

Collage of cemeteries

Rosie Grant MLIS ’22 has become a TikTok star thanks to her GhostlyArchive account, created during her summer internship at Congressional Cemetery, where she shares spooky facts and corny jokes about graves.

Photo collage courtesy of Rosie Grant

As the fall chill descends, oversize skeletons and tombstones emerge from beneath suburban yards and tiny witches and ghosts prepare for tricks and treats, Rosie Grant MLIS ’22 gets a thrill from seeing the public turn its attention to one of her favorite topics: cemeteries.

Rosie Grant MLIS ’22

“Cemeteries are kind of like open-air museums in a way. They let you connect with the past, and they are important in city records,” said Grant, who grew up next to one in Alexandria, Va., imagining its residents’ stories during frequent walks there. “Being able to get the information stored there—sometimes only accessible if you physically go to a church—out to the public and more accessible is really important. It’s a form of preservation.”

She’s taken that idea to heart, spending her summer as a digital archivist intern for Congressional Cemetery creating six online exhibits for Google Arts and Culture that highlight specific populations there, such as its unique LGBTQ section, female suffragists, Native Americans and Black civil rights activists.

At the same time, she launched a TikTok account called GhostlyArchive for her class with information studies Professor Jennifer Golbeck, “Becoming a Social Media Influencer,” developing fun, short videos with cemetery facts and jokes. Grant became so successful that she earned “Creator” status by the end of August after gaining 10,000 followers and 100,000 interactions in a month—allowing her to get paid for her content. Her posts have been featured as part of TikTok’s #OctoberGraves series.

As we count down to Halloween, the spookiest night of the year, Grant shares some of her favorite cemetery facts—and fun TikTok videos to accompany them.

Hollow markers, a.k.a. “Zinkers”
From the late 1800s to around 1914, stone for gravestones was expensive—so zinc grave markers, which could be mail-ordered, became popular, said Grant. When Prohibition went into effect, those seeking to skirt the law found that the hollow gravestones, which had panels that could be unscrewed and pulled out, were useful places to hide alcohol and cash.

Tiffany & Co.’s only gravestone
“It’s in Oak Hill in Georgetown, one of the most beautiful cemeteries I’ve ever been to. It’s where Lincoln’s son was interred. When you walk into the cemetery, you see this huge, tall grave with angel wings,” Grant said. The famed jeweler designed the stone with an elaborate angel for the president of the Southern Railway, Samuel Spencer, who amassed a fortune of $10 million by the time he died in 1906.

Maryland’s most famous graves:

  • Edgar Allan Poe in Baltimore: The famous writer and poet died under suspicious circumstances, and strangely, his headstone has the wrong birth date, said Grant. And the strangeness didn’t stop there: “There used to be this mysterious man who would come once a year and leave cognac and roses—nobody ever found out who he was.”
  • Moll Dyer in Leonardtown: “Blair Witch [from the 1999 horror movie “The Blair Witch Project”] is based off of this woman who was from the 1600s,” said Grant. “She immigrated from Ireland and used herbal healing methods, and was accused of being a witch. She was chased out of her home and froze to death on a rock, which now serves as a gravestone memorial for her.”
  • F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald in Rockville: The author and his wife were originally barred from their family plot at a Catholic church due to their “hard-living reputation,” said Grant, but their bodies were eventually moved to their rightful resting places after decades of posthumous fame thanks to literary classics such as “The Great Gatsby.” “Today, people leave champagne glasses and copies of the book at their graves,” said Grant.

“Gay Corner” at Congressional Cemetery
Known as the only LGBTQ cemetery section in the world, “Gay Corner” started with the burial of Leonard Matlovich, an activist who protested J. Edgar Hoover’s anti-gay policies, said Grant. His stone is labeled, “A Gay Vietnam Veteran.” Since then, dozens of other LGBTQ activists have been interred nearby.

Plots for pooches
Aspin Hill Memorial Park in Montgomery County, Md., is the resting site of more than 50,000 pets, said Grant, and is believed to be the second-oldest pet cemetery in the country. While most of the graves are for dogs, stones on the grounds also memorialize cats—and even a monkey.

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