Planning a Picnic at a Historic Cemetery

Location, Location, Location

Every town has a little cemetery tucked away somewhere, and the trick to planning a picnic in a historic cemetery is knowing where to go. You typically want to avoid commercial looking or very modern cemeteries, as the real magic of cemeteries comes only with age. To find something off the beaten path, try driving around older sections of your town, particularly near railroad tracks. If you are still having trouble, your town’s local museum or historical society should be able to give you information on where people used to be buried.

If you are still having trouble finding your perfect cemetery picnic location, try asking older folks at area diners. If they’ve been in town long enough, they can tell you where their grandparents’ or parents’remains reside. Explain very politely that you are interested in local history and that you are seeking information on the formation of your city. After listening attentively to what they tell you, express an interest in where your town’s founders are buried. The waitstaff at diners are also usually well informed on area attractions, as they interact with so many locals on a daily basis.

The Food

Now that you’ve chosen the perfect cemetery for your picnic, you for have to plan the meal. If you must drive a long distance to your picnic location, don’t worry too much about the food. It’s better to drive through Taco Bell or McDonald’s than to risk spoilage in a hot car.

If making a picnic lunch is part of the excitement for you, though, consider packing cemetery-themed food. Anything that works for a kids’ Halloween party works for a cemetery theme lunch. Peeled grapes that feel like eyeballs, gummy worms, and cold spaghetti all represent corpse parts and decay. Don’t go overboard with the macabre if you’ve got small children or squeamish friends in tow, though, as the point of this picnic is not to give people nightmares. Save the theme food for your adult friends with wacky senses of humor.

If you know anything about when your town was founded or who founded your town, plan a historic meal. For example, if Amish folks or pilgrims founded your town, you can easily research what they typically ate and pack an appropriate lunch. This is a great way to teach your kids a local history lesson.


Telling ghost stories will come naturally in a historic cemetery. The Scary Stories for Kids book series works well for a read aloud party, or you can dredge up old favorites from childhood. Go one step further with your storytelling, though. Walk around and read the headstones, then make up stories about the people’s lives. Often, the little information provided on a grave maker is enough to jump start curiosity.

For small children, take paper and crayons to make headstone rubbings. Place the paper over the words on the headstone, and use a dark colored crayon to shade over the piece of paper. The letters of the headstone will appear very clearly on the paper. This is a good way to read headstones that have worn away with time and weather.

Following the Rules

When you plan your picnic to a historic cemetery, you need to make sure you know the rules. Picnic during posted hours of operation only. Should you have your picnic in a closed cemetery, you risk being arrested for trespassing. If you arrive during posted hours but find the gate locked, do not climb the fence or attempt to enter anyway. If the cemetery is closed, it is because the city, owner, or grounds keeping staff do not want you to be there. Also, put all your garbage in the cemetery’s garbage cans or take it with you if there are no garbage cans. Under no circumstances is it okay to litter in a cemetery.

Although the cemetery’s rules may not be specifically posted on a sign, you need to keep certain protocol in mind. Cemeteries are typically places of mourning and not recreation. If your children want to play running games, instruct them to run on the paths and not over the graves. Do not picnic during burial services or near people who’ve come to visit specific graves, and respect groundskeepers performing routine maintenance or mowing.

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