The Cemetery Series: Karori Cemetery (Wellington, NZ)

It’s the first Cemetery Series entry outside of Argentina!

Like most of the Wellington area, it could be described as “frequently windswept”

I’d like to start by thanking the Friends of Karori Cemetery, who (in addition to researching its history) organize tours of cemetery, and led us around during our visit. That visit occurred on Suffrage Day, so the tour was focused on a few of the women who in life signed the 1893 women’s suffrage petition. You can read more about how New Zealand was the first self-governing nation to grant women the right to vote, if you want to get deep in your feels about the deficiency of your own home country, a depth I think many of us have some solid recent experience with. But I digress.

Karori Cemetery was opened in 1891, following the stuffing-to-the-seams of the cemeteries closer to the center of the town. Karori at the time was still rural, and so the first burial, that of premature infant Frederick Fish, remained alone on a windy, bare hill for six months, when the next burial took place.

Freddie didn’t have a marker until the Friends got him one, but he does have a lot of neighbors now.

Karori Cemetery is the second largest in the country, and has about 83000 burials (and counting). Being so big, I didn’t see all, or even most, of it–but broadly, the big sections are the Catholic, Anglican, Jewish, and public sections.

I happened to park near the Jewish section, near the cemetery shelter.

There is also a Servicemen’s cemetery (established in 1916 for obvious reasons), as well as a few dozen victims of the SS Penguin shipwreck. The dead of the 1918 Influenza pandemic are marked with white crosses. Boy, the 20th century sure was something!

Also, earthquakes.

Naturally, as I took photos, I assumed that I would remember at least the basics of the people mentioned. I assume this every time I take photos on a tour, and I am wrong 100% of the time, but hope springs eternal, along with wildly unearned optimism.

Annie Liez was a widow who signed the petition and lived to 94.
Christina Archibald was a signer, one of thousands of women who were asserting to the government what they already knew–a penis is not required.
Susan Hoar signed the petition, but did not live long enough to participate in an election.

Let’s take a look at some of the grave symbolism, a thing that modern graves are often woefully short on (although I did not upload any photos of stones inscribed with the disconcerting euphemism of “fell asleep on” such-and-such date).

Broken chain, symbolizing the broken chain of life. This headstone has been professionally cleaned, which makes a crazy difference.
The anchor refers to the man’s profession.

I haven’t been in New Zealand long enough to know much about Maori symbolism, but here’s a couple of graves I passed that include some.

The koru symbolizes new beginnings, as in the Maori proverb, “As one fern frond dies – one is born to take it’s place.”

Let’s look at the inside of the chapel and crematorium, since I did not get a photo of the outside for some reason. It was built in 1909, which you know because that’s the large number chiseled on the wall.

The walls are lined with…I dunno the term. Ash cubbies?

The glass windows were commissioned to memorialize members of William Ferguson’s family, including 8-year-old daughter Louisa (I know, but you can’t talk about cemeteries without mentioning some real raging bummers). They came from the Irish workshop An Túr Gloine, world renowned glass artists. “Faith,” shown below, is one of two created by Wilhemina Geddes, noted glass bad-ass.

This is “Wisdom” by Michael Healy, commemorating William Ferguson himself.

The windows held to be real gems of stained glass art by those who are into that sort of thing, and having done a tiny bit of stained glass work in my teens, I can vouch for its hardcoreness, in terms of blood shed.

Before wrapping this entry up, let’s have a peek at a couple more gravey vistas.

Memory garden near the entrance. I’ll be honest; this was a drive-by photographing and I do not have any deets on this one.

The Karori Cemetery is open every day, and I believe you may go in even at night, although the road gates are closed at dusk. There are a couple of self-guided tours (linked above, for soldiers and the SS Penguin victims), and the Friends offer themed tours on the reg, so consult their page for information.

The Cemetery Series: El Cementerio La Cumbrecita

Welcome to the first entry in the Cemetery Series!  Things will be slightly different in this series–for one thing, I will be including cemeteries that I have visited not-super-recently, which I don’t do for museums because exhibits change, etc.  Cemeteries tend to be a bit more consistent.

I did visit this one, recently, however: El Cementerio La Cumbrecita.  La Cumbrecita is a small pedestrian village in Cordoba, Argentina, that relies entirely on tourism.  It was founded in 1934 by German immigrants who missed the scenery of the old country.  It was rocky, treeless hillscape at first, and there were no roads, but slowly it was transformed into an Alpine-style town surrounded by the pine and spruce trees they planted.  The town went from German-immigrant-summer-home village to a tourist spot, where visitors can now have the slightly dissonant experience of a European village widely populated by green parakeets.

The cemetery is not very easy to get to.

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While I found it on Google Maps quickly enough, it is at the top of hill, necessitating a long, occasionally steep walk.  As I discovered later, the cemetery path off the main road is no longer marked.  That’s it on the right there.  I continued left.

Eventually, I ran out of road.  But it was a very long walk, and I wasn’t in the mood to give up.  Looking around, I saw a plank.  Must be a reason for it, right?

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All cemeteries should have moats.

I walked carefully across it.  It was readily apparent that there was no path on the other side of the plank, so I hugged the hillside on the right for a couple minutes and then ran out of place to walk.  But, there was a gate, beyond a lame-ass fence up the incline on the right.

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Looks promising!

Seemed like an unorthodox way to get into a cemetery, but I didn’t see a more legit looking entrance, so I climbed up the hillside and wiggled under the fence, as you do.  Maybe it was the back gate?

It was in fact the front, and only, gate.

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It was unlocked! I wouldn’t have scaled the wall if it had been. Probably.

The cemetery yard is a very small place, laid out on the hillside.  I have to think that most of the graves are for ashes (or are only memorial plaques), because they’re rather teeny.  It’s a peaceful, overgrown spot, full of wildflowers and buzzing insects.

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It only takes a few minutes to walk though the whole place, which you might or might not find gratifying after the long hike up, depending on how into quiet, hidden graveyards you are.  I discovered on the way out that there was a path that did not require wiggling under a fence that led to the main road.  So that was nice.

You can find more information on La Cumbrecita here; it’s a lovely little place to relax and hike and dip your feet in the river.