Cemetery Etiquette. Take Only Photographs, Leave Only Footprints.

Gracie in Bonaventure Cemetery
“I want to go to the cemetery for a ghost hunt!” If I’ve heard that once, I’ve heard it a hundred times since I have begun hosting a ghostly tour of Denton’s square. I cringe every time I hear someone say it, and it’s all I can do to keep from getting on a soapbox to lecture about the etiquette of visiting cemeteries. There are three things I want to tell people who visit a graveyard to hunt ghosts or even just to wander around:

  1. Respect.
  2. Respect.

Don’t get me wrong … I’ve “haunted” my share of graveyards (in the daytime). I enjoy photographing the sculptures and symbols on our monuments to the dead, and I love pondering the mystery of the lives of the people whose names are on the tombstones. There is a word for people like me. I am a “taphophile.” Simply put, it means that I love cemeteries and graveyards.

Bonaventure cemetery

I confess that I have never hunted ghosts in a cemetery, because quite frankly I think a cemetery ghost might be boring. Would you come back to haunt your mouldering body? Not me! I’m going to come back to some place I loved in life when I am a ghost (and I fully expect to be one). I’m going to jump out of walls and scare the willies out of people! But, that’s just me.

As much as I love wandering in graveyards, there are rules of etiquette that apply. If you are thinking of a visit to a cemetery, I hope you will keep these in mind. If you have teenagers share these rules with them as Halloween approaches, even though you know that Mama’s baby would never get into any mischief at Halloween.


  1. Have respect for the dead. A cemetery is not a playground for ghost hunters and taphophiles. It is a memorial to honor those who have gone before us. Treat it as such (besides, if it is haunted, and you are disrespectful, a ghost might trip you and twist your ankle!).
  2. Have respect for the living who are left behind. If you see a family mourning at a grave, or see a funeral procession, put away your cameras. Pack up your EMF and EVP detectors. Better yet, leave the cemetery and come back another day. Would you want some crazy person looking for your Grandpa’s ghost? No you wouldn’t … you would want to think he is resting in peace.
  3. A cemetery is not a place for shouting and loud music. It’s also not a place for you to make all your cemetery jokes! I’m not telling you that you have to be “grave,” but it isn’t really appropriate to get silly at the cemetery.
  4. Do NOT go to a cemetery at night without permission from the cemetery association! Sure, I know it would be spine-tingling to hunt ghosts at night, but most cemeteries in Texas are open from dawn to dusk. If you are in that cemetery at night without permission you are trespassing and could get your behind arrested and possibly have to pay a big fine! It’s not worth it.
  5. Keep small children with you, and keep them under control. If you take your dog for a walk in the cemetery, keep it on a leash and for Heaven’s sake clean up after it.
  6. Park in designated areas —NOT on the grass. There could be an unmarked grave there.
  7. Johnny Mercers grave

  8. Don’t touch the sculptures on the graves. Don’t lean on a monument or sit on one or pose for pictures draped over a tombstone. Some of those are hundreds of years old and they have been exposed to the elements — you could damage them. And, yes I know that bench looks inviting, but it is for the mourners. Don’t sit on it. If you do accidentally damage anything, report it to the cemetery association and be ready to pay for repairs! It’s the right thing to do.
  9. NEVER take anything from a cemetery … except any trash that you might generate (including cigarette butts). Don’t take coins or toys or flowers or dirt or guitar picks or any other offerings that were left for the dead. It’s bad juju. Do I have to tell you not to steal a headstone? I know someone who did that as a teenager who claimed to have some very serious and frightening haunting at his house until he took it back where it belonged.
  10. NEVER bring alcohol or firearms into a cemetery!
  11. Take only photographs and leave only footprints.

Bonaventure Cemetery gravestones

Cemeteries can be delightful places for a walk, can yield some wonderful photos, could send you on a genealogical quest, and might net an encounter with a spirit. Just remember to use your common sense and your “company manners.”