The summer before his senior year in college, Greg Melville worked at the cemetery in his hometown, and thanks to hour upon hour of pushing a mower over the grassy acres, he came to realize what a rich story the place told of his town and its history. Thus was born Melville’s lifelong curiosity with how, where, and why we bury and commemorate our dead.
Melville’s Over My Dead Body is a lively (pun intended) and wide-ranging history of cemeteries, places that have mirrored the passing eras in history but have also shaped it. Cemeteries have given birth to landscape architecture and famous parks, as well as influenced architectural styles. They’ve inspired and motivated some of our greatest poets and authors—Emerson, Whitman, Dickinson. They’ve been used as political tools to shift the country’s discourse and as important symbols of the United States' ambition and reach.
But they are changing and fading. Embalming and burial is incredibly toxic, and while cremations have just recently surpassed burials in popularity, they’re not great for the environment either. Over My Dead Body explores everything—history, sustainability, land use, and more—and what it really means to memorialize.
Locales visited in Over My Dead Body
Shawsheen Cemetery – Bedford, Massachusetts
The 1607 Burial Ground – Historic Jamestowne, Virginia
Burial Hill – Plymouth, Massachusetts
Colonial Jewish Burial Ground – Newport, Rhode Island
Monticello’s African American Graveyard – Charlottesville, Virginia
Mount Auburn Cemetery – Cambridge, Massachusetts
Green-Wood Cemetery – Brooklyn, New York
Laurel Grove Cemetery – Savannah, Georgia
Sleepy Hollow Cemetery – Concord, Massachusetts
Central Park – New York, New York
Gettysburg National Cemetery – Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Arlington National Cemetery – Arlington, Virginia
Woodlawn Cemetery – Bronx, New York
Boothill Graveyard – Tombhill, Arizona
Forest Lawn Memorial-Park – Glenwood, California
The Chapel of the Chimes – Oakland, California
Hollywood Forever Cemetery – Los Angeles, California
Nature's Sanctuary – Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
“It is this same appreciation for the dead, as well as for history, that drives journalist Greg Melville as he explores America’s cemeteries in Over My Dead Body . . . all with a perfect balance of geeky joy, deep reverence and a meticulous knack for research. Melville’s prose is pure pleasure mixed with wry asides, but even among his most amusing anecdotes, he never loses sight of the gravity that still vibrates through the stories of the dead."—Bookpage