Here's why touring graveyards is the best way to learn about American history

GraveyardSeaside Shadows Haunted Tours/FacebookThe graveyard tour was more fascinating than any haunted house.

The INSIDER Summary:

  • The “Moonlit Graveyard Ghost Stroll” in Mystic, Connecticut, is guided by a medium.
  • It reveals fascinating details about religion, race, and gender in America’s infancy.
  • Ironically, learning about history in a graveyard makes it come alive.
  • No, I didn’t see any ghosts.

Local museums are a great way to learn about the history of any destination, and haunted houses provide spooky thrills, but moonlit graveyards are truly the best of both worlds.

Even if you don’t believe in ghosts, delving into American history through people that lived it is the most authentic way to get to know a place.

It might sound bizarre, but my Moonlit Graveyard Ghost Stroll in Mystic, Connecticut, with Seaside Shadows was the highlight of my trip. Here’s why.

Mystic, Connecticut is a quaint little town about three hours outside of New York City.

Courtesy Rivka Holzer

My friend Rivka and I booked a 'Moonlit Graveyard Ghost Stroll' through a tour group called Seaside Shadows.

Courtesy Rivka Holzer
Me (left) and Rivka at the graveyard gate before the tour.

For $20 a person the hour-and-a-half-long tour promises a lesson on photographing ghosts and the graveyard's 'real active spirits,' as well as local legends and folklore.

We were lucky to get the founder of Seaside Shadows, Courtney McInvale Reardon, as our guide.

She's a medium and the author of two books about Connecticut's paranormal history.

I thought it would just be a fun tour with a haunted house vibe, but I ended up learning a ton -- exactly what Reardon hopes to accomplish through her work.

'There's this misconception that a graveyard has to be scary because it's a final resting place, but it's a great place to honour and pay tribute to history,' Reardon told INSIDER.

The stories are often on the tombstones themselves.

Talia Lakritz/INSIDER

Earlier tombstones featured images of stern and skeletal 'death heads.'

Talia Lakritz/INSIDER

'They didn't know if they were going to heaven or hell when they died; they believed in predestination,' Reardon said. 'That scared them.'

After the Great Awakening in the 1740s, death heads became smiling, winged angels.

Talia Lakritz/INSIDER

The language also became less morbid, from 'Here lie the bones of' to 'In memory of.'

A Native American burial mound had been repurposed as a colonial morgue. The shelves are still there.

Talia Lakritz/INSIDER

Standing in the hollowed-out cave, the air felt heavy and thick.

We were introduced to a few locals, including Lucy Woodbridge, a woman who attended Yale in the 1700s, which was rare.

Talia Lakritz/INSIDER

One of the most memorable sites was that of Quash Williams, an emancipated slave remembered for his motto 'Walk as well as talk.'

Talia Lakritz/INSIDER
'Quash Williams. Born a slave Dec. 16, 1762, united with the Fort Hill Baptist Church at the age of 24, emancipated at the age of 28, and died Nov. 2, 1830. His wife Hannah lies buried by his side. 'Old Quash' was truly an example and 'By it he being dead, yet speaketh.' (Hebrews 11:14) Erected in 1867, in memory of his Christian virtues. His motto: 'Walk as well as talk.''

Even though he was freed and beloved by his townsmen, Williams is buried at the bottom of the hill, away from the rest of the graves. Reardon explained that this was done so that even in death, he'd be looking up at the people who once owned him.

His wife, buried next to him, died a slave.

'It was one thing to free a man,' Reardon told us. 'Quite another to free a woman.'

Ironically, learning about dead people in a graveyard makes their stories come alive.

The fascinating, complicated history of religion, gender, and race in America begs to be told by those who are no longer alive to tell it.

Talia Lakritz/INSIDER

Hearing about the lives of boundary-breaking women and freed slaves while standing at their burial sites brings potency to their narratives and humanity back to their history.

And you don't have to believe in ghosts to enjoy a good moonlit stroll.

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