Walking with the Dead

Walking with the Dead

The outer walls of the Lapeyrouse Cemetery, mostly built from blue limestone quarried from the Laventille hills (Bissessarsingh 2013)


“The experiences we have affect who we are, what we can accomplish, and where we are going.”

~Pine & Gilmore (The Experience economy)


In our quest to learn about Lapeyrouse Cemetery, I discovered how rich it is in history. To tell this story effectively I wanted to take photos and share them with you to get a better sense of what is happening here. I want to share with you the legacy left behind, visually. My intentions are to celebrate the lives and achievements of our predecessors; show our gratitude and respect to the loyal families who maintain the graves of their ancestors; document the monumental structures of architecture in their present state; highlight the heroes who helped develop our nation; and show the diversity of cultures present in one place. Aaron and I learnt that one needs permission from the Port-of-Spain Corporation, City Hall to take and share photos within the walls of Lapeyrouse Cemetery. Thanks to the Port of Spain Corporation for granting us this permission to share our vision with the world, the dead will have their say!

We also noticed stained glass windows that were broken; allegedly vandalized by the unsavoury characters at this necropolis. It honestly pains me that such a cultural and heritage site, so rich in history is at risk of degradation through desecration from the destitute that inhabit some of these graves, and also through natural weathering from the climate over time.

Beautifully designed stained glass vandalized in the mausoleums

I was curious to learn more about what other countries do to secure and preserve their cemeteries. After doing extensive online research; an interview one of the gravediggers; and a little bit of critical thinking I would like to share in this post my recommendations to preserve our national treasure that was inspired by my husband’s tour guiding experiences.


A case for Cemetery Tourism

Have you ever heard about the Mystery Tombstone a place of interest in Tobago protected under the National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago? If yes, then you will also know that this is one of the main attractions in Plymouth, Tobago for both locals and visitors.

Cemetery Tourism is not as morbid, or macabre as it seems. I love how Jessica Ravitz, CNN describes visiting a cemetery in her article Cemeteries breathe life into tourists”:

“It can be a form of entertainment and inspiration, a history and architecture lesson, a cultural appreciation course, a genealogical journey and a source of relaxation.”

The many cemeteries featured on the UNESCO World Heritage List prove this. Bridgetown, Barbados is on that list. And, guess what? There’s a Military Cemetery located within this World Heritage site!

Other places around the world promote cemetery tourism. For example, the famous, highly visited urban cemetery Père Lachaise in Paris, France, or a trip to New Orleans, Louisiana, would be incomplete without visiting the St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 and the tomb of Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau.

We think the Lapeyrouse cemetery has the potential to be ideal for cemetery tourism. Nigel Lee Young, a gravedigger of 14 years at the Lapeyrouse cemetery, shared with us his thoughts and experiences working there.

“Seeing the beautiful structures…the Mausoleums, they are the kind of landmarks to show people in the future how we used to live back in the Colonial days.”

What do cemeteries have to do with Culture?

According to the Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe (ASCE),

 “Cemeteries are both tangible and intangible heritage. They are witnesses of local history as well as reveal the given community’s cultural and religious identity.”

We live in a world now where people crave experiences. After all, that is one of the main reasons people travel; to broaden their minds, to learn how other cultures exist within societies different to one’s own, and to develop an appreciation for them.

Cemeteries are not the depressing places that social conditioning has encouraged us to believe. Yes, cemeteries can be places for memento mori (to meditate upon one’s own mortality); a spiritual dimension if you will, but there is a lot more to it. Think about the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Taj Mahal. These were originally constructed as tombs but became tourist attractions.


What motivates people to visit cemeteries?

I once thought visiting a cemetery meant only paying respects to loved ones lost. However, while talking with Nigel, he gave us a bit of insight to why visitors come to Lapeyrouse cemetery,

People come here for a peace of mind sometimes…to get out certain things. Even though the stone cannot talk back to you, at the end of the day, yuh get something off your chest and before you leave here, whatever yuh ask the deceased or the Lord, yuh might see it. Maybe not today or tomorrow but a certain time. So yuh must try to open up yuh eye …is a peaceful place. “


Cemetery tourism is not as heavily influenced by death and suffering, often associated with these places. In a study carried out by Pecsek (2015) on City Cemeteries as Cultural Attractions: Towards an understanding of foreign visitors’ attitude at the National Graveyard in Budapest, you’ll be surprised to learn that one of the main motivations for visiting the cemetery was to escape the “hustle and bustle” of city life. Visitors would take photographs, visit particular tombs, or expand their knowledge about the local culture and heritage, and also modern history. Pecsek (2015) indicated,

“Searching for the resting places of famous people and learning about their lives and achievements widen visitors’ horizons in terms of knowledge and information.”


These “city breakers” did not associate this place with death or suffering, but instead viewed it as more cultural, often comparing it to an “outdoor museum.”

In another study by Mundt (2016) on Motivation and Behaviour in Cemetery Tourism: A Case Study of Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, Ireland, people visit these places to learn about the history of the cemetery and the country itself; the deceased interred there have their own stories to tell about the country’s past. Other people visit to look at the “burial ornaments”; to seek inspiration such as artists, painters, singers, writers; to conduct genealogical or historical research; or even to retreat to these places for peace and tranquility.

 When tourists visit the graves of well-known people, they are more motivated by an interest in these people’s lives, rather than their death. It is the people buried at these sites that give these places meaning, which altogether gives these sites “authenticity”.


Why should we care about Cemetery Tourism?

Could you imagine visiting a cemetery to learn about National history in school?

In my experience, the traditional method of teaching history in a classroom is boring, won’t you agree? I think it will invaluably enrich your experience and connection with our country’s history if you were able to experience “outdoor history classes” instead. This is an opportunity to experience tours educating you about the country’s economic origins; to learn about the lives and actions of past men and women who served and contributed to Trinidad and Tobago; and to understand our diverse history.

I would like to add that different cemeteries will provide different experiences. For example, the Botanic Gardens’ Colonial Cemetery will provide visitors with a different experience compared to that of the Lapeyrouse Cemetery.

Yes, that’s right, The Botanic Gardens has a cemetery! That place where you go to picnic with your families; play or train with your various sporting groups; exercise; pose for engagement and wedding photography; sight-see and admire the flora and fauna in this beautiful landscape; or even sit on the benches and do some self-reflection. According to Stone (2006),

“Cemeteries are often regeneration tools; the cemeteries are used as ways to promote tourism to an area, to conserve the landscape’s and the architecture’s integrity, and to sustain local ecological environments; and the main production features are ‘history-centric, conservational and commemorative ethic.’”

The Association of Significant Cemeteries in Europe (ASCE) “considers cemeteries to be an integral factor of cultural heritage that should be conserved if they have historical and/or artistic value.”


“We all remember something.”

The late historian Angelo Bissessarsingh said this. Founder of the Virtual Museum of Trinidad and Tobago, and author of publications such as: Walking with the Ancestors-The Historic Cemeteries of Trinidad, and A Walk Back in Time: Snapshots of the History of Trinidad and Tobago, this man made it his life’s mission to educate the public, and advocate for the preservation of our nation’s history. 


What interesting details can you remember being passed on to you about your ancestry? 

These are the first steps in establishing our identity. Similarly, all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago have a national identity. We should all strive to preserve this identity; to preserve our rich, diverse national history, so that present and future generations can both appreciate and be enlightened. At one of Mr. Bissessarsingh’s book launches, he said,

“Our chil­dren need to know where they come from,”

and with that we should all do our part towards preserving that legacy for our children, lest we lose it forever.

So how do we start?



Lapeyrouse Cemetery- first steps towards Cemetery Tourism

Cemeteries are the untapped, cultural niche markets in our country. Their full potential has yet to be explored and promoted here.

There is no need to re-invent the wheel. There are many case studies on Cemetery Tourism from which we can learn and use to adapt for our own needs.

Visitors are looking for an Experience, but certain challenges must first be addressed.


1. The issue of safety/vandalism

While searching for graves with Nigel, I realized how comfortable I felt with him compared to my first visit and it got me thinking that they may be ideal to assist in securing visitors at the cemetery.  As we spoke to Nigel, he said,

“I always try to make sure visitors are comfortable and they feel safe when I am here.”

Visitors want to feel safe. In Pecsek’s study (2015), visitors criticized the presence of beggars, etc. in the cemetery’s surroundings. They recommended that this problem be addressed to further enrich the visitors’ experience. The presence of vagrants, drug peddlers, etc. compromises this safety. We cannot have the destitute living in the mausoleums. This is both embarrassing, and disrespectful to the dead and their families. Vandalism of tombs is also extremely high. The solution: remove all “inhabitants” at this site and put security measures in place to prevent further invasion and destruction to the cemetery.


2. To restore or not  to restore graves?

Restoration takes money. While acquiring funds, here is a less expensive idea in the interim.

I was surprised to learn that in Pecsek’s study (2015), visitors to the National Graveyard in Budapest did not consider good infrastructure to be important.

According to Pecsek, “none of them mentioned the lack of toilets, the shortages of benches or the conditions of the paths as a problem. Visitors did not require organized walks, more interpretations or better maps. They refuted the idea of commoditization of the cemetery, and they did not want to see any commercial establishments such as eateries or refreshment vans in the area. On the opposite, they favoured the unstaged, uncustomized experience.”

Maybe we can use this to our advantage. Aaron tells me that visitors often describe the hills of Laventille as “organic”. Our city is not typically designed in the most ordered layout. We have a more “organic” feel to it. Visitors to our cemetery are not expecting perfection, just some level of authenticity in their experience.


3. Hiring Official Tour-guides

I think Nigel would be an ideal candidate to do this kind of work. I was pleasantly surprised to learn about the history of some of these graves from Nigel and the other gravediggers. They too share a passion for preserving the cemetery and have extraordinary stories to tell. We got a brief insight into one of these stories from Nigel:

“We dig holes: 12ft, 9ft, 6ft holes. At times we encounter bones and have to put them back. It comes with the job and you have to take it serious.

You have to have God on yuh side, yuh have to have a strong mind, and a “light spirit” to be doing this work. Yuh cannot come here because is ah extra dollar yuh getting when de day done …”

Mundt’s study (2016) identified that the tour-guides at the Glasnevin cemetery came from a variety of prior career fields, not just from the tourism industry. The common motivation factor from all hired: a passion of history.

Besides the usual background checks, this should be the main criteria they fulfil—

They should be people centered, passionate about narrating and bringing to life our history.

Another recommendation is that guides undergo specialized training on: how to ensure the safety of visitors, cemetery etiquette-how to respect the dead, for e.g. visitors should never take pictures of a funeral or mourner without permission; how to approach and talk to a disrespectful tourist, and to always remember to describe our history in an interesting and relatable way to all visitors, since visitors come from diverse backgrounds and would all understand differently.

The money raised from these tours can be used to help in the maintenance of the grounds and to alleviate poverty within the cemetery.


4. Special tours/events

Trinidad and Tobago is notable for its many public holidays and commemoration to  other days of significance…we all look forward to these. Why not organize special tours/events throughout the year to celebrate and demonstrate our patriotism for: Labour Day, Independence Day, Memorial Day, All Saint’s Day, All Souls Day, and in more recent times, the celebration of Halloween.

Let this experience supplement the nation’s school children’s education, bringing to life stories from the West Indian Readers and Trinidad and Tobago Republic Readers.


5. Self-guided tours

An option for the more adventurous folks: self-guided tours.

Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris has this option for visitors wanting to turn their visit into a “personal pilgrimage.” This would require proper signage of graves, as well as a map (like below) detailing notable landmarks within the site and possible tour route options. Père Lachaise has this which allows visitors to appreciate the site at their own leisure.

Père Lachaise Cemetery Map from Rick Steves’ Europe, Inc


Pecsek (2015) noted that the unplanned visitation rate was high at the National Graveyard in Budapest. Many visitors were spontaneous, and said that the accessibility of the site played an important role in their decision to visit. Many visitors chose to fit in the cemetery visit into the last day of their travel itinerary.

The self-guided tour option could work, as long as the cemetery remains accessible, and there are tour guides readily available to brief visitors on the rules of the cemetery, enforce these when necessary, and assist when needed before tourists go off on their own journey to discovery.


6. Marketing strategy

a) Photography

Photography of the Lapeyrouse Cemetery is prohibited. One needs permission granted in advance from the Port-of-Spain Corporation, City Hall. Now I do not object to rules such as: not photographing a funeral or someone paying respects, not walking on graves and not touching tombstones and so forth. However, I think taking photos should be allowed. Remember when I mentioned the vandalism of the stained glass windows? All that remains of that structure now is a photo, if there is one. Otherwise, it’s a memory long gone. We take pictures because we want to preserve a memory caught in time. In a modern world that is more engaged in visual sharing, why not capitalize on this. Allowing visitors to capture their experience in a tangible form and share it encourages others to see, come and experience these moments for themselves. It’s like a form of free marketing. The Père Lachaise cemetery has no restrictions to photography and the system works well there.

b) Information sources

I have to admit, when developing this post, I had trouble accessing information online. Thanks to Angelo Bissessarsingh’s book: Walking with the Ancestors-The Historic Cemeteries of Trinidad and Gerard A. Besson’s blog: The Caribbean History Archives by Paria Publishing Co. Ltd., we were able to source more information. I also want to extend my gratitude to Nigel, and some of the other gravediggers who helped us locate and learn about the historical significance of some of these graves. Despite this, the gap in information online still remains. There needs to be a balanced combination of photos and information, not the presence of either or in isolation.

Pecsek (2015) indicated that the internet was the most popular information source used before-hand by visitors at the Budapest cemetery. However, visitors highlighted that the shortage of information sources prior to their visit was a problem.

In Mundt’s (2016) study some of the visitors to The Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland did not use the internet to research the site prior to their visit, but instead used it afterwards to better understand what they had seen. This cemetery, featured on Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet has a significant social media presence.

I think we can learn a lot from these case studies. Why not model our website to facilitate online users? From a national and international perspective, this may be the best approach to reach tourists and interested persons globally. Both the Pecsek and Mundt’s case studies highlight the popularity of sourcing information from the internet to read about some of the famous people interred there.

The Mundt’s case study also highlights a strong social media presence to the Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin. This is a great opportunity to also gather information from tourists (both local and foreign) as well. We should allow visitors the option to book cemetery tours online, and find the graves of our ancestors buried there. The creation of Facebook and Instagram pages announcing upcoming tours/events, promoting the cemetery’s history and allowing the posting of images can be used as a resource bank to access pictures and information. This can be reviewed for accuracy, then documented by The National Trust of Trinidad and Tobago, and finally made more accessible on their website to “netizens” interested in this ‘City of the Dead.’

Do you have any other ideas on helping to conserve the Lapeyrouse Cemetery?

Send us your thoughts in the comments section below and let’s Learn and Love life together!


*Special thanks to the Port-of-Spain Corporation, City Hall for permission to take photos in Lapeyrouse Cemetery


  1. Bissessarsingh, A. (2013). Walking with the Ancestors-The Historic Cemeteries of Trinidad. Queen Bishop Publishing.
  2. Mundt, C.A. (2016). “Motivation and Behaviour in Cemetery Tourism: A Case Study of Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin, Ireland.” M.Sc. in World Heritage Management and Conservation. Univerity College Dublin, Belfield, Dublin 4 Ireland.
  3. Pécsek, B. (2015). “City Cemeteries as Cultural Attractions: Towards an Understanding of Foreign Visitors’ Attitude at the National Graveyard in Budapest.” DETUROPE- The Central European Journal of Regional Development & Tourism. Vol. 7 Issue 1, 2015.
  4. Pine. P. J. & Gilmore, J. H. (1999, 2012). The Experience economy. Boston: Harvard University Press.
  5. Stone, P. R. (2006). A dark tourism spectrum: Towards a typology of death and macabre related tourist sites, attractions and exhibitions. Tourism: An Interdisciplinary International Journal. 54: 145-160.
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