I am terrified of the dark; an irrational fear which I blame solely on Bob from Twin Peaks and Lady Gaga. While my imagination fails me when I need it most, it certainly loves to run off and get down and dirty with all manner of hellish monsters and nightmares when the lights go out. Only in the last three years have I gradually desensitised myself enough to be able to watch violence or horror on TV without rocking back and forth afterwards. This I am grateful for as True Blood would have once affected me so badly that I’d have been forced to cower under a blanket for days after viewing. I can even remember a time not so long ago when I was too scared to take the bins out after watching Ghostbusters. And there is a scene in The Last King of Scotland that ensured I turned all the lights in the house on and ran between rooms for months.
Yet there is something about the shadowy nature of darkness that I find so very appealing. Nothing sets my heart a-flutterin’ like the romanticised notion of loneliness and timelessness conveyed in medieval tales of the supernatural, set amidst gothic architecture and accompanied by broody music. If I could live in the mind of Tim Burton I would be the happiest, most miserable, lil’ goth girl alive because all the scary things that go bump in the night would be too normal to fear.
And so it is that I find graveyards such charming places and yet I’ve always been too scared to go to one. However with the help of recent books set in cemeteries such as Neil Gaiman’s ‘The Graveyard Book’ and Audrey Niffenegger’s ‘Her Fearful Symmetry’ they have become less foreboding places in my mind.
On mentioning my resolutional desire to go romping through a cemetery to a stranger at a wedding I was directed to check out Jack Sim’s ghost tours – http://www.ghost-tours.com.au/Pages/tour_haunted_brisbane_details.htm, a company that runs tours through various haunted sites in Brisbane. The Toowong Cemetery tour seemed an obvious choice, being the biggest gravesite in Queensland.
It was a spooky coincidence that I happened to be reading a book called ‘Death Most Definite’ the night before the tour and was surprised to find a scene in the book was set in Toowong Cemetery. This was all the evidence I needed to convince me I am the chosen one and that my own Merrick or Giles would rock up at any moment to bestow me with my first stake.
When trying to find a park near the cemetery I nearly gave everyone in the car a chance to experience the graveyard from six feet under. Then, after finding a park and running to get off the road away from another car, I discovered firsthand what it was like to fly, after stacking it on someone’s driveway. Very un-slayer like behaviour but the call of the dead was certainly strong.
These days there is little I believe in without seeing solid evidence but for the record I do believe in ghosts. I saw a number of ghosts while living in an old share-house during my university days where I was continually haunted by one in particular for months. Part of me was terrified that that disturbingly unfriendly spirit would find me again and resume terrorising my sleepless nights but the cemetery actually felt deserted, by the public and spirits alike.
The tour itself was interesting enough, although perhaps a little contrived at times. But I imagine a ghost hunt is difficult to “undertake” without resorting to tacky measures. Our host, a woman in black who wandered in the shadows away from the group was accompanied by the gate keeper, our darkly handsome guide who carried a lamp and brusquely directed us when to use our torches. We learned of various tales, both real and of the ghostly variety, to accompany many of the monuments. I was surprised to learn that Suncorp Stadium was originally the site of the Paddington cemetery although after health concerns the graves were interned and relocated elsewhere. The 350 anonymous bodies that were discovered by archaeologists before building the stadium are now housed in two graves within Toowong cemetery. That’s some deep graves.
After passing through the Valley of Death to the Grove, the one place in the cemetery where the homeless won’t sleep and also the (un)resting place of a potential vampire, we heard the story of the REAL lesbian vampire killer of Brisbane, Tracey Wiggington, now eligible for parole. At the corner of 12th and 13th Avenue, said to be the middle point of the graveyard (there is no street sign to mark 13th Avenue as it is the most stolen street sign in Queensland) we joined hands and summoned the Angel of Death. He must have been taking a night off.
The cemetery was opened in 1875 and houses over 120,000 bodies. To be buried there now you have to have a relative who is already buried there, even if they’re as far removed as that distantly related famous person that every family has. We passed by many graves, both new and old, to one of our final stops by the grave of a man adorned with his statue. This statue is rumoured to move around and steal roses from a neighbouring garden. Sometimes his skin is warm and a pulse can be felt in his veins which gave the tour group an opportunity to touch the statue and assess these claims for ourselves. Cold and dead. I gave him a parting glance to see if I could catch a wink but no such luck.
So, not a medium then, nor a slayer. Well, that’s just great. But alas, I faced a fear and found it wasn’t scary at all, instead discovering a beautiful, peaceful place that I would very much like to visit during the day for a closer look and then maybe every other cemetery in Brisbane, and then THE WORLD, slaying every villainous creature that comes my way!
So maybe my dreams take longer to die than my fears but that’s a good thing, right?