Eastern Cemetery in Portland, one of the earliest burying grounds in Maine (established 1668), is the only cemetery in the state that offers daily guided tours in season. Initially tours were offered only on weekends but in 2013, noted cemetery historian Ron Romano began improving and developing the tours and interest grew steadily. Today, tours are given every day from June through October.
Tour guide training and scripts improved every year, leading to being named one of the top five cemetery tours in New England by Yankee Magazine. By 2019, about 1,200 visitors were greeted each season and the team of trained guides increased to a dozen volunteers.
During the pandemic all historic sites in the city suspended guided tours and the gates of Eastern Cemetery were locked. But Spirits Alive offered to take on “gate duty” and designed a self-guided walk for those who wished to tour the cemetery on their own. In 2021, the tours returned and their popularity rose as the guided cemetery walks offered an outdoor, socially-distanced activity suitable for all ages.
Because the tours of Eastern Cemetery were so popular, Ron Romano has since designed tours of Oceanview Cemetery in Wells for the Historical Society of Wells and Ogunquit, as well as the landscaped garden-type Laurel Hill Cemetery in Saco for the Old Orchard Beach/Saco Adult & Community Education program. Tickets to both tours sold out quickly, proving that interest in cemetery tours is increasing.
This year Ron will be rerunning the Laurel Hill tours and in June he will lead a tour to discover the early slate gravestones and “billboard monuments” in the churchyard of the Old Baptist Cemetery for the Yarmouth History Center. He has also designed two new cemetery tours: Dunstan Cemetery in Scarborough and Greenwood Cemetery in Biddeford. All of these sites are local treasures with lots to offer those who would like to join a guided tour.
Tours, each running 60 to 90 minutes, will run in May and June and are posted on the MOCA events calendar at https://moca-me.org/calendar. More information and tickets are available through the host organizations. Email Ron Romano at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.