'Dark tourism': TikTok turns to Highgate Cemetery
- Credit: Christina Dyer
By day, Christina Dyer works in banking, but by night she edits TikTok videos in which she explores some of the world’s most famous cemeteries – a hobby she calls “grave wandering”.
Two weeks ago, Christina drove an hour and a half from her home in Northamptonshire to Highgate Cemetery, the beginnings of her attempt to tick off all locations in the book 199 Cemeteries to See Before You Die, by Loren Rhoads.
Though Highgate Cemetery has long been a local attraction, bringing in visitors through guided tours of its west cemetery, Christina's interests in the burial ground are part of an emerging social media trend called “dark tourism”.
Videos about dark tourism have amassed more than 7.2million TikTok views, showing people who document graveyards and spooky buildings all around the world.
Christina is part of a growing community of graveyard wanderers who make a lifestyle of travelling to famous burial sites. In the space of seven years, she has toured more than 100 UK cemeteries and even went to Paris to visit its well-known catacombs in 2016.
The 182-year-old Highgate Cemetery was a particular favourite for Christina, who said: “It felt like it was going to take me two days to cover everything. It was that wonderful. There’s so much history there, so many unique headstones and angels that you don’t get at your standard church cemetery, it’s just unreal.”
She said the 19th-century history of Highgate’s west cemetery attracts huge interest on TikTok because the Victorian era and the gothic are becoming increasingly trendy.
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“When I was 13, I used to sit in graveyards on my own," she said. "Now, I’ve found a whole gothic community on social media.
“More horror TV programmes are coming into the mainstream, like American Horror Story. There are more Youtube channels of people exploring graves and haunted houses.
“It feels like people are becoming more accepting of us. We like to have something that makes us unique, just like everyone else.”
Although the 31-year-old influencer admits to having rather niche interests, on a nine-to-five she says she feels pressure to blend in with the crowd.
“In my 11 years in banking, I’ve never met anybody that likes the same things I do. I don’t think people expect a banker to be a goth," she said.
“I wouldn’t even say I have the stereotypical personality of a goth. I’m bubbly and friendly, and I like to dress comfy. But in terms of what I like to do, the dark and spooky stuff is what I enjoy and absolutely live for.”
Before beginning her dark tourism journey, Christina had few people to share her guilty pleasure with. Even her husband, who supportively travels with her and helps her with videos, has no interest in bones or burials himself.
Christina said: “My friends shut me down completely when I talk about my travels. It’s just not something that the average Joe wants to know about.
"Through social media, I’ve made a best friend in Canada, and met people from the spooky community in America.”
She said the gothic aesthetic is particularly popular in the US, and that during the pandemic, TikTok allowed her to give those in other countries a virtual tour of England’s biggest graveyards.
“I like giving people an eye into these places, since they can’t go themselves because of Covid."
Earlier this year, Christina livestreamed from Highgate Cemetery as a means for people to tour the burial site in a pandemic-friendly way.
Next up on her list of graveyard visits is Kensal Green cemetery, to which she will travel in October. She says she is especially excited about it because it was inspired by one of her most treasured burial grounds, the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
Highgate and Kensal Green Cemetery are two of what is known as the “Magnificent Seven”, a term for London's large large, private, 19th-century cemeteries.
Of course, Christina acknowledges that not everyone will appreciate her macabre interest. Yet, it remains a point of deeply personal significance.
“For me, it’s a moment of peace, a moment of contentment in knowing that the people that you’re with are in forever solitude," she said.
“When you walk past people and smile at them, and hear the birds singing, it’s just wonderful.”
Follow Christina on TikTok @thedyerghoulhouse