Albany Rural Cemetery, after dark

ARC Martin Daley moon behind cross.jpg

ARC, after dark

By Martin Daley

soapbox badgeI have a strong phobia of death.

Like, a wake-up-in-the-middle-of-the night-in-a-cold-sweat kind of fear. The kind of fear I sometimes just need to talk my way through.

I simply can't fathom not existing. It scares the heck out of me.

Why then, you might ask, would someone with this terrible, gripping fear of the great beyond be wandering around Albany Rural Cemetery in the middle of the night?

It was all about the photos.

When I used to work at WNYT in Menands, I'd spend some of my lunch breaks at Albany Rural Cemetery. To me, the place seems like one of the best kept secrets in the region. The cemetery is beautifully landscaped, and meticulously maintained. It's a great place to reflect -- even if you don't know anyone interred there.

Albany Rural is actually a fairly young cemetery -- just over 150 years young. But that doesn't mean the tombstones and mausoleums that dot the landscape are shiny and uniform. In fact many have eerie shapes and, frankly, some just creep me out.

ARC Jonathan Harker landscape .jpg

Anyway, it was on an early spring motorcycle ride out to Albany Rural Cemetery that I first started thinking about taking night time photos there. My wife Jennifer and I bought a DSLR camera for our anniversary, and after getting some halfway decent pictures of the starry sky in Acadia National Park, I'd become hooked on the idea of taking pictures at night.

Note to those of you getting ideas of your own photos: It's better, and more appropriate, to ask permission than forgiveness. Too old for breaking and entering, I got special permission to enter ARC at night through a colleague who knew someone on the cemetery's board. I picked April 4 -- a night with a full moon and clear skies.

ARC Martin Daley moon in trees.jpg

I invited my friend Jon to join me. Going to an unfamiliar place at night can be dangerous and, to be honest, the thought of a cemetery under a full moon seemed just a little too creepy.

So I was pleasantly surprised when the feeling I got upon entering the cemetery that moonlit night wasn't one of panic or claustrophobia. Instead, I felt an overwhelming sense of calm. It was a very odd feeling.

The particular plot where we worked contained the graves of what seemed an entire family -- children and adults -- with dates of death that were strikingly close together, as if everyone had succumbed to the same illness. We were struck with how absolutely devastating it must have been for the survivors to see their entire family die before them.

ARC Martin Daley tombstones.jpg

I tried not to think too much about the people interred there. I was afraid that if I started reading tombstones I'd be drawn in to much fantasizing about the stories behind each person, and not concentrate on the task at hand. Still, I found myself whispering things like: "Excuse me," "This will only take a moment," "Pardon me," "Beautiful night, wouldn't you say" because (please don't laugh) I felt I must appease and respect the spirits that lingered.

I had forgotten my tripod mount, so to get the photos I wanted I had to lay on the ground, position my camera on top of the camera bag, squeeze a look into the viewfinder, and then stay there -- on the ground -- for 30 seconds or so waiting for the shutter. Looking back, I can't believe I was so calm about laying on the ground, at night, under the full moon, six or so feet above dead bodies.

Still, I felt at peace, and kept shooting away, trying to get the right balance of light and dark that's tough to nail when shooting during a full moon. Jon had well over a year of solid experience and much better equipment.

ARC Jonathan Harker headstones.jpg

ARC Jonathan Harker graves at night.jpg

I was hoping to capture something new and unique. A side of the world rarely seen, I guess. The stillness of the night presents itself like a foreign world in some ways. I wanted to capture the mystery and serenity of the graveyard at night.

After looking through my images I must say, with a heavy heart, I don't think I captured what I was after. I just wasn't able to tell the story in the photos that I had set out to tell. Forgetting the tripod mount turned out to be a gaffe, but all-in-all the experience was worth it. I may not have gotten the epically awesome photos I wanted but I had a good time, and it was a memorable experience.

If you've got a little time, ARC is definitely someplace you should check out. The grounds contain the grave sites of a great many local notables. It's not normally open at night -- but even during the day, it's a fascinating place to visit.

Martin has very appropriate username on Twitter: @daleyplanit.

More of Martin on the Soapbox:
+ The view from 33
+ An Urban Wish List
+ The quintessential Capital Region food
+ Awesome Albany architecture
+ Historic Albany's endangered building list
+ What's your favorite Capital Region building?

Earlier on AOA: Walking the Albany Rural Cemetery


Great photos! I love Albany Rural.

Brother, Jesus Christ came to give life and to give it more abundantly. Don't try to fathom not existing, instead try to fathom His existence. All the material you need is in the good book. Peace and Love through understanding--standing under, if you reverse your perspective, the night sky.

Gorgeous pictures by the way. I think you have the beginning of a gallery show. I would enjoy owning beautiful work such as these, maybe the one with the cross.

These are really beautiful shots, I love the post-editing that you did on them, very ambient, the creepiness. If you feel like you can handle the fear again, you should hit Oakwood in Troy, next. It's amazing.

No offense to all the believers out there, but I'm frankly a bit surprised AOA has allowed the above proselytizing. What gives folks?

@R, it's a free county. I don't find other people's faith offensive, any more than they should find my leftishism offensive. ;)

Anyhooo, I totally agree with Martin's assessment of life, death and cemeteries. It's good to know I'm not the only one. Great photos too!

I don't find it offensive, I simply don't believe this is the proper forum for the expression of such blatant bible thumping.

No offense taken by the bible commentor. I'm envious of the folks that are able to believe without doubt. Faith is a wonderful think when it's not extended to pushyness. I believe in God, like a comedian said "there must be SOMEONE up there $&@?ing things up for me..." but I have yet to buy into a specific faith, particularly because of the ambiguity of the afterlife. I won't go into detail, but in the last three days I've even a part of an incredible miracle, and sadly, was witness to an equally incredible tragedy. Life and death, faith and fear... Constant struggles that continue to boggle my mind and make me ask "wtf does it mean?"

Oh! I forgot to mention: yes, I did mess with my photos to bring out some elements. I did not intend to pass them along as "out of the box" I've got a way to go for that!

For the rest of the images (and to determine whose are whose)
My photos are at:

Jon's images are at:

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