FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) - When you think of tourism, what draws outsiders to spending their time and money within 21Country?
Sports tournaments, county fairs, concerts and performances at the Memorial Coliseum, to name a few.
Ken Naegele travels the midwest, but it isn’t those lively events that attract him.
He’s drawn to the dead… or at least, where they’re laid to rest.
Naegele, is popularizing a long-time fascination and movement, called Necro Tourism.
He runs hundreds of pages dedicated to cemeteries in each state, and even groups with a focus on the type of monument, memorial and statues.
But the thousands of people that follow his adventures, and post their own, don’t usually know him by his name Ken, but rather as “The Necro Tourist”.
“Necro Tourism is predominately people who like to visit locations that respect the dead,” he told us, “whether they be cemeteries, whether they be museums, statues, memorials, monuments — things of that nature.”
Naegele lives in Cincinnati, Ohio, but finds himself exploring other parts of the Buckeye State, as well as Indiana and Kentucky.
He met ABC21 at Lindenwood Cemetery, one of the largest in the state, for a chance to learn about some of Northeast Indiana’s history.
“When I come to a town, just like Fort Wayne, I’m looking for the famous guys in this town, just like Van Meter,” he said, referencing one of John Dillinger’s gang members, who is buried in Lindenwood.
“I’m told the guy who invented the gas pump is from Fort Wayne, and is in this cemetery,” Naegele continued, referring to Sylvanus Bowser. “Those are the people I’m looking for — the famous graves, unique graves, things that attract your attention.”
The Necro Tourist snapped dozens of pictures of obelisks, mausoleums, and tombstones as the sun set over the Summit City.
Some of them will end up on his website, or mentioned in his podcast.
Others, on his various Facebook pages.
Among the most popular, is his group Indiana Cemeteries.
“At the beginning of 2021, Indiana had about 2,000 people in it,” he explained. “Right now, it has almost 12,000 people in it. All of a sudden the Indiana group has just exploded!”
Naegele didn’t invent Necro Tourism, but he certainly has helped connect like-minded people to discuss it.
Many use cemeteries to find the burial grounds of famous people, others search for the beauty among monuments and engravings, and some use it to help with family genealogy.
And those groups are moderated with strict rules, all revolving around one goal: respect.
He makes it clear — he doesn’t want attention on death, gory details, or dark tragedies.
For him, its about education, travel, and a form of art, in a way.
“Much to my surprise, the Necro Tourism audience is way bigger in Indiana than I thought,” Naegele said. “People five years ago were ashamed they do this, and some people still are.”
“This subject is sort of taboo,” he continued. “Who has created our vision of what the cemeteries are?”
Naegele believes the answer to that question is one of two things: painful memories of burying loved ones, and movie tropes from Hollywood.
Instead, he likened it to a park.
You’ll see plenty of wildlife, people jogging and walking their dogs, and plenty of peace and quiet.
“There’s almost everything you want,” he said, “other than there are people buried here.”
“But they’re just your family members, or your friends’ family members, or your neighbors,” Naegele added, “they’re just no longer with you and if you’re here, hopefully you’re saying hello and remembering them.”
“This is our history, this is our past,” he concluded. “The people that started your community, Fort Wayne, the people that started my community, Cincinnati — they’re buried in cemeteries like this, and if you’re not there and pay attention to them and recognize them, who will?”