My latest novel – Wrath of the Ancients – is largely set in Vienna, Austria’s imperial capital and surely one of the most beautiful and enchanting cities in the world. Its streets team with culture and its proud residents are almost fiercely protective of their enigmatic, sometimes quirky, and endlessly fascinating home, where everyone from Strauss to Klimt and Freud lived and worked.
But Vienna has a darker side. Steeped in history, the city is home to many unexplored places. Some are havens of peace and tranquillity but even in the most silent of these, ghosts walk and spirits are restless.
One such fascinating haunt is the Cemetery of the Nameless (Friedhof der Namenlosen), situated on the very outskirts of the city in a district known as Simmering (Vienna’s 11th district). It was built near the junction of the Danube Canal with the River Danube and has a specific purpose – to provide a final resting place for victims of drowning, especially as a result of the frequent flooding of the river. No one has been buried there since 1940 as the river no longer floods as it used to, thanks to major improvements. Before this, bodies used to be washed up on the shore nearby, tossed and discarded by strong currents and eddies. But it was not only the tragic victims of the flood who found peace here. Many of those buried here committed suicide by drowning and would otherwise not have been allowed a burial place.
The cemetery has an eerie quality about it which is unsurprising. Until recently, few people even visited here. There are two distinct parts to the cemetery. The older part, housing bodies buried before 1900, is largely wild and overgrown. All in all, anything up to 478 bodies were buried in this part of the cemetery between 1840 and 1900, lying beneath the shade of the tall trees. They were buried in simple wooden coffins provided by a local carpenter.
Since 1900, a further 104 bodies were buried in the newer part of the cemetery. Here rose bushes grow and it is lovingly maintained. Only forty-two of the bodies were eventually claimed by relatives and a number of the graves have elaborate wrought iron crosses. It now houses a modern chapel designed by Karl Franz Eder. The film Before Sunrise (1995) featured the Cemetery of the Nameless and since then, more tourists have made the effort to get there.
A tradition began which is still celebrated today, albeit in symbolic form. On All Saints Day, local fishermen build a raft and decorate it with flowers and a commemorative inscription remembering the victims of the Danube flooding. The raft is then set off, while a band plays, until the slow currents wash it downstream in much the same way as the bodies used to arrive.
As might be expected, with so many of the residents enduring a sudden and harrowing death, there are restless spirits. In addition to those who drowned, the sexton for many years has been seen here and his presence felt strongly. A black-hooded man watches those who visit and frequently follows them around. Other shadowy figures appear to be shyer and prefer to linger in the dark corners. Some utter words of warning, making the visitors feel unwelcome.
These days, bodies don’t wash up on the shore there and any victims of drowning are generally buried in the famous Zentralfriedhof, featured memorably in The Third Man. This is the cemetery most tourists think of when they visit Vienna, but there are many cemeteries in Vienna and each has its own story to tell. Personally, I think the Cemetery of the Nameless tells the most poignant.
Eminent archaeologist Dr. Emeryk Quintillus has unearthed the burial chamber of Cleopatra. But this tomb raider’s obsession with the Queen of the Nile has nothing to do with preserving history. Stealing sacred and priceless relics, he murders his expedition crew, and flees—escaping the quake that swallows the site beneath the desert sands . . .
Young widow Adeline Ogilvy has accepted employment at the mansion of Dr. Quintillus, transcribing the late professor’s memoirs. Within the pages of his journals, she discovers the ravings of a madman convinced he possessed the ability to reincarnate Cleopatra. Within the walls of his home, she is assailed by unexplained phenomena: strange sounds, shadowy figures, and apparitions of hieroglyphics.
Something pursued Dr. Quintillus from Egypt. Something dark, something hungry. Something tied to the fate and future of Adeline Ogilvy . . .
Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Catherine Cavendish is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. Cat’s novels include the Nemesis of the Gods trilogy – Wrath of the Ancients, Waking the Ancients and Damned by the Ancients, plus The Devil’s Serenade, The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine and many more. She lives with her long-suffering husband, and a black cat who has never forgotten that her species used to be worshipped in ancient Egypt. She sees no reason why that practice should not continue. Cat and her family divide their time between Liverpool and a 260-year-old haunted apartment in North Wales.