Bohnice Cemetery: where fools were laid to rest

Funeral tourists in Prague have a choice of some seventy cemeteries to visit. The graveyards range from the well-known Old Jewish Cemetery to lesser-known Bohnice cemetery. The most scary burial ground in the city, if you believe the blood-curdling ghost stories. Bohnice cemetery is the institutional graveyard of the Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital in the district of Bohnice, to the north of Prague city centre. For over half a century, there have been no burials here. Nevertheless, its eerie reputation makes a visit appealing. It is a fact that this graveyard is abandoned, the gravestones overgrown with ivy, the chapel in ruins and the names on the gravestones blotted out by the ravages of time except one. Why?

The Grave of Maria Tuma née Reiter

There is only one gravestone with a legible name: Maria Tuma Reiter who died in April 1912 only 29 years old. The grave is well maintained, there are often funeral candles and flowers.

Who was Maria Tuma Reiter?

Burial records state that she died of pneumonia, and an additional note said, ‘sudden death’. Although she was buried in the institutional cemetery of the Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital, there is no indication that she was a patient here; local residents were also buried here. She lived in ‘bohnické colony’, which are workers’ cottages with their own (vegetable) gardens that stood in the vicinity of the clinic. She was married to Antonín Tůma and had two children. Her gravestone reads ‘Unsere geliebte Mutter’. Today’s Czech Republic was at that time part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the official language was German.

Personal view of the editor of Prague-Now

The last funerals at Bohnice took place in 1951 and from then on the cemetery was managed by various authorities who no longer took care of graveyard and the graves. To this day, one grave is in perfect condition and the name is clearly legible: Maria Tůma Reiter.

It is very likely that Maria’s husband and later her children and possibly her grandchildren looked after the grave. At some point though, maintenance must have stopped, probably in the 1980 when her children were dead and her grandchildren no longer interested.

It is highly probable that Mary was Catholic as in the Austro-Hungarian Empire about 80% of the population were Catholics. It is a Roman Catholic tradition to commemorate the deceased on All Souls’ Day (November 2). Relatives bring flowers and mourning candles. In the previous week they clean the gravestone and the grave, paint the letters, and remove weeds and dry leaves. Maria’s relatives will no doubt have done this as well.

At one point, her relatives were too old or had died. A third generation may no longer be living in Prague or interested in the grave and maintenance discontinued. But her name remained legible because it takes decades before an inscription on a gravestone has weathered and become illegible.

Not only relatives came to the Bohnice cemetery on All Souls’ Day and other days, but also people interested in the occult because the cemetery had the reputation for being haunted. Tall trees, overgrown graves and thick bushes: the dead could rise from their graves any time. Séances are said to have taken place regularly. Mary’s tomb must have certainly stood out. That may explain the candles by her gravestone.

Since 2000, volunteers maintain the graveyard and certainly Maria’s grave. Guided tours of the cemetery are available at a fee. And what better marketing ploy is there than a mysterious, well-maintained grave in an abandoned cemetery?

Who else lies buried here?

1. Patients from the Psychiatric Hospital
2. World War I Soldiers
3. Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke of Austria Franz Ferdinand
4. Pavlíček alleged murderer of Otília Vranská
5. Relative of Denis Thatcher
6. Memorial plaques

1. Patients from Psychiatric Hospital
The cemetery was the last resting place for patients from the psychiatric hospital nearby, as well as their prematurely deceased children and the employees of the hospital and also people who lived locally.

2. World War I Soldiers
Italian soldiers suffering from mental illness came to Bohnice to be nursed during the First World War. A large number of Austro-Hungarian soldiers with war trauma also came to Bohnice for treatment. They found eternal rest in the institutional cemetery.

3. Gavrilo Princip
One theory claims that in Bohnice Cemetery is the grave of Gavrilo Princip, the assassin of Archduke of Austria, Franz Ferdinand d’Este. This assassination in 1914 was the cause of the First World War. Princip was a Bosnian Serb activist was imprisoned in Theresienstadt (now Terezín) prison in 1918 where he died from tuberculosis. He is said to have been buried in Bohnice Cemetery three days later. A secret burial to prevent hero worship.

4. Pavlíček alleged murderer of Otília Vranská
Sergeant Pavlíček, the alleged murderer of the prostitute Otília Vranská, is said to be buried here. Her body cut in half was found in two suitcases with different destinations. This mysterious murder in the former Czechoslovakia has still not been solved. Pavlíček has never officially confessed to the murder, but has reportedly confided in his friends. He was later admitted to Bohnice psychiatric hospital, where he committed suicide. The original suitcase in which the prostitute’s body parts were found can be seen in the Police Museum in Prague. 

5. Relative of Denis Thatcher
In 1996, Baroness Margaret Thatcher (UK Prime Minister from 1979 to 1990) visited Prague and met the then Czech Prime Minister, Václav Klaus. There was no mention of her planned visit to Bohnice cemetery but local residents understood that something was up when a fleet of limousines arrived and the Baroness got out. Grave diggers opened a grave, and a ring was used as identification. The mortal remains were transferred to Great Britain. It is believed that these were of an adventurous ancestor of her husband, Denis Thatcher.

6. Memorial Plaques
A few memorial plaques have been embedded in he outer wall.

The memorial plaque of Karl Tatzl (1882-1923)

‘Hier ruht in Frieden unser innigstgeliebte sohn u. Bruder’
Here rests in peace our dearly beloved son and brother

The family name Tatzl is common in Austria and the first name Karl is spelt in German (in Czech it is Karel). The name and the German epitaph could indicate that Karl was of Austrian descent because the name Tatzl is common there. Until 1918, the Czech lands were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire with German as the official language. After the declaration of the First Republic, German was gradually replaced by Czech. Karl’s epitaph is in German he probably didn’t consider himself Czech.

The memorial plaque of Antonin Lebr

The epitaph is in Czech:
Nač své slze ronit máme že Tě na čas ztracíme, vzdyt se v nebi zas shlédáme a věčně s Tebou budeme”
Why should we shed our tears now that we have lost you when we will see you again in heaven and be with you forever.

This Czech inscription could mean that Antonin Lebr died after 1918, i.e. during the First Republic when Czech was the official language.

Brief history of Bohnice Cemetery

The cemetery is behind a cast iron gate that is locked but a side door is open. Large trees make the cemetery dark even on a sunny day. The undulating terrain is completely overgrown with ivy and bumps show where graves are. Most of the tombstones were stolen after the Velvet Revolution in 1989 as well as nameplates, crosses and metal objects. On an outer wall are a few memorial tablets. The chapel is a ruin.

Bohnice cemetery was consecrated in September 1909. It was part of the Psychiatric Hospital in Bohnice and in use until 1951, when the communist regime banned any form of religion.

In the first place, this was the cemetery for patients of the psychiatric institution. But here lie also nurses, nuns, local workers and Italian World War I prisoners of war who died of typhus. In total there are about 4,300 graves in an area that covers 2.5 hectares i.e. five football fields. As the cemetery is quite small, the dead were buried in three layers, one above the other.

Funerals usually took place without ceremony, as families usually did not speak about their mentally ill relatives and the graves were left without headstones.

Coffins were made by the mental patients as part of their occupational therapy and they buried their comrades. The graves were numbered and the names recorded in the death register of the cemetery.

On January 1, 1963, the cemetery was handed over to the Prague City Funeral Service who from then on no longer used or maintained the cemetery. Later, it was handed over to the Ministry of Health and then to the State Property Office. In 2018, after long negotiations, the cemetery came into the hands of the district of Prague 8 (of which Bohnice is a part). Meanwhile, there are plans to restore the chapel, the the number of trees has already been reduced, the outer wall repaired, but the ivy is still there to retain the ‘scary’ atmosphere.

Supernatural Powers

The cemetery has a reputation as a place where mysterious things happen, a place full of negative energy. Spiritual séances and devil worshipers made contact with the dead here, with the dilapidated graveyard chapel as an ideal backdrop. It is said that satanic rituals took place in the 1970s and 1980s.

Eerie ghost stories about the cemetery are doing the rounds. Visitors swear that during a nighttime visit, they heard strange noises, saw unexplained lights, and felt uncomfortable. Of course, the online discussions are full of gossip about negative energy and unexplained events related to this place. You will only get an answer by visiting yourself.

Milos Forman and Amadeus

Behind the chapel is a mortuary and an underground passage where quicklime was stored used for faster decomposition of the corpse. This attracted the attention of film director Miloš Forman. The scene in the film ‘Amadeus’ where Mozart is buried in a mass grave was shot in Bohnice Cemetery.

Getting there

Bohnice is about 8 km to the north of Prague centre.

1. Take metro line C to Kobylisy metro station, change to bus 177 direction poliklinika Mazurska, get off at Zhořelecká stop.

2. The Bohnice walk is a self-guided walk through the Bohnice district. It includes a visit to Bohnice cemetery.

Pet Cemetery, garden for our most loyal friends
Bohnice Psychiatric Hospital and park

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