04 February 2015

Cemeteries -- Should they be Quiet Places of Respect or Vibrant Places Used by the Living or What?!??!

I ask the question of the headline because I just read Double life of cemeteries show they can play more than one role.

For me, Fitz’s letter touches on a shifting attitude toward cemeteries in general, a new role that allows behavior beyond quiet mourning. The joggers that startle her appear not just in Raleigh Memorial Park on Glenwood Avenue, where her son is buried, but especially in Oakwood Cemetery near downtown, where recreation-minded visitors are welcomed...

The change doesn’t always sit well with mourners ... the general manager at Raleigh Memorial Park, told me the cemetery gets sporadic complaints like the letter from Fitz. But while he understands their concerns, the cemetery is considered a park – there for the living along with the dead.

These local cemetery parks, though they welcome 2-legged visitors do bar dogs and ask visitors to keep their distance from any funerals in progress.  And, more often the families of those buried in these cemeteries

“... actually like seeing the joggers, walkers, Segway folks on our grounds. I think because it means the cemetery is for the living, and it is reassuring that the cemetery is more than just a place of sadness.”

It’s almost like cemeteries are becoming, again, what many in a way were designed for originally, as parks, often a green oasis in an urban setting. 

Our cemeteries now have often become places of just mourning and little to do with the living.  In the past, I know that my and my husband’s families both used to picnic in the cemeteries where the families are buried.  This was a way for all the generations to be “together” for a bit; for the family to share tales of those no longer able to be present. A great opportunity to laugh and play and enjoy the company of the “spirit” of the deceased -- sharing fond memories, telling silly tales, savoring the reverence of lessons learned,  laughing at remembered personality quirks, and much more.

Nowadays, our cemeteries are often quiet and intimidating or uncomfortable to many.  Oakwood cemetery, mentioned in this article, is a beautiful cemetery.  I like that theatrical performances, ghost walks, and other activities take place in it regularly.  It actually has an events calendar on its website!

These non-burial events do not take away from the quiet mourning or the cemeteries main purpose and they enrich our community.  We learn about the lives of those buried here which keeps them in the “present” for all of us.  For me, a vibrant cemetery is just an extension of what we do as genealogists and family historians when we strive to learn the stories of individuals and then share them with descendants or others.  We try to keep them alive in our hearts and lore ...

The article ends by stating ...

In short, I wouldn’t want somebody performing skateboard tricks over my eternal patch of ground, scuffing up whatever marker posterity sees fit to leave. But I’d love to host a picnic.

What do you think?  Should cemeteries become more park-like and take advantage of their often beautiful features (flowers, shrubs, trees, walkways, etc), art (yes, many tombstones are works of art) and vistas (hilltop panoramic views, water features, and more)?

Editor’s Note: Related articles ...

Editor’s Note: Related Upfront with NGS posts ...

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