Picnics, Movies & Graveyards

Cover of "The Terminator [Blu-ray]"

Summer – warm sunshine, sparkling pools and picnics in the park cemetery while watching a movie. Really, this happens. Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, CA, the final resting place of numerous Hollywood stars (Douglas Fairbanks, Jayne Mansfield), shows movies on the lawn on a regular basis. Tickets are $10 and if you want a good spot it’s best to arrive early. This weekend they’re showing ‘The Terminator’ at 8:30pm.

What better way to spend a pleasant summer evening? Just pack a picnic basket, grab some blankets and lay down in a graveyard. I’ve never watched a movie in a cemetery but I think it’s a great idea. You get to enjoy the fresh air, watch the sunset, hang out with family/friends all while enjoying the best Hollywood has to offer.

And then there’s the atmosphere of a cemetery at night. I’m sure after the movie a few dare-devil types venture deep into the cemetery grounds to try and scare up some ‘paranormal activity.’ In fact, I bet I could find some grainy video of just such antics on YouTube if I searched hard enough. But I digress…

The practice of communing in cemeteries isn’t new. In the 1800’s, families would spend Sunday afternoons in the graveyard with their loved ones, both dead and alive. It was considered a good way to reconnect with those who had passed on. You won’t see too many get-togethers at the family plot these days however. Life is different and most people rarely visit the cemetery unless it’s Memorial Day. But as the popularity of the movie screenings at Hollywood Forever Cemetery shows, you can have good times in the graveyard. Call your local cemetery today and ask them where the best spot is to picnic. You might be surprised at the answer.

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Cemetery Etiquette

Photo: Love-That-Etiquette.com

Hello, my name is gravetender and I’m a cemetery-holic. And I’m not the only one (phew!).  There are hundreds (thousands? hundreds of thousands?) people just like me all over the world who enjoy visiting cemeteries. And when we visit cemeteries we follow the rules of cemetery etiquette.

‘Cemetery Etiquette: How to Act When Graveyard Hopping’ is an article penned in the Graveyard Rabbit Online Journal. And just what exactly is a Graveyard Rabbit, you ask? Well, a Graveyard Rabbit is a member of the Association of Graveyard Rabbits and they are dedicated to the “academic promotion of the historical importance of cemeteries, grave markers, and the family history to be learned from a study of burial customs, burying grounds, and tombstones; and the social promotion of the study of cemeteries, the preservation of cemeteries, and the transcription of genealogical/historical information written in cemeteries.”

So back to the article (which you can read in full here) and the generally accepted rules of cemetery etiquette, which are:

  • Appreciate memorials as they are. Do not add to, take away from, or modify a memorial in any way.
  • Do not intrude on funeral or memorial services.
  • Do not bring alcohol, firearms, or entertainment items into cemeteries.
  • Keep pets leashed and under control. Clean up after them. [If the cemetery has an office, first check to make sure pets are welcome.]
  • Do not litter (this includes cigarette butts), and do not interfere with plants and wildlife.
  • Keep vehicles on designated roadways or in parking areas. Idling vehicle engines can be harmful to landscaping and historical structures.

And here are some more:

  • Move nothing except obvious trash.
  • No loud music. If in your vehicle, the music should not be heard by anyone outside of it.
  • Keep cell phone conversations quiet.
  • Do not do rubbings without permission. Each cemetery has a different stance on this. Some will allow it, some will not. Some will require permission from the lot owner. Always ask.
  • Drive through cemeteries at a slow speed.
  • If asked to put away your camera, do so. Some cemeteries are considered private property. Some consider each lot to be a private property.
  • Never trespass. If a cemetery is located on private property, get permission from the land owner before visiting.
  • Keep conversations with companions at a respectable volume. I don’t think a whisper is required, but shouting is obviously disrespectful and unnecessary.
  • Leave no evidence of your visit.
  • Report fresh vandalism incidents immediately.
  • Cemeteries are not to be used as a camping ground or “lovers’ lane.”
  • Picnics are usually acceptable, but be sure to leave the area cleaner than when you arrived. (I imagine this to be true in the many park-like cemeteries, but I would not assume this to be true at every cemetery.)
  • Do not pick flowers. Not even the ones that are part of the general cemetery landscape. This is against the law in some places.

These are good rules to follow. Do you have good cemetery etiquette?

Coming to a Cemetery Near You: Glass Headstones

Photo-Lundgren Monuments

If you’re pre-planning your funeral (as some people do) and want a headstone that will stand out from the rest, consider this latest trend – glass headstones:

‘When Greg Lundgren started working with cast glass as a young artist, he never imagined a cemetery would become his most popular canvas.

He initially used glass to make furniture, windows, doors and other common pieces of furniture.  But ten years ago, Lundgren was yearning to try something else with his material of choice, so he started to explore items typically made of granite.

“I went by one cemetery and that light went off, and you say, ‘Why not have a cast-glass headstone?’” Lundgren said.

So he made his first glass headstone in 2002, something that was not quickly accepted in a conservative industry accustomed to marble and granite.

Even today, some question if something so seemingly fragile can hold up during cold winters and hot summers.  But Lundgren said the headstones, which are at least four inches thick, are surprisingly resilient.

“You look at skyscrapers or you look at streetlights or you look at car windshields, and these are all things that we live with on a day-to-day basis and have a lot of faith in,” Lundgren said.

Lundgren hopes to start a dialogue about death, getting people to re-imagine what a cemetery can be.

“You can’t walk into a cemetery and see 5,000 granite headstones that all look the same and imagine that every single one of those people had that type of commonality,” he said.

Lundgren said the cost for such memorials can vary, depending on how much glass is used, but the price can typically fall on the higher end of the memorial spectrum.’ 

What a great idea! For more pictures, visit Lundgren’s website.

What do you think of glass headstones?

Depressed? Take a Walk in a Cemetery.

Finally! A scientific research study I can relate to. This month’s issue of the Personality and Social Psychology Review has an article titled “When Death is Good for Life: Considering the Positive Trajectories of Terror Management.” The abstract states:

The awareness of mortality can motivate people to enhance their physical health and prioritize growth-oriented goals; live up to positive standards and beliefs; build supportive relationships and encourage the development of peaceful, charitable communities; and foster open-minded and growth-oriented behaviors. The article also tentatively explores the potential enriching impact of direct encounters with death. Overall, the present analysis suggests that although death awareness can, at times, generate negative outcomes, it can also function to move people along more positive trajectories and contribute to the good life. 

Or in simple English – if you’re sad and think life sucks, take a walk in a cemetery. When you’re done, you’ll be filled with joy! You will kiss your neighbours and do favors for strangers. Amazing.

Here’s how the authors of the study came to this conclusion:

The researchers observed people who were either passing through a cemetery or were one block away, out of sight of the cemetery.

Actors at each location talked near the participants about either the value of helping others or a control topic, and then some moments later, another actor dropped her notebook.

The researchers then tested in each condition how many people helped the stranger.

“When the value of helping was made salient, the number of participants who helped the second confederate with her notebook was 40% greater at the cemetery than a block away from the cemetery,” Vail says.

“Other field experiments and tightly controlled laboratory experiments have replicated these and similar findings, showing that the awareness of death can motivate increased expressions of tolerance, egalitarianism, compassion, empathy, and pacifism.”

Well. I can’t say that as a gravetender my cemetery visits always motivate me in the ways mentioned above but I do feel a sense of peace when I’m in a cemetery. So when life gets you down, visit a cemetery near you. Most are open from dawn till dusk. Let me know how you feel afterwards!

Memorial Park Cemetery

We haven’t had much snow in St. Louis this winter (not that I’m complaining) so when the snowflakes finally fell from the sky last week, I thought I’d visit a cemetery and take some pictures. Why not, right? So I stopped by Memorial Park Cemetery, which is located at 5200 Lucas and Hunt Rd. It’s a private, family owned cemetery that has been in operation since 1919. It’s right off Highway 70 but once you enter the gates, a peaceful serenity envelops you. It feels like you’re taking a quiet walk in the country.

The cemetery staff are very friendly and visitors can get a map from the office (Memorial Park has 165 acres of land so you can easily get lost). On their website they state that 50 acres are underdeveloped and “prime spaces are still available.” They even offer coupons. Really. Anyway, here are some of the pictures I took. Alas, most of the snow had melted but there was still some white stuff to be seen:

How the Rich Get Six Feet Under

Bigelow Chapel, Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambrid...

Bigelow Chapel, Mt. Auburn Cemetery

Even in death the rich still have it all. If you’re a member of the 1% club, snagging a spot in a ‘luxury’ cemetery can cost over $500,000. No simple pine box for these folks – when it comes to lying six feet under, only the very best will do:

A final resting place at Donald Trump’s golf course in New Jersey will surely cost a lot, but will be a bargain compared to some of the country’s other swanky cemeteries.

 Trump announced this week he is considering building a 1.5-acre cemetery next to his high-end golf course in Bedminster where members pay a lifetime fee of as much as $300,000. If they want to stay beyond that, they most likely will pay a membership fee that includes burial, Trump consultant Ed Russo says.

But the fairway to heaven won’t cost what some premium plots cost elsewhere if the plan gets state and local approval.

Putting one’s name on the most permanent of marquees can reach several million dollars at the most exclusive cemeteries in the country. In comparison, the median cost of a funeral was $6,560 in 2009, the most recent yearly figure from the National Funeral Directors Association.

At Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., a National Historic Landmark renowned for its landscaping, the choicest piece of pond-front property costs upward of half a million dollars, said Sean O’Regan, vice president of cemetery services and operations.

“While you’re not purchasing real estate — you’re purchasing burial rights — it’s definitely location, location, location,” O’Regan said.

The Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, which was designated last year as a National HistoricLandmark, is popular among the wealthy and famous. Burial arrangements can range from $600 for cremated remains to $3.5 million for an historic private mausoleum more than 100 years old, Woodlawn President John Toale said.

The Frank E. Campbell funeral home in New York’s Manhattan is the go-to place for celebrity funerals. In its 115 years of business, the home has arranged final rites for the titans of New York industry, famous sports figures, politicians and countless celebrities, Vice President Dominic Carella said.

And they say that you can’t take it with you when you die…apparently some people can.

Drought reveals old tombstone

Central Texas is experiencing a drought and lake water levels are receding. The water level at Lake Buchanan has gone down so much that it revealed an old town – people can now walk through the town and see the foundation of the town’s schoolhouse as well as the tombstone of Johnny Parks, a 1-year old who passed away in 1889. As reported by Jacqueline Ingles:

LLANO COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) – Drought has Lake Buchanan revealing some of its deepest secrets. The town of Old Bluffton and parts of the cemetery last seen in the 1930s have re-emerged now that water levels have dropped by 30 feet.

This is allowing Alfred Hallmark, a local historian and a descendant of Old Bluffton founders, to walk through the town.

“It is a rare opportunity to see how our ancestors lived,” explained Hallmark, who has visited the site three times since the 1960s.

Extreme drought in Central Texas has actually resulted in this town resurfacing seven times.  Typically, it lies beneath 10 to 20 feet of water.  As of December, Lake Buchanan is down 30 feet — exposing never-before-seen artifacts and ruins.

Old Bluffton was founded in 1853. Ranching and farming was the way of life for the 50 families who called the town home. Then, in 1937, when the Colorado River was dammed, settlers were forced to move.

The latest re-emergence of this town turned up a tombstone belonging to Johnny Parks, a 1-year-old, who passed away in 1889. The last time the tombstone was visible was in 1937.

“You learn something new every time,” Hallmark said.

Parks’ body, along with 394 other bodies in the cemetery, were dug up and relocated to the new Bluffton settlement five miles away. There, all of the deceased were given new tombstones.

Still, the idea of seeing a ghost town and cemetery is drawing spectators.  Vanishing Texas River Cruise tour director Tim Mohan brings tourists to the area by boat three times a week.

“They are so excited,” he said. “There are dozens of things unearthed.”

Mohan said tourists are respectful of not picking up artifacts. The Lower Colorado River Authority has put up signs around the area warning people it is unlawful to take artifacts from the area.

Tourists are currently able to see the foundation of a former school, a water well, cemetery, a cotton gin and the foundation of an old corner store that includes a Texaco gas pump.

I’ve always had trouble with graves of very young children…I always wonder what caused their death? What happened to little Johnny Parks? Does anyone know?