cemetery parties

“More than a century ago, cemeteries were social hubs. They were often the greenest spots around. Families would visit on weekends for carriage rides, boating, or picnics by a loved one’s grave. Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery drew half a million visitors a year in the mid-19th century, on par with Niagara Falls.” According to an 8/12 Wall Street Journal article, cemetery socials are experiencing a resurgence. With more Americans opting for cremation, sales of burial plots are on the wane. All around the country prospective buyers have been lured to events on cemetery gounds, in the hopes that they might one day be chosen as final resting places. “In a marketing move that has drawn some criticism, graveyards across the nation are opening their grounds to concerts and clowns, barbecues and dance performances–anything that might bring happy families through the wrought-iron gates.”

At the Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, Colorado, Big Band tune “Swinging at the Savoy” rocks out while couples boogie in the aisles, chowing down  hot dogs, fried chicken and brownies. Cedar Hill Cemetery of Hartford, Connecticut “holds regular scavenger hunts.” Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles projects films on mausoleum walls during the summer, drawing thousands. Disabled children are invited to fish in “a serene pond amid the headstones” at Michigan Memorial Park in Flat Rock, Michigan. “So Davis Cemetery in Davis, Calif., plans poetry workshops, bird walks and art shows. Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Neb., hosts a Shakespeare festival and rents its quaint chapel for weddings. In Wheat Ridge, Colo., Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery staged a Memorial Day party with fireworks and sky divers. And Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery in Riverside, Calif., recently hosted its first fair, drawing a crowd of 700 for face painting, live rock and In-N-Out burgers.”

While cemetery superintendents want to become a greater presence in their communities, there are naysayers who feel that cemeteries are strictly for the dead. But with very few complaints being registered, festivities on burial grounds seem destined to remain a permanent fixture. As an attendee at a recent concert at Denver’s Fairmount Cemetery, entrepeneur Ken Katuin explained ” ‘People tend to go to places they’re familiar with…That’s why McDonald’s has Happy Meals. You start out there as a kid, you have a happy memory of the place, and then when you’re an adult, you keep coming back.’ …Standing outside the mortuary, Mr. Katuin looked at the couples strolling through the darkening graveyard to hear jazz. ‘Maybe this,’ he says, ‘is their Happy Meal.’ ”

On a recent trip to Orange County, California, to see our daughter perform as part of the National Choreographer’s Initiative, my husband granted my only wish for my 61st birthday, which occurred while we were there. We visited Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale. I’d wanted to see Michael Jackson’s burial site, but also glimpse where stars from the “Golden Age” of Hollywood were buried. I’d picked up a thick paperback from Barnes and Noble, which was like an encyclopedic “map” of historical celebrity sites, hangouts, studios, homes. Hollywood: The Movie lover’s Guide – The Ultimate Insider Tour of Movie L.A. by Richard Alleman, even detailed the specific locations where the famous were entombed. Book in hand we went on our very own scavenger hunt, seeking out dead people.

While we went scavenging, we saw families here and there, quietly laying out assorted picnic goodies for luncheon feasts. I also saw a young woman, sitting peacefully among some trees, eyes closed, in deep thought or maybe meditating. I felt such calm as I strode about, or glanced out the car window, thinking that this would be a wonderful place to rest in eternal peace. But I’m not convinced I’d move to traffic-ridden, smoggy Los Angeles just for the privilege of being interred in Forest Lawn.

but it does take your breath away, literally…hugmamma.

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