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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deadly dilemma

One of my favorite reads is The Wall Street Journal. “Whaaattt?” you ask. A middle-aged woman who’s been out of the work force for 24 years actually comprehends the white-collar worker’s “bible?” “No way!” you say.

I was a regular commuter to NYC for 11 years, first on the LIRR from Long Island, and then on Metro North from Connecticut. I trekked in and out with thousands of others, head down, nose to the grind. In the Big Apple I learned street smarts and corporate chicanery. I left the workforce as a paralegal for a major international airline for a better offer, motherhood. Best career move of my life. I happily set aside the Journal in favor of parenting books. More useful in my new job.

I don’t subscribe to magazines, newspapers and the like anymore. When I did, finding time to read them became another chore. Piles would accumulate, and so would my guilt. Hiding them away in cupboards and closets when company came only delayed the inevitable. Into the recycling bin they’d get tossed looking as fresh as when they were “hot off the press.”

Recently the Journal snuck into our house through the “back door”, my husband’s job. At first I thought he was bringing the office copy home to read. Eventually I noticed the paper appearing on the kitchen island when I awoke to make breakfast for myself. By then my husband had left for work. The Journal’s regular appearance made me suspicious so I confronted my husband. Not surprisingly, he assumed that I knew he had subscribed. What could I say when he explained that it was on his company’s “dime,” not ours.

Guess what? My guilt’s returned. A pile of newspapers is neatly stacked upon my desk awaiting my attention. Like I need to add to my household list of “Who Needs My Attention Now.” Does my spouse share my guilt? No. He’s perfectly content skimming the news summary on the first page. Well, it’s his loss. When I do get around to perusing the paper( in other words when I have the time), I always find little gems hidden away between the pages.

“Is There Life After Jim Thorpe For Jim Thorpe, Pa.?” is an intriguing story of 2 neighboring Pennsylvania towns bordering the Poconos, Mauch Chunk and East Mauch Chunk. In 1953 the citizens promised Thorpe’s widow that they would merge, becoming a new town named “Jim Thorpe.” In exchange she had to allow his bones to be buried there.  A suitable monument would be built to honor him. 

The Chunkers (as the townsfolk are known) felt that Thorpe, the 1912 Olympic winner of both the decathlon and pentathlon for track and field, would boost their tourism. Besides, they honored him. It didn’t matter that he  had no connection to the area whatsoever, and probably never paid a visit either.

Last month, one of Thorpe’s sons filed suit to have the town “surrender his father’s body so that it can be buried with other family members near Shawnee, Okla.” The locals agree. They claim that visitors go white-water rafting, see the fall foliage, tour mansions once owned by railroad barons, among other things. But Jim Thorpe’s memorial site is not prominent among them. The situation remains unresolved.

The article started me thinking about my own burial plans, and not for the first time. Where would I want to be interred? Or would I prefer cremation? Should my remains stay put, right here where I’ve lived for the past 12 years; or should they be returned to my birthplace? Who would visit my gravesite there? Should I consider ease of visitation for my daughter or my husband, if he outlives me? Does all this really matter once I’m gone? I won’t know where I am or who’s visiting? It would be nice if someone would leave flowers for me once in a while, fragrant ones. I like them best.

I may not be famous like Jim Thorpe, but we have one thing in common. It’s uncertain where his final resting place will be, just as I’m uncertain about mine. However the difference, a biggie, is that I can choose; he can’t.

what do you think…hugmamma.