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Grave News, Issue #037 -- Wrestling with Dilemmas of the Dead
July 02, 2012

What's New?

In August, in honor of Colorado's Statehood anniversary, Look for free Obituaries at! If you've been wanting to try it out, you can do that for free in August!

If you didn't submit your story for the book project honoring the former caretaker of Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Cliff Dougal, you still have time! If you would like to submit a story Cliff told you, or tell one of your memories of Cliff, please use this submission form.

Featured Article

Wrestling with Dilemmas of the Dead

In the last week or so, two articles about cemeteries facing the encroachment of the outside world. The first one, was by the BBC, about a cemetery in London where thousands of graves are being moved to make way for a train line.

The article mentions the story months ago, about the cemetery near O'Hare airport in Chicago, which is trying to expand into the cemetery property.

Readers of this newsletter are, clearly people who love cemeteries. We have seen the challenges they face, not only due to the slow march of cities expanding into areas that were, centuries ago, rural, and were the quiet places where we laid our loved ones to rest. We've also seen the challenges they face with vandalism, neglect, and declining cash reserves to be able to maintain these hallowed resting spots in the manner we'd like to see them maintained.

In many ways, all of the earth is a cemetery. The ground on which we walk today, is likely to have been a burial spot for humans centuries before our ancestors came here. Even more so, cemeteries with monuments have been relocated for centuries, and that will probably always be true.

The old burying grounds in places such as Boston were even "tidied" up for tourist visits a few centuries ago, where all the stones were dug up and then placed at random in rows, so the headstones bear no relation to the remains underneath. All this to make it someplace that tourists could visit, and traffic around the most famous markers could be managed.

It is in the U.S. where we have had, until more recent times, an excess of land, that we've had semi-permanent burial places. In many places in Europe, this is unheard of, and people really only rent a burial spot, and after a few years, your lease is up, and your remains are evicted, so that the spot can be re-used.

However, to those of us who love these places, there is something about the old markers which really capture the sense of a place's history. It's a window into a place's community, and the idea of disrupting these places removes that direct line of historical continuity from the past to the present.

There is, really, an almost tangible sense of time and place in an old church yard, or burial ground. Those that know about the traditions of burial places know that there is a wealth of information that can be gleaned by the position of the burial lot with respect to some old burial grounds, including what type of profession the person had, and also how much money they gave to the church, how the people were related to each other, and even, in the event of epidemics or other tragedies, how the people died.

The second article I saw, about an issue closer to home, where cemeteries are considering selling the mineral rights to allow companies to drill *under* the cemetery, to extract valuable oil and gas.

The cemeteries can be well paid for these rights, and usually get an ongoing percentage of the proceeds from the drilling. This kid of money can kept a cemetery's budget funded for decades, in a time when fewer people are choosing burial, and are struggling to pay the ongoing costs of maintenance. These funds are very tempting for cemetery operators, even with the controversy they bring from family members and cemetery advocates.

The Gospel says "Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Which means it doesn't so much matter to the dead, and holding onto the past to tightly, well, it sometimes takes our eyes off the present.

As much as I'd like to preserve every cemetery, I understand the challenges that threaten them on every side, and the reality is, many will not survive, just as many have already been lost to us. In these situations, what I think matters most is treating the remains with respect, and that we remember the lessons taught by those who came before us. 

What are your feelings or thoughts on these situations? I'd love to know your thoughts!

Around the Web

In California, a great solution to two challenges as a homeless man trades caretaking for a cemetery for a roof over his head.

A group in El Paso, Texas is producing a bookwith pictures and stories on the old cemetery.

A documentation project in Oklahoma

Lovely photos of one of Europe's most significant cemeteries. This one is in Dublin.

Find us in Facebook!

More pictures! More discussion! More cemeteries! Introducing a new way to keep up with all the news, and even talk about the site with other "fans."

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