04 July 2007

Cemetery Power

One of my favourite subjects again ... The New York Times 25 May 2007 had a lovely article (“Cemeteries Seek Breathing Clientele”) by Patricia Leigh Brown in Philadelphia. Hardly breaking news to family historians that cemeteries are heritage sites and deserve attention! We struggle to save abandoned cemeteries and fight municipal bureaucracies that favour development over respect for the deceased. Now, the boards of historic cemeteries have created novel fund raising ways for the necessary upkeep. I quote:

“Historic cemeteries, desperate for money to pay for badly needed restorations, are reaching out to the public in ever more unusual ways, with dog parades, bird-watching lectures, Sunday jazz concerts, brunches with star chefs, Halloween parties in the crematory and even a nudie calendar. Laurel Hill, the resting place of six Titanic victims, promotes itself as an 'underground museum.' The sold-out Titanic dinner, including a tour of mausoleums, joined the 'Dead White Republicans' tour ('the city’s power brokers, in all their glory and in all their shame'), the 'Birding Among the Buried' tour, and 'Sinners, Scandals and Suicides,' including a visit to the grave of 'a South Philly gangster who got whacked when he tried to infiltrate the Schuylkill County numbers racket.'

“Some cemeteries are betting on infotainment. At Heritage Day last weekend at the 200-year-old Congressional Cemetery in Washington, a 70-piece marching band serenaded the grave of John Philip Sousa, and dog owners held a parade for dogs dressed as historical cemetery personages, including a Union soldier.”

Great stuff. The mind boggles with rapture at the nascent possibilities. Guelph, Ontario, was a leader here with creative tours of Woodlawn Cemetery that feature the raising of the dead in period dress and their tales of miscreants, mystery or mayhem (the ideal ancestors). The old burial ground at St. James Cathedral in Toronto still contains the bones of first citizens of the historic town of York under its adjacent lawns and parking lots. I'm all for a son et lumiere spectacle at the Cathedral reenacting ancient duels, distillery building, cholera shed workers, free speech at bar-room gatherings, temperance complaints, and other tranches de vie.

Unfortunately, this is not a photo of burials at St. James, because no stones are left to mark the remaining forgotten who were never transferred to newer cemeteries. Brenda has substituted a photo from a Loyalist burial ground in Bear River, Nova Scotia.

Nevertheless, family historians, take note of fundraising and fun. GO, cemetery directors!

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