Cemetery tourism catches on in US
29 May, 2007
Historic cemeteries in the United
States have found novel ways to find
money for the much-needed restoration.
The unusual activities at historic
cemeteries include dog parades,
bird-watching lectures, jazz concerts,
brunches with star chefs, Halloween
parties and even a calendar featuring
women in nude! Cemetery managements,
hard-pressed for money, are looking at
unusual ways to lure the living to the
abode of the dead.
At the recent culmination of Titanic
Day, Laurel Hill Cemetery joined the
growing number of historic cemeteries
which are rebranding themselves as
‘destination necropolises’ for weekend
As more and more Americans prefer
cremation to burial and as many
historic structures are either
disintegrating or are falling victim
to vandalism, Victorian cemeteries
like Laurel Hill and Green-Wood in
Brooklyn are doing whatever they can
to consolidate their customer base –
like projecting themselves as
repositories of architectural and
sculptural treasures, like weeping
marble maidens atop tombs.
A grand brunch was held in April 2007
at the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, New
The Oakwood Cemetery, built in 1848,
has burial space for the next 200
years and an annual operating deficit
of over $100,000, according to the
president of the board of trustees.
To raise its profile and money, the
Oakwood Cemetery is planning to stage
a Renaissance fair in the summer of
2007, with jousting matches among
knights in shining armor. The event
has been inspired by a medieval-style
wedding there, for which the groom
made his own armor.
Gary Laderman, a professor of religion
at Emory University and the author of
Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of
Death and the Funeral Home in the 20th
Century, says there is “a sense in
which, like sex, death sells.”
Laderman also sees cemetery tourism as
an opportunity for civic engagement.
The mobility of society and the growth
of the death care industry have served
to isolate these historically
significant places from the
mainstream, he says.
However, there are some who think that
cemeteries are sacred spaces, and that
Halloween flashlight tours and
historical re-enactors jumping out
from behind tombs are crossing the
line and in bad taste.
A fund-raising calendar for Oakwood
Cemetery in Troy, brought out in 2005
and said to be inspired by the movie
Calendar Girls and featuring
socialites who appeared to be naked,
had raised voices of protest from
Following objections, Green-Wood
Cemetery in Brooklyn had to drop plans
to show horror films.