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CEMETERY TOURISM

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 tourists.

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 York.

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 many.

Following objections, Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn had to drop plans to show horror films.
 

 

 

 
         
 

 

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