Friday, November 7, 2008

Welcome to "Whistling Past the Graveyard"

Where do we go when we die, I once asked a room full of planning experts.
Their response was as quiet as a cemetery. I think they thought I was a bit of a loon, who had slipped into their midst.
In reality, I simply was a budding GIS student, coming off my first class in the subject: Land Use, at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. For my research project, I discovered that while cemeteries might be one of the most common land uses in a community, they are definitely under the radar when it comes to planning, smart growth, development and other related fields.
I didn't leave them squirming in their seats for long -- I basically told them what I just told you: that cemeteries are not much talked about in planning circles.
Cemeteries, in fact, are very much a part of the community fabric in many ways:
> They often take up prime real estate, and many are tax-exempt, which makes it tougher on ratable-starved towns.
> Without proper care, they can fall into disrepair and become havens of neglect and criminal activity, which costs countless hours for caretakers, community organizers and law enforcement.
> In some urban areas, they can be the only green spaces on the landscape.
> Older cemeteries can be potentially hazardous to your health -- arsenic was once the embalming substance of choice, and there are stories that some archeologists wear hazmat suits for their work.
> Some of the newest are returning to the oldest ways, via the natural burial movement.
> Cemeteries, particularly the expansive, landscaped ones, can be havens for myriad forms of wildlife.
> In many communities, cemeteries hold an important place in the historic, tourism and cultural landscapes.
In short, they are essential. We, um, can't live without them.
In the last 18 months or so, I've read and gathered a number of articles and links about cemeteries. As this blog gets up and running, I will add some of the best to this site, as well as offer new reports.
My goal is to offer both original content and the best of cemetery reporting from around the world. If I'm capable, I'd like to expand this to offer calendar items and other news of interest to my fellow taphophiles.
So enjoy.
Photo credit: New York Times


Jen said...

great blog, I have been reading all morning - I live in NJ as well, in Burlington County, and go to school at GCC. Let me know if you have any cemetery excursions planned, last big one I took was to Harleigh in Camden, and most recently to a small burial ground near Ancora State Hospital - it may have been where some of the patients were buried. Cemeteries have always been a great interest of mine.

jxnfan said...

I photograph cemeteries as a hobby. I'm particulary drawn to those in Europe and the American South. The stories of entire families can be followed in old cemeteries. I'm sorry these new ones with identical flat markers won't provide the same sense of history for future generations.