When I was a teenager, my friend Spring and I would often drive her Crown Victoria to the local cemetery after school. We would park by the headstones of Mr. Smith and Mrs. Crouch, lay out a blanket to sit on, and talk for an hour, with cottonwood leaves rustling overhead. It was a beautiful spot that had open views of the western sky—an oasis in our blue-collar town.
The idea that cemeteries are valuable public real estate, worthy of use beyond burial and mourning, has been around for centuries. Peter Harnik and Aric Merolli of Landscape Architecture write, “Before there were public parks, cemeteries were the primary manicured and sculpted green spaces within cities.”
Today protocols for the public use of cemetery land are remarkably varied. According to Harnik and Merolli:
Unconventional cemetery use is experiencing a resurgence, as a growing number of cemeteries embrace their roles as public spaces. Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, Connecticut, hosts jazz concerts; Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York, holds elaborate puppet shows (one is pictured above); and Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Nebraska, welcomes theatrical performances from Flatwater Shakespeare.
Though family rights can be an issue when deciding how graveyard grounds can be used, most cemetery boards don’t hear negative feedback. Bob Hall, the director of Flatwater Shakespeare, offers his wholehearted approval. Hall’s mother and father are buried at Wyuka, and he often notes, “I asked my parents, and they didn’t say anything.”
Source: Landscape Architecture Magazine (subscription required)