Can a cemetery be more than death plots?

A cemetery is a destination venue, but perhaps there are better ways to attract people to them than dying and funerals.

That’s the most fascinating aspect of the brouhaha over plans for a hot rod show at a Roseville cemetery: its directors want people to come visit without having it be about dying.

The Pioneer Press reports today, though, that the first attempt to do that failed with the announcement that the car show has been canceled over protests.

The show wasn’t going to be held on gravesites; it would stage at a buffer strip between Larpenteur and the dearly departed. Too close, the community said after plans were publicized, raising the question: how close wouldn’t be too close?

This is the thing with cemeteries; they are unproductive real estate. You buy a little plot, you bury a person, and then nothing happens on the property… forever.

On its Facebook page, the Roselawn Cemetery board said it wanted to make the place “less intimidating.”

Dear Roselawn friends and neighbors,

Today, your board of directors met today to discuss this weekend’s planned car show. After a lengthy discussion around this event, the board voted unanimously to cancel this event. We want you to know of this decision, to hear our reasons and our plans moving forward.

Our discussion and decision were informed and assisted by the calls, e-mails and posting we’ve received on this topic. Pro or con, we have listened to and read each person’s point of view and we are grateful to everyone who took the time to share their perspective.

The car show event was conceived as a way to achieve several positive objectives. First, we are always looking for ways to connect to our neighbors and our community. A car show is the sort of event that has been done successfully for years at other cemeteries around the country and it seemed like a good way to invite people out to enjoy a beautiful Saturday in a charming, out-of-the-way part of our campus. The location we chose for the show was approximately 100 yards from any lot and is easily accessed without interrupting any other visitors.

Second, we saw an opportunity to partner with a local organization for a good cause. As you may have read, all of the proceeds from Saturday’s event were intended to benefit the Minnesota Street Rod Association’s college fund.

Third, we saw Saturday’s event as one small step in our efforts to make cemeteries less intimidating and forbidding for some members of our community. We want people to see Roselawn as we do, as a place of joyful remembrance and celebration, where families and friends can be closer to loved ones and, in turn, closer to one another.

These are good reasons for hosting the show, objectives the board still supports. Even so, we believe those reasons must be subordinated to the concerns voiced by some members of our community; any positives we might gain would be more than offset by the knowledge that we had caused someone distress. For that reason, we decided to cancel the event.

Please know that it was never our intention to do anything that would be disrespectful or disruptive to any visitor or to the memory of any loved one. To anyone whom we inadvertently offended, we offer our sincere apologies. In addition, we plan to make a contribution on behalf of our members to the Minnesota Street Rod Association’s college fund so that their good work can continue to be supported.

As we noted above, we are still very interested in finding new and creative ways to connect with the community. To that end, in the near future we plan to host an open house (a “town hall” in the words of one lot owner) where any interested party can contribute their ideas and perspectives. Roselawn has been – and will continue to be – successful if we maintain a respectful and collaborative dialogue among lot owners, neighbors and the community. Look for more details soon. We welcome any opportunity to expand our relationship and to learn how we can better serve you.

Thank you.
Scott J. Spaeth, President Board of Trustees Roselawn
Larry P. Hudella, Superintendent

And so the cemetery is back where it started: How can it be something more than a dying place?

There’s always Pokemon.

  • Rob

    I blame James Dean. If he hadn’t played a fatal game of Chicken in Rebel Without a Cause and then done a “life imitates art” turn by dying in his sports car, maybe people would be less uptight about having a hot rod show near The Final Destination.

  • MrE85
  • Mike

    This is a great argument for cremation.

  • MrE85

    You can hear the roar of the Indy 500 race cars from my sister’s grave, which is near Speedway, IN. As a longtime sports fan, I think she would have liked that.

    There is a fair amount of tourism at my father and grandparent’s cemetery. In addition to my family, there are the graves of gangster John Dillinger, poet James Whitcomb Riley, and U.S. president Benjamin Harrison.

  • Anna

    I have never been comfortable with the custom of having a wake and having people file by an open casket.

    When my father died in Louisiana back in January, the family had a brouhaha over whether to have him embalmed. There was great concern about my need to say a final goodbye. I let them know in no uncertain terms I had no desire to see my father’s lifeless body lying in a casket. I wanted to remember him as he was when I was giving him nursing care 6 years ago in an attempt to get his bladder function back to normal after radiation for prostate cancer.

    At that time, he was very lucid and relatively happy and living with my oldest sister in New Orleans. He is buried in the Louisiana Veterans Cemetery north of Baton Rouge near Zachary. My mother’s ashes, finally found after the LSU Medical School was flooded during Katrina were recently interred with my father’s remains at the cemetery.

    I suppose a veteran’s cemetery is more revered that most but they too can be disrespected as in the case of Captain Khan and the controversy involving Gold Star mothers. There was no earthly reason to take a picture of the soldier’s grave in Arlington. It just added insult to injury.

    A cemetery is not a place for a car show no matter how well intended. Cemeteries are places for reflection and remembrance. If a hundred people do a stupid thing, it is still a stupid thing.

    As for myself, I plan to be cremated and then have a memorial service if my son desires it.

  • Andy

    It wasn’t uncommon in days of old to have picnics in cemeteries. Granted, that’s not on the same level of garishness as a car show. But tastes are subjective and change over time.

    • Kassie

      And the Pioneer and Soldier Cemetery does music, movies and food trucks in the cemetery. And I have no problem with a car show especially since one of the founders of the car club is buried there. Cemeteries should be used like parks and we shouldn’t be so doom and gloom about final resting places. (Hi Andy!)

  • Dave S.

    Yes, cemeteries take up a lot of space, but they have a specific purpose. Why do they need to be anything more than that? Especially something as unrelated as a car show.

    • In this case, the car show wasn’t TRULY unrelated. One of the founding members of that car group is buried there.

      • Dave S.

        So if Keith Moon were buried there would it be OK to have a Who concert there?

  • Just do what I did with my father’s ashes…chuck them off the top of the Eiffel Tower.

    /Yes, we did that
    //No, it’s not legal

  • Al

    What if the car show were to be held at Fort Snelling? How would that change things? (And I’m sure there are plenty of classic car aficionados buried at Fort Snelling, if that’s your defense.)

    • My WW2 group has participated in special events at FSNC. We have even brought out several vehicles on those occasions.

      As I have already stated, I don’t have a problem with a cemetery holding an event just as long as it’s set apart from the actual gravesite.

      /Most of my dad is buried at Ft. Snelling National Cemetery, the part not chucked off the Eiffel Tower.

      • Al

        Last time I checked, WWII vehicles were actually used in war. Classic cars, not so much. (And for the love, please don’t trot out photos of just cars during the wars).

        • I guess you can’t really tell that I have absolutely no problem with a cemetery having “events” away from the grave sites even though I’ve already stated that several times in this thread.

          So i’ll state it one more time:

          I have absolutely no problem with a cemetery having “events” provided the events are apart from the grave sites themselves.

          • Al

            No, you’ve been very opaque with your opinion. I have no clue what you really mean.

          • MarkUp

            There are other things in a cemetery other than the grave plots (answering in part the question posed by the title of the post); Onan is saying he’s fine with those structures hosting events that aren’t strictly funeral related, so long as you can still visit the graves of a loved one in peace. Looking at the Lakewood Cemetery website, you can take a horse drawn carriage ride through the cemetery; you can have a wedding at the cemetery (not sure about the reception); you can take an educational tour of other people’s graves. So long as you’re not driving over graves and disturbing visitors, why not a car show?

            On an unrelated note, what’s at the Krogness grave site?

          • Al

            Boy, I still don’t understand. Please explain further.

          • Sorry – Disqus seems to be freaking out. I certainly didn’t mean to post that more than once.

        • I guess I’m not making myself clear so I’ll state my position one more time:

          I don’t have a problem with a cemetery holding an event just as long as it’s set apart from the actual gravesite.

          /Our vehicles have also participated in “Car Shows” as well

          • Al

            Yeah, I really have no clue what you mean. Maybe say it a few more times.

  • Barton

    When I travel places (London, Paris, Moscow, even DC, NY, Boston and Savannah), I visit cemeteries. They are interesting places to visit – older ones have great art/statuary, many have famous people, and many have interesting rituals.

    For example, every November 16th, people gather at Johnny Mercer’s grave at Bonaventure Cemetery in Savannah, GA. and sing his songs (it’s his birthday), drink cocktails and generally have a party. Pere LaChaise Cemetery in Paris is one of the most visited locations in the city (listed as an actual “tourist location,” in fact). While walking Bonaventure, we met many people who came to have picnics with “friends who lived there.” I even had drinks with one family that was celebrating the “deathiversary” (their word) of a relative who had died in the 1810s – it was a family tradition.

    I think the Board had a good point about making cemeteries less threatening/more inviting. Pioneers and Soldiers in Minneapolis has movie nights and history tours: this should be repeated elsewhere, I believe, if nothing more than for a educational experience.

  • Mike Worcester

    I’ll admit I was a bit surprised by the negative reaction to the proposed event. It made me wonder if reverence for the departed should always be done in silence and with contemplative reflection.

    Not even a century ago, it was quite common to photograph the dead in their caskets, very often with the entire family lined up around it. Now we seem to shroud and hide death in a way that it seems distant and unattached.

    I’ve made it abundantly clear that in the event of my demise, there should be a party, where people can celebrate life and laugh a lot and cry if they want to and even say a few snarky words.

    At least that is how I want to go. 🙂

  • MarkUp

    //Roselawn has been – and will continue to be – successful…

    What exactly constitutes a “successful” cemetery?

    • Jeff R.

      No zombies lumbering around…

      • Rob

        Could have sworn I saw Buffy the Vampire Slayer up at the Roseville Cemetery the other night…

  • Jeff C.

    Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass. is an absolutely lovely place to visit. Amazing plants. Lovely gravestones. A butterfly garden. A stone tower to climb. My family used to go there every spring to enjoy the lovely setting.

  • Lois G

    I am a historian and live in South St. Paul. Today this never happens but there are many photographs from the early 1900s of families enjoying a picnic lunch near the grave of a loved one – the children running around on the grassy hills and everyone having a happy time in a place of grief – Oak Hill Cemetery was the place to party in the past.