The role of cemeteries in society has changed over the last century. Burial grounds of the Victorian era were used to host cemetery picnics, family gatherings, and leisurely strolls. Cemeteries are known for their well-polished pathways and floral motifs. With such a welcoming atmosphere, it begs the question: is it OK to walk in a cemetery?

Cemeteries of today are aiming to put the stigma of doom and gloom between the tombs to rest. Honoring traditional graveyard values, many memorial parks are inviting visitors to rest in peaceful scenery. Some cemeteries have hosted charity marathons, making swinging by for some exercise even easier. Looking for guidance to navigate the graveyard? Read on, and prepare your next trip to your local memorial park.

Picture It: Parks of the PastWhen Crypts Were the Place to Be

A hundred years ago, it was not uncommon to find yourself invited to a cemetery picnic. This may sound like a macabre way to spend an afternoon, but there was reason behind the rapidly spreading fad. In the late 1800s, epidemics were ravaging the country. Many loved ones were lost in succession to the wrath of yellow fever or cholera. Socializing in cemeteries was a way to bond, bereave, and break bread with family, both living and beyond the grave.

Another reason graveyards increasingly attracted visitors was due to the rural cemetery movement in America. Burial grounds had always had a somber reputation. Conjoined to church grounds, graveyards were once steeped with skull and crossbones symbolism. But with new cities came new cemeteries. This movement transformed memorial grounds into lush acres spotlighting gardens, pathways, and comfort. The cemetery became a destination for those craving escape from city life or some serenity amongst the monuments and marble.  

Why Did We Stop Dining With the Dead?

The popularity of cemetery picnics began to peter off in the late 1920s. This was mainly due to public parks that had started popping up across the country. As populations in cities grew, the desire for more outdoor living spaces skyrocketed. This drove city planners to design additional accommodations from cemeteries. With more options for walking paths and picnic benches, cemeteries were reduced to a mere setting for burial remains.

With the 20th century also came many medical advancements. Enhanced understanding of healthcare resulted in more control over the epidemics. As early death rates began to decrease, including deceased family members in festivities and gatherings fell out of fashion. Cemetery picnics had begun to lose their appeal, and mourners took their celebrations elsewhere.

The Mausoleums of the Modern DayNot All Tradition Is Lost

Today, there are still opportunities to experience an authentic picnic in a cemetery. Cemeteries like the Sunset Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary still operate under the historic precedent of the Victorian era. This cemetery encourages guests to wander the acres of nature and enjoy the scenic environment from under the shady canopy of trees.

Activities in the Catacombs

Some cemeteries have begun hosting events, welcoming the public to come peruse the grounds. Efforts are made to host events that are true to the mission of the cemetery; to celebrate life and serve families. Cemetery-hosted events help ensure that memorial parks remain relevant, and that places of rest continue to harbor meaningful connections for the community.

These cemeteries host a variety of events such as guided tours, antique car shows, memorial day ceremonies, as well as live music. In addition to picnics and cloud gazing, visitors of the cemetery may use the setting for exercise. The increase of joggers has inspired some cemeteries to host 5k runs for charity.

Cultural Inclusion

Offering these spaces is also inclusive of other cultures. Some communities carry on the traditions of their hometowns, which includes dining with the deceased. Latin American families unite to honor the lives of the departed annually on All Saints' Day.

The living share a meal among the dead, making sure to leave offerings of food and drink behind for the souls of their ancestors. Greek customs also encourage families to sup amongst the mausoleums the first Sunday after Easter.

Designing With Dignity

In some parts of America, new cemeteries are constructed with community in mind. While designing, memorial grounds draft out seating, picnic tables, and structures for shade. With all these efforts to provide comfort, it's no wonder cemetery picnics are making a comeback. So how do you hold your own picnic in the catacombs? We're glad you asked.

How to Have a Cemetery PicnicFamiliarize Yourself in Advance

Traditionally, the cemetery's front entrance would supply all the information you need. However, most cemetery's these days provide this information on their website. If you look up the cemetery online, you will find their list of rules and policies as well as their hours of operation. More advanced websites may offer virtual tours. Headstone searches may also be available to locate your loved one's place of rest on the cemetery map.

Some cemeteries have differing accommodations and procedures, so be sure to read the policies with care. Policies may include instructions for gatherings, or the allowance of pets (such as dogs). In the event that your selected cemetery does not have an adequate online presence, a simple phone call to the grounds should suffice to gather information.

Your Party and Cemetery Etiquette

Consider inviting your family and friends to accompany you amongst the headstones. If you are paying your respects to someone you once knew, having your loved ones present may be a great comfort. Make an effort to advise your party of cemetery etiquette and any policies that may be imposed. Some of your attendees may also be new to cemeteries. Clarifying what to expect will ensure everyone enjoys a more comfortable visit.

With larger groups of people, be aware of the volume of your party. If your party includes small children, keep a watchful eye on them. Other cemetery attendees may find children running, shouting, or playing by the graves to be disruptive. Take time to discuss with children the purpose behind burial plots, and the need to be respectful.

Keep Cars on the Path

When driving, be sure to follow the paved path. Refrain from driving on the grass or over any grave sites. Drive slowly and be watchful for any people who might not be attentive to their surroundings. If the path is narrow and another car approaches, offer to move your car off to the side until the other driver can pass. Memorial parks are a peaceful place where families come to honor and reminisce. Please remain calm and courteous.

Be Respectful of Your Surroundings

When navigating the grounds, be mindful to not damage any graves or monuments. Touching headstones that don't belong to you or your family is extremely disrespectful. In some cases, handling memorial pieces may cause damage. Older, historic memorials may be in disrepair and could potentially fall apart with even the slightest brush. If you come across any objects or decorations on or near a grave site, leave it where it is.

Burial plots come in all shapes and sizes, and some may be harder to see than others. Walking between headstones is a welcomed activity, as long as discretion is used. Respectfully refrain from standing on top of a burial place.

Be Respectful of Other Mourners

Although cemeteries can be arranged to feel like a park, not every visitor will be there for leisure. Be respectful of other visitor's space as some may be grieving or desire privacy. If a funeral is occurring, be mindful to not get in the way of the procession or burial. Speaking in a low voice and ensuring your cell phone ringer is turned off is a fine way to respectfully share the space.

Keep the Gave Sites Clean

After you enjoy your meal, remember to tidy up and dispose of all litter. We want to maintain these beautiful spaces to gather and celebrate. It's unfair to expect cemetery officials to clean up after visitor's food, bottles, and other debris. Consider packing garbage bags, or an eco-conscious lunch with reusable containers. Most cemeteries provide trash cans across the grounds that are easily accessible. Working together to cultivate clean and pristine cemeteries is beneficial for all.

We believe walking in cemeteries is a crucial inclusion to our modern grieving process. There is great benefit to reestablishing the traditional purpose behind the cemetery picnic. Bonding with loved ones, both living and passed, is an emotional need that must be fulfilled.

There is much potential for the rolling acres within cemetery gates. Inviting art, music, and company into the catacombs is a movement rapidly gaining traction. There's no better place to do all the things that make us feel most alive... than a place that reminds us how valuable our time is. True closure occurs when we make memorial spaces more about living than dying. Pack your picnic, and visit Sunset Hills Memorial Park today.