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Cemeteries Hold Parties to Die For -
Category: News
Cemeteries Hold Parties to Die For

To Attract Future Customers, Cemeteries Hold Parties to Die For

The tissues tucked discreetly at the end of each pew were being used not to dab at tears, but to wipe away fried chicken crumbs. And as the big band burst into "Swinging at the Savoy," two couples?one with dog in tow?jumped up to boogie in the aisles.

It was just another rocking evening at Fairmount Cemetery.

In a marketing move that has drawn some criticism, graveyards across the nation are opening their grounds to concerts and clowns, barbecues and dance performances?anything that might bring happy families through the wrought-iron gates.

The goal: to nurture warm feelings about the cemetery, in hopes that folks who come to cheer sky-divers today will return in more somber tomorrows.

"It gets them into the cemetery, but not in a scary way, and if they have a nice experience, maybe they'll say, 'I want my family there,' " explains William F. Griswold, Jr., executive superintendent of Cedar Hill Cemetery in Hartford, Conn., which holds regular scavenger hunts.

A few cemeteries have been doing such outreach for years. Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles draws thousands to summertime films projected on mausoleum walls. Michigan Memorial Park in Flat Rock, Mich., has long invited disabled children to fish at a serene pond amid the headstones.

But the trend seems to be accelerating, industry leaders say. Because more Americans are opting for cremation, demand for burial plots has been slack. To attract more customers, cemetery superintendents say they must lighten up their image.

So Davis Cemetery in Davis, Calif., plans poetry workshops, bird walks and art shows. Wyuka Cemetery in Lincoln, Neb., hosts a Shakespeare festival and rents its quaint chapel for weddings. In Wheat Ridge, Colo., Olinger Crown Hill Cemetery staged a Memorial Day party with fireworks and sky divers.

And Evergreen Memorial Historic Cemetery in Riverside, Calif., recently hosted its first fair, drawing a crowd of 700 for face painting, live rock and In-N-Out burgers. The audience skewed young, but organizer Stephen Whyld feels certain the fair will boost business in the long run. "A lot of these families have parents and grandparents, right?" he asks.

Cemetery superintendents plan many of their festivities for evenings, when they aren't likely to interrupt a funeral. Daytime events are often staged in the oldest sections of the graveyard, which tend to draw the fewest mourners.

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