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
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
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