VOL. 18  ISSUE NO. 27   |   JULY 4 – 10, 2012


Cemetery etiquette, respecting the dead

‘One can tell the morals of a culture by the way they treat their dead’ ~ Benjamin Franklin
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playing at a cemetaryThis large group of visitors to Greenwood Memory Lane Cemetery in Phoenix, set up shade structures and picnic tables and while the adults imbibed on coolers full of Bud Lite, the children played with a soccer ball, had water fights and ran throughout cemetery.  Courtesy photos

PHOENIX – Flag etiquette and hat etiquette are subjects I’ve covered from time to time over the past decade.

During the past week a reader, who asked not to be identified, brought up the need to educate people on cemetery etiquette.

The reader, who we’ll call Bob, was visiting his mother’s grave at Greenwood Memory Lawn Cemetery located at 719 N. 27th Ave., Phoenix on June 24 and was so outraged by the group’s behavior he felt compelled to document it both with photos and video.

Bob documented a large group of adults and children, ranging in age from toddlers to teens, who had two shade structures staked in the ground in the middle of the cemetery.

They appeared to be having a picnic, complete with watermelon and several coolers full of Bud Lite.

Bob watched as the children ran throughout the cemetery, over numerous gravesites, playing with a soccer ball and having water fights using plastic water bottles.

He then saw an adult escort a toddler over to a tree where the little girl urinated.

Many personal friends and readers have loved ones buried at Greenwood, several of whom were veterans.

dancing, trash at a cemetaryOn July 1, this group of visitors left the doors of their vehicle open to blast music from their stereo to dance to as they drank beer and partied at a gravesite, leaving empty beer bottles and trash behind.

During a subsequent visit on July 1, Bob said he couldn’t help but notice a small group of adults who arrived at a different gravesite. He documented this event with photos and video as well.

This group arrived and left their car doors open so the blaring music from the radio could be heard far and wide.

Another person in a pickup truck drove up onto the lawn a short while afterward to deliver beer to the party. He then moved his truck and parked on the street.

The partiers drank beer, danced to the music, had a little make-out session and left empty beer bottles and garbage behind at the grave of Velda Jane Montoya.

David Walker, general manager of Greenwood, was provided photos and a link to the video on YouTube.

In an e-mail response, Walker wrote, “We try to watch for these instances, so Greenwood staff can stop the children, music and alcohol in the cemetery. We had signs posted and they disappeared, but we have new signs on order and should be here by Wednesday.

When they first disappeared, we thought we had stopped this issue, but obviously we need to continue our concentrated focus. This happened under the watch of the maintenance department.”

He said he met with maintenance staff, showed them the video and explained “this is not to happen again.”

Walker said he always tries to have the cemetery under the watch of maintenance or the cemetery’s security officer but stated if anything like what was in the video ever happens again to let the office know immediately so they can take care of the situation.

Bob said both groups treated the cemetery as if they were having a Sunday outing at Encanto Park.

However, he pointed out the rules at Encanto Park do not allow any tents or structures to be staked in the ground, requires a $12.50 permit for beer and prohibits glass containers.

Encanto also requires permits and reservations for the use of its athletic fields.

While every cemetery usually has its own set of posted rules, there are numerous cemeteries and organizations, from the International Association of Cemetery Preservationists (IACP) to ghost hunters to taphophiles (those who have a passion for funerals, gravestone art, epitaphs and cemeteries) that have published “Cemetery Etiquette.”

In fact, Dear Abby addressed the issue in July 2011 after receiving a letter from a reader in Ohio complaining about how a local cemetery, which contains old headstones from the 1800s, has become a favorite place for many to use as a dog park, ride bikes and allow children to play.

The letter-writer said, “I was taught that in a cemetery, people should behave as if they are in a church. It upsets me to see this place used as a playground. This is a final resting place!”

Abby responded by stating, “Cemetery etiquette is simple: Treat the graves as you would the graves of your parents, or as you would like your own to be treated. This includes no loud chatter, in case there are people in mourning there, not walking on the graves, not leaving chewing gum on the gravestones, keeping pets leashed (if they are brought there at all), and teaching children the difference between a cemetery and a playground.”

IACP’s cemetery etiquette list includes:
  • Do not bring alcohol, firearms or entertainment items into cemeteries.
  • Maintain supervision of children and teach them to respect the dead.
  • Do not litter, this includes cigarette butts.
  • Keep your vehicle on designated roadways or in parking areas.
  • Do not use cemeteries as a camping ground or lover’s lane
  • Picnics are usually acceptable as long as you clean up afterwards.
  • Turn off your car radio/stereo while driving or parking in cemeteries.

Jackson Funeral Chapels opens its “Cemetery Etiquette” with the statement, “A cemetery is a unique place. While it is part of the everyday scene, it is not part of everyday life. That is to say, it is a place where tranquility and quiet are the desired norm, and activities of everyday life should be suspended.”

Its list begins with, “Be sympathetic. Do not play loud music in cars with the windows down for everyone to hear.”

It goes on to ask visitors to “Keep children in check. No running, yelling, rolling around on the ground. This is not a place for childhood games. Don’t let them play on the monuments. While it’s good to get children used to paying respects at a cemetery, they often don’t fully understand the meaning of everything in the cemetery.”

Jackson also states, “Common sense leads you to know the basic shape of a grave; walk in between the headstones and don’t stand on top of a burial place.”

Saveagrave.net states, “If you bring children, keep them nearby and don’t let them play on any of the monuments. This is not only disrespectful, but may cause damage to the stone. Teach them to have respect in any cemetery … a cemetery is not a playground and should not be treated as such.”

Included in alsirat.com’s “Cemetery Etiquette: Rules for Taphophiles and Tourists,” is: “Don’t treat a cemetery visit as a party: avoid use of all varieties of drugs, including alcohol.”

“Cemetery Etiquette Tips” at Cemeteryseeker.com includes: “Don’t bring your beer into the cemetery. I try my hardest not to judge others, but when I see you walking around with Pabst Blue Ribbon in your hand letting your dog poop in front of grave stones … Well, I fail at that whole not judging thing. Then I feel bad. So, please don’t do it.”

While the list also admonishes against smoking, talking loudly and not cleaning up after pets, it concludes with, “And for God’s sake, control your children!”

Benjamin Franklin stated, “One can tell the morals of a culture by the way they treat their dead.”

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