In these modern fast-paced times, many of us are too busy to visit living relatives, much less to go to a cemetery to pay respects to the deceased. If you did manage to find the time to visit someones tombstone, would you feel comfortable whipping out a chicken wing while you were admiring the inscription, or do believe that other visitors would shake their heads in dismay and make comments about 'disrespecting the dead?'
Would you let your children run around like wild banshees, playing hide and seek behind the mausoleums, or would you give them the look of death which made them think that if they wandered two feet away from you that they would be visiting again sooner than they thought?
If you chose the first part of each question, then you would have fit right in with Victorian society. Cemeteries were popular daytime excursions for families who treated them more like parks than museums. It was common for people to take picnics to the cemetery and lunch among the beautiful ornate tombs and headstones. Children would play and run about, lovers would stroll, and people would spend time talking with each other about the latest news. The dead were not only being remembered by the living, but were being included in the latter's everyday lives.
It is hard to tell just when all of this changed. Now, if you visit a cemetery, chances are that you will be the only one there. No longer do people picnic, children play, or lovers stroll through the grounds. Many of these final resting places seem to be overcrowded with headstones, the older markers damaged, vandalized or destroyed by the elements. They have become lonely symbols of death and sadness instead of gathering places to celebrate life and commiserate with the dead.
Some historical societies are bringing back the practice of picnics in the cemeteries. Preservation groups are working to save and preserve older tombstones for present and future generations. There are also companies that work to clean the markers of lichen, dirt, and other marring done to the tombstones to restore their beauty and make them legible. This is especially important in genealogy, because the names, dates and relationships on these graves offer vital clues in family research.
Hopefully, the tradition of cemeteries as parks will be revived.These forgotten areas are excellent repositories of historical information and beauty. Of course, I don't want to see them overcrowded with beer-guzzling ne'er do wells and rug rats who don't know how to behave themselves while they are playing, but I would like to see those who appreciate the past be able to take a few hours of their busy lives to relax in a beautiful setting, remember the dead, and enjoy their chicken wings.