We tend nowadays to think of cemeteries as spooky, abandoned places. We visit them only when obligated -or dared- to, and we dread thinking about our own final resting place. That wasn’t the case in the past, when death was a bigger part of everyone’s life. We had more children, more relatives, more disease, and having a place to put our deceased was a real concern. The cemeteries we set aside for them were nice places, like parks. In an era when there weren’t enough green spaces set aside for the living, cemeteries were used as parks, for relaxing, picnicking, family reunions, and socializing.
When it comes to green spaces, we’re a bit spoilt in New York City. There are over 1,700 parks (even if it doesn’t always feel that way) for our picnics, parties, and general frolicking to unfold. But 150 years ago, parks were still a privilege for the upper-class in America, if they even existed at all. So folks flocked to the next best thing: the cemetery. There, in the shady knolls of Boston’s Forest Hills Cemetery, or amongst the gothic gates of Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery, 19th century Americans got to engage in their two favourite pastimes: bonding with the dead, and feeling their pastoral oats. Elaborate walkways, gardens, and follies abounded in the cemeteries – one even had a liquor license – in a way that’s made us wonder why cracking open a cold one with the deceased ever went out of style…
But it did, and socializing in a cemetery just died out. But that’s changing, as those who operate cemeteries are running promotions to encourage visitors, even those who don’t know anyone buried there. Read about the rise, fall, and resurgence of the cemetery as a gathering spot at Messy Nessy Chic.
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