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Fun at the Cemetery

John Moe

Mhari Saito

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Marge Wilson reads the inscription on a statue
(Mhari Saito)
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John Moe: Maybe it's the kind of summer day in your part of the country that inspires you to pack a picnic and go listen to an outdoor concert. Or take in a nature walk. Where would you go? How about the cemetery? Seriously there are cemeteries around the country that want you to go there for fun. Historic cemeteries like Brooklyn's Green-Wood host live dance and music performances. Hollywood Forever in Los Angeles has been a popular site for movie showings. We sent WCPN's Mhari Saito to go find something to do in a cemetery in Cleveland, Ohio. Mhari, where'd you go?

Mhari Saito: I went to Lake View Cemetery. It's almost 140 years old and it's big: 185 acres. It's just finished a nature trail in a wooded area around a little pond on its grounds. So I went there on a hike with about a dozen people and a naturalist named Justin Graves.

Justin Graves: We will be walking in areas...the trail is a dirt path. I walked in it in flip-flops on Thursday and I was fine, just be careful where you're stepping. there is some poison ivy, so just watch out for it.

Moe: OK, first of all, his name is Graves. The guy's name is Graves.

Saito: I know. Justin Graves. Perfect central casting there.

Moe: Secondly, I assume the poison ivy was itch-producing but not fatal. Though if you were to drop dead from it, there's no better place. Finally, he's wearing flip flops in the cemetery? Isn't there some sort of dark suit required?

Saito: I know. You wake up in the morning and think, "I'm going on a hike in a cemetery. What do I wear?" But seriously, the cemetery is the kind of place that encourages you to come as you are. They have art shows, concerts that sort of thing. Lake View Cemetery has over 100,000 (dead) people, but it bills itself as an outdoor museum and arboretum. This cemetery has creeks, lots of trees and wildlife. Lots of birds.

Graves: That's a blue jay that's screaming...and I want to say that's a catbird. You can usually tell because it mimics other bird calls, but it does it in a very scratchy voice.

Moe: And yet there are, like, headstones around and that sort of thing?

Saito: This trail we were on was actually away from the headstones. But what's so fun about exploring cemeteries is this sense of discovery. We were going through these woods, and then there was an engraved stone in the side of a little hill. It was hard to read the writing, but luckily we had Marge Wilson with us. She's been a docent here for seven years, and had been looking for this grave site but hadn't seen it until this moment.

Marge Wilson: It's a mausoleum set into the ground. These are very rare in this country to see one that far in. He's a very interesting man...can we read it? He was very active in the Civil War locally.

Saito: As you can imagine, lots of history buffs come on these tours. Lakeview is where industrialist John D. Rockefeller and President James A. Garfield and mafia fighter Eliot Ness are buried.

Moe: Is it just historical, or are they taking...fresh deposits?

Saito: Oh, people are still buried here. And that's one of the concerns if you're having these community events. Mary Krohmer of the Lake View Cemetery Association told me they don't schedule these sort of fun activities if there's a funeral going on.

Mary Krohmer: We do get some very unusual requests. "Oh, this would be a fun place to go on Halloween night," or whatever, and we really do protect the families who have loved ones buried here. And we try to stay away from the ghoulish, death and dying and horror and that type of thing.

Moe: Still, I guess there's a marketing aspect to this, right? Get people in, show them the grounds, maybe they'll consider Lake View for the afterlife?

Saito: Yes. There was a couple on the hike with me, Mel and Helene Diamond, who even showed us the memorial bench their family had purchased. This couple says they fell in love with this cemetery after going on an annual spring daffodil tour here. I caught up with them when they were talking about what they want on their gravestones.

Mel Diamond: Remember that parrot routine where he goes in...

Other hiker: Which one? Was this from the program in itself?

Diamond: Yeah, the program itself...where he bought the parrot and he takes the parrot home and the parrot's dead and he brings it back....and the proprietor starts...

Helene Diamond: "It just fell asleep..."

Moe: The Monty Python sketch! "He's pining for the fjords."

John Cleese (audio clip): It's not pining. It's passed on. This parrot is no more. It has ceased to be. It's expired and gone to meet its maker. This is a late parrot.

Mel Diamond: I truly want that. I truly want that on my side of the stone.

Moe: That was Mel Diamond, the late parrot. And this cemetery is a place to hang out in Cleveland.

Saito: Hopefully one of many.

Moe: Mhari Saito, who hung out among the dead in Cleveland and had fun, thank you so much for being with us.

Saito: Thank you.


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Gary Diamond

    From Cleveland, OH, 09/27/2008

    I have been trying to download the August 23 2008 show to listen to "Fun at the Cemetary" I don't hear that section. I got 53 minutes with all but the cemetary story. Where can I find it?


    By Luke Jackson

    From Bedford, OH, 08/26/2008

    It's unfortunate that most people, like John Moe and Mhari Saito only think of cemeteries as places to drop off dead bodies associate them with Halloween-type stuff. Around the turn of the 20th century many people in the Cleveland area went to Lakeview Cemetery for a picnic every Sunday afternoon. It wasn't morbid, it was a beautiful place to have a relaxing meal and be with loved ones. Also, in that story they neglected to mention that many people get married in the Wade Chapel. I'm glad to see more and more people are starting to enjoy cemeteries as I do.

    By Justin Evans

    From Cleveland, OH, 08/25/2008

    lol, just a quick fyi, my name is Justin Evans...then again it sounded funny to have such an ironic last name. :-)

    By sandi latimer

    From columbus, OH, 08/23/2008

    It's interesting that Lake View was chosen. Larger and historic cemeteries are always open for tours, either on schedule or on demand. Down the freeway (I-71) in Columbus, Ohio, we at Green Lawn Cemetery (160 years old, 360 acres, 150,000 burials www.greenlawncolumbus.org) have regular monthly programs, special projects and numerous opportunities for volunteering. It's sad to say that a lot of people don't realize the history that lies in a cemetery.

    Sandi Latimer
    Volunteer Coordinator
    Green Lawn Cemetery
    Columbus, Ohio

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