Are you thinking about full-body donation or cremation after death? Or, have you thought about a green burial in a cemetery that eschews traditional memorials? If so, you are part of a rising majority of citizens who seek alternatives to traditional funerals. In the process, this movement has pushed the traditional U.S. cemetery into a category that relegates these burial grounds to open-air museums.
As such, these cemeteries continue to be at risk for vandalism, neglect, natural and environmental decay and scandals such as the recent Burr Oak Cemetery deceit in Illinois. But, through the help of societies for cemetery preservation and the attention of landscape architects, some cemeteries might see renewed interest in their historic values.
Landscape architecture is not about sharpening lawn mower blades, nor is it about the height of the grass nor the presence of weeds. But, those items are considered when landscape architects view the land as a whole to determine how individuals, natural elements such as water, and wildlife can best navigate the terrain. Although landscape architects are concerned with the environment, they also are designers and engineers who take delight in manipulating the earth and its accompanying objects in an aesthetically pleasing manner.
When landscape architects become interested in cemeteries and memorials, preservation also becomes an issue as grave markers, tombstones and monuments are restored. History, current use, future development and an overall respect and purpose are included in issues that are relevant to the work in progress. And, if current trends away from the traditional cemetery become prevalent, the ongoing cemetery projects may take on an energy that will grow in the future.
A handful of current landscape architecture/preservation projects and events around the U.S. include:
- Nationwide Cemetery Preservation Summit: This summit includes information about topics such as archeology, mapping, landscape design, engineering and more.
- Restoration of the Elisha Kent Kane Crypt – Laurel Hill Cemetery: John Morgan Thomas, Landscape Architects in New Jersey, are working on this 19th-century polar explorer’s crypt in a Pennsylvania cemetery, with an eye to restoration, history and fund-raising activities.
- Ute Cemetery Restoration, Aspen, Colorado: BHA Design, Inc. from Fort Collins, Colorado was awarded the restoration of the Ute Cemetery in Aspen and won an award for general design for their accomplishments. Careful research and restoration restored this cemetery to its former state, and managed to preserve some bulbs and ornamental flowers that may have been planted by survivors of the deceased many decades prior.
- Oakland Cemetery, Shreveport, Louisiana: This cemetery’s preservation society took the steps to being restoring and conserving this landscape. In April, Mr. Jon Emerson, landscape architect, was in the process of producing a cemetery master plan design based upon historical information, landscaping issues and safety considerations.
- Graceland’s Historic Landscapes: Wolff Landscape Architecture in Illinois offers various PDF documents at this link that show past and ongoing work at Graceland Cemetery in Chicago.
According to the Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, if large cemeteries and landscapes need revitalization and enhancement, once the history of a site has been documented and surveyed, a professional landscape firm or restoration landscape architect should be consulted to assist in a landscape restoration plan. Such a plan would promote stabilization of existing resources, recommendations for improvements and enhancements of important historic features, planning new landscapes associated with future cemetery components along with a phased implementation plan and a maintenance manual.