Not dreary, not deathly quiet, a destination for the living as well as the dead

“As the historic grounds host fewer funerals and some graves fall into decay, the Melbourne General Cemetery is reinventing itself a a tourist spot and picnic park,’ writes Robyn Dixon in Graveyard rises from the dead (Newcastle Herald, Weekender, February 14, 2015).

Melbourne General Cemetery

The most popular night tour is on Halloween, when visitors in ghoulish costumes troop between the graves. But the Friday the 13th, Midsommer and Full Moon tours always sell out, often turning dozens away.’

The people here are not mourners, ghost hunters, vandals or fans of Baker. Rather, they’re tourists, participating in one of the Melbourne General Cemetery’s popular night tours.

Celestina Sagazio, the Historical and Cultural Director of the Melbourne cemeteries trust, believes graveyards are for the living as much as for the dead, recently announced plans to cater for a range of social functions, including pre-death wakes (for people who want to be at their own wakes), philosophical lectures and weddings (a sure way to reinforce the message: “Til death do us part”)

That said the night tours started some years back “almost as part of a dare,” Sagazio says. Someone suggested the idea, half joking, but it was decided to give it a try.

“Some people thought it was unusual. But it’s got to be respectful.” The tours took off.

“It’s demystifying death, because we have this great fear of death and cemeteries. By visiting them, our fear diminishes. Exposure decreases fear. At one of the trusts newer cemeteries, Springvale Botanical, there is a restaurant with a French chef, regular jazz bands, a theatre and children’s playgrounds.

With fear and taboo surrounding death, cemetery management the world over faces a problem: How to maintain historically important monuments when no one wants to walk through the front gate?

Tour of the cemetery parkland.

We could try a little creativity and bring nature into the mix. The UNESCO World Heritage Skogskyrkogården, is a case in point. The Woodland Cemetery, in Stockholm Sweden, is a beautiful forested parkland that attracts thousands of visitors every year, including many from overseas.

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