Today cemeteries aren’t quite so popular and full of people, but they are still valuable and often beautiful places full of surprises and stories of all sorts. So, several burial places from Key West to Fairbanks are celebrated in a new public television documentary titled “A Cemetery Special,” premiering Wednesday, October 26 at 8:00 p.m. ET on WQED tv13 and PBS stations across the country (but it’s always wise to check local listings.) Also, a second broadcast of the program has been scheduled for Monday, October 31 at 10:00 p.m. ET on many of those same stations.
“The thing about cemeteries,” said producer and narrator Rick Sebak, “is that they are everywhere. People take great pride in their local cemeteries and often have special affection for the places where their loved ones are buried, but there are too many interesting and important burial places. That’s one of the reasons why we decided to call this ‘A Cemetery Special’ rather than ‘The Cemetery Special.’ We couldn’t be comprehensive. We squeezed only nine cemeteries into one hour.”
Most of the cemeteries featured are older ones with upright tombstones, monuments and mausoleums.
“A Cemetery Special” includes a tour of several great “rural garden cemeteries” including Allegheny in Pittsburgh (where a family finds its long lost Uncle E.Z.), Mount Auburn in Boston (the first of the great American cemeteries), and Lake View in Cleveland (where there’s a mighty memorial to President James A. Garfield and an annual celebration of the flowers on its Daffodil Hill.)
At the Key West Cemetery in Florida, there’s lots of local history and a few funny epitaphs amid the palm trees and the monuments. On Memorial Day, the town of Waterloo in New York’s Finger Lakes region carries on the town’s tradition of decorating the graves of soldiers who died in the line of duty. And in Atlanta, the Historic Oakland Cemetery is essentially full – it sold its last family plot back in 1884 – but its Foundation and many volunteers are working together now to restore its Victorian grandeur and to attract lots of visitors.
Sebak and his team of TV-documentary-makers also travel to the town of Colma, California, where there are seventeen cemeteries because the city of San Francisco decided to “evict” all its old cemeteries in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. In central Vermont, the folks at Rock of Ages’ quarries take granite out of the ground and transform it into memorials, while local stonecutters and workers have made sure that Hope Cemetery in Barre has one of the world’s best collections of unusual sculptures and monuments.
The last stop in “A Cemetery Special” is at Birch Hill Cemetery in Fairbanks where Alaskans often make their markers of wood and frequently leave a variety of personal objects and mementoes atop the graves.
“There’s nothing spooky or scary in the program,” said Rick. “It’s a brisk sort of tour that we hope will convince people to wander through a cemetery someday soon, looking for unusual headstones, visiting a departed friend, remembering beloved parents or grandparents or ancestors of any sort. We may remind people how short life can be. That would be OK too.”
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