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Acts of cemetery vandalism increase in frequency each October. As Halloween approaches, animated headlines often promote avenues to celebrate and have a little spooky fun. Unfortunately, sometimes this highlighting of perceived scary places and spaces can result in threats to and the destruction of historic cemeteries. What remains of someone’s idea of fun could mean a desecrated final resting place for someone’s family member and a cemetery with little resources available to repair the damage.
The Oregon Commission on Historic Cemeteries (OCHC) annually promotes the celebration of Historic Cemetery Month during October. This designation is a reminder that cemeteries are important, irreplaceable spaces for reverence and solemnity, for education and history, for closure and peace. Caring for these spaces means educating the public and creating stewards of these hallowed grounds for the future.
Oregon’s communities have found creative ways to tackle some of Halloween’s biggest vandalism challenges. Events allowing for respectful access, like the Talking Tombstones in Astoria and similar events in Portland, Forest Grove, and Jacksonville, shepherd cemetery visitors on twilight jaunts prior to the holiday. Here locals and out-of-towners can meet the residents of historic cemeteries played by local volunteer actors.
Local cemeteries and their friends’ groups offer other ways to engage by hosting cemetery cleanups, like the October 29 opportunity with Friends of Jacksonville's Historic Cemetery. Taking part in overnight watch or patrol opportunities during the month of October can also be a way to give back. Volunteering for a cemetery can be an inspirational and demystifying introduction to these spaces for children and adults alike.
Cemetery managers can access free resources from Oregon Heritage for developing plans to deter and respond to vandalism. Another helpful guide exists for planning cemetery cleanup events, if organizing this type of project becomes necessary.
OCHC promotes the respectful use of Oregon’s cemeteries at all times, not just in October. OCHC maintains a list of all historic cemeteries in the state. A cemetery must include the burial of at least one person who died 75 years before today’s date to qualify as historic. The seven-member appointed commission helps people and organizations document, preserve and promote designated historic cemeteries statewide.
Source: Oregon State Parks Department