city of greenville culture
cemeteries are visible, tangible links with people who made history — ordinary
individuals as well as famous people.
But a cemetery is more than a collection of interesting historical data, as
precious and revealing as that may be. It is also a place — an open space
populated by monuments and vegetation, altogether forming a very particular and
revealing part of our built environment.
There are things to be learned from the overall layout and arrangement of the
monuments. We can note the nature and quality of the materials; we can see the
skill of the monument makers and observe the richness of the symbolism. We can
wonder at the age of the trees and the choice of species and imagine the look of
the surrounding landscape in earlier times. We can speculate on what prompted
this location to be chosen for a cemetery and how the presence of the cemetery
has influenced the neighborhood in which it is located.
cemeteries demonstrate their value as a cultural heritage resource in different
ways. They have aptly been called outdoor classrooms. For students of all ages,
they offer endless possibilities for continuing education involving both natural
and historical resources. Some cemeteries promote recreational use of their
grounds by maintaining extensive and well-labeled collections of plants and
trees, by welcoming hikers, cyclists, photographers, and birdwatchers, and by
organizing walking tours and outdoor chamber-music concerts.
Cemeteries can supplement community park systems and enhance adjacent public
open spaces, while larger, park-like cemeteries can also provide valuable
habitats for songbirds and other wildlife.
The character of a cemetery changes with the passage of time. There are active
cemeteries, which accept interments, and there are inactive cemeteries — some
closed but still maintained, and others simply abandoned. Time also inevitably
alters the landscape within and around a cemetery. Weathering, often aided by
environmental pollutants, can damage monuments and structures, as can accidents,
vandalism, and neglect. Well-intentioned interventions may obliterate the
original relationships among carefully laid out parts of the cemetery.
Maintenance costs, aging infrastructure, changing surroundings and context, and
public liability are pressures facing all cemeteries.
Helping our cemeteries survive these pressures is vital. Our goal must be to
preserve and showcase those elements that give a cemetery its value as a
cultural resource — including its architectural and landscape heritage, its
educational, interpretative, and contextual value, and last but not least, its
value as a record of social and family history, which is of special importance
to those connected to the people interred. In summary, our cemeteries, each with
its own history of creation, development, and growth, form an irreplaceable part
of our cultural heritage.