by Victoria S. Jessie
Public Information Specialist II
City of Norfolk Recreation, Parks, & Open Spaces
|"Angel" by Bill Niven, Elmwood Cemetery|
When people think of intricately carved statues and sculptures, massive marble monuments, towering columns and brilliantly colored stained glass, they most likely visualize seeing these items in the long hallways of a museum. To the surprise of many, seeing these treasures doesn’t require membership to a museum or even tickets; these magnificent sights can be found in your local cemetery. Unfortunately, the art that exists so prominently in cemeteries goes largely unnoticed. Since most traffic in cemeteries occurs during burial services, many people never have the opportunity to appreciate – let alone notice – the wide variety of beauty in cemeteries. The Cemeteriescape Photography Contest and Exhibit has changed that reality.
|"Kaleidoscope-1" by Jim Heath, Elmwood Cemetery|
Sponsored by the non-profit organization Norfolk Society for Cemetery Conservation (NSCC), Cemeteriescape invites people to visit local cemeteries in Hampton Roads and embark on a creative survey of cemeteries. Void of many technical and stylistic restrictions, the contest rules allow contestants to enjoy a great deal of freedom of expression. Whether using a cell phone or traditional camera, contestants can snap pictures of anything in the cemetery that they deem worthy of recognition. Now in its fourth year, the contest continues to draw interest from amateur and professional photographers alike. With nearly 100 entries, this year’s judges were tasked with selecting winners for four winning categories; Best in Show, Second Place, Third Place and Board Choice. The recipient of the first place award – Best in Show – earns the highly coveted prize of $1,000. Although the official contest ends with the judges’ decisions, Cemeteriescape continues with a large exhibit of all contestants’ entries during the reception.
|"Christs's Crucifixion" by Russell Morrison, Cedar Grove Cemetery|
The impact of Cemeteriescape goes beyond simply highlighting the beauty of local cemeteries. For many contestants, the contest created a fun and quite unusual opportunity for an outing. For Melody Agnew, the real award was quality time with family. Agnew commented, “At first I was sad I didn’t win, but then I realized that I did because I had a great time with my son taking these pictures!” This type of participation is reminiscent of the way cemeteries were once used. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, cemeteries were not only places of burial, they served as gathering places for extracurricular activities. Unlike in more modern times, destinations for fun and past times were scarce. While the thought of dining in a cemetery would most likely draw ire today, it was very common to see scores of people picnicking in large, picturesque cemeteries such as Dayton, Ohio’s Woodland Cemetery. For this reason, people frequented cemeteries – sometimes considered outdoor museums – for a host of activities including carriage races, leisurely strolls, reading, knitting and even hunting, when the landscape permitted it. Although such activities are certainly characteristic of a bygone era, today cemeteries coast to coast still provide creative opportunities for leisure. Cinespia at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Santa Monica, California for example, is a popular movie screening event that has at times, attracted up to 4,000 moviegoers. Likewise, Congressional Cemetery in Washington D.C. has become such a favorite destination for its pet friendly policies that it has a waiting list for its dedicated dog park program.
|"Beneath the Snow I Sleep" by Susie Coplon, Elmwood Cemetery|
The Norfolk Bureau of Cemeteries, a division of the Department of Recreation, Parks and Open Space, wants to see a resurgence of similar non-invasive activities. The division continuously identifies ways to increase public interest in non-burial related activities in Norfolk’s eight municipal cemeteries, which are considered to be open space. The Bureau of Cemeteries meets this objective by supporting a variety of NSCC’s special events such as Cemeteriescape, volunteer workdays, walking tours, as well as holiday memorial services through its public-private partnership with the non-profit. Though these special events have many exciting elements that attract participation, their foremost purpose is to raise awareness about the importance of conservation, education and advocacy for Norfolk’s cemeteries. With six of its eight cemeteries established before 1900, the City of Norfolk is dedicated to preserving both the memories of the people of Norfolk and the rich history of the city. For more information on how you can contribute to preserving Norfolk’s cemeteries, visit www.norfolksocietyforcemeteryconservation.org. Information on Norfolk’s historic cemeteries, can be found here http://www.norfolk.gov/cemeteries.