Cemeteries get creative to draw visitors


BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) – They are the end of road for many of us, the places where life officially comes to a close. Now, the mission is underway to bring some “fresh blood” to final resting places.

143 years ago, Oak Hill Cemetery was originally located on the outskirts of Birmingham.

“The cemetery itself is 23.6 acres. It’s not super large, but we have close to 11,000 burials in here,” says Oak Hill Memorial Association Director Stuart Oates.

Thanks to Birmingham’s early population boom, these days you will find Oak Hill in the city’s center, right across from the BJCC. You may even find some of Oak Hill’s early tenants beyond the gates.

“They were excavating on the other side of 17th street. They found a casket, probably from the late 1860s, 1870s. It was a wealthy family, a steel casket with a glass top,” Oates says.

With Oak Hill serving as the final destination for people across generations, it’s the perfect place for a history lesson, says Oates.

“Colonel Sloss, James Sloss is buried here. The late Reverend Shuttlesworth is interred here.”

Instead, many of us bury our dead, and never look back. Oates says, that can be a problem.

“They kind of fall to the wayside, and then, several years later you have problems, where, you know, graves cannot be found, and there’s just so much overgrowth and vandalism.”

Oak Hill is part of a nationwide push to preserve final resting places, by not only drawing attention, but also cash. But how do you convince people to come to a cemetery?

You get creative.

A film festival is one way.

Oates says, “it’s fun for the whole family. We’ve got little kids that come, and people in their 60s and 70s.”

Oak Hill’s biggest event is an annual history tour, where some of Birmingham’s most notable residents return from the grave – in the form of volunteer actors who embody their characters to tell their stories.

From history tours, film festivals, even an annual zombie walk, it’s still an uphill battle to get people interested in preserving cemeteries. After all, it’s one place from which many of us, never return.

You can find more information on Oak Hill Cemetery by clicking here.

Copyright 2014 WIAT.

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