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A cemetery has long been a special, if awkward or even mysterious, place for any community. And the history of the cemetery is about as interesting as that of any human institution.

 One, possibly startling, fact about the modern cemetery in America (that is, cemeteries that have begun within the last 300 years) is that most are not intended to be permanent resting places for their occupants. After about 100 years, graves in almost any cemetery are subject to being removed, their headstones destroyed, and remains distributed elsewhere – often underneath the foundation of new churches, or perhaps even in the walls and floors of the churches.

The former cemetery is then turned into parkland, a construction site for new development, or some other use that nearby residents deem a better for the land. This is often done in urban areas that have overtaken a cemetery that was once in very rural areas. Of course such a “closing” of a cemetery is usually not without at least a little emotion and controversy, so that is why a cemetery is rarely closed until its final occupant has been deceased for at least 100 years.

Because this has become the fate of many a cemetery in the last few decades, many municipalities have begun strongly discouraging new cemetery construction.  And, while it’s still very rare, at least one city San Francisco, California  has instituted a complete cemetery ban within its city limits. Most new urban development laws in the United States do include language that will prohibit a new cemetery from being build in or near a city, but only San Francisco has banned every cemetery (old or new) from its territories.

All of that said, it should be noted that most every cemetery less than 100 years old is on a well-cared-for, beautifully landscaped parcels of land where the memories of hundreds of families are on display in, often dramatic, splendor. While such a cemetery is open, any disturbance of a grave is considered a severe crime that his harshly punished.

cemetery depotBecause large urban areas are often begging for new space (especially in older cities) this type of modern cemetery is slowly becoming less practical than it was, say, 200 years ago, but is still quite popular, and quite in demand. City planners, and many environmental experts, often say they expect the rise of cremation to, gradually, make today’s modern, lush cemetery all but obsolete in a few decades, but that view is debatable. Today’s style of cemetery is still in heavy demand, and, in many cases, even the ashes of people who have been cremated can be found buried alongside traditional graves in a modern cemetery.

Because of its association with death, of course, the cemetery has almost always been associated with mysterious legends and even superstitious. A number of offbeat, strange, and even illicit religions are believed to use cemeteries usually illegally for strange nighttime ceremonies. But, despite the lore, strange, supernatural happenings at cemeteries appear to be the exception, rather than the rule. Most people who work at, or live near, a cemetery report that they have never encountered any out-the-ordinary occurrences.

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