Older cemeteries within the city are some of the most interesting urban structures. Almost every city has at least one remaining cemetery sitting in what has become a vital part of the city. This doesn't compare to the number of cemeteries that are moved by municipal authorities as they have become surrounded by houses and shops and their land value has greatly exceeded their cultural and historic value. Paradoxically, what "saves" most old cemeteries is often not their status as hallowed ground nor their famous inhabitants, but the nature of the living "park" that the cemetery has become. Nature trumps culture.
On a recent visit to Boulder's Columbia Cemetery, what is most striking, even more so than the poignancy of the small, worn gravestones, was the use of the necropolis as a place for dog-walking, strolling and making out. A fairly lively place.
I had thought I would write a post about the architecture of the cemetery, its layout and the different neighborhoods that make up place - military graves in one corner, older stones tightly spaced, etc. However, amongst the throngs of running dogs, cellphone squawking talkers and huddle lovers, it was more difficult to study this than I had imagined.
Unlike the cemeteries of the older East Coast cities and Chicago that I have visited, Columbia is not full of the ornate sculptural markers of pre-Raphaelite angels and mourning cloths. It does have plenty of simple, modest markers signalling maybe a simple life, simply lived, one of so many.
So normally I would suggest a visit to your local cemetery, to walk around the markers and spend a quiet afternoon. But don't go for that. It is really too crowded with the living to pay attention to the dead. In Boulder, go to the cemetery - go and enjoy a nice park without runners, without cyclists, without cross-training tri-athletes, without any "sports" at all except the eternal battle of dog versus squirrel.
(re-posted from October 2010)