Built for Mourners
Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California was established in 1863. Designed by renowned landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, best known for his design of Central Park in New York, it was created as part of the Rural Cemetery Movement in which burial grounds had a park-like feel. Olmsted wanted Mountain View to be a sanctuary, not a park. He went so far as to design hedges that surround family plots to create tiny green ‘chapels’ for mourners. Cemeteries, Olmested believed, were for thoughtful contemplation, not play. You can read more about it in the East Bay Times.
Good thing he returned to New York soon after Mountain View Cemetery opened, because within years, the grounds became much more than a local cemetery.
A cemetery for the living
For the last century it has been a gathering place for the living. Yes, people still come to mourn, but others walk their dogs, learn to drive, picnic, party, sketch, attend movie viewings sponsored by the management, go on first dates, view Christmas lights and so much more. Olmsted would be shocked. But, as one commenter on an article titled, “Dogs running loose on graves draw ire at cemetery,” from East Bay Times, said, “Below ground – for the dead, Above ground – for the living.” It is a tug of war for this green space.
When it was built, there were no public parks. None. Not anywhere in Oakland. Now there are two major parks in the northern part of the city, but none with the views and greenery that makes Mountain View special. No wonder people enjoy the grounds all year long. Here’s another reason visitors come…to enjoy the holiday light show! Really? Yes. The head of customer management for Mountain View had a desire to brighten up the long dark winters in Oakland, so more than a decade ago, she created the holiday light show. It includes three mourning trees, where family members place ornaments in honor of their dead loved ones. Its a fantastic idea.
One complaint has changed everything.
But then someone complained. Looking to purchase a family plot, Mr. Lau visited Mountain View. He was irked by dogs running over the top of graves and kids playing baseball. He says in the article that he didn’t want dogs pooping on him after death. Well, hmm. Seems Mr. Lau has metaphorically pooped on the visitors to Mountain View. Because as a result of his complaints, Mountain View management has posted rules throughout the property on sandwich boards. It’s caused many to bristle. And like all issues, it is more complicated than it seems. Not black, not white, but gray.
Mountain View rules may not make sense to us, but they are there for a reason.
In a future blog, I will take you to a Washington state cemetery that has become a popular place for Muslim burials. Muslims cannot touch dogs. In fact, if a dog brushes against their clothes, they must wash them multiple times in order to please God. So, now imagine that they are buried and later a dog is allowed to run across their gravesite? Awful, right? So the rules that Mountain View has about keeping dogs on leashes and off of graves is reasonable. We just need to take the time to understand why the rule is important.
If we walk in kindness, the living and dead can coexist at Mountain View. Obey the posted rules and enjoy the property accordingly.