Cemetery geocaching: Has treasure hunting gone too far?

Flickr photo by Bob-n-Renee

 

Geocaching has rapidly become the modern day version of treasure hunting. At this time, it’s estimated that over 1.1 million enthusiasts using a variety of GPS tracking devices are currently searching for treasure boxes located in over 100 countries.

Caching is a popular outdoor activity ranging from the tamer family outing on local trails to the higher risk rock climbing or even scuba diving expedition. It’s all in the name of locating a hidden container filled with various small items like toys, buttons, and Travel Bugs (items that move from cache to cache).

While most caches are located around trails and parks, a controversy has arisen over geocaching in cemeteries, prompting one county in Texas and some states (Tennessee and South Carolina) to ban them altogether. This has generated a wide response from geocachers eager to defend their activity while other enthusiasts admit that perhaps there should be a more subtle approach to cemetery caches.

According to one forum responder:

“Caches in cemeteries have been tricky things. Most folks are respectful and all that but, (there is always a but) others are not. There was a cache in Tennessee that required the cacher to move the burial stone somehow to retrieve the cache. This was a couple years ago. Poor taste, lots of upset people etc. In (I think Ohio) cachers were running a bit of a competition with caches in cemeteries. Very poorly done.”

Does this mean cemetery geocaching should be banned entirely? Well, it depends.

If it means hiding Tupperware containers (or surplus ammo boxes) in, around, under, or above a headstone and if finding said box requires any sort of digging or shifting or patting of the stone in order to find it, then yes, it should be banned. Family members (or conservationists) should be the only ones puttering around the site in this manner.

If you really must have an actual cache, place it outside the cemetery boundaries. It’s simply a matter of discretion and respect.

However, caches should not be banned if they are location-less:

(A description is given for something to find, such as a one-room schoolhouse, and the finder locates an example of this object. The finder records the location using their GPS hand-held receiver and often takes a picture at the location showing the named object and his or her GPS receiver).

…Or virtual sites:

(Caches of this nature are coordinates for a location that does not contain the traditional box, log book, or trade items. Instead, the location contains some other described object. Validation for finding a virtual cache generally requires you to email the cache hider with information such as a date or a name on a plaque, or to post a picture of yourself at the site with GPS receiver in hand).

Old cemeteries and ghost towns have enough problems with vandals as it is and if there is a way to generate interest in local history then by all means, let’s keep it. In fact, BTG posted an article last week about one teacher doing just that.

Cemetery geocaches are most likely here to stay and the only way to slow them down, or perhaps stop them altogether, would be to remove the GPS coordinates from online sites like FindAGrave.com, a valuable tool to both genealogists and cachers alike. Since this is highly unlikely, perhaps the best approach to cemetery caching is to simply apply some respect and a whole lot of common sense.

Other resources:

http://www.geocaching.com/

7 Comments

Filed under Commentary

Fishing for younger genealogists

Flickr photo by kretyn

 

How can genealogy attract more Millennials and Gen X and Yers?

Is it even possible?

Yes, but properly snaring them seems to require the right fishing technique. Depending on who you ask, the traditionalist says it’s all in the lure while another claims it’s the casting technique that really matters. Then there are the shoulder-shrugging types who say, “A day off, my lucky hat, and a cooler full of beer—who cares whether I catch any fish?”

In the past few weeks, more than a few articles have wondered whether the genealogy field might be labeled the laissez-faire fisherman type than the industrious lure and casting trawler.

High Definition Genealogy goes straight for the jugular by stating several reasons just why people younger than 45 might think this field yanks the welcome carpet out from under their feet. A recent post on Roots and Rambles goes further, observing that conference dates and times often conflict with school and work day commitments while the cost of the conference itself can be prohibitive for families on a budget. One younger enthusiast commented that at a conference, ‘The woman behind me said “Aren’t you too young to be doing genealogy?”

Welcome, indeed.

Thankfully, technology is helping to tear all of this down. Between Roots Television, genealogy Twitter lists, genealogy blogs, and countless articles now popping up online, the perceived age gap is finally narrowing.

However, we believe the best Catch-And-Don’t-Release award goes to John Harris.

Mr. Harris, a teacher in Somerset, Pennsylvania, came up with an innovative way to snare Millennials through their own tools. His “Hunting History: Discovering Your Hometown” high school class has students using GPS devices to track down old churches and specific cemetery headstone markers from coordinates given out in class.

Harris says: “When you can offer something that kids can get their hands on – in their backyard – when they go through town, they see historical sites. When you can turn them on to that, word gets out that that’s pretty fun. They discover the history all on their own.”

He’s on to something because not only did he win a $5,000 award from the History Channel but more importantly, this elective, twice a year class maxing out 30 students per semester, is always full. That’s sixty new history and genealogy enthusiasts caught each year.

Now that’s a winning fishing technique that gets ‘em while their young.

5 Comments

Filed under Commentary

Back to normal in New Orleans?

New Orleans puts on a show

 

Almost two years ago, we posted an article about the state of repairs to NOLA cemeteries post-Katrina. Some cemeteries, like Metairie, seemed to weather the storm just fine while other cemeteries in the outlying poorer areas weren’t so lucky.     

Five years after Katrina, news crews have returned to document the city’s slow but inevitable rise back to its feet. While the focus is rightfully on human survival and individual initiative over government red tape (also known as SBA disaster recovery loans) there are also cemetery volunteer efforts that shouldn’t be forgotten—specifically from Save Our Cemeteries.     

Save Our Cemeteries (SOC) is a New Orleans based organization dedicated to preserving and restoring these Louisiana historic sites. After Katrina hit, they posted a website updating the public on which cemeteries were being cleared and which sites still needed help. At this time, they continue to offer tours, lectures, and volunteer cleanup programs. Some of their previous efforts included cleaning up this long-neglected potters field.     

SOC’s fundraisers are also popular. How about the annual 5K Run Through History? There are few chances to race through a cemetery for a good cause and this is one of them. Those seeking something less sweaty can indulge in the All Saints Soiree—A Masked Ball and Silent Auction. All proceeds will go toward historic cemetery restoration efforts.     

So, does this mean that in the past five years things are finally returning to normal in this city? Well, maybe not completely, but each passing day seems to bring yet one more positive confirmation that NOLA is alive and well.     

Just as it was before Katrina, certain cemeteries were deemed off-limits because of crime. This has not changed. Recently, one bemused graveyard rabbit posted a reminder on his blog that tourists should not randomly wander in St. Louis 2 unless they want to part with their wallets and cameras.     

Corruption, beginning at $350 a pop, also seems to be roaring back in true Mardi Gras style. Last weekend The Times-Picayune reported that city employee Alma Gardner is accused of:     

Mishandling payments and improperly hiring at least one man, purporting to be her grandson, to dig graves in three publicly owned burial grounds. According to a the city’s municipal code, city employees cannot be involved in contracting or brokering gravedigging services, as [she] is accused of doing. The new testimonies suggest that Gardner, who has served as Interim superintendent of cemeteries since shortly after Hurricane Katrina, may have been a habitual offender.”     

Laissez les bon temps roulez  (again).

Leave a comment

Filed under Restoration

Snapshots: William and Catherine Booth

William and Catherine Booth: Salvation Army Founders

 

Known for its thrift stores and Christmas time bell ringers, The Salvation Army is now located in over 120 countries and remains a symbol of help to those in need—specifically, displaced Pakistani families and closer to home, those still suffering from the after-effects of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina

Established almost 150 years ago by William and Catherine Booth, the organization originally focused on three “S” words; soup, soap, and salvation—things very much needed in London’s East End where it was based. Mid-to late 19th century London was the time for industrial expansion, growth, and development. To say that life was brutal would be an understatement for those unfortunate enough to fall between the economic cracks while living in the time of Jack the Ripper

The Booth’s emphasis on social help in one of the poorest areas of London eventually turned into the foundation of In Darkest England and The Way Out, a book comparing London unfavorably to other developing nations at the time. 

It’s doubtful the founders could have ever imagined just how far their small ministry would eventually reach. Service statistics for fiscal years 2007/2008, the years prior to the current Great Recession, show the Salvation Army helping over 29 million people, serving over 69 million hot meals, distributing over 21 million items of clothing, furniture, and gifts, and offering lodgings to over 10 million people. 

It will be interesting to see the numbers for fiscal years 2009/2010. 

William and Catherine Booth are buried in one of London’s Magnificent Seven cemeteries, Abney Park, located at Stoke Newington High Street.

2 Comments

Filed under Snapshot Stories, Travel

Anne Frank’s marker at Bergen Belsen

Camp marker. Photo courtesy of Sabine Ludwig

 

A little while back, I received some interesting photos from a world-traveling photographer friend of mine, Sabine Ludwig, who decided to stay local for one of her more recent trips. I’m glad she did.  

The Bergen Belsen death camp is located in northwestern Germany and between 1943 and 1945, countless numbers of people died there from shooting, hunger, and disease. Bergen Belsen also holds the distinction of being the first camp entered, liberated, and documented by the Western allied forces.  

Photo courtesy of Sabine Ludwig

 

Probably the most famous inmate (although she certainly never anticipated this celebrity) was Anne Frank who hid with her family in a secret annex of rooms in her father’s office building in Amsterdam. The entrance to their living quarters was guarded by a bookcase.  

Betrayed by an unidentified informer to the local police, Anne and her family were arrested, split into male/female contingents and sent to separate concentration camps. Anne and her sister Margot were first at Auschwitz and eventually, transferred to Bergen Belsen.  

A few weeks before the camp was liberated in 1945, a typhus epidemic swept the camp.  

Anne did not survive.  

Her father, Otto Frank, did survive and attempted with mixed success, to publish Anne’s diary. It was only in the mid to late 1950s, after a Broadway play and a movie, did the book finally take off.  

Leave a comment

Filed under Snapshot Stories, Travel

Scaring up cemetery funds part deux

Just as little something to consider when planning a Living Performance venue.

We received an email yesterday from the people organizing the Living Performance fundraiser at Saar Pioneer Cemetery (mentioned in Scaring up Cemetery Funds).  After four performances (two on a Saturday and two on a Sunday), enough money was raised to pay for both cemetery maintenance AND a book on the cemetery itself.  

So be careful. You may end up making more money than initially planned.

Leave a comment

Filed under Restoration

Scaring up cemetery repair funds

Mary Anderson: Salvation Army Member

This past April, the Veterans Administration announced that it will, “use up to $4.4 million in funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act program to repair and preserve historic monuments and memorials at VA-operated national cemeteries…” This is good news for our national cemeteries what about for everyone else? All too often, local cemeteries are forced to think more creatively in order to find sustainable sources of maintenance funds.

However, some of these ideas can be quite intriguing.

In 2009, Atlanta artist Cooper Sanchez held a one-day (or rather, one night) art show at the historic Oakland cemetery. This is just one of several lectures, shows, and walking tours frequently offered to help drum up community support. Not wanting to be left behind, Seattle’s Evergreen Washelli accepted submissions this past spring for up to six solo art shows to be held in its Columbarium. 

Some cemeteries simply combine volunteer green thumb talents with a love for local history. The next time you’re in your local library, check out the Fall, 2009 issue of Country Gardens. On page 30, Cemetery Survivors details how Jane Baber White rejuvenated the 26-acre Old City Cemetery in Lynchburg, Virginia. Once a forgotten site filled with overgrown shrubs and weeds, the cemetery is now filled with an amazing variety of heritage roses (approximately 60 types) ranging from the old-fashioned, 19th century to the 1950s favorites.

Living History performance at Saar Pioneer Cemetery

Another popular way to raise both funds and community interest is with Living History performances. Last weekend at the Saar Pioneer Cemetery in Kent, Washington, the Book-It Theatre and Living Voices highlighted the lives of several fascinating pioneers buried there.

Of course, another option is to find grant funding. Seattle cemetery volunteers and historical societies are fortunate to have potential funding from organizations like Humanities Washington and 4Culture. Not located in Washington? No worries. Check out possible grants at the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Sometimes, there really are piles of cold, hard cash lying around for someone to pick up. How about tapping into those unclaimed bank or trust accounts? We commented about this on our Facebook fan page a while back but it’s worthwhile mentioning again. Seems like an Allentown, PA cemetery received almost $28,000 from old trust accounts. That’s a tidy little sum. What kinds of old accounts is your state hanging onto?

2 Comments

Filed under Restoration