We found Greenwood Cemetery the same way we find lots of things in town – just driving around. We had gone to Oak Park, and decided to follow Highland across Ann Street to see the neighborhood to the north of and behind the Wal-Mart. That’s how we found the mid-century white gates and Old English font. We both love cemeteries. There’s the obvious essential humanity about mortality and its accompanying rituals; add in the history and culture of burial ceremonies and memorials, the poignancy of being surrounded by some of the last visible remnants of lives lived to their utmost (or not) and the inevitable weirdness you find in any place where folks have been visiting over an extended period of time, and a cemetery can be a great place to get a sense of a community, its culture, and its quirks. Greenwood didn’t disappoint us.
Greenwood’s been open since 1901 and spreads across 150 acres. I learned this from the cemetery’s parent company – it is owned and managed by Dignity™ Memorial (visit their bland corporate-looking website if you wish, although I can’t imagine why you would want to).
The actual real estate is divided into a variety of sections for sub-populations like the Jews, the Masons, and the veterans. And then there’s the super-creepy Babyland, tucked away in the back. Featuring no more than 30 graves or so, Babyland backs up against a chain link fence at the cemetery’s edge. When we were there, a dog was barking at us from a yard on the other side of the fence. We studied the tiny graves, many featuring Santas or toys. The stained toys add to the already tragic atmosphere. Curiously, the burials in this section seemed to end in the mid-70s. Did they run out of space? Was there some kind of problem with Babyland? Customers lost interest in the sales pitch? We may never know.
There are some famous people buried in Greenwood – people like Lister Hill, David and Dixie Graves, and Jim Fyffe. Greenwood’s most famous residents are George and Lurleen Wallace, buried at the “Circle of Life.” Their daughter Peggy wrote this affecting essay about an experience at Greenwood last year. I found their gravesite using the Find a Grave website, where George’s page curiously says that “The Virtual Flowers feature has been turned off for this memorial because it was being continually misused.”