Video: New Trends in Cemeteries

Dec 11, 2020 | 0 comments

New Trends in Cemeteries

Video: New Trends in Cemeteries

“Where the Bodies are Buried: New Trends in Cemeteries” was a panel discussion during the 2020 Before I Die NM Virtual Festival. This session, which brought together leading-edge cemeterians (people who run cemeteries) from across the United States. Here are highlights from the panelists’ presentations.

Among the topics covered: addressing the rise in cremation, green burial, pet cemeteries, public education on options for cremated remains, and events that have drawn community attention and support.  The panel was moderated by Gail Rubin, Certified Thanatologist, the Doyenne of Death®, and coordinator of the Before I Die New Mexico Virtual Festival.

Sunset Garden Fountain

Cremation Garden in Sunset Memorial Park

Sunset Memorial Park

Chris Keller, Sunset Memorial Park, Albuquerque, NM spoke about their pioneering Scatter Day event. People can place cremated remains in their cemetery cremation gardens and ossuary for free. A full 20% of families have cremated remains in their homes, often because they don’t know what to do with them. When they came to Scatter Day, they learned of their options and many families opted to buy upgraded placement opportunities. Even with those who took advantage of the free placement, it creates a connection between the cemetery and the family that didn’t exist before. To date, 1,500 families have become connected.

Sunset Memorial Park also provides cenotaph options to families, a way to offer memorialization without the body or remains. They also have a pet burial area where the cremated remains of people can be interred with the cremated remains of their pets. They also have a pet ossuary and cenotaph area just for pets. And the cemetery encourages Christmas Eve luminarias, a popular activity in New Mexico. The memorial park is very busy on Christmas Eve.

Forest Green Burial

Woodland burial is popular at Paxtang Cemetery.

Paxtang Cemetery

Alesia Skinner, Paxtang Cemetery, Harrisburg, PA spoke about creating a green burial area in their cemetery. In 2014 they set aside a third of their acreage to preserve woodlands for burial. Paxtang was the first cemetery in Pennsylvania to open up for green burial. They also feature gardens throughout the cemetery that provide flowers for natural burials. They are also working to restore woodland areas with their natural burials where trees can be planted on the grave. Markers are made of natural materials, such as boulders or river rocks.

“Every time they purchase a plot here, families are actually reinvesting in the green space, keeping it green, making sure that those paths still exist for future won’t be developed and it’s this great community green space,” said Skinner.

Paxtang also has a pet cemetery area called Happy Tails.

Congressional Cemetery

Congressional Cemetery Cenotaphs

Congressional Cemetery cenotaphs

Paul Williams, with Historic Congressional Cemetery, Washington, D.C., has a number of creative programs in place to involve the community and raise funds for the nonprofit organization that runs the cemetery. The 35-acre cemetery was established in 1807 and is located 18 blocks from the U.S. Capitol.

He showed a photo of the unique cenotaphs for Congressmen that were installed from 1807 until they were discontinued in 1876. Because the cenotaphs were assigned by the date of death, Henry Clay and John C. Calhoun, who hated each other in real life, have side-by-side memorials. Some of the famous residents include Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, the March King John Philip Sousa, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, and Washington, D.C.’s mayor Marion Barry.

They do a lot of fundraisers throughout the year. They have 1,500 people participate in a 5-K Pride Race through the cemetery. They have movies in the summer and held goat yoga classes with baby goats frolicking with the participants. Their annual Soul Stroll event features the stories of famous and not-so-famous permanent residents in the cemetery, recreated by actors. They also allow green burial throughout the cemetery, which is considered a hybrid burial ground in Green Burial Council parlance.

And the greatest support program they have is their dog walking program. They allow 800 dogs per year to be registered, and the participants have to follow all sorts of rules. They have a waiting list of 400 to join, and it can take 4 years to go through the waitlist. This single program raises $250,000 every year. They also opened a pet burial area in the cemetery called Kingdom of Animals.

Fairview and Vista Verde Memorial Parks

Twin tower memorial

9-11 Memorial in Vista Verde Memorial Park.

Joshua McManigal, Fairview Memorial Park, Albuquerque, and Vista Verde Memorial Park, Rio Rancho, NM, spoke about several programs between the two cemeteries. He shared information about the Rosary Garden in Fairview, which helps raise awareness among Catholic families who choose cremation about the importance of interring the remains in a consecrated cemetery space. It offers a range of options, including in-ground burial and niche placement in a columbarium. A string of large granite orbs replicates a rosary that visitors can pray as they walk the garden.

In Fairview, they also hold an annual event honoring the unclaimed and indigent dead in Bernalillo County. Annually, they will honor and bury the cremated remains of 100 or more people. They also participate in the Forgotten Heros program that takes the cremated remains of veterans for interment in the Santa Fe National Cemetery.

At Vista Verde, they hold an annual September 11 memorial service at a memorial sculpture dedicated to the lives lost that day. The event is held the Friday before September 11, and they place 2,996 flags in the cemetery to represent all of those killed in the terrorist attacks that day. “Even though New Mexico’s so far removed from New York and Pennsylvania and Washington, it’s amazing how many people will come to this event to remember those or tell stories,” said McManigal.

Greenhaven Memorial Gardens

Heather Leigh

Heather Leigh, Manager of Greenhaven Memorial Park, and Funeral Celebrant.

Heather Leigh, Greenhaven Memorial Gardens, Elgin, SC, has a number of creative outreach programs at her cemetery. At Christmas, they hold a campfire and invite all families who have lost a loved one that year to come and share stories around the fire. People realize how therapeutic and helpful it is to tell these stories and preserve the history.

She started a green burial area in the cemetery. They started offering new options for statuary, different memorial markers, and architectural pieces. They also offer a cremated remains scattering area in their traditional burial areas. Another popular offering is the live dove releases that take place at burials.

Greenhaven has a Heroes Burial flag retirement program that they do in partnership with Woodmen of the World. U.S. flags that have been passed along and lost their meaning to the people who inherited them are cremated with veterans and the grommets that survive the cremation are polished and handed out at ceremonies. They also hold an annual “Trunk or Treat” program at Halloween. Decorated cars line up throughout the cemetery. Costumed children traipse through the cemetery and receive treats from each vehicle. The kids love it and it makes families more comfortable with visiting the cemetery.


AFTR screensJoseph Schechter, founder of AFTR, in Brooklyn, NY, talked about the pioneering camera and smart phone app he created to connect people to their loved ones in the cemetery. He created this technology after Schechter’s sister was distraught that she couldn’t make it back to New York City for the first anniversary of their father’s death, to be with her family and pay her respects in person.

AFTR was founded in 2018 and debuted to the public and the death care industry in 2020. They developed two all-weather cameras, the MountCam™ and GroundCam™, that can be attached to any headstone or gravesite. The cameras are solar powered, capture HD video and audio and are equipped with night vision and laser technology. Built-in microphones pick up audio and ensure communications are discreet.

The app, available on Apple and Android devices, works on all LTE networks. It includes a connection to Spotify accounts, so people can share favorite songs and music while visiting with their loved one. There’s a diary section to record thoughts and milestone events with text, video or audio. There’s also a time lapse feature, so subscribers can watch a compilation of once-a-day images of the headstone that traces time going by in the cemetery.

Before I Die Virtual Festival Videos and Sponsors

This video and many others from the 2020 Before I Die New Mexico Virtual Festival are available at the Festival Videos page here.

2020 Festival Sponsor Logos

The Before I Die New Mexico Virtual Festival was made possible by:

A portion of the sponsorship proceeds and ticket sales from the Before I Die NM Virtual Festival are donated to 501(c)(3) charitable partners Fathers Building Futures, making “caskets for a cause” (, and Albuquerque’s Historic Fairview Cemetery, est. 1881 (

A Good Goodbye