A Final Resting Place and Its Afterlife: Woodlawn Cemetery

Depending on whom you ask, Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, which began a lengthy 150th anniversary program this year that will culminate in 2014 with an exhibition at the Wallach Art Gallery at Columbia University, has anywhere between 20 and 100 years left as an active cemetery (that’s the industry term for a place that still has open burial plots for sale). Some 300,000 people are buried there—Herman Melville, Fiorello La Guardia and Miles Davis among them—and there will be many more to come. It was only in the last decade or so that many of America’s cemeteries, taking a cue from Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Mass. (the final resting place of the poet Robert Creeley), began establishing themselves as nonprofits and, paradoxically for places that are so literally about the past, thinking about the future. Probably more than any other cemetery in the country, Woodlawn has already taken major steps toward preserving itself as a kind of outdoor museum: in 2006, the cemetery donated its papers to Columbia’s Avery Library (in all, they comprise 800 linear feet). In 2011, the U.S. Department of the Interior designated the cemetery as a National Historic Landmark, making sure that, like the mausoleums that bear the names of certain long-forgotten, once-powerful families, it will survive long after its active life is over.

Check out this article by Michael H. Miller from GalleristNY.

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