Forest Hills Cemetery the Living, and the Day of the Dead

Forest Hills Cemetery, courtesy of Liz Kelleher

It’s official: you can celebrate your ancestors, but you need to do it in private. Forest Hills Cemetery will not be holding a Day of the Dead ceremony on November 2 this year. Forest Hills held an annual Day of the Dead Festival for  years; you can easily find photos of past festivals on-line. This year’s festival was cancelled due to the ongoing strife between the Forest Hills Cemetery Board, which controls the cemetery, and the Forest Hills Educational Trust, which planned arts events and festivals in the cemetery.

This Latin American holiday, more commonly known as Dia de los Muertos, is a festival that involves visiting graves with gifts of food and drink the dead folks would have enjoyed, decorating the graves with marigolds and sugar skulls,playing music to the dead, and dressing up like living skeletons, among other things. Just as Halloween may involve either dressing up as a cute fluffy bunny or impersonating a giant  vampire squid, Dia de los Muertos means different things to different people. Some people laugh at death, some people are somber, and some people just like eating sugar skulls.

Back in December 2010, departing Forest Hills Educational Trust Executive Director Cecily Miller said, “The cemetery [management] is very supportive of some of the trust’s programs like the Lantern Festival and history tours, but maybe it doesn’t see the arts programs or cultural programs as integral to its mission.” Apparently, traditional Latino remembrances of the dead are not integral to Forest Hills Cemetery’s mission.

That stance seems a bit odd, given that Forest Hills Cemetery is located in one of the most heavily hispanic areas of Boston; hispanics make up 10%-44% of the population in census tracts around the Cemetery, according to the 2010 Census. It’s hard not to conclude that the Forest Hills Cemetery Board would rather keep the Cemetery open (and empty) for the dead instead of full of people who live nearby.

Rumor has it that Mount Auburn Cemetery has offered to host the Day of the Dead in the future. Perhaps Mount Auburn’s board is more comfortable with celebrating death than Forest Hills. Earlier this month, Sweet Auburn hosted a Edgar Allen Poe (or at least someone who could play him on TV) reading his story “The Tell-Tale Heart.” It wasn’t a Day of the Dead, and there weren’t any anatomically correct sugar organs around, but I’m sure it was festive.

  2 Replies to “Forest Hills Cemetery the Living, and the Day of the Dead”

  1. susi
    October 31, 2011 at 10:14 am

    My My not a surprise. Very sad. “old” boston hanging on by it’s fingernails……
    Reminds me of some of decisions made by the Arnold Arboretum for some it’s activites. And these beautiful public areas are very poorly attended by local people of color. Perhaps they wish to remain that way.

  2. Malcol
    November 2, 2011 at 10:00 am

    Too bad. My ritual was to go to la dia every odd year to mourn and celebrate.
    I’ll have to find the event somewhere else. I thought is was cool that an old cemetery served as many creative functions for the living as it could.

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