And we"re gonna get buried by Megan Alexander Imagine having your wedding in a 19th century Gothic chapel set amid rolling hills, old shade trees and more peace and quiet than you ever knew existed in downtown Indianapolis. It even comes with a reception hall, caterer and florist. You just have to step over a few graves to get to it.
That"s right, Crown Hill Cemetery, the third largest non-military cemetery in the nation, has a chapel available for wedding ceremonies.
A little twisted, I agree, although the idea shouldn"t come as a shock. It"s almost mundane nowadays to get married underwater or falling out of the sky, and the first vow-swapping ceremony on the moon is probably just around the corner.
But still, a cemetery? The idea was first presented to me a few short months before my own wedding, which would take place in my hometown church (yawn, I know). Knee-deep in stacks of daisy-lined invitations, silver bells and roll after roll of sage green tulle, I tried to imagine a cemetery wedding for myself. Maybe I could find some invitations lined with gravestones instead of flowers. We could swap our string quartet for a somber funeral organ. And maybe, just maybe, I could coach some bats to carry the train of my dress down the aisle.
But as hard as I tried to shrug the idea off as crazy, I couldn"t go back to sealing silver-lined envelopes with the same zeal I had before. I wanted to see this chapel. I was a senior in college and the first sun of late spring was lulling me out of doors and far, far away from any chalkboards. If a trip to a cemetery was what it would take to justify skipping class, then so be it.
Feigning interest in holding my wedding at Crown Hill, I met with the cemetery"s event coordinator, Marianne, to explore the Gothic Chapel on a cool spring day. We met in the Waiting Station, a 19th century brick building at the cemetery"s entrance that doubles as a possible reception hall. Marianne ran down the list of available linens, tables, set-up and tear-down fees, and I dutifully wrote down the figures in a notebook.
While I scribbled in silence, she whipped out a loaded question: "Now, what exactly made you want to get married in a cemetery?" Of course, I was expecting her to tell me. I tripped over a few pathetic "I"ve always been drawn to cemeteries" and "the fascinating juxtaposition of love and death," a scarlet blush spreading up my neck and across my cheeks all the while. She nodded politely, and to save me from any further embarrassment, suggested we walk to the Gothic Chapel.
The road to the chapel curved through the quiet cemetery for about half a mile. We passed graves of every shape and size: mausoleums guarded by smooth white columns, cinder block-sized stones with only a last name, tombstones carved into tree stumps, benches, urns and more.
There were over 190,000 graves in Crown Hill cemetery, and they were all strangers to me, but still, nearly every name sparked a memory. Baker: the boy who smelled in second grade. Allen: the girl to beat in high school cross-country. Vonnegut: the first novel I had to read in college.
Birds swooped in front of us from the branches of looming elms. Tulips and daffodils sprouted along the roadside. For a split second, I was jealous of the peace and quiet a wedding in a cemetery would offer. My hometown church sat a short block from the town"s main highway. Sermons were usually punctuated with semi brakes or honks from town cruisers. This, however, was beautiful. A man with headphones jogged past us and I said to Marianne, "It"d be like getting married in a park if you could look past the gravestones."
"That"s the point."
In 1863, she explained, the City Cemetery of Indianapolis was reaching maximum capacity, and city officials were concerned over where the bodies of incoming Civil War soldiers would be buried. Fortunately, for Indianapolis then and now, officials constructed a new cemetery on 240 acres of rolling farmland. Its natural beauty and park-like atmosphere made Crown Hill a hotspot for church picnics and family socials.
Weird, perhaps, but this was the Victorian Age, when death was a part of everyday life. Epidemics like small pox and dyptheria killed three out of every 20 babies shortly after birth. A mother would pose for photographs with her dead child lying in her arms. Funerals were held in the deceased"s own home, not in a sterile funeral parlor. Back then, people felt more comfortable in cemeteries because they could not escape death long enough to ignore it.
But alas, this is not the Victorian Era, and most of us like to keep our visits to the cemetery at a minimum if we can help it. I wasn"t uncomfortable in a cemetery, but as we continued along the road, I thought of two more points to support an anti-wedding-in-a-cemetery conviction. First of all (and why didn"t I think of this earlier?): the chicken dance. Surely there was some sort of restriction against such an obnoxious dance in a cemetery. And sadly, a wedding in my family was not complete without the chicken dance. Secondly, in a weird twist of fate, I noticed that just a few yards from the chapel was a red, shiny tombstone with one word glaring back at me: ALEXANDER, my soon-to-be maiden name. If I didn"t have cold feet before, they"d definitely start shivering if I saw that on my way to the altar.
I was about to share the irony of the Alexander tombstone with Marianne when she started an all-too-eerie tangent on the movement to replace "graveyard" with the term "cemetery" in the 1800s. "Cemetery," derived from the Greek word for "sleeping chamber," was a little less morbid than graveyard and came to symbolize the transition from the physical life to the eternal.
That word, eternal, caught my attention and in an act almost unheard of on a day of skipping class, I began thinking. I imagined a wedding at Gothic Chapel. After vows were shared, two separate lives would merge into one eternal commitment of faith and love. Isn"t that what"s supposed to happen in a cemetery? A physical body enters and an eternal life begins. In that case, a cemetery seemed like it could be an appropriate place to hold a wedding.
Marianne unlocked the chapel doors and we stepped inside. The interior was small and simple (it would have been a short walk down the aisle), but lovely. Light passing through the stained glass windows behind the altar left a spectrum of colors on the stone floor.
Of course, I wasn"t quite moved enough to stop all wedding plans and switch catering and flower orders to Crown Hill"s main office, but as Marianne closed the tall, wooden doors of the dark chapel, I realized that I"d learned something - even though I"d sworn off school for the day. A wedding in a cemetery could make for a beautiful ceremony honoring the eternal promise of marriage, not the trivialities of wedding planning. Never mind what lies beneath.