A walking tour is probably the easiest way to provide historical context for your cemetery and the people buried there. The cost can be free — just an investment of time and effort — to a sizable investment, if you want to provide printed brochures or online mapping support.
There are two main types of walking tour: self-guided and guided. While self-explanatory, there are many ways to go about creating either kind of tour.
The guided walking tour is an old classic, and is a great way to get people to visit your cemetery. Lone Fir Cemetery in Portland, Oregon, offers a guided tour of the cemetery, every few weeks. These are $10 and usually attract about twenty people interested in attending, according to the Facebook events. If you have a really great volunteer, have them come up with the tour narrative. I would suggest having a central narrative that has a map of where to walk with the text of the gravestones to visit on the tour. However, the guides don’t need to follow this word for word. Provide a good framework and then let your volunteers do the rest. People will like the tours if the tour guides are knowledgeable and interested in the topic themselves. Enthusiasm shows and is contagious. While guided tours are the most personal way to tour a cemetery, not every place has the capacity to offer guided tours. That’s where self-guided tours come in.
Self Guided Tours
There are a lot of kinds of self-guided tours and technology is making it easier to create innovative kinds of ways for people to interact with your cemetery.
Printed Walking Tours
The traditional self-guided tour usually comes in the form of a brochure with a map and
places to stop marked out. Each stop has a short story of the person buried there. This is a great and relatively low-cost option. If you want to start with something small and practical, this option is great. Install a waterproof brochure holder at your site and refill the holder on a regular basis so people visiting have access to the brochure right when they walk up. The Linkville Pioneer Cemetery in Klamath Falls, Oregon, provides a brochure at their gate for visitors to the cemetery which includes a map, interesting monuments and people, and general information about the cemetery. This is a great example of what a printed walking tour could look like. Don’t forget to post this to your website as well so people can print it out on their own or explore the cemetery from home!
App Based Tours
One of the newer ways of offering tours for your visitors is an app-based tour. The Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta Georgia has an app you can download onto your preferred device. Included is an introductory narrative, list of features, and map function which lets you click on different features to learn more about them. The app is free, but for $2, you can upgrade to include more places of interest. This might be a great project to partner up with a nearby university that has a software developing program. This would also be a great grant project, as it’s a new and innovative way to interact with visitor. One really cool benefit is that people can explore the cemetery right from home. Even in Oregon, I was able to learn quite a bit about the Oakland Cemetery right from my computer table.
Google Maps (or other mapping tech)
One super simple and free way to provide a walking tour for your visitors is using Google Maps or similar program. Below see an example walking tour map I created for the Salem Pioneer Cemetery using Google Maps. It includes several points of interest along with a suggested walking route. This can be as detailed or as simple as you’d like. The map offers a good visual way to alert visitors to where interesting monuments or people are buried. Go ahead and give your own walking map a try!
There are many cemeteries who also offer virtual tours of their cemeteries online. Arlington Cemetery in Pennsylvania offers what is essentially a Google Streetview tour of the whole cemetery which you can click through. The Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia (along with segway tours!) offers a interactive map virtual tour where you can click through interesting places, while viewing photos and historical interpretation in the side panel. These options both require more technical knowhow than a printed or Google Map self-guided tour.
Remember that any of these options are only going to be as successful as you can make them. Don’t try to do a virtual tour if your team of staff or volunteers doesn’t have the capacity to do so. An old-fashioned, printed brochure can be a really great way to provide information to your visitors and encourage locals to come back out and see what’s going on at the local cemetery. Your cemetery and your community will know what is the best option for you!