Cemeteries. Every city has one. They are mysterious, historic, haunting and, to me, fascinating. I developed a fondness for cemeteries as a boy.
Now whenever I’m out of town, I always make it a point to visit a cemetery. To me, they are better than any mountain range, skyline or other popular tourist attraction. They are hidden treasures containing a wealth of information about communities and the people who lived there.
Chances are you have visited a cemetery at some time in your life to pay your respects to a family member or friend, and perhaps you too appreciate the stories represented among the tombstones and monuments.
My travels take me to all over the South and Midwest – and sometimes further North – so I have decided to start documenting my cemetery visits with a series of photos in a Sunday feature.
This week’s cemetery is Cedar Hills Pet Cemetery in Columbia, TN.
This little gem of a place was created back in 1972 by local businessman Marvin Bradley (1922-1974) who is buried next to his beloved Chihuahua Pepper (1962-1975) and happens to be the only human buried on the grounds.
A wide variety of pets are buried here including birds, snakes, a monkey, a goat and even a domesticated wolf named Poopie.
There’s even a special area reserved for police K-9’s. Kahn was responsible for capturing the Alabama Six, a group of robbers and murderers who escaped from prison. Devil is also buried here. When he was killed in the line of duty, every officer in the force came to pay tribute.
The cemetery offers funeral services similar to human funerals. “We don’t have a hearse but we do have a golf cart,” said J.B. Belcher who is the caretaker of Cedar Hills. “We try to make it appealing and comforting to those who have suffered the loss of a pet.”
In case you’re wondering…. pets have caskets, too — or urns, depending on whether they are buried or cremated.
People name their pets all kinds of things. During my visit spent a couple of hours at Cedar Hills walking around reading the names. I saw quite a few Devils, a Ringo, a Carlos, an Aristotle and a Plato. I noticed some sections where people had buried their entire family of pets spanning many years.
According to Belcher, the most common pet name as far burials and cremations is Bailey. “I cremate at least one Bailey a day,” he said.
Besides maintaining the grounds, Belcher also oversees Cedar Hills crematory.
“We do two types of cremations — private and communal,” he said. “Communal is when the pet owners don’t want the ashes back, so we will spread them in our scattering garden, which is a recent addition to the property.”
“Oftentimes, people will drive up to the scattering garden and sit in their cars or on one of the benches and hang out for a while to pay their respects,” he added.
The cemetery features upright headstones with entire poems inscribed as well as the names of every family member. Some feature photos and/or engravings of the pets. I saw several markers with the Star of David. There are also simple markers with just space for a name. There are many others somewhere in-between. And still others honor their pets with square plaques on the Memory Wall.
Belcher said people as far away as Pennsylvania and Texas have buried their pets at Cedar Hills which should come as no surprise to those who’ve been fortunate to visit the cemetery. It’s lush green grass, abundance of cedar trees and peaceful setting make it an ideal final resting place.
The cemetery is so tranquil that it even attracts live animals. “In the spring a hen turkey laid eight eggs right here,” said Belcher, pointing to a bare spot near on the ground near a marker. “What a treat seeing all of those babies roaming around the cemetery.”
But there’s one spot in the cemetery that seems to be everyone’s favorite, including mine. About midway through the grounds there’s a little rise in the land. If you turn around, you can see on the back of a memorial the words “Gone but not forgotten.”
Cedar Hills Cemetery, located at 2467 Nashville Highway in Columbia TN, is a must-see if you’re ever in the Nashville area.
Until next time….