Welcome to this exhibit featuring selected photographs from cemeteries around Oregon. The images offer a look at the ways people represent themselves and their loved ones in death. The exhibit shows cemeteries in diverse settings all around Oregon — from farmland to deserts to mountains.
The development of cemeteries in the United States mirrors larger societal trends about how the living relate to the dead. Increasingly after 1830, cemeteries were designed as sanctuaries from the growing industrialization and faster pace of life. They often featured elaborate entrance gates, beautiful sculptures, winding roads, and artful gardens.
Rising populations also led people to see traditional church burial grounds as crowded, expensive, and disease-ridden. Park-like cemeteries built on less expensive land were seen as both a practical and aesthetically superior solution.
Oregonians in the 1800s and early 1900s had very direct connections to death. Most people died at home and middle class funerals were often held in the formal parlor of the house.
Cemeteries reflected this connection as well. Graves were often designed as beds or houses — a sort of last house in a city of the dead. The imagery of the monuments also suggested that death was a form of gentle rest with, for example, little sleeping children resting on top of gravestones.
In many cases, newer cemeteries also reflect the larger world. More people die in nursing homes or hospitals and many family members only go to cemeteries for funerals, avoiding them otherwise. The imagery of more modern cemeteries, with their flat and efficient markers, is a stark contrast to dramatic monuments shown throughout this exhibit.
Partial source for this introduction: Cemeteries by Keith Eggener, 2010.
Each photograph that follows includes information that describes the image, shows its geographic location, and documents the cemetery. All photos are from the Oregon State Archives.
About the Photographer
Senior Archivist Gary Halvorson began photographing Oregon in the late 1990s while traveling the state conducting historical county records surveys for the Oregon State Archives. His work takes him to out-of-the-way places around the state.
Along the way, he photographs interesting landscapes and historically significant sites. While he has photographed cemeteries in every corner of the state, he has many left to explore.
The photographer reflected in the fender of a car. (Oregon State Archives Photo)