A sign reminds visitors to Arlington Cemetery about proper behavior, Arlington, Va.

Cemetery in snow, shot on 35 millimeter film in January 1977, Ashland, Ky.

Stones mark military graves in Section 51 of Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. Most buried in that section died before 1910.

U.S. Army sentinel protects the Tomb of the Unknowns, Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

Graves of American dead from the June 6, 1944 D-Day invasion line a hill overlooking the English Channel at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Omaha Beach, Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France.

Gravestones stand in lines in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

The graveyard behind Circular Congregational Church (in background) on Meeting Street in Charleston, S.C., has been in use since 1681.

A chapel is surrounded by graves in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

A stone in Lexington Cemetery in Lexington, Ky., carries a family name as well as identifying its surroundings.

The cemetery beside Trinity Church on Broadway in New York City stands in front of the American Stock Exchange building.

The Washington Monument is visible behind graves in Arlington Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

Stones mark military graves in Section 51 of Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. Most buried in that section died before 1910.

The Circular Church Graveyard, which is located behind Circular Congregational Church on Meeting Street in Charleston, S.C., has been in use since 1681. In the background is the steeple of St. Philip's Episcopal Church.

The view from the stage of the Memorial Amphitheater, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

Stones mark military graves in Section 51 of Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. Most buried in that section died before 1910.

A walkway overlooks the English Channel at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, Omaha Beach, Colleville-sur-Mer, Normandy, France.

Stones mark military graves in Section 51 of Green Lawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio. Most buried in that section died before 1910.

Looking up at the ceiling in Memorial Amphitheater, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

A Confederate cemetery on Johnson's Island,, in Lake Erie's Sandusky Bay, served as a burial ground for Confederate soldiers held in a prison on the island during the Civil War.

Gravestones line a hillside in Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Va.

04.22/Cemeteries

Cemeteries should be very solemn places, but I’m amazed how many people don’t know how to behave when visiting cemeteries. 

I’ve spent time through the years photographing cemeteries. It may seem like an odd interest, but cemeteries are beautiful places for photography. Green grass, trees and grave stones provide an endless array of interesting compositions for a photographer. And cemeteries are an excellent place to photograph birds, another interest of mine.

But when I’m doing photography in a cemetery I suddenly become aware of just how loud a camera shutter release can be. When everything around me is extremely quiet, the click of the camera shutter seems to roll across the surroundings like the sound of a cannon firing.

That’s the reason I try to stay far away from people when I’m doing photography in a cemetery.

Cemeteries should be very solemn places, but I’m amazed how many people don’t know how to behave when visiting cemeteries. Arlington National Cemetery has placed signs throughout to remind people that the cemetery is a place for silence and respect. 

Even with reminder signs there are still people who misbehave.

For instance, there was the woman who posted a photo on Facebook of her yelling while giving “the finger” toward one of the “silence and respect” signs at Arlington. Her employer didn’t find it humorous. 

And there was the video that went viral, showing a guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns forcefully chastising people who were talking very loudly in the small amphitheater overlooking the tomb.

This behavior in a cemetery is troubling, but it fits in with the lack of respect for social norms that I see almost daily. It seems as if American society has become less respectful through the years, focusing more on “what I want” than “what is right.”

When I read about the behavior issues in Arlington National Cemetery I immediately thought of my mom and dad. Every year on Memorial Day we would go to the local cemetery to place flowers on graves of relatives, some that I remembered and some that had passed before I was born. My parents stressed the importance of proper behavior in the cemetery: no loud talking or laughing, no running, no sitting/standing/leaning on grave markers or monuments. In other words, show respect. A cemetery is a place of mourning, a place of remembrance, they said. It isn’t a playground.

I’ve never forgotten. Apparently others have … or they never learned in the first place.

If my mother knew about this behavior she’d be spinning in her grave, unless she had already been disturbed by a cemetery visitor talking loud enough to wake the dead.

End of rant.

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