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Contemplating the Place of Cemeteries in Society: The Proposed Disinterment of Human Remains at Hillside Cemetery in Reno, Nevada

Dsc_8926-2Hillside Cemetery is an old pioneer cemetery in Reno, Nevada. The last burial at Hillside occurred in 1959. The individuals laid to rest at Hillside range from the founding fathers of Reno to a Paiute chief to infant victims of scarlet fever. Regardless of the occupants, Hillside Cemetery fell into disrepair and was, apparently, a popular location for parties. As a result, the owner, Drew Lawton, of Hillside decided to sell the property for development.

Mr. Lawton’s decision was in compliance with N.R.S. § 451.070, which allows a cemetery to order the disinterment and removal of human remains on the property if (1) either “the further maintenance . . . the cemetery . . . is not in accordance with health, safety, comfort, or welfare of the public,” or (2) if a “financial provision must be made for future care of gravesites within a specified area.” After the notice of intent to disinter the bodies was posted, there was immediate push-back. In response to the outcry, Mr. Lawton postponed his decision to disinter the remains. Since the postponement, members of the Reno community have actively worked to beautify and preserve Hillside, demonstrated by the Hillside Cemetery Volunteers page and the Hillside Cemetery Preservation Foundation (HCPF).  

What struck me about this particular instance was the seeming change of heart with regards to Hillside in the community. Hillside was subject to neglect and vandalism. So, why did the Reno community change its mind regarding the importance of Hillside Cemetery? The HCPF highlights the importance of Hillside as a historical site in Reno, but the opportunity to restore Hillside has long presented itself. According the HCPF, Hillside never had a care trust in place, and the last time the gardens were cared for was 1905. I suppose the imminent threat of losing Hillside spurred members of the community into action, illustrating the old adage “you don’t know what you have until it’s (almost) gone.” Either way, it seems Hillside is around to stay, at least for now.

Maria Collins



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