Cemeteries surrounded by parking lots

Alex Steffen sent me this link to a gallery of cemeteries in parking lots.
200901281031Tullahassee Creek Indian Cemetery – Sand Springs, Oklahoma

Situated right between an ATM and a postal drop box, this Indian cemetery comprises about 1/4 acre of isolated turf in a parking lot outside Tulsa.

It was founded in 1883 and took less than a century to become the inadvertent centerpiece of a strip mall.


  1. Wow…that makes me feel sad for us as a human race…

    I guess the Indians knew prime real estate when they saw it too.

  2. We’ve become way too culturally sensitive. In my day, we’d build housing developments over these cemeteries and deal with the ectoplasmic consequences as they came up.

  3. I realize this post is a lighthearted look at a rather peculiar phenomenon- it IS pretty damn funny.

    If I could take two seconds to be a downer though, a part of me is really sad to see an imagine like this. The plight of American Indian to protect their land and their sacred places of worship has been all but ignored by a greater part of the population. There’s an inherent level of disrespect- not just for a culture- but for humanity when a municipality decides they are almost literally going to piss on the graves of their native neighbors.

    Is the image peculiar and wonderful- absolutely.

    But please take a moment to imagine if you’re family’s grave was desolated like this. Migwich

    …okay, here’s a Unicorn Chaser

  4. Memphis has a couple of onesie twosie cemetarys, where there is only a handful of graves being protected.

    The most common way is having the grave made into a city park of sorts. But one of these graveyards are a tombstone or two behind two strip malls between Madison and Union or Poplar, behind a Piggly Wiggly next to a dumpster.

    Hallowed Ground

  5. I grew up a mile or two from the second one on the list, the Burr cemetary. As a kid, nothing makes an impression more than a cemetary in the middle of a parking lot. I’m surprised Modells (which back then was more like cheap-end dept store and not just sporting goods like it is today) was built in the 50s though, figured it was more like 1970.

  6. With luck, the strip mall will eventually be abandoned and decay, as is their way. The cemetery will survive, even flourish.

  7. @Bledsoefilms

    “But please take a moment to imagine if you’re family’s grave was desolated like this. ”

    As much as I am upset to see these hideous parking lots erasing cultural history, I also could care less about graves. First as an atheist, I will have little need for the dirt that will be my body hundreds of years after I die, and similarly my family remains. But also, in the era of many of these graves, people were buried on their farms or just where they died, so many of us are probably living in working in buildings sitting on top of dead people.

    Who cares.

  8. Certainly aesthetically crazy, but it’s not SO bad if you consider that in much of Europe cemetery graves are dug up and re-used every generation or so.

  9. @9:

    Or in Spain, according to the linked page. But definitely only in those two places.

  10. Interesting…on the Crowley Mausoleum in Decatur, Georgia:

    “Unfortunately, to make a parking lot possible, the hill on which the cemetery stood had to be leveled, so the developer made the unusual decision to leave the graves at their original elevation, build a wall around them about 20 feet high and remove the surrounding earth. As a result, the only way to access the cemetery is through a locked gate and up a stairway. No one’s sure who now has the keys.”

    I’ve lived very near this, and I never noticed the cemetary on top. I just thought it was some strange little building. The gravestones must not be visible from the street.

  11. And I thought the Palisades Mall in Nyack NY was bad – there a cemetery on a hill has been completely engulfed by a huge mall. That’s always a depressing site, but to be surrounded by a parking lot – sigh…

  12. I don’t see how this desecrates a burial site. All over the world people build cities right up to the edge of graveyards, and it’s not considered desecration. Go to Europe, New Orleans. It’s a good thing that it was left alone and not paved over because it “Injuns”.

  13. @10

    Agreed. I don’t see why this matters except for the cultural loss. These graves are to old to be a mourning site for any family.

    There are plenty of cemeteries that I see where I live and I never have been to one except for funerals, even though some are quite old. So although a parking lot is not as nice, at least it is fulfilling some purpose. I guess it makes some people sad though, to know that their little plot of dirt will, like them, not last forever.

    And interestingly enough my religious views are quite different from yours.

  14. @ #10 VETLEMAKT

    Fair enough.

    But I generally am of the belief that it’s not our place to impress our religious differences upon those who choose to feel differently. In most American Indian cultures, people were not “buried on their farms or just where they died,” they were buried ceremoniously.

    Perhaps to make a different comparison- Imagine if this was originally a National Park that was set aside as protected land, and then over time it was developed over until there was almost nothing left of our Park but a small 30×30 patch of land. That would sadden me. You?

  15. being part “injun”, i feel deeply saddened every time i see this kind of shit. even if they were white graves, or black ex-slaves, or chinese railroad-coolie graves. they are part of our history, it is hallowed ground, and shouldn’t be trodded over to get from the ATM to the photohut. it cheapens our culture. which is cheap enough as it is.

  16. Cemeteries surrounded by parking lots

    If it wasn’t for the picture, I might’ve thought that the story was about Circuit City.

  17. not sure how this is depressing or sad. It is simply preservation of history. It looks like most of these graveyards aren’t Indian related in the first place.

    Can anyone tell me, are these grave sites preserved as a matter of respect, or are historical preservation laws in place that prevent say a strip mall from paving over them?

  18. There’s a grave near me in NJ that was mentioned in Weird NJ once – it’s in the parking lot for a movie theatre too…
    *checks* Aha! It has this – the grave of Mary Ellis! Is it being moved?? I’ll have to go back and take proper pics of it sometime before then.

  19. I have an irrational dread of my body being embalmed and preserved in an underground box, as well as religious objections to modern American burial practices. I realize I’m unlikely be in any condition to complain about it, but it just completely skeeves me.

    When I die, my friends are supposed to steal my body from the morgue and bury me six feet down with no coffin or chemical preservatives. They’ll put acorns in my pockets and in the soil above my rotting corpse, and hopefully an oak tree will eventually grow there that will have my bones sticking out it in various places. It’ll be way cooler than being turned into pollution or toxic waste by cremation or embalming.

    I’ve been hectoring my friends and family about this for the last 25 years, and they’ve promised me they’re going to do it. I have a nagging suspicion that they are just agreeing to shut me up, though. I’m going to come back and haunt people if my body gets embalmed, you hear me?


  20. I remember the Piggly Wiggly cemetery from when I lived in Memphis. It was right around the corner from the now defunct Antenna Club, River City Donuts, and Lam Hung Chinese Restaurant on Madison Ave. I do miss seeing all those great bands at the Antenna Club and all the great BBQ.


  21. We have fucked up ideas about what it means to respect the dead.

    The big park-like cemeteries that were built (mainly in the late 19th century) specifically so that families could picnic and spend the day with their dearly departed now have “no picnic” signs posted.

    So I guess it’s wrong to enjoy big cemeteries as the parks they were intended to be, but it’s absolutely ok to surround them with Mammon’s Asphalt.


  22. The difference between this and graveyards in Europe is … in Europe, things “grew” together. The graveyard with the mother of my mother-in-law is surrounded by houses, some of them old, some of them new. A friend got married in a nice little church which stood right on the graveyard, which was in the middle of the village. In the south of Germany, many graveyards are right in the middle of the village, next to the church.
    But the thing is: They have always been there. the same way the village has always been there. (Yes, I know, there must have been trees and whatnot and maybe even dinosaurs sometime, but you know the kind of “always been there”).
    ((And since someone asked: At least in Germany graves can change the owner every 20 or 25 years. You rent the place for 25 years, then it’s up for someone else. You can of course also buy it for longer, but most people get 25 years and that’s it.))

  23. It reminds me of Queen Mary University in London where they had to build around a graveyard and it creates a very odd effect. One minute you are in the busy central square with the library and bar then you walk towards the canal and suddenly there’s hundereds of graves with buildings surrounding them and students walking through them.


  24. I used to love Rural America. Then Corporate America came in and ass-raped it.
    It’s not cemeteries I’m concerned about, it’s open and wild spaces in general. I can’t ride a horse or shoot off a pistol around here without someone complaining to the city council.

  25. They all seem to be square and from the direction of the shadows they appear oriented north to south along the diagonal. Is there any significance to this?

  26. Growing up in New England, I’d run into abandoned cemeteries when I was walking in the woods. Normally, I find cemeteries to be peaceful. Running into an overgrown, 18th century family plot filled with children’s graves in the deep woods is a little eerie.

  27. Eerie but respectful. Sounds better than

    “While returning to my car from Spencer’s Gifts the other day, I accidentally dropped my keys on the plot of the founder of “Oktain Eukiwa”.”

  28. Here is a small plot in Annapolis, MD that’s always made me question where i would end up someday. hopefully not wedged between three busy intersections.
    some of the graves there are fairly recent. recent enough to have visitors. i think i feel worse for them having to see where their loved ones have ended up. if you look a tad further south on the map you can see the rest of the cemetery they were probably once a part of before the roads and buildings were constructed.

  29. Phil a Minion, I’m with you. There is a large (and expanding) lawn cemetary near my house in San Bernadino County in California, my first girlfriend and I used to get Del Taco for lunch and then drive up there to sit on the nice grass under the shady trees and relax. Sometimes we’d look for the graves of her relatives, but we never ended up finding them.

  30. Re: AUILIX,

    Argh, you beat me to it!

    Yes, Mary Ellis’ grave is still there; when Loews took over the lease from the US-1 Flea Market (of Mallrats fame), it was stipulated that they couldn’t move it from its original spot. When I was a kid we always wondered about Mary; rumors circulated that she had been buried with her horse, or that the grave itself was for a horse. Now it’s just a patch of grass lost in a sea of macadam.

    Google maps has a pretty hi-rez image of it here.

  31. @Micah
    “No, you couldn’t.”

    Probably true. The last thing this country needs is lawns with obstructions that make mowing difficult.
    The history we should save, but not every grave is significant.

    In most American Indian cultures, people were not “buried on their farms or just where they died,” they were buried ceremoniously.

    So is everybody behind every church. Again, I hate the destruction of culture for reason of Parking, but I think the Indian burial ground mystique is the creation of the white man’s obsession with equating minority religions with magic. It’s just like every other graveyard, only they didn’t have headstones.

    My who cares attitude was more about these homestead graveyards rather then the Indian graveyards where this lots of archeology to be done. I think the real loss in terms of these farms is the houses and barns that once stood next to these graves. Probably beautiful stone houses all hit with a wrecking ball so they could build a Circuit City that then goes tits up.

    Shopping malls are generally built in suburbs, which are generally built in the old farms that once surrounded every town in America, and all those farms likely had family burial plots. Some got plowed under and some got built around.

    All that said, I think these make for a great set of photos. a real juxtaposition of time, culture, mood, and function.

  32. #18: “These graves are to old to be a mourning site for any family.”

    That’s not exactly true. The above picture is of a cemetery started in 1883 and was used “between 1883 and 1912.” My grandmother was born in that time period and is still alive. Meaning, the cemetery could easily hold immediate family members of someone that is still alive. I’m not sure what you’re talking about…

  33. Count me in the “so what?” camp here. Whatever is in the ground there, it’s not a human being. Maybe there’s an afterlife, or maybe this world is all we get; I don’t know, and anyone who claims they do know is selling hogwash. I feel certain, though, that after I’m dead, my body is not “me” in any meaningful sense. Putting it in the ground and worshiping it is pure superstition, on par with a rain dance or a cootie shot.

    @Mintphresh: If you’ll take a look at the link, three of the four cemeteries appear to be non-Indians, guessing from the names.

  34. Oh, and I forgot to mention: I live around the corner from the one in Memphis as well. Funny how many Midtown Memphians are posting here.

  35. Here in MA, around what was once Salem (Salem was originally larger and later was broken up into a few towns) there are plenty of graves/tombs alongside highways, or on the corner of people’s yards. As far as feeling bad for the occupants, as my father says, “Your funeral and grave aren’t for you, they’re for other people to come and say goodbye to.” I’ve no idea what a grave represents in Native American culture, though.

  36. I live approximately 1 mile from the Sand Springs Shopping Cemetery featured here. I can tell you it’s been a curiosity to me my entire life. The buildings around it haven been there for at least the last 30 or 40 years. Currently, the smaller building to the lower right is a bar and the larger building contains a Radio Shack, a Dollar General and an Atwoods.

    I’m not sure that the shopping center grew up out of disrespect for the Tallahassee Indians. The vast majority of people born in Oklahoma claim some Indian heritage. It’s kept mostly maintained, though no one visits it. It has always seemed strange to me, though, that lines have been painted by the owners of the shopping center to allow people to park around it.

  37. I also live near the second cemetary on the list and have been there countless times. it’s a strange thing to see, but the thing that weirded me out even more is a sign in my town of northport acknowledging a spot from the 1770’s where one of the first casualties of the revolutionary war was murdered on his farm. the landscape nowadays is dominated by a super stop and shop, a Hess station and a strip mall.

  38. @#52 AOI

    Oops! I scanned through to see if someone else had mentioned it and got distracted by the post above yours. (I live in Austin & plan to keep an eye out for that one on my next trip from the airport.) Thanks for the info on Palmer Cemetery.

  39. Didn’t read the whole thread but I blogged about this cemetery surrounded by massive 400-series highways in Toronto a few years ago. I noticed it on my way to the airport on very early morning.


    Zoom out to get a feel for just how inaccessible that plot of land is!

  40. MDH

    If you dig deep enough there is an upside.

    If you dig deep enough you get to the upside. :)

  41. The laws in Oklahoma about when you can or cannot move a cemetery are different if it is originally a Native American burial site or not. If a highway or other land development has to go through they will dig up and move a white cemetery. The laws are in place to make it much harder to move an Indian site. There was a large settler cemetery(800+ graves) just north of Muskogee that was moved to make way for HWY 69. There is Indian Casino near the spot now. Ironic

  42. I used to live in this town before I moved to New Jersey my freshmen year in high school. I remember seeing it when we first moved to the area (’97), i thought “how odd” at the time, but didn’t realize the implications.

    This IS pretty depressing.

  43. @ #25, charlie-

    When I was younger and my grandmother died, I learned for the first time about the vault they use to protect the coffin. This seemed crazy to me then and still does. So, while we got my grandmother the indestructible vault of her dreams, I’ve always felt that same irrational creepiness about being preserved and put into one. I’m not religious, so it shouldn’t really matter what happens to me once I’m dead…I don’t think I’ll mind either way, but I’ve always felt a little bit better about “green burials.”


  44. Thanks for the link, Calan!

    Unfortunately those graveyards are all far away from me, but I’m hoping one will come closer before I kick off.

    I’ve been thinking about a “do not embalm” tattoo…


  45. Here’s the Lewis Cemetary surrounded by a parking lot and shopping center just on the outskirts of Denver, Colorado.

    I remember when I first saw it with its black gates how incredibly odd it was. I’m not a fan of the suburbs, but I love surreal stuff like this I rarely find when I venture out there.

    Google Maps Aerial View

  46. #61: Yes, I discovered that one a few years ago when living in Etobicoke and doing Geocaching. Somebody had set up a cache there named “Death by Traffic” It’s actually accessible from Eglinton West, through a gate just under the 427/401 overpass. Most of the graves are mid-nineteenth century.

    Unfortunately, your link directly to central Mississauga, and not the cemetery.

    Here’s a direct one:


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