Monday, July 4, 2011

Tranquility Garden

I read that there was going to be an open house celebration for a new cremation garden complete with free family portraits. I drove to Oaklawn Park Cemetery to sketch the festivities. Part of me hoped there would be lines of zombie families waiting to have their decaying corpses photographed. I drove into the cemetery searching for the "Tranquility Garden." I found a "Garden of Eternity" but no tranquility. I figured I might be in the wrong cemetery so I pulled back onto CR46-A and started driving. That is when I noticed the Baldwin-Fairchild Funeral Home across the street. I did a u-turn and pulled in the parking lot. Two hearses and a limo were parked in the car port. I was greeted at the front door by a very old gentleman in a black suit. There were a dozen people dressed in black in the entryway. When I asked to see "Tranquility Garden" I was introduced to Ed Johnson.

Ed walked me past the room where the free family portraits were being taken. I asked how many people they were expecting to photograph and he estimated 300 people would show up. We walked through offices, a kitchenette and a break room before going outside to hop on a golf cart. He drove me back into the cemetery and we stopped near a beautiful fountain. Behind every gray tile on the fountain there was a cavity for cremated remains. There was a row of small grass plots for interments. Several plots had large granite headstones. A huge dark granite rocking chair could hold a couple's ashes in two square canisters at the base of the chair. No, the chair did not rock.

A staircase followed a nice flowing waterway they added to the landscape. There was a putting green set up and a sculpture of a golf bag was there to house a happy golfer's remains. There was a scoreboard to keep track of the eternal game. There was a fish sculpture for a fisherman and a chess piece for a chess master. There was an area dedicated to war veterans, with simple stone monoliths where individuals would each have their own tile. There was a wishing well where it would be possible to have your ashes co-mingled with other peoples ashes. Perhaps in this age of social networks that is an attractive sales point.

I told Ed I would like to do a sketch. He seemed perplexed. As I worked a black sedan pulled up next to me and the two men inside watched me intently. They must have been sent to make sure I wasn't a vandal. I sketched faster thinking I might be asked to leave. It started to rain. I ran up to a gazebo and continued to add water color washes there. When it stopped raining I returned to my original spot to finish the sketch. On a distant hill the Virgin Mary held her hands open in supplication. The sun blasted through the clouds baking my black wet shirt.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at

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