When I went scouting around the cemeteries in the Reno, Nevada area before writing my Funeral Singer novel, I spent some time on the outside of one near the University of Nevada Reno campus. The cemetery appeared run down, forgotten, and forlorn with crumbling or missing monuments, no greenery to speak of, and a general feeling of utter neglect, particularly on the south side of the bluff that overlooked the city. A dirt road ran between this side and the other side where the monuments were newer and a smaller section to the northeast that flaunted a Nevada state historic marker.
This is the Old Hillside Cemetery that dates back to the 1800s and is the final resting place of many of the early settlers and prominent members of the community in the Reno-Sparks area. But is it final?
Now the owner and a developer plan to exhume the bodies, relocate them, and possibly build student housing or some other dwellings on the property. This has caused an uproar with the relatives of people buried in the south section, who see this as disrespectful of their ancestors and for some, a violation of what they hold sacred. According to this article in the Reno Gazette Journal, the plan the developer proposes is to re-inter the bodies on the northern side.
However, there are over eight hundred remains in the south side and I don’t believe they have enough room to move them. The other cemeteries are the Pythian Cemetery, which is maintained well, and the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery, which holds the remains of eight-two Civil War veterans from Nevada.
Before I learned all the details of the cemetery, I decided to include it in the second Funeral Singer novel, A Song for Menafee and began researching it further. I learned that the cemetery was willed to the University, and the authorities had hoped to build student housing on the site, but they soon realized the hurdles of trying to clear and move the graves would be more than they wished to endure. They sold the cemetery to Sierra Memorial Gardens and the new owners fenced the property and began to clean it up some. From my perspective, it provided the ideal location for my book. Shortly after I published in August, 2016, the issue blew up with the plan to move the bodies, clean up the property, and then decide how it would be used.
For me, it struck a discordant note. In my research, I’d taken a trip to the Shiloh Battlefield, a national monument and cemetery that preserved as many graves from that battle as they could, including discovering and marking the several burial trenches where the Confederate dead, the losers at Shiloh, had been interred in mass. I’d felt a sense of connection with these people from the past and their history. Other cemeteries that are hundreds of years old also honor the dead and provide a link. Yet here, in my city, in a cemetery not even one-hundred-fifty-years old, people want to dig up some of the founders of the city and move them to a different place breaking the connection, and the energy, that exists in the burial ground.
Ghosts have been sighted at the Hillside Cemetery, or so many people report. Whether you believe in such happenings or not, there is an energy at burial sites that you can feel. For me, I’ve encountered enough odd events to make me think that ghosts are quite probable. From that standpoint, you can move the bones, but that doesn’t mean the spirit will go with them. Someone living in an apartment in a building constructed on the site may still encounter paranormal activity. Would you want to live there?