FREAK Shots: Death and Foreclosure

A blog reader named Lee emailed us a photo he took on Highway 86 in Imperial, California. “It made me wonder if [the economy] is really that bad that even dead people will lose their resting places,” he writes. “What will they do? Evict the dead?”


We called Victor Carrillo, the supervisor for Imperial County listed on the sign, to find out.

“It’s a privately owned cemetery,” he tells us. “I presume it will be purchased by another entity in the cemetery business. That’s been typical.”

For a new owner to use the land as something other than a cemetery, says Carrillo, they’d have to contact all the families with relatives buried there, pay to move all the remains, request a land-use zone change, and have numerous public hearings.

Carrillo suspects the cemetery’s alkaline soil, which makes it difficult to grow grass and vegetation, played a role making it unattractive to potential customers and bringing it to foreclosure.

Though according to the Los Angeles Times, the cemetery is just one of many businesses in the Imperial Valley that is suffering.

We asked Larry Anspach, president of American Cemetery/Mortuary Consultants Inc. whether we’re likely to see more cemetery foreclosures as a result of the recession.

“This is the first I’ve heard of a cemetery being foreclosed,” he says. “People say it’s actually a recession-proof industry.” A foreclosure is more likely to happen because of bad or fraudulent money management by the owner, he says.

Anspach agrees with Carrillo that a foreclosed cemetery probably won’t become a parking lot or a Walmart:

Given the current economic climate, people probably aren’t scrambling to use the land for commercial purposes. It would obviously upset a lot of people if someone said “Gee, we’re going to turn this cemetery into a housing development, like in Poltergeist.”


Cemeteries are such a waste of space


Should be viable as a continued buisness since people are dying to get in...

Eric M. Jones

"Carrillo suspects the cemetery's alkaline soil, which makes it difficult to grow grass and vegetation,...."

It is generally trivial to lower soil alkalinity. The problem is the price of the water required to keep the green plants growing. In the mightly San Joaquin (where most of your vegetables are grown), the soil is very alkaline, but the water is affordable.


no wonder they're in foreclosure--they ask for flowers instead of money!

Larry Eisenberg

Some Cemeteries it appears
Are racked with Bankruptcy fears,
Would such a Chapter 8,
Include each Pearly Gate
And the Heavens to which it adheres?

Connie H.

A smart buyer would turn it into a xeriscaped cemetary, with cactuses and whatnot -- make it 'green' (well, actually brownish) featuring low water use and native plants as a feature.


#6 Connie H.:

Then will they spread tan fake grass /Astro-turf under the graveside tent for the mourners to stand on versus the fake green stuff they use today?

I also thought that cemetaries were supposed to have a bunch of money in trust for the maintenance of the cemetary...


I can't believe no-one would want that land. It's the dead center of town.

Kristie Cuzick

I thought cemeteries were owned by the government and/or non-profit organizations. But it makes sense that a cemetery has the potential to rake some dough in. When we die, we got to go somewhere, but when will we run out of space to lay our dead? I read that in Europe, you get to rent your burial site for five years! Then they dig up your remains and move them to save room. Where they take them, i do not know, mass burial maybe? As for the thought of cemeteries being recession proof, I guess this little number has proved them wrong. There must be something really bad going on money wise when a cemetery has to be foreclosed. This cemetery, not being owned by government, would probably be making a lot of money since people die and have to be buried, and they need to pay to burry.
This really makes me think, when someone dies and they are buried, how do you know that the cemetery leaves the body there? Maybe they move the body right after its been buried and burn it to save money. I mean, don't you think those graves are pretty close together? How would you know, really, it's possible.


Dr. Roe E. Markin

As founder of the Funeral Help Program I applaude the idea of turning this into a 'green' burial site. With the right landscaping it could be viable again in short order since returning to Nature is coming into vogue in the USA. It's already a huge hit in the UK where they have 280-odd 'green' cemeteries already. Dust to Dust ... like Nature intended.


Not every cemetery is endowed with a trust fund for maintenance, likewise not every cemetery is in danger of foreclosure. Families have nothing to fear if a particular cemetery is 'perpetual care'-in Texas, that is why perpetual care is in force (so that the cemetery is always maintained as such for...well....a perpetual time)...however, each cemetery has it's own administration whether the administration is corporate or private. Honestly, it is in cases like this that being corporately held is viewed as a "positive"...and I think the world is a whole lot more ready to see a foreclosed cemetery than they are to view a corporate funeral home/cemetery in a positive manner!!

Ryan Sackett

i think im going to have to side with kristie. one is closing down here in albany oregon