Cemetery, Pokemon collide

Published 10:33 pm Friday, August 26, 2016

An unsanctioned path across a field in the middle of Cedar Hill Cemetery has appeared recently, and people with deep connections to the historic ground suspect a recent, high-tech innovation is the cause.

The tire ruts have killed the grass and worn depressions into the ground, and the path goes past the Hosier family mausoleum and the Nansemond County Civil War monument — both of which happen to be “Pokestops” in the popular Pokemon Go game.

“I think it’s disrespectful,” said Lee Hart, a member of the Tom Smith Camp Sons of Confederate Veterans. He spends much of his time helping to restore and preserve Confederate grave markers and cemetery features in general at Cedar Hill and across the state.

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“This is a place of honor,” he continued. “This is hallowed ground.”

The tire ruts weren’t there until a month or two ago, Hart said. That means they appeared around the time Pokemon Go was released. He said many people he knows who also work in the cemetery have spotted people driving along the path and also suspected Pokemon players were the culprits.

The deeper and more pronounced the ruts get, the more it looks like an official path and the more people drive down it, exacerbating the problem, Hart said.

Hart said people driving along the route may not realize they are driving over a number of unmarked graves. At this point, they also probably don’t realize it’s not supposed to be a path for vehicles.

The path runs off the southernmost paved path up the hill and heads toward the Hosier mausoleum. It then turns toward the Nansemond County Civil War monument and goes past several rows of marked graves before it arrives at a paved path again.

Several other locations in the cemetery, including the Confederate monument nearby, are also Pokestops, but most of them are near the paved paths.

Pokestops allow players in the augmented-reality game to acquire items they need to collect Pokemon. The game shows players fictional creatures in the virtual world through their smartphone cameras, and players are encouraged to collect them all. More than 150 Pokemon exist.

Hart said playing the game at all in the cemetery is disrespectful. But, if they must, they should stay on the paved paths.

City spokeswoman Diana Klink said the city will monitor the issue.

“If people are utilizing the space and are unauthorized, this is a concern,” she said, noting that the area should be used only by city staff, vault companies and contractors completing needed tasks in the cemetery.