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What Happens to a Cemetery After Foreclosure?

article-imageMemory Gardens, Imperial, California (all photographs courtesy zachofalltrades)

Out beneath the scorching sun of Imperial Valley, California, is a cemetery that became a wasteland. For decades, Memory Gardens has turned from a tended burial ground where plants were carefully grown in the arid environment, to a dry expanse of parched earth.

The cemetery of Imperial, California, sold its last plot in 1967, although burials continued for those who purchased space. The sign out front, visible from the passing road, still promises green hills and a leafy tree, but the only flora that grows are plastic flowers shoved into the cracks in the baked ground. 

Imperial Valley has long been an unfriendly place to live. As cited by the Los Angeles Times, Audubon lamented the area as “most melancholy” in 1846, and a Franciscan friar bemoaned it as a “deadly place” on an early Spanish expedition. However, irrigation at the beginning of the 20th century brought people to make it their home. In 1963, Memory Gardens was licensed, but it lost that license by 1967 due to poor management that left the place in a bad state of repair. The property was later foreclosed on. 

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Aerial view of Memory Gardens (via Google Earth)

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Street view of the cemetery (via Google Earth)

article-imageEntrance of the cemetery (via Google Earth)

Things went downhill from there, especially when the recession spurred the economic decline in the community and the recent drought sapped what life remained from the land. Bills and workers at the cemetery went unpaid, the utilities were turned off, and according to a 2009 Washington Post article, it appeared someone was even squatting into the abandoned cemetery office. There were promises along the way to upkeep the cemetery and some efforts to improve the grounds, but for the over 800 people buried here, the main care has continued to be from family members who refuse to forget. The Los Angeles Times described in 2005 one family member hoisting a 100-galloon water tank each week to tend to plants at her family plot. 

Find a Grave has photographs of many of the grave markers, their metal nameplates dusty with the dirt. According to a December 2012 Imperial Valley Press article, the United Veterans Council of Imperial County was attempting to help with 17 of the 80 acres. However, as these photographs from this year show, the cemetery remains in a state of desert decay, the plots of the deceased disappearing in the thirsty soil. 

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All photographs by zachofalltrades unless indicated. 


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