RIP: Rest In Pokemon (Yep, It's OK to Play in Cemeteries)

There are some who feel that cemeteries should be treated as sacred places and should be exempt from the Pokemon experience. There are others who feel that they want to catch a Pokemon right now.

Playing Pokemon Go in a local cemetery in Johnson City, NY. The statue of St. Francis in this memorial park has been deemed a Gym in the augmented reality game.
Playing Pokemon Go in a local cemetery in Johnson City, NY. The statue of St. Francis in this memorial park has been deemed a Gym in the augmented reality game. Photo Credit: Natalie Shoemaker

Pokemon Go has become an inescapable force. It’s difficult to step outside without bumping into someone playing the augmented reality game, even in cemeteries. There are some who feel that these memorial parks should be treated as sacred places and should be exempt from the Pokemon experience. But Keith Eggener, author of the book Cemeteries and Marion D. Ross Distinguished Professor of Architectural History at the University of Oregon, says Pokemon Go is just the latest complaint in a larger trend, which is seeking to bring new life to cemeteries.

The thing is Pokemon Go is honestly at the late edge of a trend that’s been ongoing now for probably 20 years in a a lot of places. People have been going back to cemeteries for quite a while for a lot of reasons,” he says.

Overnight, Pokemon Go changed the way many people gather. Now, players are moving away from their couches, out the door, and to places where they my not have been before. Pokemon Go has to be played out in the real world, which has made places of note (e.g. historical landmarks, churches, government buildings, parks, and cemeteries) become places were players gravitate to in order to fill-up on in-game items or battle rival teams.

[Here’s a great introductory piece on Pokemon Go if you have yet to get up to speed.]

These places have become bustling meet-up spots where Pokemon Go players sit and hang out, or at least make a point to pass by. This transformation has been both a blessing and a curse for some places. Many small businesses have used Pokemon Go to increase sales, either by setting lures at nearby PokeStops to draw-in customers or giving out special Pokemon-related promos.

But many are starting to complain that cemeteries should be a no Pokemon Go playing zone. But if we consider the historical significance of cemeteries, we see they used to be full of recreation.

“They were quite important spaces for recreation as well,” Eggener said in a past interview with The Atlantic. “Keep in mind, the great rural cemeteries were built at a time when there weren't public parks, or art museums, or botanical gardens in American cities. You suddenly had large pieces of ground, filled with beautiful sculptures and horticultural art. These places became so popular that not only were guidebooks issued to guide visitors, but also all kinds of rules were posted.”

It was when people stopped dying at home in the mid 20th century, there was this shift in attitudes about death. Memorial parks would only be visited during funerals or during special dates. Likewise, people also became drawn to other points of interest. “We had museums and civic parks and things like that to go to instead,” Eggener says. “So, a lot of the old functions of cemeteries that were more social and more cultural functions that cemeteries filled as gathering places and ornaments of the city were no longer required of them.”

But over the past 20 years, people have been drawn back to these memorial parks for more than just mourning — there’s an entertainment value. “If you look at a cemetery like Spring Grove in Cincinnati, Wisconsin for 10, 15 years now they’ve had a calendar that’s just filled with actives from dog walking to concerts to weddings to botanical walks and historical walks, midnight flashlight ghost tours — things like that,” Eggener says.

These attractions have also received their fair share of complains. “Sometimes people have written-in about these things to their local newspapers and people find that these things are offensive or it’s a disrespectful use of the property, but then, at the same time, there’s an awful lot of people who like it.”

Eggener suggests that there needs to be a negotiation between communities—communities of survivors, local land owners, residents, cemetery management, and so on. It would be best if a common ground could be reached.

“Personally, I don’t have a problem with people playing Pokemon Go in a cemetery, so long as it’s not done in a vulgar way,” Eggener’s says. “After all, cemeteries have almost always been as much a place for the living as they are for the dead.”

It’s when people play Pokemon Go in places that are sacred for a lot of people — places built for reflection, like Auschwitz or Arlington cemetery, where people should put away their phones and pay their respects.

A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
Surprising Science
  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source:

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source:

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

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The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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Credit: Pixabay
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