PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A local cemetery is facing community backlash after hosting a charity car cruise on its grounds.
Jefferson Memorial Cemetery, Funeral Home, Crematory and Arboretum hosted its annual car cruise on Sunday with a beer tent, food trucks and live music.
Some people said the event caused heartache for people who went to the cemetery Sunday to grieve the loss of a loved one. Others said they didn’t mind that there was an event because it brought the community together.
“It was hard for everybody and to see him have to endure all of that,” said Bill Petrosky Jr.
This week has been difficult for Petrosky and his family. Two years ago this week, his mother, Donna, died. On Sunday, Petrosky’s father went to visit his wife’s grave at Jefferson Memorial and was caught off guard by what he saw.
“He got tangled up in a bunch of traffic. And there was a guy directing traffic and whenever he asked what was going on they rerouted him to go a different way than we normally would go,” he said.
Petrosky said his dad couldn’t believe this type of event was happening in the place his wife was laid to rest.
“It was different for him, coming up on my mom’s two-year anniversary of her death and it being very sudden to all of us. It’s already a hard time of year for him. And for him to go to the cemetery and have to endure all that, he came home and he wasn’t happy,” Petrosky said.
Jefferson Memorial Vice President Dagny V. Neel Fitzpatrick and other staff members showed KDKA-TV around the grounds on Thursday. They said that they’re a memorial park and not a traditional cemetery.
They shared a statement that said in part, “We strongly believe a memorial park is more than just a place for burials as our scenic settings invites families, visitors and the community at large to form new traditions of life gatherings.”
The memorial park has hosted its car show for 10 years to raise money for the American Cancer Society. This Sunday, $2,200 was raised for the organization.
“My grandfather passed away from cancer. I have no problem raising money for cancer. I just don’t feel like in a cemetery is a place to have a beer tent, and music, and a bunch of cars,” Petrosky said.
Other people who have loved ones buried there told KDKA-TV that they don’t see any problem with the event because it was community-oriented.
While Petrosky is looking back on memories of his mom, he strongly believes the event was disrespectful.
“They should put a letter out to apologize, and I think they should find a better place to have their car show,” Petrosky said.
Jefferson Memorial also hosts Easter egg hunts and a tree lighting event.
“Whenever we were getting plots and scheduling the funeral and burial and everything, nothing was mentioned about car shows. They have an Easter egg hunt. That’s just as kind of odd to me,” Petrosky said.
The full statement from Jefferson Memorial Marketing Director S. Brooke Neel and Fitzpatrick can be found below.
“In 1929, Jefferson Memorial Park elected to adopt the memorial park model and not be a traditional cemetery. The park held its annual car cruise charity event on Sunday August 14, 2022. This event raised approximately $2,200 for the American Cancer Society and all events at Jefferson Memorial Park solely benefits charities and not the memorial park.
“We strongly believe a memorial park is more than just a place for burials as our scenic settings invites families, visitors and the community at large to form new traditions of life gatherings. Jefferson Memorial Park has held events on our grounds for nearly 50 years. For a decade, we have hosted this charity event and to ensure that we inform the community of our activity we make posts on our website, social media page and on grounds of our memorial park. We are incredibly careful to only use non-burial property to host this event.
“Memorial parks have long been a gathering place for members of a community that provide a place of historical significance, an escape from hectic day-to-day life, and a connection between families. Our memorial park was designed to combine nature, art and history. Through annual events, we are able to connect with and educate the public about our grounds – such as the civil war veteran and architectural Pittsburgh artifacts including the Bank of Pittsburgh columns, grand limestone staircase from the B.F. Jones, Jr. Estate, and a garden statuary from the Henry Oliver Estate have been placed on the grounds for the community at large to visit.
“Our goal is to help promote healing, friendship, and stewardship with the community we are proud to be a part of for nearly 95 years. Hosting annual events helps us maintain a relationship with the local community. As a memorial park, we aim to destigmatize the notion that cemeteries are a place of burial only. We look forward to hosting these annual community events in the future and invite you to visit us for a tour.”