By Rick Henry
When one characterizes the typical Takoma Park resident, two of the key attributes that come to mind are loyalty to the city and a commitment to the earth.
So it should be no surprise that a group of city residents wants to take those characteristics to the ultimate degree by creating a memorial scatter garden in a city-owned park where the cremains of Takoma Park residents can rest for eternity.
A scatter garden is a place where people scatter the ashes of their loved ones and where small plaques marking the names of those whose ashes are scattered are displayed.
“Takoma Park people are very attached to the city. We don’t want to live anywhere else or be dead anywhere else,” said Jennifer Beman White, the person who initiated the project and enlisted many of her Sherman Avenue neighbors in the effort, including Beth Baker.
“I loved the idea as soon as I heard about it from Jennifer,” Baker said. “I envision a scatter garden as a simple, lovely way for people to remember their family and friends.”
Scatter gardens are common, but are found exclusively within existing cemeteries or churches. What makes the proposed Takoma Park scatter garden unique is that it would be free-standing and located on city-owned land.
“We have done a lot of research and talked with someone from the Cremation Association of America, and we have not found an example of one being started by a municipality for its residents,” Beman White said. “In fact the association was very excited about the proposition and wants us to keep them informed on how it works out.” Baker believes the proposed scatter garden is “in keeping with the city’s tradition of being nontraditional.”
Both Baker and Beman White said they have received nothing but positive feedback from the people they have spoken with about the project, but both also realize that there will have to be a lot of outreach to the community as a whole. “It is a commitment to perpetuity after all,” Beman White said.
To educate the public about scatter gardens and the process of establishing one in the city, the Committee for a Takoma Park Memorial Scatter Garden has created a website (tpmsg.org), which includes an FAQ of common questions and concerns that some people may have about the project, such as: “Are their health concerns?” (The quick answer is no); “Are the remains actually scattered?” (Not necessarily); and “How much will it cost?” (That depends on which design elements, such as walls, benches and landscaping, are incorporated).
As to the actual process of establishing a scatter garden in the city, the group presented its concept to the city’s Commemoration Commission, which “documents, maintains and preserves past, present and future memorials, commemorations and recognitions” and makes recommendations to the City Council.
Commission member Howard Kohn said that while a scatter garden is “not the most obvious part of our purview,” and is different than the traditional ways of honoring people such as monuments, signs, benches and trees, “it does fall within what we are designated to do.”
He also added that while the commission is supportive of the scatter garden; the biggest challenge is finding a location that is suitable.
“There are very few places that are green and open and where no active recreation takes place,” he said.
Beman White and other members of the group involved with the project did a walk around the city with commission chair Richard O’Connor, and they identified some potential spots, which they plan to share with the City Council as soon as they can get on the agenda. Ultimately, the Council would have to approve the scatter garden.
This article appeared in the July 2016 edition of the Takoma Park Newsletter. The Takoma Park Newsletter is available for download here.