PORTLAND – Nowadays, there are almost as many people buried in the 239 acres of Evergreen Cemetery as there are living in the city itself.

It’s not surprising, then, that visitors to this sprawling burial ground — the second-largest in the state after Mount Hope in Bangor — might need a little help finding their way around.

On Saturday, three dozen people gathered in front of the cemetery’s main office to unveil new informational signs that will provide that help.

Saturday’s ceremony was the culmination of a three-year effort by the Friends of Evergreen, as well as a celebration of the nonprofit organization’s 20th anniversary.

“What do you think?” David Little asked fellow board member Katherine Freund as they moved in for a closer look.

“It’s just wonderful,” Freund said, turning from the signs and hugging Little.

Little, the group’s secretary, first proposed the informational signs in 2008. As he was watering recently planted trees on Memorial Day weekend, he said a number of people stopped to ask him for directions to family plots. Little said they were concerned about getting lost in the cemetery’s verdant expanse.

The signs, made possible with a $20,000 grant from the Quimby Foundation, are displayed prominently by the main office and will serve as a resource for visitors.

One sign features a detailed map of the cemetery, with road names and plot lines that will help serve as a guide to family plots. The other two signs offer facts and notable information about the cemetery, including how Evergreen Cemetery was modeled in 1852 after Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass.

That cemetery, beginning in 1831, was itself modeled after a “Victorian cemetery” in Paris that combined parklike elements within the burial grounds.

Within the forested confines of the cemetery, the sounds from Stevens Avenue and beyond faded into the background, replaced by the sounds of chirping birds and the wind rustling through the new spring leaves. Bicyclists rode along the winding paths, and people jogged off between the trees and morning fog.

“The design is a bridge between burial grounds and parks. It serves a unique dual purpose of mourning and contemplation and passive recreation,” said Freund, one of the founding members. “You enter this designed landscape, and you are to experience a sense of peacefulness.”

Freund said the nonprofit organization started its efforts to preserve the cemetery in 1991, when the city proposed to relocate the Burbank Branch Library to a parcel of the cemetery near the Stevens Avenue entrance.

The group’s efforts protected the cemetery, placing it on the National Registry of Historic Places, and the library branch was located further down Stevens Avenue.

In the caretaker organization’s 20 years, the Friends of Evergreen also created a master plan, restored archival records, ponds and the Wilde Memorial Chapel, established seven walking tours and continue to work with the city cooperatively to preserve the land.

Crystal Swan, lead park ranger with the city, said the cemetery is one of the many parks the rangers patrol in Portland. She said the signs will be a helpful tool.

“It will be nice when we’re patrolling through and people stop us and ask us where to go,” Swan said.

Rep. Anne Haskell, D-Portland, helped unveil one of the signs. She said the cemetery has become a place of fond memories for many residents.

Having grown up on Higgins Street, within walking distance of the cemetery, Haskell recalls tagging along when her grandfather took his hunting hounds in the woods behind the cemetery.

“And I’ve eaten my fair share of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches down by the pond, like many other kids have, I’m sure,” she said.

After the informational signs made their debut, many of those gathered participated in a Civil War walking tour led by Janet Morelli, which was followed by live music and cake at the Wilde Memorial Chapel.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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