Last month’s news reports of vandalism at the sprawling and majestic Evergreen Cemetery in Portland’s Deering neighborhood struck a chord with me.

John Balentine, a former managing editor for the Lakes Region Weekly, lives in Windham.

I haven’t seen an update to the initial April 2 reports of 150 toppled and damaged gravestones, but Portland Police said eyewitnesses saw teenagers running from the area, and that sounds about right to me. Male teenagers tend to do destructive, stupid things, thinking only for how cool they look in front of their “friends,” with no care for the damage they leave in their wake.

I’ve walked through Evergreen in the past and did so again the weekend after the vandalism and saw the toppled stones for myself.

Though the vandalism was meaningless and tragic, Evergreen Cemetery, my walk reminded me, is one of Portland’s gems. If you haven’t been, go.

Designed in the style of an old Victorian England city park, the cemetery has winding roads and pathways, beautiful trees, amazing monuments built with impressive granite and, of course, thousands of artistic grave markers to view and discover and contemplate.

It’s always strange to walk among the dead, but it puts life in perspective. While thousands lay buried 6 feet below, there is much life above.


Hundreds of species of birds migrate through Evergreen, and thousands of people use the cemetery to walk, run, bike and take a break from their busy lives. There are ponds with fish and ducks and turtles. Life abounds in this place for the dead. I shook my head, wondering why anyone would want to deface, destroy and desecrate this beautiful refuge for dearly departed Portlanders.

One other thing I realized on my recent walk, especially in light of current politics, is how Evergreen Cemetery is a melting pot for those interred there and how death is the true equalizer. While I don’t buy into the current craze that America is an unfair place for anyone other than white males (if it were, why are there so many successful minorities?), people who do subscribe to that notion should tour Evergreen.

You don’t have to go very far – actually, just through the front gate off Stevens Avenue – to see physical proof of how a cemetery, and especially Evergreen, brings everyone together in the end.

Just beyond the front gate and near the cemetery office building, two short rows of gravestones, some with photos and inscriptions, offer tangible physical evidence that all races, creeds, ethnicities and economic classes can’t escape a common end, which is death itself.

Their grave marker surnames also reveal Evergreen’s – and our country’s – unique multiracial, multicultural, multiethnic story: Chhum, Haynes, Baranowska, Caliendo, Coates, Bridges, Martay, Greenberg, Cobb, Vercelli, Weatherbee, Anderson, Connors, Tan, Dodge, Zawa, Desimio and McClaran.

The whole history of the world was represented in this little grouping of graves. They likely didn’t know each other in life, but their bodies will spend eternity together.

It’s the same for everyone in Evergreen. Rich or poor, famous or insignificant, smart or stupid, talented or clumsy, beautiful or ugly, devout or heathen, Evergreen Cemetery has a place for everyone who called Portland home at one time or another.

Evergreen, of course, is an earthly reminder of what’s next: an eternity with the Creator where all earthly classes and divisions melt away and people truly unite with a proper perspective on all things.

We can always work toward unity here on earth, but if history is any proof, earthly unity and harmony is unlikely, especially when people force their utopian visions on others. However, places like Evergreen Cemetery prove that for each of us – even the creeps who desecrated this sacred space in early April – unity eventually comes.

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