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Tombstone Training

Elmwood Cemetery offers new classes for potential volunteers.

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The staff at Elmwood is hoping to give new meaning to the term "graveyard shift."

In celebration of the cemetery's 160th anniversary, Elmwood is launching two "colleges" aimed at training new volunteers to work at the cemetery preserving monuments and leading guided tours.

The Stone College teaches volunteers both to preserve and restore the cemetery's famous Victorian funerary monuments, while the Ambassador College trains them as tour guides or costumed actors.

"We have people ask us how they can get involved all the time," said Kim McCollum, executive director of Elmwood Cemetery. "So this program was really brought about by people wanting to help. We thought it would be a great way to introduce people to a side of the cemetery that they're naturally drawn to anyway."

The cemetery grounds, where the classes will be held, cover nearly 80 acres of Midtown and South Memphis land and serves as host to more than 70,000 graves.

"Everyone [buried] here has a story," McCollum said. "That's how we feel about it."

The thousands of gravestones and monuments that pepper the garden cemetery are icons of the city's past. Veterans from every American war, victims of the yellow fever epidemics, civil rights leaders, and African-American slaves share the same hallowed ground. The cemetery joined the National Register of Historic Places in 2002.

"There are very few institutions in the city that speak to our collective history that are as old and remain this beautiful," McCollum said.

Over the past couple of years, Elmwood has seen an increasing number of visitors and school groups that bring over 5,000 students each year. The new training colleges will serve to meet the cemetery's growing demand.

"We are looking for people dedicated to and interested in history," McCollum said.

The first round of classes, which will be taught by staff members and experienced volunteers, will begin March 3rd at 9 a.m. Spots in both colleges are still open to those interested in volunteering at Elmwood.

Graduates from the Stone College will be invited to help with monument cleaning and restoration events. Those from the Ambassador College will participate in tours and help out with special events.

Though McCollum is confident new sessions will be added for both colleges throughout the year, plans for the next round of classes depend on the interest generated by the first round.

Registration for either class costs $25 per person, and those interested should call Kim McCollum at 901-774-4312 or visit elmwoodcemetery.org/events.

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