Eugene Pioneer Cemetery has terrifying potential, even with few assault reports

Posted by Becky Metrick on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 1:17 pm.

The University and Interim Operations Manager, Tim King, have cut down underbrush and added lights to north side of The Eugene Pioneer Cemetery to make it as safe as possible for students. (Tess Freeman/Oregon Daily Emerald)

The ground is swampy from all the rain. Crushed beer cans and cigarette wrappers line the fence separating the Eugene Pioneer Cemetery from the paved path next to Gerlinger Hall. Trees create a dense barrier between the buildings and lights surrounding the 16-acre span of land.

In one area, there are two empty 40 oz. bottles of Olde English 800 next to a bench, a rag and a soaking-wet T-shirt in a lump on the ground.

Walking through the cemetery at 11:30 p.m. simply shows what most people know: It’s scary.

Still, students cut through the graveyard every weekend, often in the early hours of the morning after partying. It’s from this that rumors start about the scary things that occur there — including common sexual assaults and robberies.

And some of them are true; most recently, a girl reported being sexually assaulted on Nov. 15 while waking past the graveyard on her way home from a party.

Stories like hers are shared as a warning to not go through this area at night, especially alone. But effectiveness of such stories seems limited.

“I’ve seen young women walking through at night all the time,” cemetery caretaker George Dull said. He has lived on the property for 20 years, helping clean and manage its upkeep. “It’s not an intelligent thing for anyone to do.”

Dull often cleans up the trash that is found throughout.

“I always find beer cans in the cemetery,” he said. “Homeless people love to sleep in there.”

However, because he works as a janitor in the Eugene 4J School District, he doesn’t spend much time in the graveyard and often misses reports of any trouble. In fact, he hadn’t heard about the previously mentioned assault at all and has never called the police to report any major crimes himself. But he understands how it can happen.

“People could hide out and grab you, and you wouldn’t be able to hear anything,” Dull said. “It’s not safe.”

Department of Public Safety Cpt. Ed Rinne points out that there have not been a great number of reported assaults, but he will never recommend taking that shortcut.

“The cemetery could be a possible place where someone could be assaulted,” Rinne said. “It’s a place that’s dark and isolated, especially if they’re alone.”

Facilities Services Interim Operations Manager Tim King, who was appointed by the University to be a part of the cemetery’s board of directors, has spent years working to make it as safe as possible.

“We’ve done a lot of lighting operations in that area,” King said. “We also really worked on cleaning up the underbrush.”

The clearing of excess branches and roots appears to have been done along the north side, but the trees still create a dense cover, making it hard to see at night and stifling many noises that come from the area.

“You could scream all day and no one would hear you,” Dull said. “There are too many trees.”

Students have questioned why the cemetery or University refuses to put lights throughout the graveyard. When it comes down to it, both the University and the police are opposed.

“We feel it’s inappropriate to put lighting into the cemetery,” King said.

Not only would it potentially be disruptive to the graves, but it might encourage more illegal activity.

“It’s 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. that no one is supposed to be in there,” Dull said.

Because those are the cemetery’s “closed” hours, it is technically trespassing to be in there during those times. However, crime in the cemetery appears to have gone down over the years, partly due to the efforts by King and the University.

“Clearing a lot of the vegetation has been very effective. (Crime) is not very extreme,” King said. “People know (Dull) is there, and he can hear things.”

School authorities, the caretaker and almost anyone who knows the cemetery will recommend steering clear.

“It’s not a very inviting place to party,” King said. “I would not want to walk through there at night.”

  • Naduah Wheeler

    I am really disappointed by the amount of victim blaming statements in this article.  If crime in the cemetery is an issue at all, there is no reason to even talk about how “one shouldn’t walk alone at night”.  Even if a woman (or anyone of any gender) walks through the cemetery alone at night, it does not give anyone the excuse to assault them.  The implication that by walking through the cemetery, someone is putting themselves at risk is ludicrous, insulting, and victim blaming. Not to mention the fact that this is just factually misguided.  Most assaults are acquaintance rape, not the “dark man in the bushes” sort of assault that is stereotyped, thus walking through the cemetery may actually be safer than the “buddy system” the UO suggests in their e-mails with sexual assault prevention tips.  (Though, regardless of either of these situations, it still remains solely the fault of the perpetrator.  Not the survivor).

    • Guest

      The implication that by walking through the cemetery, someone is putting themselves at risk is ludicrous, insulting, and victim blaming.”

      Actually, no, it’s a statement of fact. People are assaulted while walking through the cemetery at night. Therefore, by choosing to walk through the cemetery at night, a person puts his/herself at risk of being assaulted. It’s a pretty simple cause and effect statement. Neither the author nor anyone quoted suggested that the perpetrators were excused from assaulting someone, just that it happens and students should be aware of that.

      “Not to mention the fact that this is just factually misguided.”

      According to whom? We have legitimate, factual evidence of people being assaulted while walking through the graveyard. Unless you can provide some evidence that this is all an elaborate conspiracy, I’m pretty sure your generalities don’t hold much water here. Just because MOST rapes are acquaintance rape doesn’t mean other kinds of assault don’t exist.

      You’re adding a lot of extra baggage to this article. No one is saying that anyone deserves to be assaulted for making a bad decision. But the understanding that the perpetrator is to blame for the crime? Doesn’t make the crime cease to happen. Even if society were to stop blaming the victim altogether (a widespread problem, yes, but not one that applies to this article the way you say it does), people would STILL be assaulted despite society’s more understanding attitudes. You can’t wish away violent crime through tolerance.

      Don’t walk through the graveyard at night. That’s it. Will we blame you if you’re assaulted? No. Will that be able to undo what happened? Sadly, no.

    • JayZ

      When your momma told you not to play ball in the street, in case you got hit by a car, did you accuse her of victim blaming?

      Don’t put yourself in a situation where you can get hurt. It’s common sense, not victim blaming.

    • anonymouse

      I’ve been a victim of sexual assault (by a stranger no less. Sorry to prove your statistic wrong) and I’d still say that it’s stupid to walk through the graveyard at night when there are sidewalks on either side. It’s okay to take off the heels and walk around if you are that drunk and/or tired from a night out.

      Women should never think “It won’t happen to me”. It can happen to anyone and you should NEVER let your guard down. This is not a nice world. No matter what one should do or not do, it’s in your best interest to protect yourself from those who don’t follow the rules. Of course the perps are in the wrong but that doesn’t make a difference when you are being raped. I think that it’s in a woman’s best interest to follow common sense. How hard would it be to ask a friend to come or take a cab or simply walk on the most lit streets in the area and call and talk to someone until you get to your car/home? I mean, it’s not foolproof, but there is not point raising your chances.