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.”