It’s movie night under the stars.
The scene’s about what you’d expect — kids hunkered down under blankets, people munching popcorn — except for the unusual location. This movie night’s happening in a cemetery.
A mausoleum flanks the viewing area. In the distance, gravestones are visible.
Tucson drive-ins may be dead, but cemetery screenings are very much alive.
For the second summer, East Lawn Palms Mortuary and Cemetery and South Lawn Cemetery are holding free family movie nights on their grounds. Flicks are shown on an inflatable screen in grassy areas, not on grave sites. Sales from concessions and raffle drawings go to local charities, with a screening over the Memorial Day weekend raising more than $400.
The event’s about community — not creepiness.
“We get a little hesitation, but once you attend, it’s so much fun,” says Terry Byron, an administrative assistant for the two cemeteries who spearheaded the effort. “It’s not what you expect at all.
“Since the drive-in closed, everybody misses the drive-in. I just thought it would be an alternative.”
On this Saturday night, about 60 people are waiting for the sun to sink low enough so the main feature can begin. Playing on the supersized screen: 1996’s “Space Jam,” starring Bugs Bunny, the other Looney Toons and superstar athlete Michael Jordan.
A few people drag rocking chairs onto the grass while a couple of little dogs romp around. Some kids are already dressed in their pajamas. Luminarias ring the area, casting a gentle candle-lit glow. Yes, you’re smack-dab in the middle of a cemetery, but honestly, the only scary thing here is Jordan’s acting.
Joana Reinhart lives nearby and heard about the event from her homeowners’ association. She didn’t hesitate to bring her two kids, Lily, 4, and Mark, 1. Lily knows people are buried at East Lawn and it doesn’t faze her, according to her mother. “Death is a part of life, and she needs to be comfortable with it,” Reinhart says.
Robert Anderson was also kicking back with his kids. He admits he was dubious when his fiancée, Paula Behrman, who works for East Lawn, told him about their weekend plans.
“I thought it was a little weird,” he says, looking over at his blended quartet of kids sprawled on a big blanket. “I’m enjoying it. It’s quiet, it’s beautiful. I’ll come again.”
Behrman’s daughter Amber also shrugged off the spooky setting. “To me, it feels normal because we’re just watching a movie,” the teen said.