A cemetery 360 image that allows viewers to read grave markers.
A cemetery 360 image that allows viewers to read grave markers.

Visitors can get driving or walking directions directly to a plot in the same way they would get directions from Google Maps or a similar platform.

Trying to locate the gravesite of a loved one at Clover Hill Park Cemetery, a 60-acre cemetery with more than 15,000 burials, could make an already emotional situation even more stressful. Until last year, visitors to Clover Hill had to rely on their memory or a cemetery employee to help locate a gravesite.

Now visitors can get driving or walking directions directly to a plot in the same way they would get directions from Google Maps or a similar platform. A computer, cell phone or kiosk located at the cemetery entrance can be used to access this information. 

The technology utilized by Clover Hill allows users to search the database with as little information as the last name of the deceased. Users are then able to locate the burial site on a map and get directions. They can also see the area with a 360-degree ground view, including images of surrounding graves and landscaping and the ability to read the headstones. 

“We wanted to make a strong commitment to our families by using this technology. When people are here initially, it’s usually very traumatizing and emotional, and they tend to forget or not pay attention to how they got there,” said Kim Raznik, the executive director of the Clover Hill Park Cemetery. “There are also those who haven’t been to the cemetery before and don’t know how to find their relatives or friends.”

ESRI mapping documents the location of every gravesite, by longitude and latitude and interfaces with the cemetery’s database.
ESRI mapping documents the location of every gravesite, by longitude and latitude and interfaces with the cemetery’s database.

She described the software as “an unbelievable tool in helping families navigate the cemetery in person or virtually.” Raznik told the story of a recent visitor who was convinced the gravesite of a loved one was somehow moved. After locating the site on the kiosk and printing out directions, they discovered that the woman was looking on the wrong side of the cemetery. 

Raznik said that as far as she knows, Clover Hill is the only local cemetery using this but declined to discuss the cost of the project, which was approved by the board of directors in 2019.

To get all the necessary data online, Clover Hill hired a company to do something called ESRI mapping. It’s what cities use to map their communities, and it provides a longitude and latitude point for every gravesite and interfaces with Google to provide turn-by-turn directions. 

Additionally, more than 500,000 pictures were taken to offer 360-degree views of every inch of the cemetery grounds. For a week-and-a-half in August 2019, Cemetery 360, a California-based company, walked the grounds of Clover Hill, snapping a photograph every 5 feet. 

Having these images online is particularly useful for family members living out of state or those unable to get to the cemetery, allowing them to make a virtual visit. 

“While I prefer to go to the cemetery, it’s nice to know I can see my daughter’s gravesite online for the times when I can’t physically get there,” said Lisa Ziff of Bloomfield Hills. Ziff’s daughter Shay passed away in April 2019. 

Sales Aid

The software is also a valuable sales tool by allowing users to view available burial sites without visiting the cemetery or see examples of headstone options by searching within the cemetery. This has been especially helpful early on during COVID when people were not leaving their homes. Although the software wasn’t a response to the ongoing pandemic, its usefulness has been an unintended benefit. 

Raznik doesn’t know how they could have managed without it during the height of COVID when the cemetery saw a 50% increase in burials. Families needing to select a plot or order a grave marker could do so online. 

Established by Congregation Shaarey Zedek in 1918, Clover Hill has approximately 200 burials per year. It’s the final resting place for many of Detroit’s most prominent Jewish leaders, including Mandell “Bill” Berman, Al Taubman, William “Bill” Davidson, Max M. Fisher, David Hermelin and Rabbis Morris Adler and Irwin Groner.

“The cemetery has a garden-like, park-like feel to it,” Raznik said. “We want it to be a serene place, and this helps make that happen by taking away the stress of trying to find a loved one.” 

For information, visit cloverhillcemetery.org.