19 April 2007


Understandably, I'm not admitting to anything here, but just suppose I know someone that committed a Class E Felony earlier this week. A Class E Felony is punishable by 1 to 6 years in jail and/or a $3,000 fine! What did this person do? Walked around and signed a piece of paper in a Tupperware container in a cemetery.

See there's this little law in Tennessee:
T.C.A. (Tennessee Code Annotated)
Title 46. Cemeteries
46-2-105. Crimes and offenses

No person shall willfully destroy, deface, or injure any monument, tomb, gravestone, or other structure placed in the cemetery, or any roadway, walk, fence or enclosure in or around the same, or injure any tree, plant or shrub therein, or hunt or shoot therein, play at any game or amusement therein, or loiter for lascivious or lewd purposes therein, or interfere, by words or actions, with any funeral procession or any religious exercises.
(b) A violation of this section is a Class E felony. ,
Class E Felony 1 to 6 years $3,000
[emphasis added by blogger]

Whatever we call it; sport, hobby, game, etc., geocaching is done for fun, or "amusement" as the law puts it. This obscure little law, dating back to the 19th century, prohibits geocaching in cemeteries. The likelihood of someone being prosecuted under this law? Remote, but that's not the point.

Geocaching, when done respectfully and responsibly, can be among the most environmentally friendly hobbies a person can practice outdoors. Old, neglected cemeteries are visited by outdoors minded people, who frequently pick up trash while they are there. Often, who clean-up events are held in these places, many of which have been long in need of even basic maintenance. The real crime is that the r persons responsible for that maintenance have neglected their charge!

One of the neatest things about geocaching is that it shows you places you never knew existed. For instance, the person mentioned above saw the graves of a Civil War veteran and a World War I veteran on that trip! Many of the headstones were hand made markers names carved into wet cement with a stick. The oldest grave I've seen in West TN was for a person born in 1770 and buried in 1821! Think about it! A person actually born before the Declaration of Independence! Did you know that Shelby and Tipton counties each hold the graves of Congressional Medal of Honor winners? How about the little thirty or forty plot cemetery hidden behind a building on Hwy 64 between Lowes and the car dealer, that holds the graves of some of the earliest settlers in that area, names you would recognize from nearby street names? Or the little family plot of 5 or 6 graves in the woods in Shelby Farms? Or the single marker plot next to a grocery store in Midtown Memphis?

But for now, many of these old sites will have to remain unknown and unkempt, because the very people who want to help the most are forbidden to ply their eco-friendly trade there, or encourage their like-minded friends to do so.

Thankfully, a few intrepid souls have undertaken the task of getting the outdated law changed. One proposal was put forth to simply remove the sentence from the law. However, I think we all agree that some games should not be played in cemeteries. Paintball comes to mind! So the new proposal defines and excludes geocaching from the prohibition.

So what can YOU do? Contact your state representative and ask them to support the bill! The most likely response you will get is, "huh?" It's House Bill 2080 and Senate Bill 1931. The representatives sponsoring the original bills (which will hopefully be reformulated and considered in the fall) were Mark Maddox and John Wilder. You can find out who your representatives are by visiting

Here's a finely crafted letter written by my friend Philip Senn, that expresses just the right sentiments:

I would appreciate your assistance with the bill HB2080 (http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/bills/currentga/BILL/HB2080.pdf) (Amendment to TCA Section 46-1-313). I am a founding member of an organization called "Geocachers of West Tennessee." Our main purpose is to promote the recreational activity called geocaching in West Tennessee. Our website is www.gowt.org . Information about the international recreational activity (I prefer to call it a RASHO - Recreational Activity/Sport/Hobby/OBSESSION) called geocaching can be obtained at www.geocaching.com .

One of the things about geocaching that I really like is the fact that it sometimes takes a person, or group of people, to places that they would not normally be aware of. One such place is the location of the first county settlement in Obion County. It is located at a cemetery SW of Troy.

Many old cemeteries in Tennessee are filled with historical data that is very interesting, including memorials to fallen heroes of our nation's wars. Unfortunately, many of these locations are not on any register so people can look for them. I have recently been in contact with the owner of land that is home to my great-great grandfather's gravesite, and his wife and son. He was also the uncle of Davy Crockett. I am hoping to place a geocache there so that others may learn of the relationship to Davy Crockett. The recreational activity of geocaching could serve as a catalyst in leading people there, and the land owner is very interested in having visitors to that site.

Many of the groups that are involved in geocaching, as well as many of the individuals, try to practice CITO (cache in-trash out). This means that many of these old cemeteries are being cleaned, and many are being somewhat restored, at the hands of those that came for the amusement of finding the cache, then deciding that the cemetery could use a good cleaning of debris.

I know that, based upon the information on the Senate legislation page (http://www.legislature.state.tn.us/bills/currentga/Fiscal/SB1931.pdf), no one has ever been convicted of a felony for playing a game or amusement in a cemetery in Tennessee. However, because our reviewers are very careful, once a law is made known to them, they will not knowingly encourage the violation of that law by approving a cache. I hope you will be able to support and work toward the approval of HB2080, so that those that are interested in finding out about our rich heritage and encouraging the maintenance of those places of interest will not be subject to felony charges.

Sincerely submitted,

Until then, my friend remains "on the lam!" (or would be, if he had actually violated the law, which I'm not saying he did!)

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