He’s really diggin’ it

Mark Skinner

Photo by Laura Hauser

Mark Skinner’s occupation gives literal meaning to the term “graveyard shift.” For the past three years, he has worked at the Chico Cemetery. He is currently one of three groundskeepers who maintain the graveyard, and he serves as head cremationist. Skinner, 45, grew up in Paradise before heading to the Bay Area, where he worked in sanitation and construction. There he spent his spare time crafting and selling different works of art, including cartoons, T-shirts and murals. After 15 years, he moved back to get away from the hustle and bustle of the Bay and be near family. Now he works in Chico’s only cemetery doing everything from grave-digging to body cremations. He still creates art on the side and is in the process of making a Web page.

Does your job influence your art?

Not so much, but it does keep me humble about it. However, some of my drawings and pictures are inspired by the beautiful architecture around here. There’s a lot of history in this cemetery.

How did you get into this line of work?

I just applied for a mower job three years ago and moved up to groundskeeper over time. Now I pretty much do everything around here. Brusie Funeral Homes and Cemeteries is one of the best places I have ever worked for. I feel like I get to work in a park.

What are some things you do on a typical work day?

There’s endless work here. I usually do about four cremations a day and then whatever upkeep is needed to be done, like digging and grass cutting.

Does it ever bother you to be around death so much?

No, it makes me appreciate life. I do the best I can with the time that I’ve got.

How do people react when you tell them what you do?

“Ewww” is a common response, but sometimes people are interested.

Do people respect the cemetery?

For the most part. Sometimes people cut through the fence. A couple years ago some people vandalized hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of property. They busted and knocked down headstones as big as cars; [the falling headstones] even broke concrete. It was horrible; it set a record of the amount of damage caused.

How did you repair the destruction?

The community supported the cemetery and people contributed, but some of the damage is unrepairable.

Do you ever see anything bizarre or interesting?

Sure, every day is interesting. Halloween night always brings some weird people—we have to be here 24 hours that day. But interesting characters come on a regular basis to talk to the dead; you wouldn’t believe some of the people we see around here and what they talk about.