For the past 15 years, local artist Karen Laslo has been the gatekeeper. Except for the occasional vacation, she dutifully shows up early morning and at night, seven days a week, to open and close the public gates of the Chico Cemetery. Laslo is also an avid photographer of nature and local people. Visit her website at www.karenlaslo.com to see her portfolio and read her blog, A Picture’s Worth, on local issues.
What are your main duties?
I usually ride my bike here to open the gates and close them at sunset. I’m an early riser, so after opening them at 7 a.m., I like walking through Bidwell Park. At night, I ride my bike or drive inside to make sure no one gets locked in. If I find people lingering over a gravesite, I gently tell them the cemetery is now closed. Opening and closing times are posted on a sign at the front, and change depending on the season.
Is it scary being around the dead?
No, it’s good to familiarize yourself with death and the idea that you’re not going to be around forever. It helps you figure out what’s important in your life and teaches you to make yourself happy while you’re alive. If you don’t think about death until you’re old, then you’ll be scared.
How did you get this job?
I live near the cemetery, and 15 years ago I noticed the workers here had to make a special trip back every evening, and even on holidays, just to close the gates. I knew they had families and wanted to help them out, so I asked the owner, Mr. Brusie, if I could take their duties and he agreed. But they’re very accommodating if I ever need to take time off.
Any poignant memories?
The Memorial Day celebrations are beautiful. There are hundreds of American flags along Mangrove and on the veterans’ graves. They have a band and speakers. Mother’s and Father’s Days are also very big. One Father’s Day at closing, a woman asked if I could stay open so she could put flowers on her father’s grave. I did, which made her really glad.
On the downside, I witnessed the results of two incidents of vandalism here. It was very sad, as some of the broken gravestones were really old.
Is this your only job?
Yes, I’m retired so this is a good supplement. But I also love photographing nature and locals who are important to me, like activists David Guzzetti and Kelly Meagher. My website has many of my photos, but I’ve also done work for the CN&R, KZFR radio, the Chico Peace and Justice Center, as well as the Chico Sol online publication.