Michaela Biancardi’s boys just wanted to catch them all, just like every other young trainer in 2016.
The Pokemon Go duo, ages 6 and 9, would spend time with their mom riding through Chapel Lawn Memorial Gardens in Schererville, a location that promised multiple spots for catching the cartoon monsters.
“My kids are very young, but, for a brief time, I felt driving through the cemetery slowly with them in the car was an easy way to let them play safely,” Biancardi said, adding that she never let her little ones walk through the cemetery.
“I felt that was definitely pushing the bounds of respect should family be around to visit loved ones.”
It was all fun and games until the Winfield resident started noticing other players trespassing, leaving tire marks through grassy areas of the Schererville cemetery. Soon after, the mom stopped going and disabled the game.
“I have seen signs of terrible abuse of cemeteries by people playing those games,” Biancardi said. “It's a terrible idea to have so many hot spots in areas like that.”
Since the game was released, Tom Hawes, director of the city's Historic Maplewood Cemetery, said the Crown Point cemetery has been swamped with Pokemon Go players, usually adults.
How the game works
As players walk around the real world, Pokemon appears on the mobile game map, which is an anime-style version of Google maps that replaces real street names and landmarks with Pokemon specific buildings.
When Pokemon Go users come within a close enough range of the Pokemon on the device screen, they can toss Poke Balls at them to capture monsters like Pikachu, Geodude and Onix.
Hawes claims some players “travel in packs” from the Solon Robinson Elementary School parking lot and others directly drive through the nearly 150-year-old cemetery, blocking intersections and interrupting funerals.
“There are people in there who have lost people and they get interrupted by people moving around and doing whatever they are doing with their phones,” Hawes said.
“At first I thought it was just a fad, but it got worse last year.”
After months of headaches and a water hose being cut by gamers who Hawes thinks he told to leave, enough was enough.
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It was time for the signs.
Two months ago, the cemetery director put up warning signs on gate entrances that read: “Gaming not permitted within cemetery out of respect for our grieving families. Gamers will be considered trespassers.”
The posted signs, along with the cold weather, have kept the numbers of scrolling gamers down, Hawes said.
“It’s really a respect thing,” he said. “Most of them now, when they see the signs, they don’t hang around and stay out.”
But there are still players willing to venture through the area.
Crown Point resident Kate Adams lives by the elementary school, just south of the Historic Maplewood Cemetery. She said players block the road, park at the school and in front of no parking signs and even sit outside of her home, sometimes for hours, looking for Pokemon.
“They creep us out,” Adams said. “Now when they sit in front of my house, I knock on their window and tell them, ‘Hi, you’re scaring the children, they think you’re going to kidnap them!’ Then they realize how creepy their behavior is and usually leave immediately.”
Adam’s frustration with the game doesn’t just involve some players, but also the creators.
“What I honestly do not understand is the creators of this game are utilizing GPS for the locations based on public information. They know these spots are in cemeteries. Why wouldn’t they simply relocate the meeting points?” Adams said. “It’s beyond disrespectful.”
Unlike what some may have thought about its popularity, the game actually saw a spike in players within the last year.
Pokemon Go made nearly $800 million in global revenue in 2018, up 35 percent compared to the previous year, according to market analysis firm Sensor Tower.
Hawes, who has been in charge of caring for the Historic Maplewood Cemetery since 1996, said he doesn’t want the signs to discourage community members from entering the cemetery. He just wants respect for the final resting place.
“We encourage visitors and I don’t mind people walking around at all,” Hawes said. “I just thought we could outlive this Pokemon stuff, but evidently not.”