CANYON, TX - If you've been to Palo Duro Canyon, you've driven by the historic Saint Paul Lutheran Cemetery.
Lately the owners of the burial ground have been overwhelmed with requests from strangers asking to be buried there.
Since the turn of the century, the cemetery has been a final resting place for many of the Panhandle's original pioneers. A historic marker details the Lutheran settlers from Germany who lay to rest here.
"1898 I believe is the oldest one out here right now," Saint Paul Lutheran Church member Dale Boehning said. "And that was one of the original settlers here in the panhandle." Boehning's family has owned ranch land near the cemetery since 1908. "It's just kind of part of our heritage here out here," he said.
"It's been here so long and it's been in so many families." But in recent years, dozens of strangers have called asking to lay among the pioneered plots. "We've even had a couple this week call," Boehning said. "Normally we tell people no, because we want it to be our members of our church."
Many of those callers say they just want to be buried near Palo Duro Canyon where they have so many fond memories with their families, but a less common and free option is to actually spread ashes in the park.
"The canyon is a special place, a lot of people have fond memories for many reasons so it's definitely not something we discourage," Park Superintendent Cory Evans said.
Evans says the canyon gets a request for someone to spread the remains of a loved one about once a year and as long as no permanent markers are placed in the park, they allow it free of charge.
At the popular Saint Paul Lutheran Cemetery though, a plot costs $500 if you're not a member of the church, and that's only if you're even approved to get in. "You need to be at minimum a Lutheran to be buried out here," Boehning said.
That's the new rule, but Boehning says it's necessary to preserve room for the predecessors of these Panhandle pioneers.