Palmetto cemetery opens 'Biker Heaven'

jbartolone@bradenton.comSeptember 15, 2013 

Bikers aren't afraid to let you know they're bikers.

You can usually tell by the clothes they wear and the bars where they hang out. And now, you can tell by their tombstones, too.

A Harley-Davidson emblem on your grave? No problem.

A gas tank urn for your cremated remains? Sure.

A full-size motorcycle carving on top of your final resting place? Why not?

Motorcycle-themed burials are all the rage, according to Tracey Beale-Hock, general manager at Skyway Memorial Gardens in Palmetto -- so much so that the cemetery is launching a new "Biker Heaven" area specifically for dearly departed Harley enthusiasts.

"They're very passionate," said Beale-Hock.

"We're burying a lot of the baby boomers and a lot of them are bikers. ... Now we're customizing this kind of passion."

It started when Skyway Memorial Gardens buried a couple who had the Harley logo put on their headstones.

They happened to be the parents of an editor of Florida Full Throttle, a biker magazine that subsequently did a feature story on the Palmetto cemetery and all the burial options available for bikers.

Now, Skyway Memorial Gardens is introducing its "Biker Heaven" section by holding a free kickoff event and bike run from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. today.

There will be free hot dogs and refreshments, vendors, door prizes, a 50/50 drawing and a "best bike" contest with a first prize of $500.

Full Throttle will be there, and so will a hearse pulling a Harley-Davidson-themed casket.

Beale-Hock is expecting a big crowd and a lot of interest in the afterlife options for bikers.

She said advances in laser technology have allowed manufacturers to carve just about anything into a headstone or memorial.

It's not uncommon to see fish marking the graves at Skyway Memorial Gardens, for example, honoring a loved one's favorite Florida pastime. Motorcycles are a natural fit.

"The cemetery industry has evolved to custom things," Beale-Hock said. "It's amazing what we can do now."

Proceeds from the 50/50 at today's event will go to Emma's Little Helpers, a Palmetto-based nonprofit that benefits families with young children undergoing medical treatment.

Skyway Memorial Gardens is at 5200 U.S. 19 N. in Palmetto.

Jason Bartolone, East Manatee Editor, can be reached at 941-745-7011. Follow him on Twitter@JasonBartolone.

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