When you think of winning the lottery, you imagine taking home a fat check. “A good prize that I can enjoy while I'm alive,” says Manassas resident Alfredo Villarreal.
In his hometown, however, a new lottery is designed for the dead. With the demand for gravesites high and the supply low, the city got creative. It’s holding a burial plot lottery.
“After you get over the initial shock and you think about it, you think well I guess that's not a bad way to do it,” says longtime resident and business owner Joanne Wunderly.
The two Manassas city-owned cemeteries are sold out so funeral homes have been delivering the same sad news. “Many people come to see us [and] they are interested in purchasing property in Manassas City Cemetery and we've had to tell them at this point it's full,” says Pierce Funeral Home General Manager Ernie Myers.
124 new plots are being added in the only space left, but securing a spot requires having "Lady Luck" on your side.
“The lottery system was put in place after we talked with a cemetery in Massachusetts and they'd used a similar process to make sure that it was open for everyone,” explains Manassas City Public Works and Utilities Director Michael Moon. “There wasn't any favoritism in the sale of the lots.”
Moon teamed up with a volunteer cemetery committee and came up with a game-plan. “Each lottery winner, instead of getting a cash receipt as you would in a typical lottery, you have the opportunity to expense, buy up to two plots which are $4500 each,” he says.
That money will be pumped into the cemetery's perpetual care fund.
“We did a lot of research and came up with this is the best way to do it,” says Jeanette Smith. She has lived in Manassas for more than 60 years and says the cemetery, which opened in 1866 and was purchased by the city 50 years later, is steeped in history.
“All my in-laws are here,” points out Smith. “I have plots here so I'll be here,” she exclaimed.
Now many other who hadn’t plotted out their final resting place may begin doing so.
“It’ not something you want to think about,” admits Smith. “It's something you're not going to think about almost until it's too late.”
The lottery is expected to open early next month. You have to be a city resident or property owner 18 years or older to enter. Those who win will be given 30 days to round up the cash to secure their plots.