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Obstacles to be Overcome in Starting a New Cemetery on the Modern Plan

Date Published: 
September, 1895
Original Author: 
Mr. Gunn
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 9th Annual Convention

The subject which I have chosen is a large one and only a few of the obstacles can be considered in this paper. My paper will apply more particularly to towns than large cities.

The first thing to be done is to procure a suitable tract of land, and in most cases this will be the first obstacle. Objections of various kinds will be raised. The land will be needed for building purposes, a railroad may wish to pass through it, for the improvement of the town, perhaps new streets may be needed, and other things, many of which can be overcome by choosing a spot at considerable distance from the town or city.

After a funeral procession has started, a half mile more or less makes no great difference.

Another obstacle to be overcome is prejudice; this is the hardest thing to conquer. Many persons will say, "The old graveyard is good enough for me, and it cost less." "What was good enough for my forefathers is good enough for me." This feeling will disappear in a short time if the modern cemetery is in charge of a practical superintendent who will begin his work and finish it as he goes along, that the contrast between the old and the new may be plainly seen. He must not work in a haphazard manner by beginning everywhere, and finishing nowhere.

Still another obstacle to surmount is the matter of setting monuments and headstones. This is of great importance, as nothing looks so bad in a cemetery as monuments that have been imperfectly or poorly set. It is hard to make some lot owners believe that foundations are necessary, and frequently monument men will tell their customers that a foundation is not needed, while other monument dealers will dictate to the superintendent about depth of foundations, and how the grading should be done; matters that they know comparatively nothing about. Your by-laws should regulate these things as well as the matter of curbing. Curbing of lots should not be allowed, but only well kept lawns, good paths, and avenues, which will save both time and money. In the course of time lot owners will see how much better uncurbed, well-graded lots appear, than where there are several kinds of curbing side by side.

Another thing that will give trouble to the superintendent is the stone wagon. When monuments are brought in, no place is too good for the men to drive over; it matters little to them what they destroy as long as they get close to the foundation, set the stone, and get away. The superintendent must determinedly put a stop to this, and see that his rules are enforced. Plenty of good planking, together with all necessary things for unloading in the avenues, should be kept on hand, that the monuments may easily be rolled to their foundations.

A difficulty quite hard to deal with is the cutting of flower beds in the lots by owners. This can hardly be forbidden, yet it should be discouraged as much as possible. Nothing will mar the beauty of a well-kept cemetery more than patches of sod dug up, and a few plants stuck in without any attempt at proper arrangement. Unless the beds are sodded over in the fall, they make unsightly spots in the winter and early spring. The difficulty can be met and overcome, if the superintendent meets the people in a manner that shows he has some consideration for their feelings.

I have before suggested finish as you go, just as far as possible, and have your flower beds so arranged in such places and sufficient quantities that flower beds in lots will appear unnecessary.

In my opinion the next thing to be built after the superintendent's house is a greenhouse. This will pay its way in a short time and will be invaluable in many ways. At the outset it may be difficult to make the trustees and directors see this, but the matter should be urged very strongly by the superintendent, as a greenhouse will be not only a great convenience for the cemetery, but also for lot owners. At the greenhouse they can procure flowers for decoration of graves and other purposes.

In some cemeteries the owners employ anyone they wish to care for their lots. All labor of this kind should be done by men in the employ of the cemetery. This will be difficult to enforce at first especially when starting a new cemetery upon the modern plan, and in a place where there is an old cemetery, a sort of go-as-you-place in which everyone may go in and out whenever they choose and work wherever they wish. I have been in such a cemetery, raised bodies, brought them away without any questions being asked.

No cemetery can be kept as it should be except under the perpetual care system, which should be insisted on from the beginning. One section, not under perpetual care, might be used for single graves; an arrangement which will give poor people a chance to purchase a small lot later on when they have the means. Persons who buy a single grave many times buy a small lot at some later period, when they can afford it and place the lot under perpetual care. The cost of removing bodies to a small lot from a single grave is very low and it is much better to do this way than buy a lot on the installment plan, with which so many cemeteries are continually troubled, often having lots left upon their hands, which have only been paid for in part. The best and safest way is to insist upon payment in full for the lot before any interment is made.

We superintendents must educate the people out of the old idea into the new and strive to make the cemetery what it should be, a modern cemetery. As much thought should be given to the laying out of a cemetery, as would be given to the plans for a park that was to beautify the town or city. Try to create a spark of pride among the people in regard to their cemetery that they may be willing to spend a little money for the sake of having a beautiful place where they may lay their dead. Try to eradicate the old idea that a cemetery must of necessity be a gloomy uninteresting place. The cemetery of the future will be in a great measure what the superintendents of today make it. Let us not forget that we are placed in communities as educators, and have a heavy responsibility resting upon us.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 9th Annual Convention
Richmond, VA
September 18, 19 and 20, 1895