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Perpetual Care of Lots

      
Date Published: 
August, 1893
Original Author: 
T. McCarthy
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 7th Annual Convention

The necessity and importance of making some provision for the perpetual care of cemeteries is now so fully recognized and appreciated throughout the country that it is gratifying to know that the increasing interest and admirable results already obtained owe very much to the influence and intelligent efforts of this association. Such progress is surely sufficient excuse for our existence and some compensation for the labor and expense in attending these annual conventions.

A burial ground (says a writer) unprotected and neglected, presents a cheerless and sad spectacle. It would seem that the dead who lie in such a place had been strangely forgotten by the living, and that philosophy is cold and repulsive which teaches us that the body being an insensible mass of matter may be buried from our sight and never thought of any more, and so inseparably do we connect the feelings and character of the living with the appearance and condition of the place of their dead that Franklin's saying is applicable, "I only need to visit the burial ground of a community to know the character of the people."  Hence no cemetery or burial ground today is complete or satisfactory which does not show not only evidences of care and respect paid by individuals and families to the memory of their own dead, but evidences also of that respect which the community of the living should ever bear toward the community of the dead.

Now, while I cannot hope to enhance the importance of this subject, it may be well to call attention to the diversity of opinions and of practice that prevails as to the best method of securing perpetual care, and as the charges and application of this vary in different cemeteries, I have no desire to recommend a fixed scale of prices for all cemeteries, or any "best plan." In my opinion each cemetery must be governed by the local conditions and advantages of its section of the country, such as the rate of interest, the cost of labor and materials, condition of the soil, severity of the climate, etc., or the exacting taste of your respective communities. All these and many other considerations will govern somewhat the cost of perpetual care. I might say here that the words "perpetual care" (although as smooth and consoling as a life insurance policy) are too broad and often misleading, and seemingly promise more care than the interest of the fund or money left will admit.

The original intention and meaning of perpetual care in my vicinity included the care of the grass only, and I hear of many disappointments because myrtle graves, watering vases, cleaning headstones, etc., are not included. Of course all these can be provided for by increasing the fund and it would be well to have all such things definitely stated in the bond or contract made between the proprietor and the corporation and thus avoids many misunderstandings in the future.

In my opinion, there are only two or three things connected with a burial lot, the care of which should be included and provided for, viz. the good appearance of the grass and all hardy shrubs and trees, and the cleaning and permanent position of head-stones and monuments. Many other items, some of a perishable existence and doubtful taste, could be readily dispensed with, and we continually discourage perpetuating flower beds (excepting hardy subjects) myrtle graves, vases and the care of hedges, fences, etc.

New cemeteries have no great difficulty in adopting perpetual care, at least for the grass and good appearance of the grounds, but these remarks are intended more for the older cemeteries which it is desirable to rescue from dilapidation and neglect, many lots and ground sold years ago, or before perpetual care was thought of.

To accomplish this, and before appealing to proprietors to leave money for the care of their respective grounds, the cemetery or corporation should do its part and give some assurance of greater neatness and higher keeping of the grounds, and thus secure the confidence and respect of the public.

When perpetual care was adopted in the cemetery under my charge, and when it was understood that dilapidation and neglect would no longer be tolerated, our sales perceptibly increased, and that too to citizens already owning lots in the numerous cemeteries in our vicinity, so that it is very evident that the greater the assurance a cemetery offers against such neglect, not only for our day, but for the future as far as human foresight can suggest, the more surely will it provide what the public demand, the greater will be its success and the higher will what it has to offer for sale be valued.

In all the catalogues and reports kindly sent me by brother superintendents, only one has a printed scale of prices for Perpetual Care. Spring Grove, Cincinnati, although all make an urgent appeal to their lot owners to leave money, the interest of which will be faithfully applied to the care of their respective lots. So for lack of knowledge of its workings and application in other cemeteries, and without any egotism, or comparison with older or wealthier institutions, a brief allusion to its adoption and progress at least, financially, in the cemetery under my charge, may be acceptable.

Swan Point was consecrated in 1847, and perpetual care was not adopted till 1877. During those 30 years many proprietors left money, by will or otherwise, and many more who were able and could have done so, but by their delay and the reverses of fortune they have been prevented from making this provision for themselves and their families. Suffice it to say that since the adoption of perpetual care the amount received in anyone year exceeded the voluntary contributions of the first 30 years.

The increase for each year is as follows:

AMOUNT OF ALL MONIES RECEIVED FROM
        1847 to 1875 inclusive was …………………     $10,219.05
            1876 …………………………………        1,788.00
            1877 …………………………………        3,524.95
            1878 …………………………………      11,037.00
            1879 …………………………………      12,181.94
            1880 …………………………………      13,625.96
            1881 …………………………………      17,522.75
            1882 …………………………………      11,037.00
            1883 …………………………………      15,999.50
            1884 …………………………………      11,790.00
            1885 …………………………………      11,296.00
            1886 …………………………………        9,946.00
            1887 …………………………………      15,461.00
            1888 …………………………………      10,127.00
            1889 …………………………………      12,961.00
            1890 …………………………………      18.004.00
            1891 …………………………………      12,841.00
            1892 …………………………………      10,575.00
                                    --------------
                                                      $209,937.15

The above may encourage many cemeteries contemplating Perpetual Care, although I know from experience how difficult and remote the accumulation of funds of one or two hundred thousand dollars seems on such small beginnings, and without even "a silver lining to every cloud," but don't be discouraged. In the language of statesmen, "the only way to resume is to resume."

About this time a scale of prices was adopted having reference to the care of the grass only. This was headed "Perpetual Care of Lots," and was mailed to the older proprietors as a guide and reminder to place their lots under care, and thus look like the newer sections.

The printing and distribution of this scale of prices was, I think, a mistake, as it deceived many who intended to provide for everything, when by will or otherwise they left only sufficient to care for the grass. The better way would be for the lot owner or his representative making this provision to visit the cemetery, see the condition of his lot; state what he desires to provide for and obtain the proper information from the superintendent, and with all due respect for cemetery officials, he is the proper one to consult.

Scale of prices for perpetual care of grass only:
    100 square feet ……………………..    $ 50
    200 square feet ……………………..    90
    300 square feet ……………………..  120
    400 square feet ……………………..  144
    500 square feet ……………………..  165
    600 square feet ……………………..  186
    700 square feet ……………………..  206
    800 square feet ……………………..  226
    900 square feet ……………………..  245
    1,000 square feet …………………… 264
    1,100 square feet …………………… 282
    1,200 square feet …………………… 300

For lots containing over 1,200 feet, 25¢ per square foot

When the above scale was adopted, some 16 years ago, the basis of our reckoning was 6%. Last year these funds earned only 5% and they are likely to realize still less in the future. So with the rates of interest decreasing and wages, etc., increasing, it may be a question if our scale of prices is not too low, but I will leave this to the convention, and as I said before, each cemetery will be governed by the conditions and advantages of its own section and people.

While the moneys or funds of cemeteries may be under various headings and not always intelligible, I would suggest at least two funds: A perpetual care fund, which has reference to private lots only, and a permanent fund, the interest of which would be sufficient to care for all the property of the cemetery and meet expenses when there is no further income from the sale of land.   This fund should be absolutely fixed and as carefully guarded as the perpetual care fund. The method of its accumulation may vary, but the principal with the yearly additions and interest should be allowed to accumulate for a long number of years or till the land which created them is all sold. I think this fund is of vital importance, but I am anxious to make improvements in my day and so would like to leave its creation to my successor.

In conclusion, gentlemen, our Association must be true to this Gospel of Perpetual Care. We know how pleasant and easy it is to receive people's money, and how uncertain and difficult it is to carry out the obligations assumed, especially in our severe and eccentric climate, but we must keep faith with the people, and secure to our citizens at least a burial place, indicating not only respect for the dead, but which will also be a source of pride and consolation to the living.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 7th Annual Convention
Minneapolis, MN
August 22, 23 and 24, 1893

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Code: 
A1102