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Communication Between the Office and the Grounds

Date Published: 
September, 1919
Original Author: 
Matthew P. Brazill
St. Louis, MO
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Convention

On July 14th I received a very nice letter from my old friend, Mr. Salway, Chairman of the Convention Committee, requesting me to write a paper for this convention, stating at the same time that I had the exceptional privilege of selecting my own subject. This was very kind of him.

If I did not know Mr. Salway for so many years, since 1888, I would have taken him for an Irishman; he used so much of what we call the "Blarney" in that letter. After some study to find a subject not entirely thrashed out, I decided to write something about the shortest and quickest method of communication between the office and the officers and men through the grounds.

This subject applies only to large cemeteries having extensive grounds and a large number of funerals, where communication is more or less difficult and takes much time.

At our Cemetery, Calvary, St. Louis, we have over 3,000 funerals a year, or about an average of ten a day; on some days, especially during the winter and early spring months we have over twenty a day. During the Influenza epidemic last fall and winter, the average was over thirty a day, with very few men to attend to them, as nearly all the labor was requisitioned by the Government for the army or in the factories.

Undertakers in ordering the graves do not always order all the extra work they require; they leave this for later consideration, or when they are able to have a more detailed understanding with the family, for instance, lining graves, erecting tents, etc., which are usually hurried orders, especially if the weather is wet or threatening rain. These late orders give considerable trouble, as the men must be notified as soon as possible; this condition necessitates quick communication with the grounds.

In our grounds near the center on a hill we have a Bell-tower built of brick, sixty-five feet high. The bell is fixed stationary at the apex of the tower; it is struck by a large hammer on the outside. This hammer is operated by an electric bell-ringing machine, set in motion by an electric battery at one of our gates a half mile from the bell-tower. The gate-keeper rings the signals by pressing on a button connected with a wire to the bell-tower.

The signals are expressed by strokes and pauses; for instance, if the Superintendent is wanted, one stroke on the bell calls his attention. If the Chaplain is wanted, two strokes calls his attention. If the foreman is wanted one stroke a short pause followed by two strokes calls his attention and so on for officers and men, each has his signal.

When the Sexton has to locate graves for funerals he calls the foreman on the bell who listens for the next signals: the sexton indicates by signals the number of men he wants and the different stations at which they are to meet him. We have eight stations through the grounds at which the grave-diggers are to meet the sexton. For instance, if the sexton has two graves to locate in the vicinity of station five; two taps are sounded for the men and five for the station. If he wants to locate three graves in the vicinity of station seven, three taps are given for the men and seven for the station, etc.

Connected with these bell signals we have sixteen telephone stations, the telephones are locked in a box attached to a post or a tree. Officers have to carry duplicate keys for the boxes so as to communicate with the office when necessary. These phones are private and not connected with the public phones of the city. They are supplied with electric power from the same batteries that serve for ringing the bell.

The signals are repeated at each gate by a repeating tapper, through the telephone wires, so that the office can know if any mistake is made by the party ringing the bell. There is a regular telephone exchange at the gate where the batteries are located and where the bell signals are given.

When an officer is notified by a bell signal he goes to the nearest telephone and gets in communication with the office to find out for what he is called; this saves a great deal of time and expedites the work on hand.

When the foreman calls the roll at seven o'clock in the morning and one o'clock in the afternoon, he appoints six grave-diggers to answer the next calls for men on the bell. When the first call is sounded No. 1 answers the call and No. 2 knows he is the next to be called, so he is listening for that call, and so on with No. 3 and 4. We can see from this the great importance of the bell signals; they serve as a language to facilitate rapid communication between the office and the grounds.

When the funeral of an adult arrives at the gate it is announced by four taps on the bell, followed by the number of the section that the interment is to be made in.

When the funeral of a child arrives, three taps are given, followed by the number of the section that the interment is to be made in. This notifies the grave diggers of the funeral and section that they are called on to attend.

One of my motives for selecting this subject was to invite discussion, as other large cemeteries have systems of communications, which might be an improvement on ours. A repetition of the discussion will prove useful to new members, and may have some interest for older members.

From the publication:
“AACS - Proceedings of the 33rd Annual Convention held at Cincinnati, OH"
September 24, 25 and 26, 1919