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Education and the Cemetery

Date Published: 
August, 1925
Original Author: 
Frederick Green
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention

Education! What is it? A great Irishman (all Irishmen are great as well as good) said education is a fine thing, but it is better to know something.

A mere earthworm, a professor of biology, said education, that is what a man learns in school and college, adds no more to what he consciously or subconsciously, really knows; and acts upon than would a thin coat of transparent varnish, added to the weight of an orange.

One of England's greatest men said "figures won't lie, but it has been my experience that there is nothing quite so deceptive as figures, unless it be facts."

Yet simple arithmetic is one of the things we all learn in school because it simply helps us to think straight about facts, and facts really do influence our actions. Even such intellectual giants as Edison, Rockefeller and Ford could not think very straight very long without figures.

Of course each of us secretly knows that we, too, can think very straight, but modesty prevents us from mentioning. Besides it is said that the Devil though he can think very straight acts very crooked and is therefore preeminently the biggest fool extant, and of course none of us want his reputation, even here in Chicago. Nevertheless we all like Chicago, don't we? Don't we really like her because she is really a great and good city? And only just wicked enough to make those who visit her feel quite at home? True she does not now offer us a Martina cocktail, but hasn't Professor A. S. Eve of McGill University given us dizzy arithmetic to take its place? Don't it make you delightfully dizzy to think that your wife is one million molecules of she who was Helen of Troy and then what a joyous sense of power accompanies the further thought that your wife knows that one million molecules of Julius Caesar is now you and respects you accordingly.

Besides a little of Professor Eve's simple arithmetic makes us see very clearly that if the whole human race could bathe at one time in Lake Ontario each man, woman and child would have sixty square feet to swim in and would raise the water in the bath tub less than half an inch. 

Being cemetery men we perhaps unconsciously use a little simple mental arithmetic and know at once that a cemetery as large as Lake Ontario would without doubt be large enough to bury all the people in the world, and more than half of it could be used for roads and park-age.

Perhaps that is rather a large vision of the cemetery business but are we not in Chicago, where a world viewpoint is not uncommon and a US viewpoint very common?

From a US viewpoint a little simple arithmetic shows us a cemetery about fifteen miles square. Given all the money one cared to ask for and assured that the undertakers could and would do their part, are there not men here present who feel fully competent to operate a cemetery of that size?

A basic difficulty in cemetery management is the instability of the good old reliable gold dollar.  How many cemetery trustees have solved this problem?   How many lot owners have given serious thought to it?
Chicago has already organized all of her grave diggers into one union. She has vision. Is she planning to organize all her cemeteries under one management? Are not Chicago men usually leaders who can and do think straight and act straight.

The world buries about one-thirtieth (1/30) of its population each year. How much of her population does Chicago bury? Is not the answer to such a question necessary to the intelligent management of the cemeteries of any community?

I am willing to confess that I cannot vision so small a thing as a million molecules, can you? However when we talk about square feet we are down to brass tacks and know exactly what we are talking about. I have used the words “given all the money you cared to ask for”---can you vision that?

In 1921 I was talking to a very small group of men and offered to give a dollar to anyone of them who would tell me what a dollar was. One said it was a mark on a banker's book. Another replied "It's a joke". I tendered him 95 cents. Remember Gladstone said "There is nothing more deceptive than figures unless it be facts." A dollar is a fact, so is or was a ruble, or a mark, or a frank. (Through Professor Irving Fisher of Yale University, I am indebted to a Chicago man, Mr. Cecil F. Elmes, for the diagram)

Irresistible and probably beneficent economic forces are at work and reliable statisticians tell us that 90% of all the wealth in the US is now in the hands of 10% of its population. Most of us have to "count the pennies" and therefore it is easier for us to Vision a hundred pennies than a hundred million dollars. So let us take it easy and do our thinking in pennies about this bask economic fact of 90% of all the wealth of the US being in the hands of 10% of its population." That means, if we look at the US as a whole and think in pennies, that on the average when ten of its men, women and children are gathered together one will have nine hundred (900) pennies in his pocket and nine will on the average each have eleven (11) pennies in his pocket. That is a perfectly clear vision of the US as a whole and is down to brass tacks. A few years ago I visited a benevolently operated cemetery and the Superintendent being absent the sexton "showed me about." Before bidding him adieu I said "It strikes me that the price of your single graves is high and your large lots low" and he quickly replied "Oh Mr. Green we got our money from the poor and spend it on the rich."

Would you have called him an eleven (11) cent financier? He certainly would have deserved that name if he had been managing all the cemeteries of the US as one----but may not statisticians have found that in his community there were nine thousand (9,000) people with eleven (11) pennies, to one (1) with nine hundred (900).

About a quarter of a century ago an intimate friend of mine was offered a million dollars if he would tell a multimillionaire how to give away a million dollars without doing more harm than good. My friend reluctantly gave it up. In defense of my sex, I think the ladies present should know that my friend was a bachelor.

Another friend of mine, a millionaire and president of a cemetery, to whom a multimillionaire tossed his pocket book for my friend to play with, was so surprised that he mistook it for a brickbat and promptly fired it back. Mr. friend, however, though ordinarily a very genial gentleman, was over three-fourths of a century old.

Mr. Andrew Carnegie said it was a disgrace for a man to die rich and gave his money to the erection of library buildings and the pensioning of college professors.

I notice that the newspapers state that "Mr. Leopold Schepp, who made millions in coconuts and is now eighty-five years old" desires suggestions as to how he can best give away his remaining millions. Have any of you energetic active young men suggested to him that cemetery entrances are quite as harmless and nearly as useful as library buildings?

My experience is that unpleasant experience has taught at least one multimillionaire that some architects should attend a course of lectures on cemetery entrances.

Mr. O. P. Van Sweringen, the young man who in the railroad business, is now tossing hundreds of millions about as a professional juggler tosses baseballs, is quoted as saying, "Dollars don't have the attraction for me that they have for some people. I have enough of them. I am not sure whether to be rich is to be poor or to be poor is to be rich. I am inclined to believe the latter." His salary is twenty-five thousand ($25,000) per annum.

The newspaper reports seem to make it quite clear that Mr. Rockefeller has a fixed habit of giving a dime to any boy who happens to do him a favor. Is he afraid a larger sum might be fired back at him, or might produce another Harry Thaw, or is he trying to attract your attention to a very difficult and delicate art? The art of giving.

Are we not all getting our education every day in the University of Hard Knocks? Is Mr. Van Sweringen profiting from the lectures recently delivered in that University here in Chicago by Professors Loeb, Leopold and Shepard?

Does not the successful cemetery man really carry a mental attitude which may be quite accurately described as a basic religious, or a scientific Christian, or a Christian science mind?

Does he not aim to do the right thing at the right time in the right way?

Does he not aim to do some things better than they were ever done before?

Does he not aim to eliminate errors and to anticipate requirements?

Does he not aim to act with equanimity and in moderation and from reason rather than rule?

Does he not aim to work for the love of work and to be satisfied with nothing short of perfection?

Does this seem true? "We are all moved by an unseen hand, to an unknown end, for an unknown purpose. Do your work as well as you can and be kind-there is no greater wisdom."
Do you not hate, or at least dislike, me because perhaps I am trying to make you think thoughts you never thought to think before?

Is that education?

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention
Chicago, Illinois
August 24, 25, 26 and 27, 1925