Care and Maintenance of Public Lots in City Cemeteries

Date Published: 
September, 1892
Original Author: 
William Stone
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 6th Annual Convention

Once more we are assembled; once more we meet to discuss questions of vital importance to us.

We, who have charge of grounds wherein rest the remains of so many loved ones, have an honored and sacred duty, and it behooves us to perform that duty as near perfect as possible. We are public servants and should have the fullest confidence of those we serve. Without that confidence we are useless.

We are to comfort the afflicted by caring for the dead with tender hands, and complying with their requests in a gentlemanly and courteous manner. We are to meet the rich and the poor. Their family ties are the same. Death brings the mortal remains to the same level. As man stands in the presence of his Maker there is no distinction in regard to his worldly possessions. We brought nothing into the world; neither can we carry anything away. In the course of human events it is impossible for everyone to own a burial place, and consequently in cemeteries owned and controlled by the city or town in which they are located, a portion of ground is set aside for public or free lots. Such is the case in the cemetery of which I have charge. The name of Potter's Field, Pauper Lot and other discourteous names attached to that part of a cemetery I do not like. A man may be poor and yet support his family comfortably and not be able to purchase a lot. True, we may bury some who are called paupers in a worldly sense, but when life departs they cease to be paupers, and are no doubt wealthy in a spiritual sense. A short time ago I was accosted by a stranger who wanted to know where our Potter's Field was. I answered him that we had no such place, but if he was looking for the Public Lots I would direct him. Another asks where is your Pauper Lots? and received the same answer. In regard to these lots I simply wish to state my experience in the way of improvement. I have visited cemeteries where the Public Lots were very unsightly and in obscure places and concealed by hedges, with but very little care. I do not mean that they should be in the most prominent places, but wherever they are they should not wear that neglected look. Properly cared for by the superintendent will do much towards removing the stigma attached to them.

For many years, and in fact since the commencement of the cemetery, people have been allowed to exercise their individual taste in decorating these graves, and the result was several hundred of these graves were enclosed by fences of all designs imaginable. One grave was a flower bed, the next the sod taken off and the soil exposed; one mounded and another flat, a shrub here and a shrub there; nothing in harmony and on the whole anything but agreeable to the eye. Our public lots are located in different parts of the cemetery, and are designated by numbers. Each lot is divided by sections and designated by figures or alphabetically. Each grave is marked by a marble slab 6 inches in width and numbered, which is furnished by the city, and when any particular grave is wanted it is only necessary to turn to the records and find the number of the lot, section and grave. Three years ago I graded a new Public Lot called the 5th, with the intention of carrying out my ideas of what a public lot should be. Rules were posted and were cheerfully complied with. No structures of any kind allowed around the graves. The grass not to be disturbed, no shrub or bush allowed. Parties were allowed to set stones of their liking, if they so desired, not to measure over 2 feet in height or 16 inches in width. Two or three plants were allowed to be set near the headstone. Bouquets were, of course, allowed. Three purple-leaf beeches were set in the center of each section at equal distances. A gravel walk 4 feet in width divides the sections with 2 feet of grass in front of the stones, making 8 feet from stone to stone across the walk. I can now point with pride to my new Public Lot, a level carpet of green enshrouding those who sleep. Lawn mowers can now be used, where it was impossible on the old lots, and of course making the cost for care much less and with better results.

I have since removed the various structures from the old lots, and more or less of the shrubs, and am busily putting them in a presentable condition. In many cases an explanation was necessary, some thinking it a hardship not to allow them the privilege of enclosing the grave of some dear one. But when they were invited to look at the new lot they readily saw that a change had been made for the better. Many are so anxious to decorate a grave that they know not where to stop, and carry it far beyond good taste. As large a percentage of the public graves are watched over and furnished with bouquets as those on private lots They are visited more by children than the private graves, and are adorned by childish hands with many a flower. Bodies are constantly being removed from these lots, as many purchase lots as soon as their financial condition will admit. A body must remain in the ground at least one year before removal. Last year 330 were interred in these lots, the regular interment fee being charged. The care and appearance of the public lots should go as far towards establishing the reputation of a cemetery for neatness as the appearance of private lots.

The dead must be cared for by the living and as far as the cemetery is concerned, the care of the public lots should be watched over as carefully as the private lots. Feeling an interest in the public lots from the day I took charge of the grounds, and feeling that they should be looked on with the same degree of respect as other parts; of the grounds, prompted me to prepare this paper.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 6th Annual Convention
Baltimore, MD
September 27, 28 and 29, 1892