The Education of Lot Owners

Date Published: 
September, 1896
Original Author: 
Matthew P. Brazill
Calvary Cemetery, St. Louis, MO
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 10th Annual Convention

Nine years ago the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents was organized and held its first meeting at Cincinnati. The object of the association was to cultivate a better taste, and improve the various branches that enter into the management of cemeteries among superintendents and other cemetery officials.

But while we all can bear testimony to the good work of the association among its members, and the consequent improvement of our associated cemeteries, we have had too often to realize the great need of the coopera¬tion of the cemetery lot owner, without which the grand work of our associa¬tion can be only partially successful. Hence the necessity of educating the lot owner as well as the cemetery official. You will naturally say that this is a large undertaking. I admit it, but it must be done, if not in whole at least in part. The cooperation of the cemetery official and the cemetery lot owner is essential to the introduction of modern improvements and the main¬tenance of the most approved methods in cemetery work.
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This association has commenced this education from its inception, and continues to do so by its annual meetings as well as through its organ, "THE' PARK AND CEMETERY."

The lot owner cannot fail to see the marked improvement in our cemeteries of late years. This is because the education of the cemetery official has been going forward with uniformity on a new and improved plan. Our cemeteries assume more of the appearance of the park and garden and ex¬hibit more and more the most approved ideas of art in memorial stones while discouraging and prohibiting what is unsightly and inartistic. This is simply keeping pace with other institutions which lead in modern civilization and mark its growth. The cemetery, the dearest spot on earth to most peo¬ple, ought not be neglected in this forward march of progress, but should re¬ceive its due attention and be made to exert a humanizing if not a Christianizing influence. The condition of our cemeteries has been taken as a mark of our civilization. I think it was Benjamin Franklin who used these memo¬rable words, "Show me your cemeteries and I will tell you what I think of your people."

But how can all of this marked improvement be kept up if the lot owner will not cooperate with those who have made cemetery improvements in their most modern form a special study.

Boards of trustees make rules for the mutual advantage of lots and lot owners and insist on strictly enforcing these rules that the cemetery may be conducted on the latest and most approved plan. Yet the latter regard as unjust and arbitrary the very rules that were made for their benefit. This shows the want of education. If the cemetery were to be conducted after the notion of every individual lot owner what an unsightly pile of confusion we would have; hence all well conducted cemeteries insist on enforcing strictly the rules laid down for their management, treating all parties alike, whatever their business or station in life.

The difficulty of getting lot owners to comply with cemetery rules is most noticeable in cities of mixed nationalities. Some of these people bring their old customs and prejudices from their native country and it seems morally impossible to get them to conform to improved American ideas in cemetery management. Hence the position of our American cemetery su¬perintendent is often a very disagreeable one.

The tendency to violate rules or to avoid conforming to them is the prin¬cipal difficulty we find with lot owners.

Filling their lots with unsightly stonework without a particle of concern for good taste. Making high mounds over graves and ornamenting them with tin boxes, shells and other domestic relics from the kitchen and the nursery. This is most unbecoming and excites feelings of impatience or disgust in peo¬ple of good taste who frequently ask the question: why do you allow this desecration of the cemetery? We can only answer that our lot owners don't know any better. Then why don't you enforce the rules? they ask. Perhaps our rules are too liberal and don't go far enough in prohibiting this kind of nonsense.

We know that the finest cemeteries are those that have the strictest rules and insist on their being observed without fear or favor, while cemeteries that allow lot owners too much of their own way are repulsive and unsightly.

Prospective lot owners should buy large lots, at least ample grounds to provide sepulture for their respective families. This could be done if economy were exercised in funeral expenses and useless and unnecessary stonework. Instead of this, extravagant funerals are the rule, the interment takes place in a public lot or a very small cheap lot, and an expenditure of a hundred or two hundred dollars made for useless stonework follows in the immediate future.

Great mistakes are made in buying very small lots, which are quickly filled. The result is that the bodies have to be removed to a large lot causing a great deal of unnecessary expense, which might have been avoided if am¬ple ground had been purchased at the first selection. Another mistake is made in buying lots .in partnership. This too, often ends in disagreements and very unseemly misunderstandings, causing a great deal of annoyance to cemetery officials and undertakers. This trouble is generally brought about when parties buy lots from persons outside of the cemetery association, who cannot give a dear title without the consent of other parties interested and the cemetery association also. Such titles are usually clouded and often prove invalid.

All lots should be placed in charge of the cemetery association in perpetual care, so that when the members of the family pass away the lot will be looked after, and at any time the cemetery association will prove the most interested, caretakers for the sake of the general good appearance of the cemetery. This rule is insisted on in nearly all up-to-date cemeteries.

Great mistakes are made in the erection of stonework. There seems to be no judgment exercised in this matter and when a mistake is made it is very apt to be copied in all its details of hideousness. There is nothing so un¬seemly as crowding unnecessary stonework into lots.

Stonework should be confined to low corners for marking boundaries, and these should be level with the surface, or nearly so; low head-marks on a level with the graves. No such thing as a so-called entrance should be permitted; these are peculiar to St. Louis cemeteries. If the lot owner wants a monument it should be of new design and not copied from any one in its im¬mediate neighborhood and should be built in proportion to the size of the lot. Copying designs of monuments is not permitted in well regulated ceme¬teries.

If cemetery officers were consulted the lot owner could learn what the prevailing custom in other cemeteries was. But the stone man is the guide, philosopher and friend at the closed grave and the result is we have too much stonemason and too little artist and designer.

The improvements in cemeteries must be conducted under one general plan dictated by educated taste. Individual rights must be subordinate to this one general plan if you are to have harmony and neatness in the cemetery. This is obtained only where the cemetery authorities have complete control of grounds and graves. Then the grounds are laid out with taste according to modern ideas. But where the grounds are sold in lots confusion commences and the stone yard supplants the lawn and the garden.

Hence; the necessity not only of the education of lot owners, but the para¬mount importance of enforcing such education by discipline.

I have spoken of cemeteries as promoters and tests of civilization. Civili¬zation consists in subordinating the will and interest of the individual to the comfort and well being of all. This subordination so necessary in the walks of life is equally requisite in the habitation of the dead.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 10th Annual Convention
Held at St. Louis, MO
September 15, 16 and 17, 1896