First Experiences in Cemetery Management
Upon receipt of a letter from Bro. Higgins, requesting me to write a paper for this meeting I was at first inclined to refuse, but as he kindly left the subject to be chosen to myself, I decided to make an effort, knowing that you would excuse any shortcomings, as my experience has been brief, as compared with that of a majority of those present.
When the matter of taking charge of a cemetery was first suggested to me, I had been engaged for five years in park work, and was dubious about making the change, fearing that the work would not suit me; but the objectionable features have all disappeared, and I become daily more and more interested in the work.
My first experience was with a close corporation and the cemetery was started to supply a "long felt want."
The ground selected was an eighty-acre piece of rolling land, of which about ten acres were covered with a heavy growth of black oak, ten acres low and unavailable, and the balance very handsome meadow land. After having the entire piece cross-sectioned, they called upon a well known landscape gardener to make a design, which was done, and I proceeded to grade and plat about twenty acres, at an expense of about three thousand dollars. A chapel and vault were built, costing six thousand dollars.
About the time we were ready for business the "long felt want" had disappeared and no one seemed anxious to die in order to patronize us. I remained there about eleven months, during which time we made about one hundred-thirty burials. The directors were somewhat disappointed at the small amount of business and the correspondingly small income, and had reduced the force to a minimum, which compelled me to neglect numerous things which should have been attended to.
Even in this short time I had learned that it was going to be no easy task to keep the grounds in good shape, especially where the business was run in private interests. The few lot holders we had there, had already proposed some of the wildest schemes imaginable for decorating their lots, and our directors did not like to oppose them too much. I was about discouraged with the outlook, when a proposition was made me to take the position I now occupy.
Lakewood, at this time, had been established nineteen years, during which time the management had been changed but once, the first superintendent having held the position twelve and one-half years, and my predecessor six and one-half years; the assistant-superintendent four years, while the foreman had been in that position from the start. All of these men were removed when I took charge.
As was but natural, they had each a certain following among the lot owners, and some of them were much vexed that the change was made, and made it correspondingly disagreeable for me for some time.
Upon coming here I found three hundred bodies in the vault awaiting interment, and I can assure you it looked to me like a formidable task, but when the time came things seemed to shape themselves about right for me and I got well through the spring work without any serious trouble.
My views as to rules, management of men: etc., differing quite materially from those of my predecessor, caused me some trouble with the men who had previously worked here, and I had quite a struggle to right things to my ways. The rules, existing here previous to my time, were very good, but they had not been strictly enforced, and when I attempted to enforce them it brought a great many people to the front with their grievances and complaints, and kept me in hot water for some time.
In many respects my experience has been very similar to that of Bro. Hamill, as set forth in his paper of last year. I found innumerable rusty wire arches, rusty and broken down seats of all descriptions, and every kind of a utensil that could be thought of to sprinkle with or carry water in. These had to go, and I made a clean sweep of everything that was not fairly presentable. Seats and arches are now forbidden, and the consequence is a much neater looking cemetery, but much more bitterness of feeling against the superintendent, which I hope will die out some day.
At times I feel somewhat downhearted and despondent at the opposition which seems to meet nearly every improvement or change that is suggested, but have secured a box of Dr. Barker's "cheerful pills" and find that they help me wonderfully.
There seems to be a wide difference of opinion among lot owners as to what constitutes a neat looking and well-kept cemetery lot, but by making an effort to meet and talk with them on the subject I can turn a great many of them to my way of thinking. A little reflection convinces nearly all of them that at general system of improvement is necessary, but all are not so ready to believe in its enforcement in their particular case.
The first impulse of a person purchasing a burial lot seems to be to plant something, it makes but little difference what it is, but there must be some planting.
The following from an article written by the late R. M. Copeland, the well-known New England landscape gardener, is to the point on this subject: "It is natural for everyone who has a cemetery lot to show his interest in it by some kind of decoration, and planting trees and shrubs is the simplest and most obvious thing to do. But, when we remember that trees, unless when grouped to give a compound effect, when each tree loses a part of its beauty or effect, to receive something by contrast or harmony with its neighbors, should stand from twenty-five to forty feet apart, it is plain that a lot of fifteen by twenty does not give much chance for trees; consequently, as everyone wishes to plant trees, cemeteries as the lots are sold become too" treesy," too much shade, no intervals of light and grass for contrast; the trees crowd each other to their mutual injury; the shade prevents the growth of shrubs, and thus we lose the many chances for beauty which they offer. Guided by the mistakes that have been made in our older cemeteries, we should try to secure for the future a method of treatment which will forbid all changes of grade, curbing, fences and over-planting. Even the old cemeteries, as they take in new land, can change their vicious practices and approach to the true theory on which they were based; but every new one should be sure to foresee the capabilities of the grounds selected and adopt such plans for laying them out as will insure, in the end, all the naturalness, grace and beauty which result from well directed efforts."
From the above we can judge of the importance of the subject, and how necessary it is to maintain from the start the proper regulations.
I read with a great deal of interest the articles in the MODERN CEMETERY, and heartily agree with most of the writers, but am sorely afraid that it will be a long time before the monument dealers will quietly submit to there being many of Bro. Eurich's model cemeteries. The desire for display predominates too strongly, and the dealers in monumental work can and will encourage large and numerous stones more effectually than we can discourage them.
From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 6th Annual Convention
September 27, 28 and 29, 1892