How to Manage a Modern Cemetery

Date Published: 
September, 1894
Original Author: 
Arthur W. Hobert
Lakewood Cemetery, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 8th Annual Convention

The Committee on program has asked me to discuss the management of a modern cemetery, but if I confine myself to telling how we manage Lakewood, in Minneapolis, I feel that I will be better able to offer something which will be worthy of the attention of the members of the National Association. If, while talking about Lakewood, I am able to make suggestions that will be useful to gentlemen who are interested in the management of modern cemeteries the purpose of this paper will be fulfilled.

Lakewood is conducted on what is known as the mutual plan, and every lot owner is entitled to a vote at the annual election of trustees. All lots are sold with a provision for perpetual care, one-fifth of the receipts from these sales being placed in the hands of a trust company for that purpose. It seems to me, however, that the proper way to create this fund is to estimate the amount per foot which will be required at interest to maintain the grounds, and set it aside for each foot of ground sold, instead of figuring a percentage of sales, as is the rule at Lakewood.

The management is vested in nine trustees, three of whom are elected annually. An executive committee of three is appointed by the president to manage the finances, arid have general supervision of ail cemetery work. This committee has all the power of a full board and our expenditures must be approved by at least one member of it.

The superintendent has a monthly report blank which contains a statement of receipts and expenditures for the month, and for the year-to-date, a copy of the trial balance for the past month, and a recapitulation or balance for the year-to-date. All accounts of money transactions are kept in the city office, together with a set of plats, records of deeds, and lot and interment records. At the cemetery is kept a daily interment record, giving name, age, social state, nativity, place and date of death, place and date of burial and name of undertakers officiating, also, duplicate sets of plats and interment and lot owner's records. Our books show in itemized form all sources of income and expense, and we are able at any time, by referring to them, to know what departments yield a profit. We also itemize our maintenance account daily, keeping an accurate record of the time on each kind of work.

Our sources of income are eight in number, and they may be named in this order: Sale of lots, burial fees, single grave fees, special care of flowers, building foundations, setting monuments, vault charges and box making.

Of course, the lot sales are the principal source of income. Prices range from fifty cents to one dollar and fifty cents per square foot, according to location, the average price as per sales for the past two years being about seventy cents. In prosperous times, it should be said however, this average would be much higher.

In a cemetery conducted on the mutual plan, as is Lakewood, the price need be set only high enough to pay running expenses, erect and maintain proper buildings and secure the amount per foot that is necessary to guarantee perpetual care. The prices in some cemeteries are greater than with us, but the prices of preparing the ground originally is also greater. Before offering any part of a section for sale we grade and plat the entire section, put in heavy cast iron corner stones for each lot, and make the price cover the whole. I have heard of cemeteries where there was a special charge for grading and another charge for posts; and, indeed, until a few years ago that was the practice at Lakewood. I think that the plan we are now pursuing is decidedly the better.

The superintendent at Lakewood has a small index book, which he carries in his pocket, and which contains, in order, a statement of every lot sold and unsold in the cemetery, an alphabetical index of lot owners, and considerable other information of value. This book is used in the sale of lots, and we find it much more convenient than carrying plats around with us. When a person decides to buy a lot we issue him a sale ticket giving date, number of lot, price, etc. This ticket is taken to the city office, where the contracts are signed and the cash handled. When I assumed control of Lakewood it was the rule to make no burials until lots had been fully paid for, but I was not long in seeing that such a rule was keeping away many deserving people who otherwise would have been our patrons. Accordingly I induced the trustees to try the contract system, and I am sure that it has been a success. Our usual terms are one-third down, and the balance divided into monthly or quarterly payments which draw six percent interest. Such a plan makes it easy for a man in moderate circumstances to buy a desirable lot. We have a printed form which this class of purchasers sign. Under it we are empowered, in case payments are not made promptly, to remove all monumental work and any bodies which may be buried in the lots, to lots equaling in value the money that has been paid, after deducting the removal expenses.

Our charges for burial and this includes opening, closing and sodding graves, and re-sodding when the dirt settles, are four dollars for persons under twelve years of age, and five dollars for persons twelve years or over. This is probably as cheap as the work can be done without loss, although I have in mind cemeteries where the charges are less. Whether their services are the same as ours or not I cannot say.

In winter all bodies are deposited in the receiving tomb, and for this no charge is made, unless they are removed for burial to other cemeteries, or remain in the vault after June 1st. from which date a charge is made of two dollars per month per body. At the time of deposit in the tomb we make a charge to lot owners of the price of burial, which pays for the burial in the spring. To persons who are not lot owners we make a charge of the price of a single grave, which amount is credited in the spring, if a lot is purchased, or pays for a single grave. If a body is removed from our grounds for burial the full amount of the deposit is retained.

During the summer months few bodies are placed in the receiving tomb, and those few we require to be sealed in zinc-lined boxes, as is the rule with contagious diseases.

For single graves we charge up to twelve years of age, twelve dollars; twelve years of age and over, fifteen dollars. This includes opening closing and sodding the grave; and in case a lot is purchased, the amount less the burial fee is credited. We allow no individual mounds in the single grave section, but instead make the burials in a long tier, the width being the length of two graves foot to foot, with a four foot walk at the head depressed four inches. Our single grave section receives the same care in every way that is given the other parts of the grounds.

For special care of flowers, watering, etc., we charge $1.50 for each grave or vase for the season. This item is a source of some profit to the association, and of course the more flowers that are under care the better the grounds look.  Planting is not allowed on individual lots, except on graves and in vases.

All foundations and other underground work are done by the association.  Charges for foundations are: twenty cubic feet, or less, thirty-five cents per foot; over twenty cubic feet thirty cents. We require foundations to be laid under all work larger than 6 x 12 inches. That the association should do all work of this sort I consider quite important, for contractors will not do it properly, unless an inspector is constantly with them. In this connection I will speak of the setting of monuments, for the association does the entire monument setting in Lakewood, except in small cases. This requires one good man, accustomed to handling ropes and to directing men, but the other help can be common labor. By setting our monuments we are saved a great deal of annoyance, and realize a profit besides. Contractors allowed in cemeteries to do such work are chronic borrowers. They want ropes, blocks, planks, bars and numerous other things, in a great many cases forgetting to return them. The result is that when you need them a grand hunt is in order.  Contractors also seem to take a delight in hitching guy ropes to trees and in many ways they are great nuisances in a well regulated cemetery.

Nearly all of the pine boxes used in Lakewood is furnished by the association. As many of our funerals are arranged by telephone, this is a great convenience to us and to the undertaker. It saves the latter a trip from the city with a box while we can take the box direct to the grave and put men to work, knowing that we have the proper dimensions. Our box account last year paid for nearly all the lumber that was used at the cemetery, and had a credit of about two hundred dollars besides. We buy the sides and ends sawed to size and saw the tops and bottoms on the grounds. "Rainy day work" is what we call box making, for whenever it rains hard enough to interfere with the regular routine, the teamsters and other employees who are paid by the month, turn in to make boxes.

There are minor sources of income, not mentioned in this paper, but it is scarcely worth while taking up your time to name them.

The common laborers in the grounds are directly under a foreman who looks to the superintendent for instructions. He hires and discharges his own men, and I think this is the best plan, for when men know that a foreman has absolute authority over them their respect for him will increase and the character of their work will improve. The mechanics, watchmen and other assistants are hired by the superintendent, who looks after them in person. All work is itemized daily, so that at any time we can know exactly what any piece of work is costing us.

We have no special set of men for grave digging, or mowing, but accustom the employees to all kinds of labor, in this way being prepared for any emergency.

The hours for keeping the grounds open are 7:00 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. during the summer months; late in the fall and during the winter the gates are closed at 5:30 or 6 o'clock in the evening.

As is the case in many cemeteries, we have as yet been unable to bring about all of the reforms suggested by the association members. But we are slowly working toward improved conditions and hope to do better in the future. I think that you will find that where a large city cemetery is behind the times, it is more frequently the fault of the lot owners, than of the cemetery management, for every important reform is contested inch by inch.

It is quite possible that in this somewhat hurried account of how business is done at Lakewood I have told little that is new. The principal good coming from these annual meetings is the exchange of ideas that they encourage; each member being invited to bring the best that he has, and exhibit it for the benefit of his neighbor, to the end that the neighbor, if he sees fit may profit by it or offer suggestions that may be a source of profit to others. It is in this spirit that I came before you today, hoping, that if I am not able to be of any special service to you in what I have said you may be of service to me in the discussions that are to follow.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 8th Annual Convention
Philadelphia, PA
September 11, 12 and 13, 1894