The Removal of Bodies

Date Published: 
August, 1893
Original Author: 
Fred VonHoldt
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 7th Annual Convention

The removal of bodies is a subject of vital interest to all cemetery managers. While I do not desire to speak of how to do it, as this has been talked over sufficiently before, and varies with the location of the cemetery, I like to consider the subject from a philosophical standpoint.

It seems to me and doubtless the same observation has been made by others, that removing bodies is at times a part of fashion and style or a craze. Like a contagious disease it makes the rounds among people and they are never satisfied until they have moved their departed from place to place in the cemetery. And not satisfied with this, they even move bodies from city to city. At times when the removal craze is at its height it is nothing uncommon for a body to be moved two or three times in a comparatively short time. Again this fashion dies out almost entirely only to awaken again in a few years and make worse ravages than before.

How to account for it? I have tried by conversing with people to get at the real foundation of this craze, but failed to see anything but people's thoughtlessness. Try to talk it out of their minds.

Suppose you bring the skull and a few bones to the new grave, fill it in again and build a mound over it, should a person of sound mind imagine for one minute, that the body now lies in a new grave and rests peacefully forever? In few years more the skull and the bones are gone too, and then what? Would you try and move nothing, if another removal is ordered. I have heard that such practice has been done, to satisfy the wants of cranky people. How right was Shakespeare when he declared all mortals fools!

I claim and I hope that the AACS will sustain me in my opinion, that it is far better and more reasonable in every respect to let long buried bodies alone than engage in the ugly and horrible job of removing them.

But there is one more question to be touched in connection with this subject. Sometimes old cemeteries are closed up for various reasons in order to be transformed into a public park. A good many graves cannot be recognized for want of proper management in days gone by; others have been buried so long that absolutely no trace of the remains can be found. Still they must all be moved to new grounds. So called time honored custom and alleged piety command it. Besides it costs money, but it must be done!

Is it justifiable?

I say it is not! It is more beautiful, more humane and sensible and it must be more pious, to leave those bodies where they are. Collect their names and place them all on one picturesque monument in the remodeled cemetery, the new park, plow over their graves and let the dead continue their sleep under a lovely green turf and under a pleasing landscape. Their memory is not forgotten by those who care; their names will be remembered, if remembering they deserve. Their ashes will arise into blooming flowers, into beautiful trees giving delight and inviting shade to living generations, who will in turn go through the same transformation. So it goes on forever. The park ought to be the final termination of any cemetery, for who cares 300 years from now as to who is buried here or there. To see the proof of this, you will only have to go back to old Europe or our Eastern States and see if any body cares for or recognizes a grave made only 100 years ago.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 7th Annual Convention
Minneapolis, MN
August 22, 23 and 24, 1893