Vaults: Public and Private

Date Published: 
August, 1893
Original Author: 
George W. Creesy
Harmony Grove, Salem, Massachusetts
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 7th Annual Convention

This subject, as assigned me, I would like to divide, first, taking up the Public Vault, or Receiving Tomb. To this subject, I have given a considerable amount of thought and attention, and for years I have condemned the free use made of it. By this, I mean the making of such a vault, the receptacle for such a large percent of the bodies, that should at the first be buried. Of course I will admit that when such a vault is properly built, cared for and used only in cases of actual need it becomes, what it was designed for.

But what I do wish to condemn is, the fact, that in so many cemeteries, they seem to think it the most convenient place at all times, and also have an idea that in placing a body there, it is less work, less expensive etc.

Now to these arguments I do not agree, as when I first took charge of the ground I now represent, I made this a matter of especial attention, and I had the obstacle of opening ground in frosty weather, the breaking up of the lots and all the other similar objections. But it gives me pleasure at this time to be able to state, that now the time has come when almost everyone wishes to bury their friends, at once, thereby making a final disposition.

So that even if it should cost a trifle more at the time of opening the grave (supposing the ground to be frozen) in the long run the expense is no more, since, if there are many bodies placed in the Tomb, the removal there from must be made early in the spring time, and as that is the busiest season in all cemeteries the time spent in such work would be valuable.

And we also hear quoted, the fact that it breaks up the ground to dig during the winter months. But by the Board of Health regulation, those dying from contagious diseases such as scarlet fever, diphtheria and others must be at once buried and no Superintendent would dare to do otherwise.

Well, now, if we can dig the ground for those dying of one kind of disease, why can’t we dig for all. And I have known of several of the Public Vaults being so crowded that the racks were filled and in some cases the bodies piled one on the other. Perhaps you may have been invited at some time to inspect some such vault, if so; possibly you have a faint remembrance the repulsive sight, the odor, etc. So what I wish to bring out/at this time is that to work at such a place must be most unhealthful, and of course it must be done by those in our employ, now it does not seem right to compel workmen to do such tasks as we ourselves would positively refuse to do, and let us Superintendents exercise our influence for the working out some good plan.  It seems to me that in no one way can we better do this than in a renovation of our Receiving Vaults.

We pass on now to the second half of the subject, Private Vaults:  I speak from personal experience as I think hardly anyone present can have a larger number of private vaults, for the size of ground than we have where I am located.

We have some 75 in use at the present time; most of them built 40 and 50 years ago, under the old fashioned oven or cellar style.

The Oven style being built in the side of a bank, where there is from 2½ to 3 ft. of standing room on the side and the rest arched over, with a stone front and marble door 2 ft. 4 in. wide and 3½ ft. high. The Cellar Tomb is 4 ft. underground and then usually a slab raised and steps going down from that to the bottom of the Tomb, making some 6 or 7 ft. deeper. In almost all of those built in this style, the bodies are placed one on top of the other, being no racks whatever.

I think you can imagine what a task we have before us when notified to open and have ready for use one of these Private Vaults. And when I say that all such Tombs or Vaults should be hermetically sealed, I think you will agree with me.

In regard to those of modern build, after the catacomb style, these I should say are very good as far as cleanliness goes, but I should prefer that the cemetery under my charge should have no vaults of any kind. They are, and always will be a source of expense and require much care. Let us then instead of so carefully preserving such a mass of corruption rather fulfill the divine law: Earth to earth, Ashes to ashes, and Dust to dust.

And in closing I would recommend that this Association appoint a committee to devise ways and means, whereby they can bring before the different State Boards of Health, the advisability of closing all vaults except such as are built of the catacomb style.

I have some photographs of the interior of some of these vaults I have mentioned which I shall be happy to have the gentlemen see.

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