What a Modern Cemetery Should be

Date Published: 
September, 1896
Original Author: 
William Stone
Superintendent, Pine Grove Cemetery, Lynn, MA
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 10th Annual Convention

The modern cemetery! What does it mean? It means everything pos¬sible to lighten the grief of those who are called upon to part with some dear one. How is this brought about? It is brought about by keeping the grounds neat and attractive, clean avenues, well kept lawns and lots, trees and shrubs, in variety, flower beds here and there, and a superintendent who is in touch with everyone, easy to approach, sympathetic in nature, courteous at all times. Let these conditions be brought about, and we have what a modern cemetery should be.

When the dead has been laid to rest in its bed of mother earth, and the greensward has been replaced, and tender hands have arranged the flowers on nature's carpet, and the friends depart, they feel as if the modern cemetery had robbed death of half its horrors.

Compare the graveyards of the past with the cemeteries of today and mark the progress. An extract from American Gardening says: The tendency of the times is to make the cemetery a park, rather than a marble yard. Ghosts have vanished with old fashioned headstones, with skull and cross bones and poetic epitaphs.

Today, our cemeteries are called gardens of the dead, and the work is still going on in the direction of beautifying grounds that are now beautiful. And for this reason, our Association was formed. Those who have attended our conventions have certainly been benefited. Whatever one's occupa¬tion, he will never make a success unless he loves his work. The superinten¬dent should understand the construction of avenues and lawns should know the name and nature of trees, shrubs and flowers and not be obliged to ask any man in his employ. He can only learn this by practice and study. Books and papers are always in his reach, touching upon every subject of interest to him. We read of some experiment tried, or some idea advanced, just what we wanted to know, and we at once avail ourselves of the courtesy of our un¬known friend. The catalogues issued by leading seeds-men are full of valu¬able information. The mouthpiece of our Association, the PARK AND CEME¬TERY, has enlightened us on many a subject and has done much toward educating the superintendent in the better discharge of his duties. It is still in its infancy. Long may it live and flourish, and continue to instruct us and those who may follow in our work.

Let me read an extract from Downing's Essays, and see what a master mind said nearly fifty years ago. "One of the most remarkable illustrations of the popular taste, in this country, is to be found in the rise and progress of our rural cemeteries. Twenty years ago, nothing better than a common graveyard, filled with high grass and a chance sprinkling of weeds and this¬tles, was to be found in the Union. If there were one or two exceptions like the burial ground at New Haven, where a few willow trees broke the mon¬otony of the scene, they existed only to prove the rule more completely. Eighteen years ago, in 1831, Mount Auburn, about six miles from Poston, was made a rural cemetery. It was then a charming natural site, finely varied in surface, containing about 80 acres of land, and admirably clothed by groups and masses of native forest trees. It was tastefully laid out, monu¬ments were built, and the whole highly embellished. No sooner was atten¬tion generally roused to the charms of this first American cemetery than the idea took the public mind by storm. Travelers made pilgrimages to the Athens of New England, solely to see the realization of their long cherished dream of a resting place for the dead, at once sacred from profanation, dear to the memory, and captivating to the imagination." He then speaks of the leading cemeteries of New York and Philadelphia, and says the great attract¬ion of these cemeteries to the mass of the community, is not in the fact that they are burial places or solemn places of meditation for the friends of the deceased, or striking exhibitions of monumental sculpture, though all these have their influence. The true secret of the attraction lies in the natural beauty of the sites and in the tasteful and harmonious embellishments of these sites by art. It awakens at once the feelings of human sympathy and the love of natural beauty, implanted in every heart. He then says in the absence of great public gardens, such as we must surely some day have in America, our rural cemeteries are doing a great deal to enlarge and educate the popular taste in rural embellishments. They are for the most part laid out with admirable taste. They contain the greatest variety of trees and shrubs to be found in the country and several of them are kept in a manner seldom equaled in private grounds.

Since these lines were written, rapid strides have been made. Parks have sprung up all over our country, and no doubt many a hint was obtained from our cemeteries. The lawn mowers were not invented and of course lots did not present so smooth an appearance as now. THE MODERN CEMETERY, a few years ago, said more monuments are not necessary, but may be admissible under the lawn plan. Head and foot stones, however, should be abandoned and not allowed under any conditions. They are the multitude of closely huddled stone piles that obliterate and destroy the beauty of any landscape, natural or artificial. Only by concerted efforts, and by a display of good taste under the guidance of one controlling plan, can proper effects be se¬cured and the cemetery given unity in an endless variety, and yet be in harmony with its distinct purpose of burial.

I will add to this by saying that no fence nor structure of any kind should be allowed to enclose a lot, or corner post allowed above the grass. I am pleased to say that fences are constantly being removed as soon as the consent of the owner can be obtained. I understand in some cemeteries, the consent of the owner is not asked. In my own case, I get the consent of the owner and in some cases, it has been reluctantly given, feeling that it would be regretted; but I have found only one case where it was regretted; but on the other hand, they have wondered why they did not have it done before. I have taken down four this year, and have only twenty-eight more left in the cemetery, and am in hopes, inside of three years, that not a fence will be left. There are only ten lots enclosed by stone curbings in the ceme¬tery, and one of those will be taken away before long. The graves on our public or free lots are marked by numbers on the end of a marble block set level with the grass. No other stones are allowed. Thus we are gradually working towards the lawn plan and gradually working towards the perpetual care system. Some cemeteries sell under both, perpetual care or not. I sell nothing only under perpetual care. Any cemetery that sells lots today without the perpetual care system, will at some day regret it.

A carpet of green is the beauty of the cemetery and let us remember that we cannot have that unless we start right, and I will not enter into the details of making a lawn, because you all know. The kind of grass seed used may vary with the locality. But one thing is certain-anything that is worth doing is worth doing well.

How beautiful the trees! Weirs cut-leaf maple with its foliage touch¬ing the grass; the cut-leaf birch with its white branches in lovely contrast with the foliage; the purple and other varieties of maples, the purple beech, and the giant oak with its outstretched branches that have defied the elements for generations. The many varieties of evergreens, and many va¬rieties of our native trees that I will not mention, all contribute to make our cemeteries what they are.

Again, I will quote Downing. He says: "An American may be allowed honest pride, in the beauty and profusion of fine forest trees, natives of our western hemisphere. North America is the land of oaks, pines and magno¬lias, to say nothing of the lesser genera; and the parks and the gardens of all Europe owe their choicest sylvan treasures to our native woods and hills."

Let us not forget the flowers that do so much to beautify our cemeteries. Some have discouraged growing them to such an extent as they are grown in many cemeteries. To my mind, their many colors help to bring out the beauty of the grass, and make the lawn more beautiful. Who does not love them? They are welcome on every occasion, at the scene of festivity and the house of mourning. We watch them flourish under the hand of cultiva¬tion. We see them by the wayside, and in the fields, and up among the hills and mountains, cultivated only by the hand of nature, and we love them everywhere. They seem to carry with them something unexplainable, a sort of Divine inspiration. As I see people wending their way to the grave of some dear one, with a bouquet culled from among the treasures of the garden, I think what else would answer in the place of those flowers, and I answer myself by saying-nothing. They seem to be a message to the de¬parted one, and as far as we know, they may be in some way. Let us do all we can to encourage their growth, and not think for a moment that they de¬tract from the beauty of the lawn. I do not advise making a flowerbed on the grave, preferring the grass and level at that.

I have always felt impressed that Sundays should be more generally ob¬served in our cemeteries. I do not see why a superintendent should be called upon to sell lots on that day. The plea is made by the people that they do not have the time on a week day. The office of the dealer in real estate is closed, and this plea is not made to them. Much other cemetery business is put off till Sunday by lot owners because they know the cemetery is open for business. Why make burials on that day, when the cemetery is full of visitors? To see strangers almost mingling with mourners around the grave, is to my mind, a scene not in keeping with what should be one of great solemnity. If for no other reason, a burial should not be made on Sun¬day.

In some cemeteries connected with our large cities, if it is necessary to make burials on Sunday, by reason of the large number of bodies brought in, means should be taken to prevent a public exhibition.

In the cemetery that is in my charge, from one to five bodies are brought in on Sunday, and they are placed in the receiving tomb, and arrangements are then made with whoever of the family that wish to be present at the burial, which is generally on Monday and not later than Tuesday. My assistant or myself', is present at every burial.

I have no application to sell lots on Sunday. My office is closed and the curtains down. A sign in the window informs visitors that the superin¬tendent and his assistants are prohibited from performing any labor on the Sabbath Day, and is signed by the Secretary of the Board of Commissioners. An officer is on duty to answer all questions. Observing the Sabbath, I think, is as much an improvement to hold up the standard of the modern cemetery as the many improvements that have been made in other direc¬tions.

In conversation with people, and hearing their expressions, I am firmly convinced that our cemeteries, in the manner they are kept, do much in the direction of education towards a higher standard of thought, and it is certainly pleasing, to know that when the inevitable comes, our mortal re¬mains will go back to dust in such beautiful grounds. A common interest is centered in our cemeteries. The young and the old walk hand in hand through the grounds. We see one standing in silent prayer by the grave of maybe a mother, who has fulfilled her mission, leaving a legacy rich with good teachings ere she journeyed to that Great Beyond. We look about the cemetery, and we see others standing by graves, and in their imagination, they have gone to that Great Beyond, and have seen father, mother, brother or sister. Could they walk out of the grounds feeling other than better by their visit?

Let us, therefore, strive to help our Association, and we will, by so doing, help ourselves, and see more readily where we can make improvements, never forgetting that this is an age of progress, and we must ever be on the alert. By so doing, we will make our grounds more attractive, and will be rewarded by the appreciation of a generous public.

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