Cemeteries of Old and The Present

Date Published: 
August, 1904
Original Author: 
Dr. H. Wohlgemuth
Oakridge Cemetery, Springfield, Illinois
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 18th Annual Concention

This being the eighteenth annual convention of the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents, I feel prompted by your kind indulgence to take up a few minutes of your time though I am not a cemetery superintendent, nor a member of the Association.

You have seen proper to extend invitations to cemetery officials to be with you and become members, so be not surprised should you hear a knock at your door from "eaves-droppers" wanting to come in. I may be considered somewhat of an old pioneer in cemetery affairs and relate what I have seen of burial places in the past, comparing the same with today. You know that "Big oaks from little acorns grow."

Less than twenty years ago a few men banded together for a noble purpose, men of instinctive ideas, inducive and in keeping with the progress of civilization, who felt the need and great want of the betterment and improvement of graveyards--as they used to be called throughout our country. These men met in consultation, a good number of them are here with you today, whilst others have gone to their reward in the world beyond. Since this organization was formed, it has increased in membership and with results the most flattering--the little "acorn" then planted has grown up to be a mighty and majestic “oak”, its branches reaching out and overshadowing in many and far off directions, giving shelter where the nightingale warbles sweet requiem and the soft lullabies of the night, where the cardinal and other birds of the choir flit and sing praises with the rising of the sun in the far off eastern horizon to God on high. The mighty oak that adorns so many of the cities of our bereaved dead is a wonder to behold when we visit the cemeteries where lie buried our loved ones.

The difference is most striking--where we used to see neglect, disorder, gloom and awe, tombstones covered with moss, blackened and broken, graves sunken, lots surrounded with wooden fences, iron chains, hedges and every imaginable thing, overgrown with weeds and brush, nothing inviting—nothing soul inspiring and consequently soon forgotten. What do we see now?  What a contrast! How different and all brought about in the last half century. When I made my first visit to Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, Ohio and there met and formed the acquaintance of Adolph Strauch, who was the superintendent, a man of culture, of broad ideas, a philanthropic man, I found him with high boots, in his working clothes, toiling with laborers employed to change the appearance of things--removing chains and hedges, remodeling everything--a professional landscape gardener. During his lifetime, I made frequent visits to Cincinnati. I never failed to see him; he was one whom none could help but love and respect and his memory is held in high esteem. His worthy successor, Mr. Salway, will bear me out in my statement. I consider Mr. Strauch the father and promulgator of rural cemeteries--as such--most of them are conducted in America today.

It has been my good fortune in my travels throughout a good portion of this country--from the far East to the distant West, from the frigid North to the sunny South and it has always afforded me great pleasure to visit the cemeteries wherever I have been and I can assure you it is pleasing and most gratifying to see the wonderful improvement, the well regulated and beautiful burial places throughout this broad land, wherever civilization has gone, man can judge its people by the place of burial provided for their dead. On mountain range, in the valley among the forest trees, on the plains of the far off West and distant shores of the sea, inviting spots are found for the final resting place of mortal man. Some of the most noted cemeteries I have visited, with every pleasant recollection, I may mention Spring Grove, to which I have already alluded.

Greenwood, Brooklyn, New York, is well worth seeing, for it is the most important in our country. To attempt a description of its grandeur in every particular would be too much of an undertaking; suffice to say it is truly a sacred resting place for the dead. Buffalo, NY, boasts of a very fine cemetery. Utica, NY, New Bedford, NY and other places of that State all imposing and harmonious with cemeteries of today. Laurel Hill, near Philadelphia, the improvements of late years, since I first saw it, are truly wonderful, resurrected as it has been from its former antiquated garb of hedges, wooden fences, bars and iron chains, running wild with all sorts of brush and under-wood. All of this has been done away with at the suggestion of Adolph Strauch in the year 1855 and other superintendents of landscape gardening since that time. Consequently, today it will equal and most favorably compare with any other. So, too, does this apply to other cemeteries of that city and state.

I must also make mention of the cemeteries near the city of Boston.

I was most favorably impressed with all their loveliness, the beautiful adornments adding to their solemnity and sacred keeping with the guardianship of their dead.

Cave Hill, Louisville, KY, is well known for its beauty and grandeur, the display of wealth in monumental and statue work. Lake View, Cleveland, Ohio, with its many acres of improvements and mementos erected to its dead, is praiseworthy. Crown Hill, Indianapolis, IN, a very beautiful and attractive spot well cared for in every particular. Cemeteries at Milwaukee and Detroit are very commendable for their many grand improvements. Great Lakewood, Minneapolis, MN; the grounds selected are wooded surrounded by beautiful lakes combining cheerfulness with that of solitude and repose. Its praiseworthy management in capable hands it may well be called a "model cemetery." At Spokane, WA, I found a cemetery yet young in years, situated in a valley of hills and towering pines, rural by nature, very appropriate for burial purposes, well kept; a large number of beautiful monuments and memorials adorn the grounds. At Portland, OR exists a like improvement of rural cemeteries throughout the land. Among the hills and the valleys in the forest where the towering oaks and pines stand out as sentinels over the dead, the management is in keeping with other cemeteries of the present day. I left it with best impressions not soon to be forgotten. Traveling through California, I visited The Ever Green and Rose Lawn at Los Angeles, magnificent grounds naturally well adapted for the silent city of the dead; whilst art and skill have done much, the growth of stately palms, pine trees, shrubs, plants and flowers of varied shades and color, rich in monumental decorations of costly designs. Its administration is admirable, in line with every other well regulated cemetery throughout the country. The same is true and it was with much satisfaction that I visited Mountain View Cemetery, Oakland, CA located in a plateau of mountainous hills, with superb palms and flowers that bloom the year round, massive trees proudly standing within its silent keeping until the day of awakening shall come.

I must not fail to mention the cemeteries in the South. One most noted, owing to its difference in mode of burial, in New Orleans, Metairie, is certainly worthy of a visit. It may well be called a "City of the Dead" with its beauteous white and well kept driveways and avenues built up like a city with rows of tombs, vaults, mausoleums and burial structures, many elegant monuments and reminders of costly designs erected in memory of its dead, giving every evidence of care and attention and all of its trust well guarded. There are a number of other burial places and cemeteries, mostly above the soil, catacombs and crypts maintained for that purpose on account of the ground lying near or about on a level with the sea. Memphis, TN, boasts of a pretty little cemetery--Elmwood--with many modern improvements, all first class. And so I found cemeteries in Savannah and Atlanta, Georgia, Jacksonville, St. Augustine and other places in Florida, Charleston, South Carolina, Richmond, Virginia. The National Cemetery at Chattanooga, TN, with its 13,000 Federal soldiers that fell in battle during our country's memorable war. So we do homage visiting the National Cemetery in Washington, DC and wind our way to Antietam National Cemetery where lay buried 12,000 or more of our country's heroes. I visited a beautiful and well kept cemetery at Hagerstown, Maryland; a large number of Confederate soldiers are buried here. Memorable Gettysburg where, in close proximity; two hundred thousand men met in battle and decided the words spoken by the lamented Lincoln; "That this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom and that the government of the people, by the people and for the people shall not perish from the earth."

All I have said of other cemeteries is equally true of the beautiful and admirable cemeteries of Chicago. The most noted I must not fail to make mention of Graceland, Rose Hill and Oakwoods which are modern in every respect, inviting admiration for their many beauties and symbolic adornments, not only commendable to the eye but also far-reaching in every respect in the way of management.

I might go on and make mention of quite a number of cemeteries I have had the pleasure of visiting long years ago, in their old antiquated garment and with the comparison of today, I can but exclaim: How wonderful a change and then ask the question: What has brought all of this about? You will hear the echo resound again and again--your superintendents and officials of cemeteries--and I would fall short of doing justice did I not say much credit is due to the able manner in which Mr. R. J. Haight publishes the Monumental News and Park and Cemetery journals. It has been a help meet for the much valuable information obtained and in bringing about a concerted action and spreading a knowledge among the people who most appreciate.

In conclusion allow me to call your attention to the city where I live and which I have made my place of residence for fifty-eight years past. We have a cemetery called Oak Ridge, covering 116 acres, with which I have been connected for two score years. As president of the board of managers during most of that time, I have seen and helped grow out of the woods about as pretty and beautiful a cemetery as there is in existence. Our work having been gratuitous, we extend to you gentlemen and ladies of the National Cemetery Association an invitation to come and see for yourselves should your inclination and time permit. Many pilgrims come from all lands, it being the mecca to look upon the National monument and tomb that holds the remains of our most illustrious and lamented Abraham Lincoln. We would like to have your names recorded and placed for keeping amongst others that have come hither. You will find on the register inscribed during the month of July, 1904, people hailing from all but seven states of the United States of America and many others from foreign lands.

On motion, duly carried, the Question Box was left over until the next session and the meeting adjourned.
From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 18th Annual Convention
Held at Chicago, IL
August 23, 24 and 25, 1904