Improvements In Burials

Date Published: 
September, 1903
Original Author: 
Bellett Lawson
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 17th Annual Convention

Is sufficient consideration given to improving our methods of interment? Was the thought suggested during the convention of this association last year at Boston? When the undertakers of that city urged that something be done for betterment in the methods of interring the dead, it was surprising how few of the cemetery officials then present had done anything along that line. The old fashioned and crude methods in vogue years, gone by are still practiced. A hole in the ground and the body hastily lowered into the grave by workmen employed at the cemetery, or perchance bunglingly by the pall bearers, nothing being done by the cemetery officials to try and lighten the troubles of the relatives and friends by in some measure hiding and removing a portion of the suggestive surroundings necessary in the last sad rites.

Gentlemen, have we not overlooked somewhat one of the most important functions pertaining to our business, in the desire to discuss landscape effects and perpetual care, subjects undoubtedly of vast importance to the members of this association? But, the interment of the dead is, the principal factor in our business. Without the "deceased" would be like attempting to play Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark. Then our occupation would indeed be gone and useless would be our landscape effects and perpetual care. The subject of improvement in burials; demands our serious consideration, and such improvements will be duly appreciated by the general public, as far as the large cities are concerned. The before mentioned undertakers had cause for complaint. Since the last convention of this association the writer has visited many cemeteries and taken notes of the methods of consigning the dead to their last resting place and found but few instances of improvement.

The following may be taken as a specimen: On inquiry of the Superintendent of one of the most beautiful and popular cemeteries in a large city, the reply was: Four of our men take the casket from the hearse and lower it with straps into the grave. The official also stated that they were too busy and that the burial fees would not permit more being done to make an interment less unpleasant to the living. This kind of an excuse prevails, and a mighty poor excuse. One that can readily be remedied.

Visiting a small cemetery a few years ago in the Northwest, the writer was agreeably surprised to see how nicely funerals were conducted. Painted planks surrounded the grave. The rough box had been lowered and the sides of the grave lined with white linen. The spare dirt had been removed, leaving only sufficient to fill with. A canvas cover hid this dirt. A device was used to lower the casket. Fiber matting was laid for the mourners to stand on. One attendant only was required. After the services the friends retired, and in a surprisingly short time the cemetery men removed the paraphernalia and had the grave filled and sodded. This system is now made use of at the cemetery under the care of the writer with satisfaction to the public, so satisfactory that the other burial grounds in the neighborhood have had to adopt similar ways. Frequently friends will call at the office to express their approval of the manner in which funerals have been conducted. It is all very well to make the time worn expression frequently made use of that it does not matter to the dead. It is the sensitive feeling of the living that appeals to us. For, no matter how calloused an individual may be, it is at the grave side that any harshness grates upon the feelings.

During the last few years great improvements have been made in appliances for lowering caskets into the grave. They are not nearly as cumbersome as of old. They are easy to handle and it takes but a few minutes to remove from one grave to another.

Doubtless there are here, present, officials who have already made improvements in the methods of interment at their cemeteries. Then let those members now stand forward and aid in a much needed reform.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 17th Annual Convention
Held at Rochester, NY
September 8, 9 and 10, 1903