Our Birthday

Date Published: 
August, 1906
Original Author: 
Bellett Lawson
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 20th Annual Convention

Twenty years ago the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents came into existence. Twenty years is a long time to look forward to. But twenty years is still longer to look back upon. Betterment of cemeteries was the idea of Charles Nicholls, the father of the movement; Betterment by example; Betterment through interchange of ideas; Betterment through visiting and seeing well-managed cemeteries. For the latter reason, Spring Grove, Cincinnati, was selected for the first object lesson. There and then a spirit of emulation sprang up: a right worthy spirit. The assembling together of cemetery superintendents brought out many new ideas that have greatly improved the burial grounds all over this vast country. Year by year these ideas have broadened. Cemeteries with high reputations for their beauty have been benefited and old fashioned places improved and in many instances modernized. The people of the present time will not stand for a neglected state of affairs. They see good examples of cemetery management, and naturally demand a betterment in the management of their home burial grounds. Innumerable cases can be cited where neglect has given place to beauty. Nature is very bountiful and it only requires a little ingenuity on the part of man to transform a neglected place into one of beauty.

During the past twenty years many parts of the United States have been visited by the association. Seventeen years ago Detroit was selected as the most suitable city in which to hold the third convention. Marvelous have been the changes in cemetery development since that convention.

While the membership of the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents is not numerically strong, yet a goodly number have passed through the ranks. Each and every one of them must have been benefited. This is evidenced by a visit to the cemeteries under their charge.

For all of this improvement little credit is given to the organization by the general public. The good work has gone on quietly and without ostentation and will go on. The association will soon be of age, twenty-one years. It has several offspring, all having in view the same object--betterment.

The future care of cemeteries is one of the brightest achievements of the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents. Year after year perpetual care was discussed, until now all managers of cemeteries recognize the importance of the subject and are giving endowment special attention. It will be safe to predict that within a few years the perpetual care of all cemeteries will be insured. Twenty years ago chaos and neglect were too observant. This has in a great measure given way to cleanliness and order. The endowment of one burial lot generally leads to the endowment of others. There is, indeed, a great satisfaction in the knowledge that our graveyard will be kept green. Another fact is that lot holders usually take the lesson to heart and make their home surroundings pleasanter. A beautiful cemetery is a splendid sermon.

But while the Association of American Superintendents has greatly benefited cemeteries in populous localities, there is still one class that so far we have been unable to reach and benefit in a desirable manner: namely, the country church yards. As a rule, these places are without superintendents, or indeed any person in charge. How to improve these burial grounds is a difficult problem. Many have been the suggestions, but how to apply them is the difficulty. One worthy idea promulgated by John Thorp at the Chicago meeting was the press. Not the press of the large cities, but the weekly sheets that are to be found in nearly every country home. The paper that tells of Mrs. Jones visiting Mrs. Smith. Unfortunately these papers do not consider graveyard items of any interest to the readers. Probably if "Park and Cemetery" was to have a few short items beneficial to country burial grounds, the editor of the weekly press might clip and make use of them. Another idea would be for the country churches to appoint cemetery committees composed of women only. There would then be less cause for complaint of the neglected rural burial grounds. "Keep Clean" should be their motto. As an illustration of what can be accomplished, at the suggestion of the writer, the ladies connected with probably the oldest church in America undertook the improvement of their ancient burial ground. It was in a terribly neglected condition. The committee first had the briars and weeds cut down. Next year all the sunken spots were filled. Then a little grading was done, tombstones straightened and paths abolished or seeded. As the improvement became more marked those engaged in the work became encouraged, until now there is a clean and tidy burial ground. At a social function money was raised for a neat iron gateway to replace the old wooden gate. Lack of interest is the main cause of the generally neglected state of the rural cemetery; Get some person interested will be the remedy.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 20th Annual Convention
Held at Detroit, MI
August 21, 22 and 23, 1906