Our Cemeteries and Our Dead

Date Published: 
September, 1903
Original Author: 
H. S. Fay
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 17th Annual Convention

When I was asked by one of your committee to contribute a paper to be read at this, the seventeenth annual convention, I thought perhaps I would find it an easy task to say a few words in regard to "Our Cemeteries and Our Dead," but I feel somewhat embarrassed to even make an effort, in fact the short five years experience I have had in cemetery work makes me feel like I am too young in the cause to fully express myself before you gentlemen, that have had more experience, and a better opportunity to study the advantages and disadvantages of cemetery work. I desire, however, to say in the outset if my ideas are averse to yours, you must remember while they are my honest convictions, they are only the views and expressions of one of your number.

"Our Cemeteries" are the last resting place of "Our Dead"; in other words they are places sacredly devoted to the interment and repose of "Our Dead." They should under any and all circumstances be free from entangling public alliance or political embarrassment.

In fact, politics should not figure in "Our Cemeteries" under any conditions; wherever it does it works to a disadvantage. I know of one that changed superintendents three times in one year, traceable to politics alone. The officers should be men especially fitted for the place, and especially the superintendent should be a man well qualified to fill the place and in love with the work. Too often we find men officially connected with Our Cemeteries that do not or seldom visit them more than once or twice a year.

The past history of the growth of all of our large cities demonstrates the absolute necessity for a permanent site for "Our Dead," which grows up side by side with the city of the living. They should be ample in size beautiful in surroundings and at the proper distance to serve the ends of convenience and requirements of all interested. We too often see all over our land evidences of misspent labor in building and maintaining the last resting place of "Our Dead"; too often we see hastily and ill chosen sites dot our country sides, where mold and decay hold their melancholy reign. We find many old cemeteries fallen into disuse; neglect, decay and desecration present their sad and somber scenes and too frequently the tale of obliteration can he heard from the lips of the living. A visit to most of our cemeteries today will present the same sad spectacle.

Now the question naturally comes up, why are so many of our cemeteries neglected. There are many reasons, one is "Our Dead" are too soon forgotten, we see almost daily loved ones laid to rest in "Our Cemeteries" and for a short time that sacred spot is visited almost daily by the bereaved relatives and we see them sometimes go to extremes in trying to maintain and beautify the last resting place of their dear ones, but as time rolls on we notice their visits become less frequent, until finally they lose all interest in that once well kept, sacred spot; then comes the sad part of this scene. Left neglected and to grow up in weeds and briars, a sad spectacle indeed.

The most plausible reason for our neglected cemeteries of today is that they have no fund set aside for their perpetual care. Looking to the prevention of the evils of the past, some of "Our Cemeteries" (but very few, comparatively speaking) have been provided with the only remedy, a fund for their perpetual care. We all know without this fund no cemetery can be uniformly kept, or even decently kept. I believe this association in all probability has and can do more toward educating the people to show more respect for "Our Dead" than any other source. If that be true, it behooves us to push forward in cemetery improvement, and not sanction anything that will throw a stumbling block in our way.

From time immemorial, burial grounds have existed. We learn by reading from Genesis that Abraham purchased a field containing the cave of Machpelah for a family burial plot and afterwards buried his wife Sarah and later on his own remains were laid to rest by the side of his wife and still later on other members of his family were buried there also. We find from Genesis to Revelation earth burial is the proper method of disposing of "Our Dead" and as I see it, when we advocate any other we are going backward in civilization and cemetery improvement.

I contend there is no necessity for and no doctrine in the Bible justifying cremation of "Our Dead." Some say we must advocate cremation from a health standpoint, others contend that earth burial is a waste of land and that there is danger of our going too far with our pet schemes. I doubt very much after a body is placed five or six feet under the sad that the health of the living is affected in the least. Take the health of the superintendents that have spent thirty and even forty years in cemetery work, do you suppose if it was so dangerous to the living, as some try to make it appear, that the founder of this association, that spent thirty years of his life in cemetery work would have reached the ripe old age of eighty-five before his death and there are other cemetery superintendents living today that have spent over forty years in this same vocation. It is needless to say that I believe as long as time lasts there will be land enough to bury all "Our Dead." This cremation idea is the work of man and not in accordance with the method laid down in the Bible.

We should be opposed to the cremation of "Our Dead" from a humane and Scriptural standpoint.

We are told after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, the graves of the sleeping saints were opened and many of them arose and made their appearance before the living in the streets of the Holy City; and again Christ said, Marvel not at this, for the day and the hour is coming in which all that are in their graves shall come forth. Mark you, not a word was said about cremation and coming forth from an urn placed in a crematory building. We are also told our bodies are to be sown natural bodies of flesh and blood, but on the morning of the resurrection that they will come forth from their tombs spiritual and immortal bodies, then shall be brought to pass the saying, Death is swallowed up in victory, O death where is thy sting, O grave where is thy victory? I would like to know how are we going to get around this grave theory that is so often spoken of in the Bible, and again what will become of "Our Cemeteries" that we are trying so hard to beautify and devise plans by which they can be perpetually kept, if cremation should become universal and our ashes placed in an urn and deposited in a building?

Again, we should be opposed to cremation because it is going to have a tendency to lead to less respect being shown "Our Dead." I believe the danger that confronts us today in cemetery improvement is the growth of the cremation idea. Taking the Bible as the foundation stone, as our guide, if we expect our work to survive us any length of time, we should put ourselves on record as being opposed to the cremation of "Our Dead."

Now, in conclusion, will say, I am confident that some of you differ with me in what I have said in regard to cremation, but I trust, however, that a majority of you are in sympathy with the views and expressions I have tried to present from a Scriptural standpoint and that you will not under any circumstances advocate or sanction anything in connection with "Our Cemeteries" and "Our Dead" that are directly contrary to the teachings of the Bible. If we will do that, it will not be many years before we will have representation from every nook and corner of these United States.

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