In presenting the subject of perpetual care I can but do so in such manner as has come under my observation and coming in contact with officers and managers of our associated cemeteries in various parts of the United States. To relate my first experience on the subject of perpetual care and general care: During the year 1880 a gentleman of our city, returning from a visit from his old home near Boston, MA, on looking over Forest Hill, Mount Auburn and Mount Hope cemeteries, near and in Boston, he learned that money could be placed in the hands of a cemetery board for the future care of his cemetery lot. In Oakwood Cemetery, which is now under my care as superintendent by request, his attorney asked me to suggest a plan of care. I proposed lawn mowing, also keeping the graves sodded and the lot in good order. This rule was adopted and a provision in his will followed and was carried to completion. Another rule was passed, subsequently, by our board of directors, that the lot shall be lawn mowed, the graves resodded; the foundations of monuments should be kept in reasonable condition and good general care given to the lot. My experiences in these contracts were: the first proposition did not mean much, and the second contract offered too much and would lead to endless confusion. I find the best contract we have finally is the safest and best both for lot holders and the cemetery associations. It is very plain and simple, strong in law and expressed in but few words and is certainly binding and yet liberal enough to the several parties to the contract. I will here give the main points in our agreement:
"Therefore, in consideration of said trust the trustees, in behalf of said corporation, and their successors in office, do hereby agree to cut the grass and to take proper care of the graves on said lot and to keep lot in all respects and at all times in good condition. This agreement shall be perpetual. And if at any time said corporation shall fail to keep and perform the agreement to be kept and performed upon their part herein mentioned, in all respects, that in that case they shall pay over to any person or corporation appointed in their stead by the Circuit Court of Henry County, Illinois, to carry out the provisions of said agreement."
As a means employed in soliciting a fund for perpetual care, first it requires a cautious approach to the lot owner.
In presenting the real object, first, the care: the benefits derived there from at once relieving the owner of the lot caring for the mowing and cleaning the lot; that adds so much to the beauty and pleasure of the lot and its surroundings.
Next in the general good order observed: settling at once who are the owners of the lot and those having the rights of burial on said lot, also explaining to the lot owner that the interest or income on the moneys paid in to the association can only be used in the care of said lot, that the principal cannot be used for any other purpose; that the amount paid in shall be loaned out at a rate of interest that is prevalent; that all such moneys paid in as perpetual care shall be loaned out to responsible parties or invested in reliable stocks or bonds by the board of directors. That for all such moneys, stocks or bonds the secretary-treasurer shall give good and sufficient security to the directors for said fund.
Without a full explanation of the nature of the plan of perpetual care very little can be done. While our perpetual care funds have gone into the thousands, we still have various plans of work. In presenting the objects, first asking the payment of moneys without the making of a will of the amount required, so that the lot owner can see the work done, while others contemplating the future or perpetual care can see how it is carried out.
Our next suggestion or plan is that by their will a certain sum shall be left and applied as a perpetual care of their lot in the cemetery. This manner of soliciting funds has been a successful one, as is shown in the great number of wills that have been made and now being contemplated and finished. In our first efforts in starting the perpetual care fund we placed the price per square foot at sixteen and two-third cents. Later the amount was fixed and now remains at twenty-five cents per square foot and now the problem is strong in its requirements of an advance to thirty-five or forty cents per square foot.
In my travels and experiences in the plans of perpetual care, as a means some cemeteries issue a card of rules, others have their plan in their rules and regulations. But I observe in some of their contracts they promise very little of what they propose to do.
Now I take the position that the idea and plan of perpetual care means what it says--that this money received is not only trust funds, but a very sacred trust and that all cemetery associations and the lot owners should surround this fund with all the safeguards that are found possible in the law; that the fund shall be carefully loaned; that the interest shall be carefully applied and that all excess of interest shall revert back to the perpetual care fund.
In looking at the different phases of human nature, we find they have changed.
A few years ago I called the attention of two of our lot owners to the idea of perpetual care for their lots in the cemetery. They regarded it as a good and desirable thing to do, and they promised to do so with cash or by their wills. But as their several wills have been settled, no such provision was made and nothing has been done to that end as yet. No care has been taken of these lots--only as the association has done by order of the cemetery board.
Now, the best plan or mode of treatment of these lots is to let the weeds and grass grow and I notice that the grass is tall and the weeds are blossoming nicely.
When a lot is placed under perpetual care we place a painted board marked "Perpetual Care" on it. After a short time we change the board. I find some lot owners object to the perpetual care signs being placed near their unkempt lots. Yet we take a certain degree of delight in keeping the perpetual care cards very near uncared-for lots.
A gentleman of our city, on returning from the interment of a dear friend in a cemetery neat Chicago, noticing the beauty of perpetual care and of a well-kept cemetery, called on me and suggested that our association should set aside certain blocks and lots to be sold only under perpetual care, looking forward to the time when all lots should be sold at a price to cover the perpetual care cost.
In reply to the question, "What will we do with those of moderate means?" I will say that this can be obviated, as we have varied locations and various priced lots and locations.
I have frequent inquiries as to what is perpetual care, and its application to the small cemeteries. I will say that in a country graveyard no provision or plan is possible to deposit moneys so received and a contract to do the work as proposed. In some instances money can be deposited, in savings banks whereby the interest is to be applied to the care of a certain lot. There is no law or authority whereby such funds can be cared for. I would suggest that such moneys designated for this purpose can be placed in a trust and savings bank with provision for paying the interest or income on such funds, also the compensation allowed for the work performed. While I have in mind two cases where the sum of one thousand dollars was left by will to two country graveyards to be applied in the care and keeping in good order of their lots, in a stated locality, now after many years no further provision is made for carrying out the terms, of the wills. One mode of relief would be to ask the courts to allow the remains to he removed to a chartered cemetery association and accept the benefits of a genuine perpetual care.
While my investigations show the most favorable line of cemeteries are stock companies and controlled entirely by an elective board of directors and that a lot holder association is not a desirable or successful plan, I further believe that a cemetery association should in no sense be a speculative enterprise.
Some inquiring friend asks, "Will these funds so deposited for perpetual care be applied honestly? Are men or associations as honest and trustworthy today as they were one hundred or even fifty years ago? I say, unhesitatingly, yes, there are today, gentlemen and lady superintendents of cemeteries who are endowed with superior knowledge in the care of cemeteries and cemetery funds to direct properly the use of all moneys required and well know the security that should be given each year; and today greater safeguards are thrown around our trust and savings banks; they with the strength of a well established association coupled with a responsible board of directors as a cemetery board such as we find are chosen each year. I refer to the character of all well-known cemetery associations, men and directors of the highest standing, superintendents and treasurers of the sterling variety are sought for and selected to fill these places. We can safely place perpetual care funds in the kindly care and keeping of all these, then when one of these lays down the armor we well know the refrain, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant; enter into the joys of everlasting remembrance and the embrace of perpetual care."
From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 18th Annual Convention
Held at Chicago, IL
August 23, 24 and 25, 1904