Respect for the Dead and Justice to their Descendants

Date Published: 
August, 1902
Original Author: 
A.W. Hobert
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 16th Annual Convention

From time immemorial respect for the dead has been one of the dominant virtues of the higher types of civilized people. In the earliest pages of history we read the beautiful story of the purchase of the cave of Machpelah by the patriarch, Abraham and the dedication thereof as a family burial place, where he deposited the loved form of Sarah his long time helpmate and sharer of his weal and woe, and where later on his own remains were tenderly laid away by his sons; Isaac and Ishmael.

During recent years this respect has been shown more and more strongly in the establishment and maintenance of the modern cemetery, where those dearly loved in life may be laid away for their long rest in a quiet, well cared for place, where the mourning relatives and friends may visit the graves of their departed, feeling safe in the assurance, that come what may, the beauty and sanctity of the spot will be preserved for all time.

Frequently the desire to show respect for the dead leads people to expend large sums of money in providing elaborate caskets and other funeral trappings, numerous carriages, and expensive floral pieces, and perhaps their feelings are relieved by such expenditure; all this is but transitory, the funeral cortege comes and goes, the casket is consigned to the grave soon to molder and decay, and the flowers fade and are removed from sight. Next a fine monument is erected and a marker placed at the grave, and the friends feel that they have done all that mortal man could do to perpetuate the memory of and show respect for the departed. But in the majority of cases the most important item of all has not been considered at all, i.e. the provisions for perpetual care of lot, monuments, etc.

Does the corporation controlling the cemetery in which the burial was made provide a fund for this purpose? Or is it controlled by a close corporation, or individual owner, whose only aim is to declare large dividends, and when the land is all sold abandon the grounds? Private ownership of cemeteries is not conducive to the best results as to permanency, and if permitted at all, should be under strict laws, and in what better way can our legislators show respect and reverence for the dead than by enacting such laws as will require the establishment of a permanent care fund in every cemetery.

In our own city we have two deplorable illustrations of the old style, go-as-you-please cemeteries that were run for revenue only until they were squeezed dry, since which time they have been abandoned entirely and have become the scenes of vandalism which beggar description. Similar cases will be found in nearly every city in the country and in many of the smaller towns and villages. It is a pleasure to note, however, that the people are awakening to a realizing sense of the condition of things and in many places are endeavoring to reclaim the abandoned burial plots.

In respect to the dead, and justice to their descendants, provision should be made which will in the future preclude any possibility of a repetition of the above mentioned conditions. It should be required of the lot owner that all work of a permanent nature placed in a cemetery be constructed in the most durable manner possible, and no improvements of a perishable nature permitted. Granite and marble monuments and markers set upon solid foundations, and metal vases should be about the extent of artificial adornments permitted.

But the matter of paramount consideration is the permanent care fund. How or when this shall be provided is not so important, if it be made certain that by the time the land is all sold and the business of the cemetery has ceased to be profitable, that then an income will be available, sufficient to keep the property in good condition. There are different plans of providing for the permanent care fund. One is to set aside a certain percentage of the receipts from the sale of lots, another to set aside a certain fixed sum per square foot of land sold. Either plan is good and can be readily and comfortably adopted by a cemetery well established, with a large income, but in case of a young cemetery where the income is yet small, there is a great temptation to put off the day when a portion of the income shall be set aside for permanent care and to use all the income for other purposes.

This, no doubt, is mainly the reason why so many cemeteries are still without proper provision for the future.

The writer has a plan in mind which he would like to have discussed, namely: to set aside a portion of the ground of the cemetery the proceeds from the sale of which constitute a permanent care fund. Suppose, for instance, one-fifth of the cemetery in quantity and quality to be set aside, why would not this secure the same result as to set aside one fifth of the cash proceeds of lot sales? It may be urged as an objection that the management would sell the four-fifths and let the remainder go to the last. This could not result in damage to the fund, as the last one-fifth would in all probability bring larger prices than the portion sold earlier. The beauty of this plan is that it makes it easy to do the right thing. Not every cemetery can spare a portion of its cash income, but there are none than cannot, even in the beginning dedicate for this purpose a portion of its ground. There should be immediate legislation in all states, requiring provision to be made for permanent care of all cemeteries, old and new, and if the option were given of setting aside ground ill stead of money it would meet with little or no opposition. Another important advantage of this plan would be in applying it to cemeteries which had disposed of a large proportion of' their lands, say two-thirds or three fourths. It would be impossible to reach the money received from sold lands, but the one-fifth of the land would still be available and could be subjected to an arrangement of this kind. .

In closing I would say that while to our society is due most of the credit for the improved condition of cemeteries throughout the country, there still remains much to do, and we must continue the work so well begun till we have effected still greater reforms.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the16th Annual Convention
Held at Boston, MA
August 19, 20, 21 and 22, 1902