The sad lessons learned through making serious and expensive blunders are generally impressed on one's mind so forcibly as to never be forgotten. While the educational value of knowledge so gained is frequently great, the cost is excessive.
It has seemed to the writer that perhaps notes of a few of the many blunders which he has made, or of the results of which he has had knowledge during some seventeen years of cemetery work, might be of interest and of possible value to the younger men in this association.
Perhaps the greatest, the most inexcusable and the most criminal blunder which a cemetery manager can make is in overlooking any possible chance for errors or omissions in the records d lots and graves and the data regarding interments. No interment should be allowed in any cemetery until a complete and perfect system of recording has been provided for and the proper books, indexes and plats are in the superintendent's office. The most perfect system possible, however, will not secure perfect results without continuous, careful work by the superintendent. The plat system is the foundation of all good work in cemetery recording, but the results from this system may be sadly lacking in accuracy if the lot corners are not permanently marked, if the measurements are inaccurate, or the platting is carelessly done. It should be an invariable rule that each record shall be made complete while the matter is in hand and not be left to a later and more convenient time. It is an equally important rule, that as frequently as once each week, every entry relating to lots or interments made since the last checking, every distance and measurement and every plat of a grave should be carefully checked and verified to the most minute detail. Clerical errors occur with the most careful and constant and careful checking is the price to be paid for accuracy. In this connection will properly come a reference to duplicate records. This is the age of carbon copies. It is a matter of slight trouble and expense to duplicate by impression paper the consecutive record of interments, and if the copy is kept in a different location from the original, the superintendent and his lot owners will have abundant cause for thankfulness in case of the accidental destruction of one set of records.
Perhaps the next most important point is the preparation of full and well considered plans for the entire cemetery before the first shovel full of dirt is handled. Here it pays to make haste slowly and to expend money freely. Every dollar carefully expended and many apparently wasted in this way will in later years be returned many fold in the saving of expense of development and maintenance, besides the added beauty and harmony of all the parts. There are too many patchwork quilt cemeteries in the land now. Let us not help to make any more of them.
Just a word upon a tender subject long years of careful work by an intelligent man in a cemetery will teach him much; good reading will help greatly; attendance at these conventions and visits to the leading cemeteries all over the country will do more for him; but he will still be in the primary class as compared with the men who make the laying out of cemeteries a profession, and have a large number of successful works of this kind to their credit. We should let no small feeling of fear or petty jealousy restrain us, but when work of this kind is to hand, call for demand, if necessary the advice and assistance of the best man who can be had.
In the new cemetery, lack of funds may prevent good work in the laying out, grading and planting of the first sections, a desire to secure lot buyers and interments may lead to a laxity in the enforcement of rules and regulations, consequently, in nearly all cemeteries, the earlier sections are the most unsightly, while as funds accumulate and the cemetery becomes more popular, the general work, as well as individual lot improvements are better. The early work has been done, and the first sales made near the entrance and every visitor forever after is compelled to pass through the most unsightly part of the grounds. By all means let us begin at the back instead of the front, or at least reserve from sale a large tract around the entrance and extending well into the grounds.
All rules must be general in their application and must be uniformly enforced otherwise they are void if contested. A firm and impartial enforcement of the rules may save much future trouble. A mistake in point was one where the allowing of a lot owner to cut down a small and unimportant tree, came near making it impossible to prevent another lot owner from cutting down a two foot oak and carting it home for firewood.
A neglect to keep careful plats of every sewer and water pipe, with all levels, connections and junction points; and sizes and. materials of which they are constructed, is a mistake no matter how unimportant or temporary the work may be.
Marks for the base lines of all surveys should be made permanent, if possible, and bearings taken and recorded, so that they may be replaced if destroyed or tampered with.
The superintendent who has not at his disposal a transit level and rod and is not reasonably familiar with their use is to be pitied. It is not a serious task for an intelligent man to post himself so as to be able to do all necessary surveying and platting for his cemetery and his work will generally be much more accurate and satisfactory than that of the ordinary surveyor. Not long ago, the writer, in visiting a large cemetery, noticed that a cloth tape-line was in use and on asking why they did not use a steel one was told that they were too expensive. This reminds one of the old story of the carpenter seen walking rapidly down the street with his hands widespread and arms extended at full length above his head. Upon being questioned by a friend who met him he said, "Don't bother me-got the measure of a door-going to make a frame." Those cloth tape measurements and the carpenter’s “measure of a door” are each a little open to suspicion.
The writer does not claim to have exhausted the subject of mistakes or even to have made a beginning on the mistakes he himself has made, but there is one that he proposes not to make, which is to read a long paper before this association. It will also be noted that he has not quoted any poetry.
From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the16th Annual Convention
Held at Boston, MA
August 19, 20, 21 and 22, 1902