Cemetery Engineering

Date Published: 
August, 1927
Original Author: 
H. H. Hawkins
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 41st Annual Convention

Various kinds of work performed in the large cemeteries of today have come about by a sort of an evolutionary process.

There was a time when the first church graveyard or the township plots with its ten by ten lots were probably aligned by the eye or chord line, and the sexton or near by neighbor could tell from memory all buried therein.

Today it is somewhat different. The lots are designed to fit the contour of the ground and the landscape effects should be most pleasing to the eye. After all it is the living we must please, and a visitor may be so attracted to a certain spot that often times leads up to the sale of the lot in advance of the need.

As I am assuming that all of us here are connected with cemeteries already established, and instead of dealing with an entire new proposition I shall devote my time more to the designing of a new section or that phase of the work.

Cemeteries of any importance should have in their possession a topographical map showing the contours, and the proposed roads, water mains, sewers, etc.

Before constructing a new section it is advisable to first build the road way around it, or at least bring the road to such a point that will be accessible to the section.

There should, be a great deal of consideration given to the roadways as they are a very important factor in the cemetery, the grades and curves should be well worked out. Catch basins should be set at certain intervals depending upon the width, grade, and slope if any on the section. Very steep grades are unbecoming as well as dangerous, and I would say that grades above seven per cent should be avoided and if at all possible hold down to five percent. All drives or roads on a curve in a cemetery boulevard, or elsewhere should be built with a super-elevation, i. e; the outside of the curve should be higher than the inside. This not only makes driving safer but saves the roads as well and will not mar the landscape when properly constructed.

I would like to digress here a moment and call your attention to some of our roads at Lake View Cemetery. We have between six and seven miles of macadam roads; as they were built a great many years ago the surface has been worn off in a great many places. During the past month or two we have tried out a few new schemes—on one stretch of about 1500 feet in length we have resurfaced with a material called Kentucky Rock, or some call it Kirock for short.  On another stretch of about the same length we have resurfaced this with a material known as Amacite.

On your trip tomorrow afternoon these two roads are near the Garfield Memorial, and we will be very glad to go into details of the laying of this material and any information that you care to have along that line.

If we are to have good landscape sections then there must be good roads to produce a harmonious effect which would be pleasing to the eye as one rides along the curved drives leading to or by lakes, ravines, or things of interest.

In designing sections, a great deal of thought should be given to this part of the work—long before a section is needed it should go through the mental stage of construction, even in this stage it may often be torn down and rebuilt. It would be advisable to visit the proposed plat of ground occasionally, and each time approach it from a different angle. Sometimes it may be well to do some free hand sketching. In doing this one will unconsciously acquire a mental photo of the future section.

After this is well established in one's mind, all trees or anything else that might hinder in the plan of burials should be accurately located. This will aid greatly in the designing of lots and should be platted accordingly. Nature has provided our land well with trees. In this part or the country our cemeteries contain many such specimens as the Oak, Maple, .Elm, etc., occasionally in undeveloped parts there maybe a large space that has no trees. In places such as this and others, a  few of the ornamental type might be considered, such as the Ginkgo, Pin Oak, Taxodium, Oriental Plane, or something on the order of the Purple or Copper Beech for color effect. There are many places where these types would be fitting and would not only be in contrast to the general shade type of tree, but would give an artistic effect to the section as well.

Before allotting a section a study should be made of its location as to its surroundings, etc. If one of the remote sections laying somewhere along the border tine it may be better suited for single grave allotments or a part of it for two or three grave lots. If on the other hand it should be the select part of the cemetery which would bring the highest price, an entirely different scheme should be worked out.

It would not be advisable to adhere to hard set rules in platting a section as one plan may require an entirely different scheme from another based on its location, and the contour of the ground. Each one must be a study of itself. In all events there should be a three root reserve strip on the border of the section. In this strip the water mains can be laid, and is a much better place than in the roadways, In case of a leak a repair can be made and the road will not have to be dug up or traffic interfered with. There may be occasions to lay telephone or electric cables an which this strip again becomes useful.

In the average section the first tier of lots back of the reserve strip may be ten or twelve feet in depth then followed by nine foot tiers with a three foot walk. 

It should be kept in mind that in platting the lots to provide for walks in which water lines can be run in which any lot can be reached with a hose on a fifty foot radius, and if it can be so arranged there should be only one drip for the entire section at the lowest .point. There should be a three inch drain in the same trench with the water pipe to take care of the waste water from the hose connections and goose necks where lot owners may have access to the water.

Monument lots should vary in size as well as the small lots which do not permit monuments. These lots should be kept back from driveways as much as possible to be in keeping with the park plan scheme. It gives the monuments more of an individual setting where planting can be used for a background which not only adds to the beauty of the monument but enhances the general landscape as well. Some have gone so far in cemetery designing to suggest that all stone work be eliminated to make it a beautiful park. I think this is overstepping the line somewhat, and is contrary to a deep rooted sentiment of a long time custom to mark the last resting place of those who have gone before. There will be parks, and there will be cemeteries, but let there still be a distinction between the two.

The distance from the road to the farthest lot in which pall bearers would be expected to carry should be given consideration. Probably 150 feet would be a maximum distance. Often times in a very large section it is advisable to run an eight foot service drive through the center in which funerals would have better access to the lot. This would also give better service to the gardener and grave digger in the handling of materials to and from the main drive.

A word or two about drainage may not be out of place. No one wants to bury their loved ones in a wet grave. A section or part or a section that would be inclined to be wet should be drained. This should be done during the course of construction after the rough grading has been done. When the allotting plan has been decided upon, the drains should be so arranged that they will pass through the lots where needed. It is also well to use plenty of cinders to insure better drainage.

The modern cemetery or course must have cornerstones with numbers upon them indicating upon the ground the boundary or lots. This is not only essential, but a great help to the salesman, lot owner, or employees in locating the lot. All corner stones should be furnished by the cemetery, and placed in the ground before the section is opened for sale.

The section or sales map should have all the data noted thereon as to the prices and sizes or all lots, as well as restrictions or whatever nature regarding the section. All details regarding the condition of sale, rules, etc., should be thoroughly explained to the new-coming lot owner, so that there may be no misunderstandings or hard feelings later on.

The selling of burial lots is nothing new; we might go back to Gen. 23: 15-20, where it tells us that "Abraham buried Sarah his wife who was 127 years old, and paid Ephram 400 shekels of silver for the cave in which to bury Sarah." Here we have the first purchase of land and a record of burial. It is very essential to keep an accurate record not only of the burials but all permanent fixtures that go into the ground, as well as on top, because sooner or later information may be wanted by the lot owner regarding past burials. Future improvements maybe made from time to time in which connections must be made to water mains, sewers, etc., which have been recorded in the past. A card index system giving the lot owner's name as well as those that have, been buried on the various lots is a very essential record to keep. From this it is quite convenient to answer the many quarters from the lot owners as to the location of their relatives and friends and often times their own lots. The various cemeteries seem to have their own system of keeping record of location of burials, headstones, etc. Some use the lot diagram book, and some the card system. A few of the larger cemeteries however, record this information as well as other, upon large sheets drawn to a scale. These sheets represent a plat of ground 150 ft. x 200 ft. Lots when platted upon these sheets not only show the adjoining lots but show all those near by, and have been found very useful in an explanatory sense, especially when arranging for burial with a lot owner who is not very familiar with his lot. As stated before, all permanent fixtures are recorded on these sheets, and with the proper index it is very convenient to locate anything, and the whole territory in question can be seen at a. glance. At the intersection of the base lines which represent this block, a permanent monument can be placed upon which is a number, corresponding to the number of the block. A map or record of elevation upon the various monuments will be found quite useful from time to time, especially when working up new territory.

There have been several schemes suggested and tried along the lines of advertising cemetery lots. Newspaper ads etc., may be all right to introduce a new proposition, but an established cemetery upon a running basis can do no better than interest people by its attractive landscape and good service, worked out from a well studied plan.

In many of the cemeteries a lot holder is considered a member of the association or corporation. In this way they take a greater interest in more ways than one, and will undoubtedly be a booster in their community to get their friends to join with them in the self same interest.

Gladstone, England's great statesman; who measured people by their cemeteries once said, "Show me the manner in which a nation or community cares for its dead, and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender sympathies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals."

In conclusion it might be said that "cemetery engineering” after all, involves more than the use of transit and chain, as they only play a small part, yet are very useful when the proper time comes for their use in development work, whether it be new sections, roadways, buildings of various kinds, etc. These problems as well as many others require a great deal of methodical deliberation in studying out the various suggestions that come up. It has been said that work well planned is 51% complete, therefore it is absolutely essential that plans be prepared, and be given very careful consideration that later on when fully executed, they will show forth the idea finished in reality, which will be admired by those of like minds, as well as those of the community, and visitors as well, and will prove that time and money have been well spent.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 41st Annual Convention
Cleveland, OH
August 22, 23, 24 and 25, 1927