Cemetery Finances

Date Published: 
August, 1925
Original Author: 
S. L. Landers
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention

I am somewhat handicapped, perhaps owe you an apology for being down to read a paper, but coming across the border from Canada I stopped in the village of Detroit for a little while and went up town, opened my grip to get out something and sitting down on a street corner a Billy goat came along and ate my paper. I believe that Frank Eurich is somewhat responsible for it, and I have no paper to read. I had to hastily jot down a few memos and I unfortunately have no paper.

When I decided to read this paper at this convention, or rather this subject and the committee asked me what it would be I gave them a subject and they switched it on me a little bit and changed it. I gave them a subject "Dead Horse Finances." It, perhaps, to a cemetery superintendent, seemed a little gruesome to talk about anything dead and they switched it on me and made it "Cemetery Finances."

Cemetery finances might mean a great many things. It might mean lot selling campaigns, investment of perpetual care funds or the allotment of various classes of labor or the purchase of new grounds and the setting aside of so much money annually for the purchase of extensions, etc., etc. That has been covered in a great many ways.

My talk this morning is not going to be particularly on cemetery finances generally, but what my subject really intended to be—dead horse finances.

John Bright, great British parliamentarian, whenever a question was raised in the House of Commons that had been dealt with and had been voted into oblivion many a time was brought up by some new member, John Bright usually said "Oh, that is dead horse, gone, forgotten, voted on many a time and passed up."

I am going to say a few words on delinquent finances, finances that we have given up hope of ever collecting. This question does not apply to new cemeteries that have been started right under the perpetual care plan. The cemetery that I represent was started in 1848. Of course those of you that were at Hamilton will realize that Woodland Cemetery, the new one on the bay front, will not have the problem of the collection of dead horse finances that we have in this old cemetery.

I know that these questions have been discussed from every angle. I am only a young cub at the game, although I was a member of our Cemetery Commission for many years previous to becoming the Superintendent and you all know that cemetery board members or cemetery commissioners have but a very meager knowledge of the actual cemetery problems. They attend board meetings, the secretary or superintendent introduces his report and they have a very superficial knowledge of what really is the cemetery superintendent's problem and I know that these questions have been discussed from every angle.

I was only in the office six months before I found a state of affairs that rather astounded me. I will admit we all have our strong points in every sphere of life on certain things. One man will be able to accomplish great things in a certain sphere, along a certain line. Another man will supersede him and he will have strong points on entirely different lines and make a success of something else that the other chap had perhaps forgotten or, rather, was not strong on. So we all have our strong features.

I realize my predecessor, who was one of the best cemetery men, Mr. F. H. Rutherford, took hold of an old practically medieval cemetery, with the various grades and copings and fences and iron and tripods and wood and glass bottles by the million and everything else and devoted the most of his time to the outside grounds and made a magnificent cemetery out of an old practically rural burial ground, even though we have 120,000 population in our city. But when you concentrate on one particular thing naturally other things suffer.

When I succeeded Mr. Rutherford I did not have very much to do, as it were, on the outside grounds, but could devote the majority of my attention to the office. No individual is at fault, neither a superintendent, office staff, commission or a board, but rather a system that had grown up in practice for many years.

The question I found was that thousands—we have 11,000 lots in our cemetery, apart from our single graves—we had about 3,000 cards that we were sending out for annual care. Those that were square and honest came and paid; those that did not want to pay never came near the office. Naturally, while we checked it up against the lot, many lots had no card as far as the financial end of it was concerned, no card at all.

I said to my board "Is it fair to permit or allow or compel some people to pay and let many other people get away with it without paying at all? Something must be done to try and collect some of this old money."

I used to see a woman come in, one, two, yes a dozen of them, when carnations were $1.00 a dozen and roses $1.00 a dozen, drive up in their motor cars and want to know "where is the gardener? Where is the sub-gardener? How is it that this is not done on my lot and this on my lot?" I'd go over the card and say "Madam, do you know you have not paid any care since 1914, and you want the service of a gardener and you complain about it and you complain about the ant hills. I can't tell the ants what lot to go on. You complain about the condition of the graves. If you don't pay your care you will get no service in this cemetery. You can come up here when carnations and roses are $1.00 a dozen and place them on your lot, but we don't get a cent of care and we pay our men 50¢ an hour and we care for your lot and have got it charged up against you."

True, we have the same rule that the majority of you have that no interment can take place in a lot until the care dues are paid, but you have got to wait until somebody kicks in and you may go before they do, and your successor may not be as strenuous as you to collect it.

I had a younger man appointed on our board by the City Council.  He was in the wholesale grocery business, a shrewd young financier, and he used to say to me "What are our assets?"

I said "You get them. You get our buildings. You get our supplies, tools and everything, an inventory in the annual statement. You know what our assets are."

"Oh, but I mean our assets, our bills receivable."

I said "Forget it. They are receivable after you have got them. You will see them in the report on the right side or the statement after we get them. There is no such thing as bills receivable because very few people are paying."

He said "What kind or a business do we run? We ought to have assets showing our bills receivable."

He pressed and pressed and kept on every meeting for about a year for these bills receivable. I said "Frank, forget it. If I show you an account of our bills receivable in this cemetery it will make your nose bleed." But he insisted upon the bills receivable, and I got busy and gave him some bills receivable. No, what I did was this:  I arranged it for an annual report in one of my annual reports, and after it was printed and was not bound, still in the printer's hands, I asked him to strike me off a certain number or copies, and I went to the Chairman of our Finance Committee and the Chairman of our Board, Mr. Peebles, who, by the way, visited my office a day or two previous to the convention and asked me to convey his best wishes to the members of the Association—our former Chairman who, by the way, is not now our Chairman—he was elected to the City Council, and had to resign, because our by-laws don't permit an elective member in the City Council to act on our board and I took it down to the Chairman and read it to him. This was the statement:


I have frequently been asked to compile a list of our assets, i. e., monies due for annual care, of from three to twenty years or more.

I have not as yet been able to complete this list, owing to the many lots tor which no card exists. This work, which is long and tedious, owing to the imperfect records kept during the early years of the Cemetery, necessitates a great deal of research, but is steadily going forward.

As far as we have proceeded we find there is due the Cemetery Board $22,643.13 for annual care, which consists of 188,365 square feet of ground, which, if placed in Perpetual Care would mean an additional $65,927.85. And it is safe to say that the unlisted lots when completed will add an additional 50 percent of the above figures (a report of which will be made later when the report is completed), with means that there is due the Cemetery Board for delinquent annual care about $30,000.00, and if placed in Perpetual Care an additional $90,000.00 or a total of $120,000.00.

Taking into consideration that many of these lots are filled, and the owners passed away, others left the city, descendants refusing to acknowledge obligations, etc., etc. only a small percentage of this is collectable.

When I showed that to the Chairman and the Chairman of the Finance Committee, they said "Don't put that in your report. We don't want the public to know who are paying that there are a lot of other fellows not paying or they will stop paying." They said "Cut it out." 

I mailed it to the board members, but this young smart business man insisted upon having a complete report of the assets. I kept telling him to forget it, but he insisted upon the assets and I gave him a final report when it was completed.

February, 1925

To the Board of Management of the Hamilton Cemeteries:


I have frequently been asked to prepare a resume of indebtedness to the Hamilton Cemetery, or "Asset", i. e. if all lots were paid up, as far as Annual Care was concerned and the same placed in Perpetual Care.

At the end of 1923 a part report was presented and the "Assets" were so large it was thought unwise to reproduce the same in the Annual Report. At that time only part was shown as there were many old lots for which no card existed.

In this Report all Lots in the Cemetery are listed and tabulated which shows an enormous amount of money so called "outstanding".

Eventually about ten to fifteen percent or this will be collectable; hence while a copy is prepared, I feel it would be very unwise to make it public, as it would be misunderstood and many who are now paying and those who have a further tendency to pay up later may defer payment on the plea, with so large an "Asset" in addition to the Perpetual Care sinking fund, there is already ample funds to carry on the Cemetery for the rest of time.

There are all told 10,660 plots in the Hamilton Cemetery of which 6,446 are in Perpetual Care and 4,214 not. Of the 4,214 not in Perpetual Care; 3,261 are not paying at all while 955 are paying some regularly and some occasionally.

Of the 3,261 who are not paying at all, 1,561 are two grave lots of 60 square feet each or a total of 93,600 sq. ft. They owe $25.00 each back care or a total of $39,025.00 and if placed in Perpetual Care would mean an additional $32,781.00.

The rest of those not paying 1700, own four grave lots 120 sq ft. each, owe $50.00 each for back care or a total of $85,000 and if placed in Perpetual Care 204,000 sq. ft. would mean an additional $71,400.

Of the 955 that are paying if these were to pay up the Annual Care to date at an average of $2.00 each per year would mean $19,100.00 and if placed in Perpetual Care would mean a further sum of $29,610.00 or a general grand total of

All of which is respectfully submitted,
S. L. Landers, Secretary

I said to my board "It is going to be an absolute impossibility to collect but a very, very small proportion of that fund. If you members of this board will give me a free hand and I will use it very reasonably, and cooperate with me, and give me your endorsement, I will get a pretty good proportion of that dead horse finance, if you will back me up."

You see, we care for all lots in our cemetery, whether they are paid for or not, that is, whether care is paid for or not; even if they don't pay annual care we care for every lot in the cemetery from the East gate to the West gate and from the North gate to the South gate, and the man that pays does not get a bit better attention than the fellow that does not pay. We feel for humanity's sake, general appearances sake—of course we rob Peter to pay Paul, we take it from the other fellow that does pay and spend it on this fellow, and we don't guarantee, as was spoken of last night, to devote the particular money on that particular lot. We are not bothered with the question of taxation, as municipal cemeteries. We agree to take care of that man's lot in perpetual care, but we don't pledge that that money will be spent particularly on that lot, but devoted to trees, shrubs, roads, administration and the general care of the cemetery.

The first thing I said to my board was "Our rules are somewhat antiquated. Revise your rules according to certain suggestions and I will get the money." The first thing we did—people used to walk in there and order a monument. The first few months I was in there I watched the girl. The monument men came in and ordered a foundation and the girl would get the card out, give the foreman the order and the foundation was ordered. People would come in and want various work done, transfer a lot from father to son or friend to friend, if there were no burials in it and everything was done without any consideration as to the actual status of the lot.

We had the rules changed. No transfer could be made, no flowers could be planted; we would not do any work for them; nothing for nothing. We said "You are not paying us anything and we will give you no consideration and no favors until you do pay." We made certain restrictions that no transfer could be granted on a lot upon which the perpetual care was not paid.

I said to my board, "Under the new system we compel people to pay the perpetual care at the time of the purchase of the lot. Now is it unfair to make that rule retroactive and make the old lot owners, when they come up for burial, pay the perpetual care on the old lot? If Bill Smith comes up and says I am a blacksmith or shoemaker—unfortunately my wife died; I want to buy a lot, we don't ask him any questions. We sell him a lot under the new system with the perpetual care added to it. He asks no questions and pays it. Is it any more unfair to make it retroactive and if Bill Smith or John Smith or Pete Jones or somebody—by the way, Mr. Jones, we have them there, too—if Mr. Jones comes up and wants to bury we say “Yes, you have an old lot, but you have to pay the perpetual care on your lot and the back care before you can bury in that lot."

My board said to me "Sh, sh, you can't do anything like that. The deeds don't call for that. That is illegal. You can't do it. How can you make a non pay perpetual care on a lot when he bought it under the old system of annual care? You can't do it."

When it was referred to our corporation counsel he said "Tut, tut, tut, no, no, don't start anything like that. You are going to get into lawsuits. You are going to have trouble. It is illegal."

It reminded me—we had a political campaign on in a town that was called Berlin, but was changed to Kitchener during the war, up in Ontario. We had an independent political campaign on the same as your late recent friend LaFolette. We had a political campaign against the two old parties, and I happened to be with the independent party and we were discussing the question of method and various questions came up. One fellow suggested this and' another chap suggested that. One fellow said something and then another man got up and said "Oh yes, hold on a minute, but that is illegal."

Sitting in that same room was, not an elderly man, of German descent, and old Henry Stultz had been in a great many political campaigns with the old parties. As soon as that fellow said "This is illegal," Henry got up and said "Vas is illegal. Nothing is illegal," meaning anything you can get away with in reason is not illegal.

I told my board and corporation counsel, "illegal nothing. Leave it to me. If you will give me the cooperation I will get away with it. Put that in your rules that at the time of an interment in an old lot the perpetual care on that old lot must be paid."

The furthest I could get them to go was that it should be paid, and they revised the rules and said that at the time of an interment in the old lot the perpetual care should be paid. I said "If that is as far as you go I am an opportunist, all right. Let it go at that." They passed it and we revised the rules. But I soon forgot the should and I made it must immediately.  I sent out my card with my annual care, and this card went out with it, with the annual care cards or bills the following year to cemetery lot owners:

"This is your notice for the care of your lot for 1925. This account is really due in advance; when you received your first notice in May.
As a result of many non-payments we were compelled to borrow the money to pay the workmen during the season.
An immediate response will be appreciated.
This account can be paid at the City Treasurer's office, City Hall, if accompanied by the enclosed bill.

Very truly yours,
Board of Managers of Hamilton Cemetery,
S. L. Landers, Secy-Supt

"To Cemetery Lot Owners under "ANNUAL CARE"
You have often been reminded that commuting and paying a lump sum places your lot in PERPETUAL CARE and gives you a perpetual care deed.

"I will some day" has no doubt oft been your thought—
Especially since the new ruling, that all old lots under Annual Care must be planed in Perpetual Care at either the time of an interment, disinterment, or the placing of a monument.
Phone the Cemetery Office: Regent 1320 for information.
S. L. LANDERS, Secretary"

On the bills that I sent out in red type, I had a panel inserted in red type which said "all lots under annual care must be placed in perpetual care at the time of an interment." The result was—you know, there are two ways of killing a chicken. One way is to simply lay him down on a block and knock his block off. Another way is, you can taka that chicken and smooth the feathers up and down one way and humor him to death and—jerk it and break his neck.

I said to my board, "Leave it to me. I will get the money and I will do it very, very carefully." You might be astounded' to know that in three years we have had absolutely no difficulty in collecting our perpetual care at the time of interment. We have had a little argument. I remember the worst two cases I had—one was the police lieutenant and one a lieutenant in the fire department, who kicked and were not going to pay.

I will tell you one thing—the only instance in which it works an injustice is the man who paid religiously and regularly his annual care in advance; as soon as he got his bill his check came, or they paid it at the city hall, at the city treasurer's department, or at the cemetery. It worked somewhat of a little injustice to those people who paid regularly, but they were few and far between.

I had people say to me "Do you mean to tell me that I can't bury in my lot and you refuse to let me bury if I don't pay this perpetual care?"

I said "No, I would not say that." At the same time I meant it all the time. "No, I would not think of saying that you can't bury in your lot and that we are going to prohibit you from burying." I knew that they would not get out to get a compulsory order or a restraining order from the judge, restraining us from interfering with them, because they usually want to bury the next day or two days after and before they could get a restraining or a compulsory order it would take some time. "No, I would not think of saying anything of that description. Of course, if you insist on burying and will not pay, that is different. But now look here, you don't want any special privileges over all the other citizens, do you? We have had so many thousand burials since the rule has gone into force and everybody met it without any discussion. Do you want any special favors? You will thank me in six months or a year because I compelled you to pay for perpetual care. Haven't you been thinking every time you got the bill that you ought to put it in perpetual care?" "Well, yes, ____” "Well come on, don't make two bites of a cherry. Let’s clean it up. Why stick at this little perpetual care? I'll admit at the time of a funeral there are funeral expenses and everything."

The main object was, we didn't care so much about the past annual care—our cemetery was practically sold out—we wanted to clean up that dead horse finance, so the old annual care was difficult to collect. You know yourselves, everyone or you, that when it gets down to second and third generations and grand nephews and grand nieces and brothers-in-law it is hard to collect, even from the first generation. Sons as a rule refuse to pay. We made all sorts of rebates on the old annual care in order to get the perpetual care. If a man came in and owed $70 or $40 or $50 annual care in arrears—like the women for bargains; they are out this morning—a lot of people like to get something for nothing. If you tell a man "You owe $70 back or $40 back care; I will tell you what we will do. We will rebate that to 50%."

It all depends upon the circumstances. If it is a son we make him pay the biggest portion. We make him pay half. If it is a second or third cousin or friend or a society or something we almost cut the entire back care off. But get the lots into perpetual care, because we knew if we could get that into our sinking fund it would mean for all time looking after that lot.

Then we had this abandoned lot act passed. I think the state of New York, the state of Iowa and the state of Wisconsin have this abandoned lot act. We had this abandoned lot act passed.  I think the state of New York, the state of Iowa and the state of Wisconsin have this abandoned lot act.  We had this abandoned lot act passed.

An Act to Amend the Cemetery Act

His Majesty, by and with the advice and consent of the Legislative Assembly of the Province of Ontario, enacts as follows:

1.    This Act may be cited as The Cemetery Amendment Act, 192.3.

2.    Section 23 of The Cemetery Act is amended by adding thereto the following subsection:
(2) The owner of a cemetery may after having advertised once a week for three successive weeks in a newspaper approved by the local board, for relatives of the person in whose name an abandoned cemetery lot stands (where such abandonment has existed for at least five years) and where such lot is not claimed and any dues or charges with respect thereto are not paid within six months after the last publication of such notice, the owner, upon the expiration of the said period may apply to the Judge of the County or District Court and the Judge upon such application and upon proof of the facts and of the publication of such notice and of the non-payment of such dues and charges and upon such other evidence as he may deem necessary may make an order authorizing the owner to repossess and sell the unoccupied part of such abandoned lot and apply the proceeds of such sale for the perpetual care of the occupied part of such lot .
(a) This section shall apply to every cemetery owned, controlled or managed under the authority of any general or special Act.

3.    Section 24 of The Cemetery Act as amended by section 4 of The Cemetery Amendment Act, 1921, is further amended by adding thereto the following subsection:
(3) The council of every county shall appoint one or more local inspectors who shall have the duties and powers within the municipality of inspectors appointed by the Lieutenant-Governor in Council under the 'provisions of section l0a.

4.    This Act shall come into force on the day upon which it receives the Royal Assent.

That is a state or a provincial law.

Legal decisions perhaps were against some of those things, but with the act to back us up and the use of common law on the other questions—I was speaking a moment ago of them—or the "gift of gab", and if you are able to handle people—a man may be a civil engineer, a landscape artist, a horticulturalist and understand the finer arts of cemetery work, but if he does not know how to handle the people and how to induce the people along certain lines, he is lacking as a cemetery superintendent, and if you have the persuasive, persevering argument you can collect the majority of these finances.

Now I would like to tell you about how much money we have collected in those two or three years that we have had this in effect. It won't take me a minute to read these right over for comparison. Before these questions were introduced from 1915 to 1919, there were 507 old lots placed in perpetual care, 47,215 square feet, with an income of $16,521.25. The following five years, after the introduction of this system, and killing the chicken in the usual way, we put 1574 lots in perpetual care, or an increase of 1067, an increase of 102,285 square feet with an increase in revenue of $37,024.41. The first six months of the current year we put 273 additional lots in perpetual care, 22,362 square feet, with $7,831.10 increase in income. During the month of July we put 54 lots in perpetual care with a revenue of $1,535.10. During the month of August, just before leaving I found that the rate was carrying on just the same, and if this continues with the addition that after the six months have expired of the several thousand lots we advertised under that act, which we have the power to resell, and I already have power of attorney from a great marry families, not to publish their names and allowing me to sell—it simply means a great proportion of this old finance will be collectible and will go into our general fund.

Now I don't know it all. I am not like the old Quaker that said to his wife "The whole world is queer but me and thee and sometimes even thee is a little bit queer." I don't know it all, but this I do know, that our facts and our figures and our results show that the methods adopted will collect and get us some of that old dead horse finance.

I have a picture that I brought back from France, and I saw it in actual happening in France, when an ammunition column was going up and shells were coming over and fell in among the batteries and the ammunition columns, that a horse had one leg shot off and ran down the road on three legs. I actually saw that, when an old battery man came back and put his arm around the horse's neck stopped for a while and said "Good bye, old pal." The horse was about gone, and the boys up the road said "Come on, Bill, come on, Bill." He put his arm around the horse's neck and said "Good bye, old pal," and then left him.

With these circumstances and conditions we can go into our vault and put our hands on our dusty old books that have been lying there a good many years and say to the old dead horse finances, "Good bye, old pal."

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention
Chicago, Illinois
August 24, 25, 26 and 27, 1925