Evolution in Cemetery Work

Date Published: 
August, 1925
Original Author: 
William Holbrooks
Oak Hill Cemetery, Evansville, Indiana
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention

After twenty-seven years active management as Superintendent of Oak Hill Cemetery, the best I can do is to recall what has been accomplished in that time and to whom the credit is due.

I am a firm believer in evolution in some things and the manner of conducting a cemetery is one. I claim no great credit for myself, but prefer to give it to those with whom I have come in contact during that time. To take over an old established cemetery and work it over to meet present day demands was no light job.

Before beginning my work I took a survey of my surroundings and set about making necessary changes and here is where I feel that much credit is due others. A visit to Cave Hill Cemetery, Louisville, was the first trip made and Mr. Robert Campbell, Superintendent, shall always be remembered for the many courtesies shown me by making suggestions as to changes that were advisable. Next, a visit to Spring Grove, Cincinnati and there I came in contact with William Salway, who in turn gave much valuable information as to cemetery management. Between the two, Mr. Campbell and Mr. Salway I hardly know which to give the most credit.

After I began digesting what I had learned as to what a cemetery superintendent should be and do, then the size of the job I had assumed began to dawn upon me and evolution set in. Everything from the office to the smallest detail in the yard had to be overhauled. I had much prejudice to overcome as we gradually changed the manner of doing things and we are such creatures of habit that it goes against the grain to make a change, however advisable.

One change was to do away with filling graves in the presence of the family and friends, which was accomplished by patience on our part and reasons for such change. Along with this change we gained approval by better service, such as providing tents for the family and friends during committal service, a lowering device and such. Next, we began restrictions as to monuments and markers on lots, and then we had trouble enough. Years of worry, argument and finally absolute refusal to deviate from a given course convinced our lot owners that such was to be the rule.

In 1905 our association became affiliated with the National Association of Cemetery Superintendents.

At Rochester, New York I met those good fellows that have since become such good advisers, that I shall ever feel under obligations for much friendly advice. Some have gone to their reward, and may it be great—Wm. Stone, Timothy McCarthy and others. Of those living are George M. Painter of Philadelphia, Edward G. Carter and W. N. Rudd of Chicago and many others. These men were always ready to give advice based upon their experience on any subject submitted for their consideration. So thus, we were encouraged in our work, for without such friendly assistance we perhaps would have made more mistakes than we have.

I have submitted for the question box a subject that has caused the writer some annoyance. For a while I was flattered by having a printed form submitted covering every phase of cemetery management imaginable, which I laboriously answered and prided myself on being able to display my knowledge. But after a while the thing became monotonous and I began to think there were some people who needed enlightenment, but my feathers fell when I was informed that my replies were being used by promoters to further their interests in land deals for profit to themselves.

This may be my swan song, as I have gone quite a journey in life, but in spite of a handicap dating back six years, I am in fairly good working condition, but I want you to know that I consider the AACS one of the most unselfish institutions of which I have any knowledge.

Reverting to reforms, the automobile is another. I well remember the first machine that was driven in our cemetery; what a commotion was raised. A near panic was on hand in about two seconds by some old ladies and horses that had passed the voting age, making things lively for a short while. Then, we put a clamp on automobiles. Next we admitted by license and a fee. More trouble. Finally the horse was eliminated and the automobile is at this date supreme. But we have a troublesome problem to meet at times on Memorial Day in particular; we believe we have found a solution.

On last Memorial Day 1625 automobiles were admitted from 7 A. M. to 12 noon at one gate when all vehicles were excluded for the balance of the day. The afternoon is given to exercises of the G. A. R., and the attendance of visitors is on foot only. Our cemetery was established in 1851 and the avenues were ample for that date but since the advent of the auto and the many times multiplied numbers as compared with horse-drawn vehicles, makes it quite necessary to control them in some manner, at times. Admittance at the west or Columbia Street entrance and exit at the south or Virginia Street. One way traffic and signs directing the way, and "No Parking on This Avenue" enforced by officers supplemented by Boy Scouts to the number of about forty solved the problem satisfactorily.

So you see why I believe in evolution, or perhaps some would prefer the word reform.

Our first reform was in the office, such as records, diagrams of lots, much detail, records, etc. Out in the yard avenues were widened, and in some instances rebuilt entirely, much planting of trees and shrubbery and a clearing of trees in burial sections and assuming of tree-planting by ourselves.

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