The Memorialists' Obligations

Date Published: 
August, 1924
Original Author: 
E. E. Rich
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 38th Annual Convention

The Superintendents members of the joint Cemetery Rules Committee are responsible for my appearance here today. When I have finished the short talk, I am sure you will agree with me that in suggesting that I be invited to come, their kindness of heart and courtesy exceeded their judgment.

As I recall it, the suggestion was something like this. In the past the Memorial Craftsmen have been represented at our Conventions by men who talked eloquently on Art and Design and we think it would be a good idea to have a change. As far as absence of eloquence goes, I can fill the bill.

At the request of Mr. Floyd, I announced the subject appearing in your program "The Memorialists' Obligations". A few days later the Craftsmen Monthly bulletin came out in which the Editor, our National Secretary, announced the subject as "Co-operative Relations between Cemetery Superintendents and Memorial Retailers". So you see I am well provided with subjects.

The Memorialists' obligations should lead him to be considerate and courteous to all with whom he comes in contact, to the end that be may make friends. Friends we must have, and should improve the chance whenever offered to acquire them, not only for pleasure derived but because we never know when one may be of real help to us. We should also take heed that we do not spoil such opportunity by a thoughtless discourtesy. An example of such a lost opportunity by a thoughtless gentleman speaking in Cleveland a few days since, in the following story:

A train conductor was halted in his work by an old lady inexperienced in travel, as evidenced by these questions:

"Conductor, I notice every time the train stops you get off on the platform. Why do you do that?" "Why, madam, it is part of my duty to be sure that all passengers get off safely." "I see you go every time to the station and talk to the man in the window. What do you do that for?" "I have to go to him to get my train orders." "Yes, and I see you always go up to the engine and talk to that man. What do you say to him?" "I have to give him his copy of the orders received, so he knows how to run the train." Once again she asks, "Every time just before you get on the train you make motions like this. Why do you do that?" By this time, quite a little irritated by her persistent queries, he responded “That is the way I signal the Engineer to get the Hell out of here" and passed on. Reflection, however, caused him to regret his language and after completing his trip through the train he returned to the old lady's seat and found her reading the Bible. "Mother," he said, "I am sorry I used such language to you and I came back to ask you to forgive me". To this he received a response in his own code signal.

Your Association, formed about 1887, with a first meeting in our good State of Ohio, at Cincinnati, I assume in a way had similar objects to our own, namely the elevation of the character of the membership and their work the promotion of beautiful cemeteries with the ultimate appeal to the sentiment and satisfaction of the lot owner.

Our own organization, not of so long standing, naturally has not made a corresponding advancement with yours. Organized originally with a pretty selfish motive, commercial returns for the time and money spent, it has during the past few years materially changed its ideas and objectives. Today we are working on a very comprehensive five year service program, covering among the most prominent items:

1. Establishing a scholarship of design in Columbia University, that our young men particularly may have the opportunity of training that will better fit them to help in creating the Cemetery beautiful.

2. A course in Advertising is being handled by a competent committee with a view to elimination of some of the crude appeals for business being made on the Dollar and Cents basis.

3. A school for the training of apprentices in the practical end.

Among numerous tangible evidences of our service is a traffic bureau for the collection of freight overcharges and adjustment of rates. Letters are coming into our headquarters every day expressing satisfaction with this service. A letter coming to my own desk a few days ago said: "I have received freight refund from the Traffic Bureau sufficient to pay our expenses in the organization for two years."

In 1920, by the way, before our organization had a paid, and by "paid" I mean a full time secretary, we had between four and five hundred members and we had something like eighty-seven or eighty-nine dollars in the treasury and we had $1800 in debts. At that time by an increase in dues we started and employed a paid secretary. Today we have something like thirteen, between thirteen and fourteen hundred members; we have approximately fifteen to sixteen thousand dollars in the treasury with which to do all of these good things that we have outlined in this five year program.

The contact between the Superintendent and the Memorialists up to 1921 had been wholly individual. At our convention of that year in St. Paul, a committee was appointed to confer with a like committee from your organization, with the object of eliminating friction and misunderstandings where they existed and to formulate a code as a guide to the conduct of business between us.

During 1923 and 1924 several of these joint meetings have been held with the result that while the proposed code is still incomplete, each side has submitted subjects for consideration, some of which have been adopted and others have been discussed and are still open for debate at succeeding meetings.

However, the good work accomplished, has not waited for the completion of this document, but the frank expression both orally and in written reports has brought a decided change of sentiment. Many who formally had chips on their shoulders, because of some real or imagined grievance toward an individual, have revised their sentiment and desire to cooperate.

The most notable example of this is in one of the prominent old time dealers who when asked to serve on our committee refused to do so. He believed in fighting, not cooperation. I recently received a three-page letter from him expressing interest in our work and advising cooperation. So you see the seed sown grows sometimes in what might seem to be barren soil.

You know when you are touring our what might be called a roller coaster highway, from the top of a high hill you look down and on to the next hill and how steep it appears to be from the distant hill and how the grade changes to an easy one when you coma to it. So it has been with many supposed serious points of difference in this committee work. Through discussion entirely different view points were obtained. The Superintendents found that where their contact with certain individuals had led them to assume that the Memorialist was opposed to many of their rules just on general principle, it developed that a large percentage were heartily in accord with any rule which seemed to be for better cemeteries. On the other hand many of our men woke up to the fact that what they had considered as arbitrary rules when considered from the right view point were really in their interest. As an example:

We all know the lot owner who wishes to do as he likes on his cemetery lot, dig it up whenever it pleases him to place a shrub or plant. "I bought this lot and can do what I please on it," he says. He carries the same idea on to the purchase of a monument. If his taste and perhaps his thought of investment runs to some Rock Faced Monstrosity, something entirely out of character for the lot and; surroundings, he is inclined to persist that he be permitted to place what he wishes on HIS lot with thoughts only on this transaction and the profit therein. Oftentimes the Monument Dealer has encouraged him in this mistaken idea, assuming also that the Cemetery rule controlling the design and size of the Monument is antagonistic to HIS interests. The Memorial Craftsmen are fulfilling some of their obligations by using their best efforts to educate their members to the right view on this point, that wherever a Cemetery Superintendent insists on appropriate design and sizes of Memorial for the lot and location, he is helping to put the business on a higher plane, which can only result in better financial return, to the erector of Memorials. We still have the lot owner who goes into the Cemetery and selects a Monument perhaps in close proximity to his own lot and insists that he wants one like that. This we all recognize is the wrong thing to do. Who can better assist us eliminate this objectionable feature of the business than the Cemetery Superintendent, HIS rule, to which some have been inclined to object, barring duplication is in reality a more tangible argument with which to dissuade the buyer from making this serious error, than any appeal we may be able to make to him.

Many of our members have been asked for suggestions and I am glad to say we have received some splendid constructive ideas giving evidence of genuine interest in the modern Cemetery. We have also had some requests for presentation to you on just a few matters which we are sure you will be willing to give consideration.

It is the custom with some Cemetery Superintendents to emphasize to their lot owners that no stones are placed in the Winter. This they do without a thought of the effect on the mind or the hearer, who immediately decides that he can pass up the matter of ordering a stone until Spring. This in the aggregate makes quite a percentage off from the Memorialists' Fall and Winter Sales, with the result that you and ourselves have a belated order to take care of perhaps in the last part of May, whereas if the order had been placed early in the year, we could avoid troubles attendant on such orders. Just a word added by you, suggesting the advantage to all concerned of the placing of a contemplated order now, would help and be of a cooperative nature.

Several of our Cleveland Cemeteries, all but one of which has used Grass Markers for years, are conceding to the interest of the lot owner and permitting Markers 4 to 6" above grade, thus adding to the satisfaction of both the Memorial seller and buyer.

We hear much complaint from the lot owners who condemn the grade marker for the following reasons:

1. They do not fitly commemorate the deceased, their loved one.
2. It is difficult for the owner or their friends to locate the grave because the stone is concealed from view until one stands directly over it.
3. Almost without exception they are in a soiled condition, from absorption of moisture and the earth that floats in on them spoiling the natural beauty of the stone and making inscription work illegible.
4. For these reasons they reflect discredit on the Memorialist, the lot owner and the Cemetery management who provide for their use.

We also ask your consideration to the end that the limit of size may be extended as applied to Monuments on lots surrounded by other lots not carrying the privilege of a Monument.

Finally, wherever there exists, as there always will, a difference of ideas between us, let us concede each to the other honesty of opinions and sincerity of purpose, to the end that our patrons, the lot owners may see their sentiment gratified an beautiful cemeteries with artistic and enduring Memorials.

In closing, I wish to express on our committee's behalf and the Memorial Craftsmen of America, our hearty appreciation of the courtesies received from your committee and your Association.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 38th Annual Convention
Portland, Maine
August 18, 19, 20 and 21, 1924