The topic assigned for me today is "Memorials" and to cover fully that ground would require a more facile pen than mine and more time than I can hope to use. It can be treated in a broad scope, in a general way, such as relating to those of earlier times with their meanings, or it can be confined to a consideration of those of the present day with their environments and settings in cemeteries with which we come directly in contact.
From the earliest times, long before, as well as since the beginning of the Christian Era, there has been and still is a sentiment inherent in human hearts to perpetuate the memory and virtues of the departed by visible tokens of love and affection in the shape of memorials and so long as human love exists it will continue to manifest itself in various ways.
Whether it takes form in structures to commemorate the services of the great and events of time and place, or merely individual ones to mark the last resting places of loved ones. It is a sentiment that is not just individual, but is far-reaching, and nations do not forget those who have served and given their lives to preserve the liberties and ideals of their country, as evidenced by our own nation's dedicating national cemeteries that the deeds of its sons shall not perish from the earth, and the splendid structures already completed and now under construction upon the battlefields of Europe to mark the graves and perpetuate the services and memory of those who made the last supreme sacrifice in the recent war.
As to individual memorials of today and the recent past in our cemeteries, which we are more especially considering today, the older ones of us doubtless remember some of the earlier types formerly used, particularly in the smaller cemeteries. A very common one was the perpendicular slab of marble upon the face of which was inscribed in detail the lives and virtues of the deceased, with crude carvings and epitaphs of varied worth and meaning.
Happily, in the evolution which has taken place since then in the memorial industry, as well as in cemeteries in general, ideas have changed and today more beautiful productions, expressing distinctive beauty, correct proportions with classic architectural lines and symbolism expressive of memory and Christian belief, with hope of the future, have come into use.
It is unnecessary to go into an analysis here of the various types, such as sarcophagi, tablets and so forth, but let us view it in a broader sense and consider what a memorial might well consist of.
To my mind, it should be not just a monument, but the lot itself, with appropriate landscaping and whatever structures there may be upon it should be considered as a whole and the entire ensemble as a memorial which with nature's beauty combined with a man's handiwork will produce a sanctuary where recollections of sacred association bring comfort to the bereaved.
Both monument and lot can contribute to this and the monument itself need not be of great size, for that is not always essential to beauty and should be restricted in size commensurate to the area of the lot. A modest memorial can oftentimes express greater art than one more pretentious in bulk. Just an ordinary monument can be greatly enhanced in beauty by proper landscaping, while a memorial, beautiful in itself, can lose much if in an unsuitable environment.
As an example, a lofty shaft would lose much of its effectiveness if placed in a valley with high ground surrounding it; while a ledger lying flat would be lost if on a hill devoid of planting. But we might go further than the individual lot and consider the cemetery as a whole as a memorial expressing the spirituality, veneration and spirit of the living of that period and with its tokens of love and remembrance, combined with the works of nature, they may well be a sacred heritage for future generations.
This may appear to be fantastic—call it a dream if you will—but to me it seems very real and if it seems so to you, then you too are memorialists, even as we who work in stone and bronze.
In order to obtain these results, coordination of the efforts of both cemetery managements and those who furnish the memorials is most desirable and their interests being allied and in some respects identical, there should be cooperation rather than discord between them.
Every cemetery superintendent is undoubtedly animated by a sincere and laudable desire to have his cemetery a place of beauty and it is an absolute right that cemetery managers have to establish such rules, supervision and practices as may seem wise to them, but I wonder if, whether in eagerness to correct certain conditions, or perhaps without first having been given careful and thoughtful consideration, rules are not sometimes enacted that may defeat the very purpose which they are intended to perform.
Please do not think I am presuming to tell you how to conduct a cemetery, or what rules or practices to have and what I say is in the most friendly spirit, but if you can forget for a moment that I am a memorial dealer and consider me only as one who has been associated with cemeteries and a rather close observer for many years, you will more readily get my viewpoint.
I understand that a certain cemetery has a rule which goes into detail as to the sizes of monuments and provides for exact dimensions of various parts of them, stating that there must be a base, and of designated size, a die or superstructure of a certain size and that all monuments must be four feet in height. In such a case there is no chance for diversity of design and it would be impossible to use a cross symbolic of the Christian faith, a beautifully sculptured Stele showing the classic art of ancient Greece, a broken column suggestive of incompleted life or an obelisk pointing upwards to Heaven. Certainly such a rule cannot be conducive to produce a beautiful cemetery, but only one having a collection of chunks of stone that do not convey an expression of beauty or memory—one of the most sacred emotions that stirs the human heart.
I recently heard a cemetery superintendent, one who is a perfect gentleman and actuated by the highest motives and for whom I have great respect make a statement that he prohibited the use of a certain gray colored granite in a section of his cemetery. This must produce a cold, somber effect, greatly different from that which nature, the great teacher, provides in the beautiful and sometimes gorgeous colors shown in lavish abundance in the woodlands and it would seem as though a reasonable diversity of material in memorials, as well as in design, would enhance the beauty of a cemetery.
I have heard memorial dealers criticized rather harshly by the remark that "the monument men are making stone yards of cemeteries." Even if this were true, is it altogether their fault and where does the responsibility lie? We have our trouble with customers the same as you do with lot owners. Does not the practice which prevails in some cemeteries of platting lots of very small area have a great deal to do with it? When lots are limited in size to the extent that they are designated as two, four, or six grave lots with only sufficient space for burials and none for beautifying with shrubs, flowers, or open spaces, the monuments must necessarily be so close to each other and of a size so circumscribed that it inevitably causes congestion, which it would appear as though the memorial dealers are not responsible for.
These and other matters sometimes cause differences of opinion that create ill feeling which is most unfortunate and should not occur, and I sometimes think that perhaps in this, as well as other things in life, many of our difficulties arise because of a lack of understanding of the other fellow's problems.
This reminds me of an old legend which seems to me to be apropos to such a situation. It seems that there were two mountains with a valley between. The one was called the hill of suspicion, while the other was known as the mount of distrust. The earth on each was unproductive and baked with the sun of disappointment, while boulders of resentment lay scattered around with thorns and brambles of dislike in profusion and around the tops ever blew the cold winds of discord, while all the time, just below, lay the beautiful valley of understanding.
There the earth was fertile and gave forth crops in abundance. There the air was soft and balmy; the wooded spaces were vibrant with the melodious songs of thanksgiving and praise of their feathered denizens to their Creator, while down through the center a limpid river of contentment flowed quietly and serenely on to the sea.
One day it happened that the people living on the two hills met in the valley and as they realized the difference there from their usual places of abode, they resolved to move to the valley and thereafter their lives were full of peace, comfort and joy.
Let us hope that in some way those who have in charge the keeping of cemeteries and those who furnish memorials may in some way meet in the valley of understanding.
From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 45th Annual Convention
Kansas City, Missouri
September 21, 22, 23 and 24, 1931