Monuments, Markers and Other Cemetery Memorials

Date Published: 
August, 1924
Original Author: 
S. J. Perrott
Springfield, Ohio
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 38th Annual Convention

It would be impossible to treat the whole subject of Cemetery Memorials in an article such as this, because of the many angles from which the subject might be viewed.

A very large number of articles might be written on this subject and each differs widely from the other, the particular theme depending upon the special influence which directed the thought of the author.

To some, certain types of monuments and their setting might have a peculiar interest, and we are sure that much, might be said which would lead to improved conditions in both these particulars.

The sculptor or designer would treat this subject from the viewpoint of the artist as he sees special types of art worked out in each Memorial. His thoughts would dwell upon design and the exactness of line and proportion. His opinion of the Cemetery Beautiful would be governed not so much by the proper distribution of well designed monuments as by the number of such and his opinion might be but little effected by the hundreds of stones which are sandwiched in between and in which, if art were to be found, a flexible imagination would needs be called into play.

This subject might also be considered from the standpoint of the person who purchases the Memorial to be placed upon his lot and it would often times be interesting to know something of the inf1uences which governed his selection and how much or how little of his own thought and character or that of his deceased loved ones are embodied in his Monument.

The Historian has written volumes describing the great outstanding monuments of the world and throughout all time the civilizations of Nations has been recorded through the character of these structures.

The great battle fields of the world are dotted with monuments which mark the spot where brave men fell and this Nation and all other Nations have erected magnificent tombs in honor of their fallen leaders.

The erection of Monuments has not been confined to any period of time, or to any race of people, for the enduring qualities of stones seem always to have been a symbol of eternity.

Reference to Memorials might therefore, bring to the mind's of people generally, widely different lines of thought, but to the Cemetery Superintendent his first thought is of the Cemetery Memorial, its uses and abuses.

It will be the purpose of the writer, then, to consider this subject from the viewpoint of the Cemetery Superintendent, whose vocation brings him in daily contact with Memorials of every description and because of the prominent place which the Memorial has in the Cemetery, he has given much of his time to a study’s of this feature of embellishment in all of its various phases.

Be it said, however, the superintendent does not pose as an Art critic. He has not devoted largely of his time to a study of the Classics. He may be little interested in the particular type of Art displayed in the numerous Monuments which are brought into the Cemetery. His has been a study of harmony in combinations, his eye has been trained in perspectives and he foresees the effect of scenic groupings. He sees the stone work in the cemetery as a conglomerate whole. It is the finished picture of monument and landscape combined which interests him as he plans to preserve some stretches of beautiful lawn from being disfigured by an undue and non-picturesque congestion of monuments and markers.

The question which we must solve is: How can he prevent this undue congestion and thus preserve distinct traces of his original plan?

His mind reverts to attempts made to this end and which resulted in only partial success.

He compares the older sections of his Cemetery with those of more modern development. His mind turns to Cemeteries in which management has been lacking and in which every lot owner has been a free agent. He likens conditions which are here found with those of his idea and an ideal lawn plan Cemetery, the product of trained minds and guiding hands and in which restrictions have been wisely and carefully enforced.

In his mental picture are wooded hillsides with here and there, amid low plantings of shrubbery, or partially hidden by branches of trees, a few well designed Memorials which tell some story of achievement and which have in them a something which will cause the passerby to pause and study and admire.

Rows and groups of monuments on every side are passed by daily, the character of which is so lacking as not to attract even the slightest attention.

Many exceptions, however, are to be found in all our Cemeteries.  The writer pauses often before a roughly hewn boulder, under the shadow of massive oaks, isolated from other monuments, and there reads from a bronze tablet the names of twenty-three men, buried with the County, who fought far America's Independence in the War of the Revolution.

In the Cemetery at Marion, where reposes the body of our beloved Mr. Harding, and where to whose memory a splendid memorial is soon to be erected, stands a Memorial chapel and upon its interior walls are inscribed the names of all the volunteers from Marian County who were engaged in the struggle of 1861 to 1865.

On the banks of a mirrored lake in Woodland Cemetery, Dayton and under the branches of a great tree, stands a boulder paced there by admiring friends, and dedicated to the memory of one who rose above others of his race and color, and on the bronze tablet which bears testimony to the achievements of Paul Lawrence Dunbar in a fitting stanza from one of his poems; "Let me sleep beneath the Willows."

On the brow of a hill in Woodlawn Cemetery, Toledo and overlooking a winding stream, as was the wish of the man who lies buried there, stands a three sided pyramid each dimension of which is thirty feet. This pyramid is constructed or thousands of boulders of various sizes, each stone contributed by a News bay or a News boy's sister, out of love for John Gunckel, the Father of the News boy movement of America.  A man who resigned a good business position, that he might devote his life to the uplift of the boys of the street, not only in his own city, but in all big cities, having found in the "urchin" possibilities or splendid manhood.

Each Cemetery has its Memorials which tell a story of special interest also many others which tell or achievement and which fill a well defined mission, and still others which are well designed and fit well in to the general plan, serving every purpose of a true Memorial.

But, in contrast with these are thousands which have no special mark of interest and which bear only a family name, whatever it may be; Smith or Jones, or, Brown, or White, or Green, and the Superintendent must needs be a well of information to the inquisitive, identify the particular branch of one or another of these numerous families to which the stone has been intended as a Memorial.

The answer to the question of better monuments, and a better distribution or monuments seems to depend upon three important factors; closer cooperation between dealer and Cemetery Superintendent; more general education along the lines of better Memorials and their effective settings; and certain justifiable restrictions an the part of Cemetery officials.

It is not boastful to say that many or the reforms which have been accomplished in monumental work are due to the activities of Cemetery boards, and we need to go back but a few years to find evidences in proof of this statement.

The old time slab, often several feet in height, considered necessary as the marking for each grave, might still have been the marker in common use had not the Cemetery decreed that it was not the marker best suited for the purpose, and adopted a new limit of height of eighteen inches or two feet.

This change to a marker of less height failed in accomplishing desired results, for while it corrected one, evil it gave birth to another.

Many novelties were introduced such as the polished roll, often of highly colored granite and frailly supported in brackets, the scroll, the polished sphere, section of a log, gates ajar, the harp and lyre, and other numerous designs, often two or more, vastly different, placed upon the same lot, and in single grave and small lot sections all of these designs were to be seen in promiscuous array.

Copings, fences, or chains formed the boundaries of lots, and corner stones extended several inches above the sod line, one or the other of these forms being deemed essential to the proper marking of the lot.

Many protests may have been made when these old forms were eliminated. Lot owner and dealer may have considered the order drastic, but who of them now would return to old form of markings?

As these reforms have been accomplished, so are other reforms being brought about through the efforts of men who devote their time to the study of those things which are essential to the beauty and quiet repose of our Cemeteries, and who are convinced that they owe more to posterity than they do to any whims of the present.

Lot owners would profit if the management were consulted, or advice sought of persons known to possess correct taste, before the Memorial is purchased. A design which may be attractive in itself may not harmonize with the surroundings of the lot upon which it is to be placed, or a monotonous similarity of design may result unless conditions surrounding the lot are first carefully studied.

Too often are monuments placed on lots where, because of an already crowded condition, markers would be in much better taste. And in the selection of a Memorial the purchaser may be influenced by some sentiment which the design portrays, and no thought given to the fact that the monument remains indefinitely even though the sentiments change. He may have the Memorial cheapened in material or workmanship in order that the cost may be kept within the amount which he has decided to appropriate. Perhaps another dealer will furnish a larger stone at no additional cost or he may be attracted by a stone of some unusual color and no thought given to general effect.

To prevent the introduction of this condition, and thus maintain that harmony which is so important, it is necessary that designs of all monuments and a description or sample of material to be used should first be submitted to the Superintendent or Trustees for approval, and the location of the monument on the lot should be determined by them, for in these matters, if harmony is to prevail, the ideas and wishes of the individual must be subservient to the best interests of the Cemetery as a whole, and the Memorial which he selects should be in keeping with this thought.

It is also important that we who have so much to do in determining the ultimate appearance of the Cemetery should give constant study to this theme of harmony in design and pleasing arrangement so that in the end the stone work will not be the dominant feature of the Cemetery but a well balanced part of the entire scheme.

In laying out the lots much may be done toward avoiding the congestion of monuments by varying the size and shape, or platting in among monument lots a number upon which marker’s only shall be used. There are families in every vicinity who have no desire for a Memorial other than markers on their lot, but who desire that lot in the very best location.

Monuments should also be restricted in size to a comparative size of the lot, and this restriction should be borne in mind when determining the sizes in which the lots shall be platted. The area of the monument base, in some instances is restricted to a percent of the area of the lot, and its nearest approach to any adjoining lot is determined.

Long straight lines of monuments or markers will be avoided if lots are not laid out in straight lines or of equal size. The importance of this is seen in lots which are in close proximity with the drive ways. And on such lots it is well to have sufficient depth so that the monument may be placed near the rear leaving space for graves and planting area in front.

In some instances no-monument lots might border the driveways, the plan varying with locality and a consequent difference in the size of lots required, but in any event it is well to have the monuments a sufficient distance from the driveway that they may be partially screened with plantings.

Planting areas, which may some time be used for Memorial plantings, should be left on all, sections, and this can be done at no great sacrifice of salable ground.

Whenever a new section is platted the total area could be calculated and the area which is set aside for planting could be calculated in the price of lots, thus each purchaser of a lot is contributing his just proportion in payment for these ornamental spaces from which he receives his share of benefit.

In this cause of prevention of congested conditions why should we not use our splendid opportunity in setting a worthy example?

The consideration of the marker, though left until now, is as worthy our attention as is that of the monument.

One of the prime requisites of any Memorial is its durability. It is placed for a distinct and peculiar purpose, and is expected to endure, unchanged, throughout the life of the Cemetery.

It is essential then, that the material used, also the construction stand for the greatest tests of endurance, and the possibility of deterioration or injury through accident be at a minimum.

The marker answering nearest this standard, and which has been adopted in many localities is the solid block, or one piece marker, set firmly upon a concrete foundation.

For the same reasons which govern the size and location of monuments, that a crowded condition might be avoided, there is a growing tendency to lessen the size of markers and to limit the height to a few inches at most.

Local conditions might determine the most suitable maximum height, ranging from the sad level marker to those which do not exceed three or four inches at the highest point.

This low marker, with edges slightly rounded or beveled, thus eliminating all sharp corners, and with incised inscription cleanly cut commends itself for many reasons; it is neat in appearance, does not stand out boldly in the landscape, has all the elements of durability, and in these times of increasing scarcity of labor less expense is incurred because it is less in the way.

In this study of Cemetery Memorials from the view point of the Cemetery Superintendent we would not be so biased in opinion as to exclude from the exercise of their proper rights any owner of a lot, or any dealer in Memorials whose chief interest is in the character of his work and its rightful place in the Cemetery.

We do now know that too many meaningless monuments have been crowded into our Cemeteries, many of which show carelessness in design and lack of skill in the workmanship.

We welcome the deeper interest which is being shown in the study of Memorial Art with corresponding results which are not obtained through making a profession out of what was once very largely a purely commercial industry.

The Cemetery is, very especially, an institution of the community which it serves. It is the spot where mind and memory lingers. To many it is more sacred than any other spot on earth, and few are the families in any community who have not sought balm for saddened hearts in the beauty and grace and quiet which the Modern Cemetery offers.

What more fitting place to render a service to ones community, or in what more fitting way could honor be paid the memory of the dead than by placing a Memorial in whose benefits others who may be passing through a like ordeal may also share.

A Memorial entrance, Memorial Chapel, Memorial Fountain or Memorial plantings; unselfish in every aspect, the gift of such a Memorial must bring more of delight and satisfaction to the donor because of the splendid service which such a gift would render, not for today only, but which would renew its usefulness day after day and year after year, rendering a service to all who shall, in the years to come pass this way.

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