Perpetual Care

Date Published: 
September, 1921
Original Author: 
W.C. Grassau
Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention

These two words "Perpetual Care" seem to be differently construed in various localities, according to my observations. Some Cemeteries, which were started years ago and operated on a stock issue plan, felt it necessary to expend as little as possible on the general improvements and maintenance of said Cemeteries, in order that the dividends on the stock issued might be of such proportions annually, as to more than satisfy the holders of said stock. Under ordinary circumstances, Cemeteries of this kind were good paying propositions for the stockholders only, but like unto the golden goose, their days, or rather years, were numbered, for very obvious reasons. Many of the unsightly Cemeteries, which have been to a great extent the cause of more or less antagonistic legislation in my opinion, would never have been created had not the lure of the substantial dividend been the paramount factor. Other cemeteries of the same kind realize that the change in times, customs and expectations, etc. of the public made necessary changes in methods also, and they established a system called “Perpetual Care" under which, as far as I can discern, the lot owners or purchasers are being called upon to provide for the better care of the Cemeteries in general, in order that the dividends which have obtained for many years may not be materially lessened. Of course, in cases of this kind, perpetual care is not so represented to the lot owners, whose plots undoubtedly receive care commensurate with the amount paid but the fact remains that the more lot owners who provide care of this kind, the better the appearance of' the Cemeteries without increased costs to the various Corporations operating them.

Other Cemeteries conducted along different lines by Corporations that are satisfied with modest profits or dividends, feel that the good appearance of well kept grounds is of just as much concern to the management as to those whose beloved ones are buried there. They therefore, are willing to curtail the larger dividends, to a more or less degree and "cast their bread upon the waters" as it were, fully realizing that well maintained places of burial are the ones that attract the buying public.

Then again, there are those Cemeteries, from the operation of which no person or set of persons derives any financial benefit and Cemeteries of this kind endeavor at all times, to give such care to their entire grounds, without additional charge to the lot owners, as will cause the communities in which they are located, to feel proud of their existence. Cemeteries of this kind, and in fact all others, which have existed for a number of years, find included among their lot owners, many who have met with such reverses as to preclude the payment of even small annual charges for the care of their individual lets, and the civic pride of these corporations prevents a state of dilapidation to exist, even though they are not remunerated for the small expense required to prevent the prevalence of unsightly conditions.

To be sure, no Cemetery can afford to maintain the individual plots in absolutely perfect condition, including the frequent cutting of the grass, watering, fertilizing, re-grading and seeding or sodding together with the maintenance of the monumental work etc., without an extra charge therefore. Even if a prohibitive purchase price is placed upon the lots offered for sale, the conditions which might arise in the future could not be humanly anticipated, by reason of the great difference in ideas and tastes, regarding styles and sizes of monuments, mausoleums, floral decoration, etc. Hence the effort on the part of many Cemeteries to convince their lot owners of the wisdom of making such arrangements with the various corporations, as will insure the keeping of their plots and the appurtenances, in perfect order in perpetuity, and we now come to another phase of "Perpetual Care".

In this connection, I have had a little experience and my observations prove that a Cemetery which is indifferently maintained generally is not the one which makes-forward strides in securing perpetual care endowments. Some persons will argue that if a Cemetery is too well kept as a whole, at the expense of the corporation, the incentive for the lot owner to provide for perpetual care is removed, and that the number of deposits therefore will be decidedly less than in those Cemeteries, where a very marked contrast between the endowed lots and those not similarly provided for, it permitted to exist.

This, in my opinion, is a decidedly mistaken opinion, for the simple reason, that before a lot owner will even consider the idea of presenting to the Cemetery a sum of money for perpetual care he must have confidence and trust in the management of that corporation. Gentlemen, I assure you that this confidence and trust is begotten in no other way, than by the demonstrated attitude of the corporation, regarding its organization, maintenance, and last but not least, its consideration of the interests of its lot owners.

Having secured the confidence of the lot owner to the extent of considering seriously the matter of perpetual care, it is necessary for the Cemetery to estimate, in each case, the amount needed to provide for the proper, perpetual care of the lot. After having learned the exact wishes of the lot owner, as to the desired care that is, or will be expected, it seems to me to be absolutely imperative by reason of varying conditions and individual requirements and tastes, that these estimates should be made by someone, who from practical experience, is in a position to compute the cost per annum to the Cemetery for caring for the plots, including the maintenance of any monumental work, re-sodding, fertilizing, etc., and the annual expense of any floral decoration which might be specified.

All estimates should be made in duplicate and properly filed for future reference, and no agreement to give a plot proper perpetual care should be entered upon, unless the estimated amount needed, is deposited. Accepting amounts less than those needed, in order to oblige the lot owner or depositor, or to show gains in the general fund left for this purpose, only leads to future trouble and dissatisfaction. When a deposit has been made for the care of a lot, the next thing of most importance is the quality of the service rendered in return, m order that the confidence of the depositor may not be destroyed.

In justice alike to the party of the first part and the party of the second part, the need for detailed cost keeping, charges, etc., is self-evident.

When the deposit has been made for the care of a lot, a special ledger account should be opened therefore, showing date of deposit, lot number, section number, name of depositor amount paid, amount of annual interest allowed, and a notation should be made of just what the Cemetery has agreed to do for the amount paid, in accordance with the estimate, which has been previously made.

The foreman in charge of the department should be given this information in duplicate and thereafter the plot should be designated and considered as Account No. ____. From the moment the lot is endowed, all items of expense of any kind should be recorded and checked.

Whenever, in the course of events, the plot is given attention a time slip dated, showing the amount of labor, materials etc., employed should be made out by the foreman in charge, and these time slips should be left at the office daily.

After said slips are received at the office, they should be checked up in order to determine whether or not the total number of hours of labor for which the company must pay the men assigned to the perpetual care work on that day, is accounted for by the time slips referred to, and the items should be posted in a day book.

To record fractional parts of an hour of labor, would not only involve an immense amount of extra work and detail, but would include no allowance for the time lost by the men going from one plot to another, neither would the Cemetery be compensated for the cost of the tools and other items of overhead expense.

The total number of hours charged against the care of these lots daily, should therefore never be less than those paid for by the Cemetery, neither should the total exceed the cost, by so large a margin that the overhead expense including all items, which can be honestly included under this head, cannot be reasonably accounted for by the difference.

The charges for the day book account should be posted monthly into the ledger account bearing the same number, and at the end of the year, all of the accounts should be totaled and balanced. No hesitancy should be exhibited in showing these accounts, at any time to the lot owners, if so requested.

The working out of this kind of a system is a task which requires considerable time and thought on the part of the management and it means also the instruction and education of the various foremen, before success can be achieved.

At the Cemetery, with which I have the pleasure of being connected, we believe we have in operation a system along the lines above mentioned, which causes this department to be handled in a manner that is apparently meeting with the unqualified approval of the lot owners, as well as the Trustees of the Cemetery.

This statement is corroborated, I believe, by the fact that we have now 3750 individual accounts for the care of which about $2,500,000 has been deposited by lot owners.
Local conditions vary so much, that I would not presume to say to you, that the system employed at Green Wood Cemetery, is the only correct system, and is the one which should be used by all Cemeteries throughout the country.

Efficiency Engineers, in which class I do not claim to be included, would no doubt, be able to forward to each member, by mail, for a certain consideration, the complete formula for a system which would prove absolutely accurate and efficient in all Cemeteries alike throughout the country, irrespective of size, financial conditions, local conditions, or in fact, any and all of the conditions, which exist in the various sections of the country to worry the Trustees, to say nothing of the Superintendents, here assembled.

One of the greatest factors in the development and retention of the confidence and support of the lot owners, is the keeping of these perpetual care records in such a definite and open manner, that the lot owners' themselves can readily understand them.

When a perpetual care system is developed to a considerable size, and many lots have been endowed, the unreasonable or "cranky" depositor, who feels that he is not being justly treated, is bound to appeal and the fact that the Cemetery can demonstrate exactly how the interest in each case has been expended, and on what dates the different items of expense were actually incurred, is the very best means of pacifying persons of this kind, and of preventing the often threatened law suit.

I have tried to outline• in a manner which you can readily understand, the principles which are to my mind uppermost in the successful administration of a perpetual care system or department.

The exact method of handling the time slips, ledgers, etc. in my opinion are best devised by the various individual superintendents, in accordance with the conditions under which they must labor.

In conclusion, allow we to say that there is one danger ever present and which should be borne in mind by all of us, and that is the fact, proven to me by personal experience in the past, that too much system can be employed, and in order to maintain "too much system", overhead expenses become top-heavy, and to the average mind bewildering, thus defeating the real object for which designed.

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 35th Annual Convention held at Detroit, Michigan
September 13, 14 and 15, 1921