The Relation of Planting to Memorials and the Trend in Memorial Art

Date Published: 
August, 1923
Original Author: 
Ernest S. Leland
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 37th Annual Convention

When the officials of your society asked me to address this convention; I was reluctant to accept the honor because I keenly realize how little qualified I am to contribute any information of consequence to such a gathering of experts. And I was more sensible to the contrast that has in the past existed between the idealism that actuates you in your profession, and the commercialism that has wrought such havoc in the art I follow-a contrast that led me to feel I might be a stranger within the gates!

While many of you realize that my personal views and opinions coincide with the most advanced and progressive ideals and objectives of your association, nevertheless I cannot escape the fact that among my several vocations, I am a "stone-man" and that you cannot but invest that term with some bitter reflections. I very much hope, however, that you, will not feel as Emerson did, when he said to some unfortunate victim of his displeasure, '''What you are thunders so loud in my ears that I cannot hear what you say!"

I can perhaps best express my frame of mind in approaching my subject by reciting a little incident I witnessed in Washington a short time ago I went for the first time to the United States Supreme Court. And I heard there a young lawyer who had come out of the West with the absurd notion in his mind that he would show the court how much of the law he knew. In the sublime confidence of his conceit, he plunged into an abstract and involved dissertation on the law. About the time he reached his climax, the late Mr. Justice White leaned over, and rapping his gavel impatiently exclaimed: "Counsel will confine his remarks to a statement of the FACTS, the Court knows the LAW!”  And so I want to assure you, my friends, that I have not come here with the absurd notion that I can teach this court the law! (There are some people you know who think you know enough about the law anyhow!) Indeed I feel that I have been asked to bring the proverbial coals to New Castle and it isn't going to take you long to find out that I am not a lecturer even if I confine my remarks to a statement of the fact.

It may be true that I have written thousands of columns in magazines, newspapers and in some books on art in general and the art of the cemetery and the monument in particular; but that is no evidence that I am an authority, because like a great many writers I have lived in safety behind a barrage of words while the editors were out on the firing line catching all the bullets. Lecturing is quite another proposition. You've got to come out in the open and go over the top with real ideas, not mere language. And so I feel that Mr. Dooley was a great philosopher when he said, "It's not so bad, Hinnisi, to have people size ye' up wrong, it's whin they git yer noomber that yer in dainger, me bye!" (Laughter)

Now, I have been asked to talk about "Individual Lot Planting as Related to Memorials and the Trend in Cemetery Art." I am sure you do not expect me to essay an abstract or technical discussion of planting and horticulture, to dwell upon the elements of effect and their application because the technique of planting is part of your profession. I will approach that phase of the subject purely as a layman, an artist layman perhaps. And so far as the art of the monument is concerned, let me assure you that I am not going to inflict upon you one of those cut and dried histories of Memorial Art that start with Cleopatra and wind up somewhere around Theda Bara! (Laughter)

No, I want to reach out and beyond that sort of thing, if I can. I want to talk to you a little while about the mission of beauty in our cemeteries. I want to start with the fundamental idea that the cemetery is a vital civic institution with a vital mission of the LIVING, not alone the dead! That the cemetery is not a mere utility, that beauty is not the mere adornment of a utility; and that the monument is something infinitely more than a mere vehicle of commerce!

I want to put over one dominant thought, that it is our mission and the mission of beauty in our cemeteries to so fuse and direct art sentiment and reverence that our cemeteries will not only reflect, but that they will play a part in shaping the moral and spiritual aspirations of the community! I want to do this because I believe that it is through beauty and beauty alone, whether it be in art or religion that man will ever penetrate the veil of that eternal mystery "where God in Man is one with Man in God!"

And so my theme is the quest of beauty; my text is more art and less stone; and my topics will be the function of planting the function of regulations governing stone-work and the function of architectural design in the achievement of our objective. My arguments will be built on the one premise that the great and only obstacle to the quest of beauty in our cemeteries is the congestion of stone-work and that the congestion of stone-work is not only a detriment to the cemetery beautiful but that it is a menace to the art of the monument as well. In my helpless way, I will try to draw my arguments from the slides.

(At this point the lights were extinguished and Mr. Leland's discussion of the slides could not be recorded by the convention stenographer. The lecturer spoke extemporaneously throughout his address and no notes being available, a digest of the topics covered is here given.)


The sixty or more views were grouped into three divisions,-General Planting for the Cemetery, Individual Lot Planting, and slides illustrating Current Tendencies in the Art of the Monument.

In the first group Mr. Leland showed several views illustrating vistas in the Harrisburg Cemetery. Describing the roadway of wildwood that leads to one entrance of the cemetery he made an appeal for more natural beauty and less man-made art, for "more God and less Man in our cemeteries”.  By way of contrast, he followed this appeal with a slide showing an old section of the Harrisburg Cemetery immediately beyond the wild-wooded road. Complimenting Mr. Barnes for his remarkable achievements in relieving the congestion of stonework in this older part of the grounds, Mr. Leland said that the natural beauty of the Harrisburg cemetery had gained for the superintendent. Mr. Barnes, a well earned reputation as a naturalist and nature lover and that the congestion of stone which he inherited from a previous generation had given him also somewhat of a reputation as an "anti-stoneman" contrasting the old sections of the grounds with the new lawn-plan areas.


Mr. Leland touched upon the elements of effect in cemetery landscapes, attributing the major principles to the constructive work of the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents. Contrasting the European and American cemeteries, with a series of slides, he extolled the achievements of the American lawn plan, closing this phase of his discussion with a slide which paid tribute to the memory of Adolph Strauch, the centennial of whose birth had just passed:

In Memoriam
Adolph Strauch
August 30, 1822
April 25, 1883

Father of the American Lawn Plan Cemetery; his vision, ideals and achievements have exercised an international influence and his life will ever be a source of inspiration to all men in his field who sense the larger mission of their calling.

The second group of slides, on Individual Lot Planting, opened with a series of views selected to illustrate the point that the lawn-plan alone was not sufficient to insure a beautiful cemetery and to relieve inevitable stone-work, that the lawn-plan was a means and not an end The views contrasted lawn-plan sections in which the monuments were relieved and un-relieved by individual lot plantings. Mr. Leland supplemented his argument with a slide quoting the late James Currie as follows:

“. . . .Deciduous and evergreen shrubs; dwarf conifers liberally and judiciously interspersed, and artistically arranged are invaluable accessories in disguising or softening the bald and often harsh effect of obtrusive stone structures, and enhancing the beauty and harmony of some beautiful and artistically designed monument."
The late James Currie
Courtesy of "Park & Cemetery"

Followed then a series of slides illustrating the efficacy of individual lot planting in relieving congestion of stone-work and in beautifying plots.  The subjects ranged from simple headstones to imposing mausoleums.  The symbolism of planting and examples of good composition in harmonizing the planting with the memorial were shown. Before and after effects were illustrated by numerous slides. Mr. Leland appealed for the adequate endowment of planting on individual lots maintaining that foresighted designers of memorials today were advising their clients to include proper planting and endowment in the total appropriation for a memorial.  With the beautiful Olmstead plot in Harrisburg Cemetery as an example, he showed how the resourceful designer and architect can cooperate with the cemetery authorities in reclaiming and utilizing steep embankments for burial plots of singular beauty, a far more intelligent expenditure of money and labor than applies to the average mausoleum, he said. Mr. Leland advocated a movement to demand much larger plots surrounding mausoleums, maintaining that it was poor taste and poor judgment for lot owners to expend large sums for stone and little or nothing for plots, and that the results were no less harmful to the cemetery than they are to the builders of mausoleums.  He illustrated the unhappy effects resulting from the "tenement row" placing of such structures, arguing for more isolation and the placing of such buildings against natural screens such as bills and mass plantings.  Among the many other topics included in this group of slides Mr. Leland considered several methods by which the designer of memorials can save a beautiful vista in the cemetery.

Coming to the third and last group, the lecturer showed slides illustrating the consequences of laxity in the regulation of stone-work and their effect upon both the cemetery and the art of the monument. He showed a slide quoting the following opinion from the writings of the late James Scorgie.
"Forty years ago, it looked like an endless conflict between the forces of selfishness, ignorance and prejudice, and those of culture and regulation. I can see not only a vast improvement, but a public opinion behind that improvement that insures for permanence."
-The late James C. Scorgie
Courtesy of "Cemetery Handbook"

With logical arguments he appealed for more and better regulations governing stone-work,-not less, and he illustrated the desirability of such rules from the designer's point of view. Briefly touching upon the controversial "grass-marker" Mr. Leland maintained that the objective of the grade marker was beyond all criticism and that the only objection was one of personal taste. He expressed preference for the marker p1aced not more than four inches above grade, explaining that his criticism of the grade-marker was that it lacked definition around the edges in consequence of overgrowing grass. He illustrated his argument with slides but qualified his opinion by observing that the subordination of the marker was so vital that either method had much in its favor. By means of numerous slides he showed the efficacy of certain rules and regulations restricting stone-work notably in the area of monuments, the use of ledgers and kindred subjects. He explained a new rule that Woodlawn Cemetery in New York has recently adopted, one that regulated the superficial area of a monument. This rule is to be considered in a special article in PARK & CEMETERY. Mr. Leland also showed various methods employed by designer in attaining individuality of design through adaptation. He closed his forty minutes of discussion with a review of current tendencies in design, placing emphasis upon the so-called formal garden themes.  (Lights turned on)

I am afraid that I have rather superficially covered the subject. In conclusion I would like to suggest just one more thought. People often say to me. "Leland, I don’t see how you can like your business, this business of designing tombstones all the time!" And I daresay in your work you frequently hear similar facetious remarks of this kind. Now I am frank to tell you I do not like the "monument business", the "business" of selling monuments. I do not love a work that brings me in constant association with sorrow and suffering. No, I do not like the "monument business!"  But thank God in common with a great many of my contemporaries, I can and I do love the ART that makes it possible for me to transform a rough hewn block of stone into a thing of significance, soul and beauty! I do love the Art of the Monument!

And you men and you women - you cannot love the funeral aspects of your profession,-however little contact many of you may have with this phase of your work, - you cannot love this association with grief, sorrow and suffering. But you can and you do love the larger mission of your cal1ing!  -The service that makes it possible for you to create beauty and tranquility out of chaos and despair!  -You can and you do love the work, the service that through the inspiration of your great association makes it possible, in the words of Mr. Currie, not only to reflect but to shape the moral and spiritual aspirations of the community. You CAN LOVE this, the larger mission of your calling!

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 37th Annual Convention
Harrisburg, PA
August 20, 21, 22 and 23, 1923