Sources of Income Open to a Cemetery

Date Published: 
August, 1925
Original Author: 
Charles W. M. Fitz
West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Original Publication: 
AACS Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention

There are in the United States two monthly Magazines SYSTEM and MOTOR devoted to business and each month they both have articles by business men on the methods of accounting and methods they have found successful in obtaining custom. There is also in each Magazine a red hot story of a successful strategy whereby some large contract was obtained or a good customer recovered by the head of the firm who showed the boys how to do or a story by the cub salesman who thought it all out by himself: Oh! The story is beautiful and the method of obtaining customers succeeds so well, but THEY DON'T WORK FOR ME! And so I may present to you sources of income which succeeds so well at my Cemetery but may be of no use to you.

In displaying to you the sources of income that appear to me open to a Cemetery I expect only to speak of those which relate to the operation of a Cemetery and do not include ordinary farming or market garden operations for at West Laurel Hill Cemetery there are no sources of income which are not directly applicable to any Cemetery. West Laurel Hill Cemetery Greenhouse sells nothing outside the Cemetery. Anyone can run a Greenhouse; anyone can be a merchant for anything and a Cemetery can grow and market potatoes or spinach or any farm product—it can hire its gardeners out to care for private places as West Laurel Hill Cemetery has often been solicited by its lot holders to do (but never has allowed) but all of these sources of income are outside the scope of this article, as they are open to anyone—but legitimate sources of income for a Cemetery are those open only to a Cemetery.

The sources of income open to a Cemetery as I see it may be put under twelve heads and several sub-heads:
Second-Persistent Advertising
Third-Psychological Salesmanship
Fourth-General Good condition of Cemetery
Fifth-Sales of Burial Rights
(Lot sales)
(Single Graves)
(Community Mausoleums
(Crematory & Columbarium)
Sixth-Inculcation of the idea that the Cemetery in which is his lot is HIS Cemetery rather than the Cemetery of the selling Company.
Seventh-Institution (and addition to it from each sale) of a fund the income from which shall maintain the Cemetery.
Eighth-The institution and inculcation of individual ENDOWMENT of the individual lot holders own lot:
Ninth-Burial Charges
Receiving Tomb Charges
Rental of Special Mausoleums instead of use of Receiving Tomb
Charges for digging graves and usual attention at a funeral
Charges for special grave structures
Charges for grave and dirt pile decoration and use of tents, etc.
Removal charges from grave to grave or as ordered.
Tenth-Income from construction of foundations and work connected therewith, as corner post holes and derrick guy line posts.
E1eventh-Greenhouse work
Bouquets, cut flowers and floral designs
Christmas designs and decorations
Faster and Memorial Day floral requirements
Planting Graves
Sodding and grading
Special trees    
Special yearly care of lots and
Talking up endowments:

In presenting to you after twenty-seven years of Cemetery work the sources of income that appear to me open to a Cemetery, I expect only to speak of those which relate to a Cemetery and do not touch the farming operations which may be proper for the outlying or undeveloped parts.

First. Courtesy-I put courtesy and a spirit of interest in everyone coming to the Cemetery as one of the best sources of income a Cemetery can have—in the early days of West Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Yes! In the very early days when West Laurel Hill Cemetery was so far from the haunts of men that anyone could be excused for saying “Where is it at? I mean in the years 1869 to 1876. The Secretary at the City Office was a man who was courtesy itself; Listen to you, hear all about your life and remember it!! and yet he was always putting the Cemetery where the talker remembered it—Did his hours spent with aunt Jane and cousin Mary pay? Yes. They paid. By courtesy I do not mean an outward overflow of hand shaking and what I may call palaver, but that indescribable something which bespeaks interest in you. No matter if it is a child—no matter if it, is the poorest owner of a single grave—the child or the poorest owner of a single grave may have the word to say to some wealthy person "Go to West Laurel Hill Cemetery." Yes!! I see you say that is a low reason for courtesy-true!! But you want to see behind the scenes and I am showing you. I know whereof I speak—indeed, I have known of people once poor to become rich and the warmth of the courtesy shown them when poor made them a client, ah! That's a word!! Made them a client when rich.

Second. Persistent Advertising. Where—When—How. At West Laurel Hill persistent advertising through the last forty years has been by a two or three line ad in one or two daily newspapers and by a small pamphlet scattered broadcast over the city from the City Directory by mail—it pays—in one particular case the lady who bought a $500.00 lot told us she had thrown our pamphlet in the ash barrel and then, the next day, fished it out again. Again, and most important of all, West Laurel Hill Cemetery advertises by the persistent bombardment three times a year of lot holders and all whose names and addresses it is possible to obtain connected with lot holders; you come to our office and ask to see the lot or grave of John Smith—at once or as opportunity offers we get your name and address and relationship to John Smith and send you advertising matter three times a year.

Third. Physiological Salesmanship: What is it-Well! It is just the reverse of the psychological purchase of a horse. When you are psychologically purchasing a horse, you can see more defects in that horse than you can find after you purchase him—when you sell physiologically, you are weighing every point of the customer for that inkling of how high he will go—It is not his clothes; it is not the paint on his auto—it may be a sigh—it may be a hesitation as you walk by a lot—it is feeling the pulse of the prospect and at last perhaps shooting far ahead of his supposed mark so as to back gracefully down—it is saying—this lot is $15,000.00 dollars and noting an indescribable delay—perhaps be says to his wife—"How will that suit you Mother"!! The tone is enough—after that if you look at another lot you say, "It is not as good as your lot" clearly meaning the $15,000.00 lot. What is Psychological Salesmanship—it is so hard to tell—I give it up. You can cultivate it and never know you have it.

Fourth. General Good Condition of Roads and Lawns: Of course the appearance of the Cemetery will influence the prosperity of the Cemetery but there is often a neatness and evidence of care although all the grass may not be cut to hand mower shortness and the condition of roads and edging may vary in accordance with the locality; but neatness and evident care of the Cemetery are a source of income.

Fifth. Sales of Burial Rights.
Lot Sales
Single Graves
Community Mausoleum
Crematory and Columbarium

In most cemeteries the greater part of revenue from Lot Sales and in some communities the income from Single Graves is a source worthy of consideration but in Philadelphia I know of no Cemetery where it is worth considering and in my own Cemetery, West Laurel Hill, only 387 single graves have been disposed of in forty-eight years.

In regard to income from Community Mausoleums, Crematory and Columbarium, I am not in a position to speak as my own Cemetery has none and there is only one small community Mausoleum in or near Philadelphia and only one small Crematory and Columbarium which are under a society rather than in connection with a cemetery although the Society does own a few acres and sells lots. It may not be generally known that the Community Mausoleum was widely exploited as early as 1875, the idea then being, however, that the building would be in the built up portion of the city or on a lot in the city, entirely unconnected with the Cemetery.

Sixth. Inculcation of the idea that the cemetery in which is his lot is his cemetery rather than the cemetery of the company from whom he bought his lot.

A wise and successful owner of a department store in Philadelphia told people to come in, make yourself at home, the store is yours—but until his time such was not the fashion; the idea has spread until at lunch counters and such places, little watch seems to be kept of what people take. If we can get our lot owners to think of the cemetery as My Cemetery and not as belonging to he West Laurel Hill Cemetery Company—he will be a good missionary for the Cemetery. Some may say that the idea of ownership leads to the claim for privileges which would ride over all reasonable rules and' to read some Cemetery pamphlets it would seem as if the pages should each be headed with the good old German Sign "Es ist verboten".

Of course, the guiding hand must be there and the restraining and guiding must be done through our first heading COURTESY which is ever working from prospect of a sale to the grandchildren who may, and often do, endow a lot. And now I must touch on a point which will seem great heresy to many of you and that is that nothing awakens the feeling of affection and a desire to spend money for flowers and care of the lot as does the grave mound. Ah! My fellow members of the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents do not allow yourselves to believe you are true economists from a Cemetery standpoint when you smooth out your lots and destroy the evidence of burial. You are cutting the ground from beneath your feet—you are destroying a perpetual source of income. Trouble!! WHAT IS TROUBLE? You say a grave mound is in the way of your lawn mower—you say a grave mound burns out in summer: But if you will cultivate your lot owners and their sons and their daughters you can get orders to plant and replant the grave mounds and those you can't get orders to plant and replant stand you in good stead to show the awfulness of neglect. My friends, a thousand grave mounds mean several hundred dollars profit a year when you work it in the right manner—WORK!! Oh yes work—perhaps our positions would fade away if we did not and do not work. Mrs. Smith says "Look how nice Mrs. Jones' graves look—"I cannot be behind her!!!" This PROFIT on grave mounds will go on for years and will grow and grow.

Seventh. Institution and Maintenance of a fund the income from which will provide for the future care of the Cemetery—this fund to be IN TRUST with a reliable Trust Company and out of the hand's of the changing Cemetery authorities. West Laurel Hill Cemetery has from the first sale of the lot laid away ten per cent of the purchase money to form with like sums from all, other lot sales a Permanent Fund, we call it, income from which is and shall hereafter be applied to the care of the Cemetery, its roads, walks, buildings and appurtenances and, as a matter of fact, as far as it will go to the care of lots. The money so laid away is placed IN TRUST with Trust Companies (Fifty Thousand dollars to one and then Fifty Thousand to another). This fund now amounts, July 1st, 1925, to $350,731.53. The founders of West Laurel Hill did not know who would follow them as managers and were quite aware that a man might be a first class Cemetery manager and a bad financier. So the managers were relieved of all care of the principal of the PERMANENT FUND—the interest and income being paid the Cemetery Company for the care of the Cemetery.

The Permanent Fund for any lot is not added to the selling price but is paid by the Cemetery Company itself as agreed in its deed to the first lot purchaser and with all purchasers after him. As you can see the Permanent Fund is a great source of income to a Cemetery and a little arithmetic will tell you that West Laurel Hill Cemetery with a permanent fund of $350,731.53 will receive within a year at only five percent, an income of $17,536.56 from this source alone.

Eighth. The Institution of Individual Lot Endowments and inculcation of the fact that the lot holders lot should have a fund or endowment placed IN TRUST, the income to be for the upkeep of his property—HIS lot separate from the Cemetery General Fund. In all the States of the United States there are laws against trust in perpetuity except trusts which apply to Cemeteries and the care of cemetery lots. Seeing from the early years of our Republic that the European law of primogeniture held land and money in one family, to the detriment of the general public, our laws forbade such a course and no one can will their estate beyond their grandchildren; grandchildren cannot be denied the right to do as they choose with an estate received from a grandfather—however, our wise lawmakers, seeing every man must be allowed his burial place, and having in their hearts the feeling of us all, yes! Even us Cemetery Superintendents, that the place where our family is buried should be cared for FOREVER, have so shaped our laws that a fund may be left in perpetuity for the care of a Cemetery lot. At West Laurel Hill Cemetery we assiduously cultivate the placing of an endowment (as we call it in distinction from the Cemetery Company's Fund for the Perpetual Care of the Cemetery) for the care of the lot owners' own lot; and so successful is the system that in six months of 1925 we have received as follows:

January, 13 endowments totaling    $20,477.13
February, 7 endowments totaling        3,300.00
March, 12 endowments totaling        7,750.00
April, 10 endowments totaling        2,750.00
May, 10 endowments totaling          11,200.00
June, 18 endowments totaling            7,910.00

And in 1924 there were 107 endowments totaling $59,527.75. We have now 874 endowments totaling $528,891.25 besides hundreds of endowments placed separately with Trust Companies under the Wills of lot owners. If the lot is not endowed before his decease as soon as the lot owner is buried we send the heirs or the heir whom we know best a suggestion for an endowment and follow this suggestion in a proper manner until an endowment is made or the matter fails for the time being-perhaps another burial of a son or daughter of the lot owner will awaken a grandson or granddaughter to create the fund. The endowment when received is placed IN TRUST with the other endowments, all the endowments being lumped into one fund. When interest is paid, the proportional interest due each endowment is placed to its credit in the endowment ledger and each year a bill is rendered against each endowment just as our bills are rendered to our living customers. The West Laurel Hill Cemetery Company and the West Laurel Hill Cemetery Company TRUSTEE FOR ENDOWMENTS are two separate and distinct persons. The Bank account of the endowment income is, of course, a separate and distinct bank account from the Cemetery Company Bank Account. I cannot say too much in regard to ENDOWMENTS as a source of perpetual income to a Cemetery as lifting off the Cemetery Funds the care of lots and steadily producing income from the profit in doing the work required by the ENDOWMENT.

Ninth. Burial Charges:
(a) Receiving Tomb Charges
(b) Rental of Special Mausoleums
(c) Charges for digging graves and usual attention at funeral
(d) Charges for special grave structures
(e) Charges for grave and dirt pile decorations
(f) Charges for use of tent
(g) Removal charges

(a) Receiving Tomb charges after deducting cost of entrance of body and interest on the investment, upkeep and cleaning are not much of a source of income but the Receiving Tomb at West Laurel Hill Cemetery is, nevertheless, a great source of income. Family reasons often make it proper that the final interment should be delayed; for such eases the Receiving Tomb offers a temporary resting place and the Receiving Tomb is a feeder for sales.

(b) In 1911 the West Hill Cemetery Company built three Mausoleums for rent at a cost of $3,000.00 and from the time they were ready for occupancy they have never been vacant, except one at a time for a month; the rental charge is at the rate of $25.00 a month for each Mausoleum, being an income of $900.00 a year on an investment of $3,000.00. In 1921 we built three more of much better quality at $35.00 per month each and they are never vacant—indeed we have had a waiting list—an exchange from the Receiving Tomb being made to a Mausoleum as soon as possible. The construction at these Mausoleums was brought about because a prospective customer wanted to rent nine crypts in the Receiving Tomb so that there might not be anyone near his wife—but the Cemetery Company could not grant this request fearing the crypts might be needed.

(c) The charges for digging graves and usual attendance at funerals are a source of small revenue at West Laurel Hill Cemetery, far smaller on analysts than lot holders suppose—the margin of profit is often a loss as the ground at West Laurel Hill is often stony and men frequently work all night. However, it would seem absurd' not to mention these charges, but in my Cemetery we often write the profit on the ice.

(d) Grave structures as brick graves, whether enameled brick or plain red brick, concrete and brick and all the various structures, including concrete tombs or over boxes, all have a profit for the Cemetery.

(e) Charges for graves and dirt pile decorations in the many and various forms used throughout the country are all sources of profit.

(f) Some cemeteries charge for the use of tent and chairs. West Laurel Hill Cemetery does not charge for a tent; however, a tent is erected without charge in very inclement weather but never for clear winter weather or high wind.

(g) Removal charges might be included under the digging of a grave except that the profit on removal charges is greater per removal than the profit from a grave at the time of a funeral.

Tenth. Income from Construction of Foundations and Work Connected Therewith. In West Laurel Hill Cemetery all excavation and all foundations and exterior walls of vaults below the ground level are done by the Cemetery Company—all foundations are eight feet deep—the depth of a grave—and may of course, be deeper. There is a profit from this work, the percentage varying with the size of the work.

Eleventh. Greenhouse Work:
(a) Bouquets, cut flowers, floral designs
(b) Christmas designs and decorations, Easter and Memorial Day floral requirements
(c) Special yearly care of lots
(d) Sodding and grading
(e) Grave planting
(f) Flower beds
(g) Special trees
(h) Talking up endowments

All the above items at West Laurel Hill Cemetery come under the greenhouse. The greenhouse salesroom and the office are under one roof and it is hard to tell where one begins and the other ends—they lead up to each other. Special yearly care of lots is a heavy item at West Laurel Hill Cemetery; grave planting is a heavy item and flower beds also are an item of profit and the greenhouse work leads up to that important item of which I have spoken before.

Twelfth. Endowments: If I am placing emphasis on endowment of lots—special trust funds whose income is only to be used for the designated lot—it is because, like interest, it is working all the time. The income will continue long after we are dead and not only lift the expense of caring for that lot from the Cemetery, but will give a profit year after year. The solicitation for endowments is going on all the time at West Laurel Hill Cemetery even to the great grandchildren of the original lot holder. The money from a sale soon disappears but the income from an endowment will go on and on.

Gone are the living, but the dead remain
And not neglected, for a hand unseen
Scattering bounty like a summer rain
Still keeps their graves and their remembrance green

From the publication:
AACS - Proceedings of the 39th Annual Convention
Chicago, Illinois
August 24, 25, 26 and 27, 1925