All of my Committal Services are in the Chapel
Some time ago a gentleman passed away in our locality. At the time, his widow was in the hospital. Since she was unable to attend the service, we held the body until she could view the remains of her deceased husband.
The body was held in our rock receiving vault, called "Ivy Rest," which is a little 20 x 20 rock building, well ventilated and insulated, having pipe racks of three tiers on two sides of the building. To make it homelike, beautiful drapes were hung and the floor was covered with a mat of artificial grass. A soft light from a floor lamp illuminated the building.
For the funeral, we placed a tent against this receiving vault. The pallbearers placed the casket in the receiving vault and flowers were banked outside. About a month later, the widow viewed the body and ordered the committal. The family was so impressed that we asked others to hold their committal services in this manner, and it was accepted by a few.
This particular committal took me back to the early days of my childhood when one of my grandparents was laid away in an old cemetery. I remember the pile of clay and the rough open grave, with the casket resting upon two planks set across the opening. I also remember the pallbearers coming forth, gently lowering the casket into the grave.
The thought came to me that even with our modern equipment, spacious tent and automatic lowering device of the present day, some child might carry through life this same picture. It appeared to be an unnecessary grief brought upon the family.
The officers of our company, and I, thought it would be a relief to the family if the committal services were held away from the graveside. We expected a reaction from the older class of, people, but all agreed that it was at least worth a try.
The construction of a mausoleum known as the Rose of Sharon was started in 1940 and was completed in 1942. At one end of the mausoleum, contrasting shades of marble formed a cross, called the Tomb of the Cross. A private family room was available for the mourners.
As we took visitors through the mausoleum, we explained that they could leave the body resting here after a funeral service, and it would be taken to the grave after the family departed. The reaction was terrible at first. Rumors started that we showed the casket only, and gave the body to the State of Iowa for medical purposes; that we had water in the graves and were afraid to let people go to the grave for fear they would see the water.
It has always been our practice to contact the family when a death occurred and this opposition made it all the more necessary for us to call on the family to explain the purpose of the chapel service and ask them to request it from the funeral director. We also asked the pallbearers to stay that they, too, might go to the grave with the body to see it lowered. We have always reported to the family after each funeral and in many cases, found the pallbearers had said they, too, had stayed to see the casket lowered. When the families told us that everything was done wonderfully, we knew the resistance was broken.
We always visit the family before the funeral, to determine the type of service they desire, whether it be military or fraternal. When the funeral procession arrives at the mausoleum, the funeral director escorts the casket to the door, where it is placed upon the carriage to be taken to the front of the mausoleum. The music system is playing softly as the family proceeds to the family room. It is turned down while the pastor gives the committal service, and is turned up again as the family departs.
During a military service, the flag escort stands at attention until the casket passes. As soon as the casket is placed on the carriage, and is taken to the front, the flag bearers follow, go to the front, and form a semicircle around the casket. The pastor is on one side, the commanders of the veterans’ organizations on each side of the casket; the firing squad is outside the building so that the volley is muffled. Taps is sounded by the bugler in the distance, making a very impressive service.
Chapel services are more beautiful and the family is out of the cold of the winter and the rain and heat of the summer. It is a service which no other cemetery in our locality can offer. We have no snow to shovel, no carpet to be laid, no tent to put up. We simply dig the grave, put in the grave lining, and lower the casket.
This service has been so highly accepted that today the tent is put up about six or seven times a year to accommodate certain religious requirements. It is a great saving in labor. It is a nicer service all the way around for the family. When you report to the family after the service, they tell you how pleased they were about it, and how nice it was to leave their loved one among the beautiful flowers and not resting over an open grave.
We are happy to tell you that the many hours of hard work put forth on this project were not in vain, as hundreds of families are now appreciating these chapel committal services.
From the publication:
“1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook”
NCA 21st Annual Meeting
Hotel Schroeder, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
October 18, 19, 20 and 21, 1950