Contests and their Relation to Properties in Smaller Communities

Date Published: 
September, 1940
Original Author: 
Jack McKinnon
Erie, Pennsylvania
Original Publication: 
1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers' Guide

The subject under discussion in this symposium, the problems of the cemetery in the smaller community, might better be stated "How to make Our Community cemetery-conscious with the least possible expense."

We, who are directing cemeteries in smaller communities, must realize that the answer to our problem, since we operate on a limited budget demands more ingenuity and originality than the larger cemetery with its more extensive funds.

If our property has been established for many years it is unfortunately taken for wanted as a part of the background of the community. If it is a new project, the general attitude of the masses is that we must be a group of "no goods" just trying to "wheedle" money out of poor John Q. Public.

Typical of the great thinking capacity of the masses is the reaction we have had from numerous families in Erie. I am managing Lakeside Cemetery there, a property of great natural beauty that has been in existence for forty-five years. Now that we have taken over the property and are in the midst of a progressive development program we find that some folks want to wait to see if this plan "goes over" or if this is just one of those "new-fangled ideas."

Unfortunately with many of us, who have been established in a com¬munity for some length of time, our thinking relative to our own particu¬lar situation is colored by a constant association with that one cemetery. We mentally reach a sort of stagnation point - when it seems almost impossible to present our subject from some new interesting angle. Because we think and talk our property morning, noon, and night we are under the erroneous impression that everyone in the community knows our cemetery intimately. If only that were true! I have tried to keep uppermost in my mind my own experience with cemeteries prior to join¬ing forces with this modern crusade. I lived in a community of some 60,000 souls, to me and my family there was only one cemetery in the city - we knew there were others, the names of these other properties were familiar but that was the extent of our familiarity. I know it would have been a distinct shock to the managers of those cemeteries, after all their efforts, to know that hundreds of families were no different from my own.

Why did such a condition exist - these other cemeteries were good properties - well kept - fairly well managed. My only answer is they did not bring the cemetery to us-they did not excite our curiosity-they allowed us to forget their very existence - we took them for granted ¬to us they held no important place in the realm of the sun. An ex¬tremely important part of our job is to make our cemetery interesting enough and talked about enough to arouse the curiosity of the public to the point of driving out to our properties to see what the devil all this fuss is about.

As kids we have all gone through the castor oil stage. At my own home that was always a screaming ordeal. When people finally learned to disguise this "bane of childhood" in odd concoctions, screaming time was cut to a minimum. That same principle is true today. People still hate to be told what is good for them; however, if they can be sold our idea indirectly, they pat themselves on the back for having had the fore¬sight to prepare for their families in advance of need.

One of the reasons for the success of showing moving pictures to church groups is that we convey, our idea, to the people, when they are in a relaxed state of mind. In that same category of indirect salesmen are numerous types of good competitions and special services. Intelli¬gently handled, contests can give us a tremendous amount of favorable publicity that will arouse the interest of a large cross-section of people within our communities. Any contest should be so planned that the participants, will of necessity, visit our cemeteries. It invariably will attract a sizeable group who have either never been in or have not visited the cemetery for years. Isn't that all we can ask of any form of publicity? A dignified, well-planned contest takes the cemetery out of the staid position it has always held within the community. It creates the feeling that the cemetery takes active participation in the life of the city.

A precept for any successful contest is to make the group involved m the contest of primary importance and the cemetery itself secondary. Our experience has proven that newspapers are quite willing to cooperate with us in regard to a contest involving different civic groups, even though they had been reticent in directly publicizing some garden or development plan we had in mind.

Finally, and of prime importance, a contest makes the public conscious of our existence.

In arranging a competition to be sponsored by the cemetery, there are a number of general rules worth following.

The spirit of competition is more important than the amount set aside for prizes. From three to seven prizes comprising a total expendi¬ture of from $25 to $50 has proven adequate incentive.

The age of the group that you are appealing to is relatively unimpor¬tant, since the families naturally become involved if the subject-matter appeals to minors.

Very definitely the contest should be planned so that the results of such competition would be usable later by the cemetery.

Be certain your approach to the contest does not smack too much of commercialism. Always keep foremost the value to the group involved. The dignity of our service to people must be kept in mind as the yard¬stick for the possible success of any contest.

Make either the contest itself - or the results of it - bring people to the cemetery.

In your publicity and literature put out relating to the contest keep two ideas always foremost - originality of approach and fresh sparkling copy can do much to arouse public interest.

I will try to give you, in a rather sketchy form, a number of good possible contests. Frequently, as I stated in the beginning, your perspective becomes clouded through too constant association. An Essay Contest stimulates wide interest in your property; and, at the same time, is a fine source from which to glean new angles in presenting your cemetery.

This type of competition offers a challenge to a wide variety of people of all ages. To write intelligently on the subject people, of necessity, must visit the cemetery.

In most communities you will find the newspapers willing to publish the prize essays.

Excerpts from the better essays can make a very effective mailing piece. Here are a number of suggested subjects to use for such a contest:

1. Blank Cemetery, a Civic Institution
2. Why Blank Cemetery Appeals to Me
3. Blank Cemetery, A Living Inspiration
4. Blank Cemetery, Truly a Garden of Memories

If we can take advantage of a general hobby or temporary fad we have the basis for a successful competition. The Camera fan today is a growing army in search of new fields to conquer. Every community has a surprising number of these addicts - to say nothing of our own group here today. In preparation, for launching such a contest next spring at Lakeside, I have checked its possibilities thoroughly. As a result of this survey my enthusiasm for it grows. The sizeable number of possible contestants, the good shots that will result from such a competition, the unlimited uses for these pictures and the fact that people are impressed when they see others frequently taking pictures of the property, all adds up to a most valuable contest.

Here are some helpful hints that may assist you to plan a similar competition.

Your community has in it a number of active camera clubs. It is also possible that the High Schools in your city have such an organization. I plan upon contacting these groups, personally presenting the plan of the contest.

Write and have printed an interesting announcement including in it the rules governing the contest. This piece can be given to members of the camera clubs and can be sent to your lot owners. You will find all of the photographic supply stores more than willing to use them as a stuffer in each envelope of prints made for their customers.

A number of items can be placed in the newspapers -- announcement and follow-up articles.

The general rules and regulations can be copied almost verbatim from the national photographic contests - copies of which can be had at your photographic supply store.

Make a group of window display cards announcing the contest - the supply stores will again cooperate by putting them in their windows.

Plan the contest to cover a three-month period through the spring and summer.

We plan using the following prize set-up:

(1) $20.00 (3) $7.50 (5) $2.50
(2) $15.00 (4) $3.00 (6 & 7) $1.00

Most amateurs with their own enlarging equipment can make 5"x7" prints. Be sure to specify in your rules on the contest that participants submit un-mounted, glossy prints 5"x7" or larger. If you do not mention un-mounted prints, some of the art work of entries would possibly take prizes in a surrealist art exhibit. The glossy print is; of course, necessary for reproduction.

An extremely important rule of the contest should read as follows:

"All prints submitted become the property of Blank Cemetery to be used at their discretion,"

The newspapers will print the winning pictures if the cemetery will pay for the cost of cuts.

Your larger supply stores will be willing to exhibit the pictures. Another splendid spot for exhibiting is the Public Library. The first showing of the results of the competition should be at the Cemetery, in possibly an open-air exhibit, similar to the P.W.A. art exhibits in New York City. There, by the way, is one good idea that can be credited to the New Deal.

The possible uses of the prize-winners and better pictures are too lengthy to cover at this time.

If you are fortunate enough, in your particular situation, to have many old trees scattered through your property you are in a fine position to operate a contest that can have lasting effects. I refer to the possibility of playing up the idea of your cemetery as a Bird Sanctuary. In Riverview Burial Park in Lancaster we had such a situation. We operated there a Bird House Contest, sponsored by the Boy Scouts of America, with excellent results. Here is how we approached and operated the contest.

The most important factor is to get complete cooperation from the Chief Scout Executive. Having been a scout, during the World War, I am familiar with their desire to find worthwhile projects for the boys to work on. The approach must be from the standpoint of the interest to the boys and the value of a bird sanctuary to the city.

The best time to hold such a competition with the scouts is during the winter when their activities are at a minimum. We held ours from January first to March fifteenth.

Our prize set-up consisted of: 1st - Complete Boy Scout uniform or a week at scout camp; 2nd - A week at camp; and 3rd - The official Poncho. In addition to the individual prizes we offered a prize to the troop turning in the best group of houses - the prize was the troop flag or the American Flag. Our total prize cost was $25.00.

We sent an announcement of the contest to the complete list of Scout¬masters - this can be had from the Chief. This was followed up with a form letter once a month and, finally, a personal phone call ten days before the closing date.

I would suggest your writing the articles for the newspapers but allow the Scout office to handle the placing of the articles with their regular publicity.

In addition to this we wrote a series of articles for the Scout bulletin. In writing these articles, remember you must keep in mind the fact that you are writing from the viewpoint of boys, from ten to sixteen years of age.

We chose as the judges of this contest the present and past president of the Bird Club and the Chief Scout Executive.

At the completion of the contest after the judging had taken place we exhibited the houses at the cemetery over two week-ends. Announcements in the paper and a postal card sent to a selected list of people built up our attendance at the exhibit. Here is the copy we used on the card of announcement:


YOU'VE heard of PWA, FHA and AAA. BSA - means Boy Scouts of America. Housing Exhibit - means you are cordially invited to inspect the results of a Contest the boys have been in - building bird houses to be placed in Riverview Burial Park.

You will be impressed by the ingenuity and cleverness of the Scouts in building these bird homes. They range from one-room bungalows to small villages that will appeal to the most particular of birds.

SATURDAY and Sunday, March 18 and 19, and March 25 and 26, the houses will be on display just within the entrance of Riverview on South Duke at Ann Street. The Scouts will welcome your inspection.

There were eighty-some houses submitted in the contest, many of which were very cleverly built. Today every one of those houses has a tenant there in the cemetery. You can be sure the families of the boys that built those houses have a warm spot in their hearts for that particular cemetery.

I am sorry that the time allotted me will not allow me to go into further detail in regard to the operation of these numerous contests. Although they demand a lot of work our experience has proven them to be one of. the most inexpensive methods of accomplishing the great major problem in cemetery management - namely, arousing public inter¬est in your property, making people feel that your cemetery is an integral part of the life of the community, and most important of all, bringing, them to your property to see what there is about it that makes their neighbors ask, "Have you seen what they are doing out at Blank Cemetery?”

Mr. Chairman, I have said very little in this paper relative actually to the direct subject. Because of that, I would like to agree with Mr. Sparks on one remark he made. My connection in this business has always been in cities of between 30,000 and 60,000 population, up until just a very few months ago. Coming to these meetings and contacting men who are operating much larger properties, I have found that practically all the ideas that they have been using in those properties were applicable to cemeteries regardless of the size of the cemetery. We don't work them necessarily the same way but we use the principle. And I feel the principles I am speaking of here will work any place and it doesn’t make any difference whether it is a cemetery in a community of 20,000 population or over a million population.

From the publication:
“1940-1941 Cemetery Handbook & Buyers’ Guide”
ACOA 11th Annual Convention & Exposition
Hotel Statler, Buffalo, New York
September 8-11, 1940