Mid Century Selling Methods and Memorials

Date Published: 
October, 1950
Original Author: 
W.L. Halberstadt
President, Sharon Memorial Park, Charlotte, North Carolina
Original Publication: 
1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook

I would like to clarify the title of my speech this morning. It is misstated. Several years ago the Chairman asked me to give a title for a speech at the convention. It's always difficult for me to do this, but in the current language of several years ago, I said, make it, "It's Later Than You Think." When the program was printed it read, "It may be too late."

Some time last spring our Charlotte Sales Executives Club put on what we call the Piedmont Sales Conference, a meeting of sales executives from all over the North Carolina Piedmont area. They offered a prize for a slogan for that meeting. I won a quart of whiskey with the slogan, "Mid Century Sales, Markets and Methods," not memorials. "Markets and Methods," this is the real title of my speech today. I don't know anything about memorials, if you are thinking about tombstones, at least.

My good friend Parks said to me outside, "I am staying over to listen to your talk; I want to hear you speak on 'memorials'." I said, "Somebody has put up a job on you; that ain't it." You know, I think Howard Ott let me down very badly, getting up here and telling us that his wife had gallstones. Why couldn't she have had gall-bronze instead of gallstones? Imagine a Memorial Park pioneer like Ott permitting an old-fashioned thing like that!

Now this title - "Mid Century Sales." The very first word of it brings to mind we are mid-point of a century that's been very interesting to live in, and some of our lives span back that far.

At the turn of the century I was a fourteen-year-old boy. Now a little mental arithmetic will give you the answer. I will be sixty-five next April. Fourteen years old and I was reading what the kids read at that time, surreptitiously, "literature" that corresponds, I suppose, with the "comic books" that the kids use today. They called them Dime Novels. I don't know why; they only cost a nickel. I am sure Dr. Eaton read them at Liberty, Missouri, because that is Jesse James old stamping grounds, you know, and some of these were about Jesse. Dime Novels. Our parents were scandalized. Stuffing our heads with all the foolish stuff that was in those books! My mother was so opposed to them, I kept them in the barn, didn't dare bring them in the house. Toted them from there to school where I traded for others. There was one series of those Dime Novels that had to do with a fellow named Frank Read, Jr. Some of you oldsters will remember. He was an inventor. He made horseless car¬riages and submarines and airplanes and things like that, and my parents thought that was terrible stuff to stuff my mind with, fantastic crazy contraptions that were out of this world. That was fifty years ago.

One afternoon last summer I got on a plane at New York and the next morning about 6 AM New York time, dropped down at Orley Field in Paris. Just a few hours crossing the Atlantic in one of those "crazy contraptions" that were considered so fantastic fifty years ago that our parents didn't even want us to read about them. That's the kind of world we are living in.
So it is proper, I suppose, at the mid-century mark, to review what is taking place. We are so close to it that we can't appreciate the vastness of the change. Did you ever think about the fact that prior to a little over one hundred years ago nobody ever traveled any faster than a horse could take him? For ten thousand years mankind never improved on the speed of travel. They were plenty smart back in those days too. Then in the early part of the 19th century came the steam engine, the locomotive and the trains and we stepped up our speed many fold, from the speed of a horse to the speed of a train. And then, later, in my own day, in my own home town, the first automobile was made down at Kokomo, Indiana.

With the internal combustion engine applied to the making of automobiles, we stepped up our speed tremendously. The marvelous automotive industry that we are so close to and so familiar with that it doesn't induce any wonder has all come about in your day and mine. Then the airplane. We eat our dinner in New York and our breakfast in Los Angeles, and if we have an early enough dinner, we can even get to Los Angeles and be in bed by midnight. You and I are living in the midst of changes like this. That's the century of which we are in the mid-point now.

I might further point out that prior to one hundred years ago nobody ever sent a message faster than a horse could take it. Some time ago in the Readers' Digest I saw a review story of the old pony express days when back in our grandfather's day by relay of fast horses they carried a message from the Missouri River to California in nine days, and bragged about it. It made the front pages of the newspapers. For thousands of years nobody had ever done it any faster than that. And then came the telegraph and the telephone, and now the magic of radio. You go home tonight and tune in and hear somebody say, "Come in, Tokyo," and a fellow around on the other side of the world is bringing you up to date on the war.

That's the century of which we are at the midpoint. I could go on indefinitely with similar illustrations. I am just speaking of these to remind you that an active minded generation that produced airplanes and automobiles and submarines and radio and phonographs and all of the magic that we are used to today, also made it inevitable that we should eventually do something about the cemetery, because it too had made no progress for thousands of years.

I have visited old cemeteries in Europe, Asia and Africa some that are a thousand, two thousand years old; no one knows how old they are. Our idea of old things in America is quite inadequate. We are, as a nation, so new. This summer after a day's trip down the Rhine, we stopped at the old cultured city of Cologne. They had flags and bunting out getting ready apparently for a celebration that night. I asked what it was all about, and was told that they were celebrating their nineteen hundredth anniversary as a city.

Up in Oslo, Norway, a week or two later, they had flags out; they were celebrating the seven hundredth anniversary of the city. They have a historical background into which to fit the things that are going on in the world today that we do not have in this country. That is the reason they don't get quite so excited about some things as we do here.

No, it is a wonderful century in which we are living, and in this business of ours, the cemetery business, we have witnessed more progress in only a portion of that half-century than has come about in hundreds of years before. You and I have had a part in this, a very enjoyable part for most of us, with some profit, with some reward for the hard work that we have put into it. But I think for the conscientious cemetery man, the greatest compensation is not in the dollars ... We are not discounting that, of course. The workman is worthy of his hire and anyone who develops some better way of doing things, something or some method that contributes to the greater enjoyment and the comforts and the conveniences of life, is entitled to make some money out of it, and apparently the public does not begrudge it.

The greatest compensation to the conscientious cemetery man is the knowl¬edge that he's doing something for the city in which he lives and the people among whom he lives, that he's taking an institution that was traditionally gloomy and depressing, dressing it up in new clothes and making it bright and cheerful, colorful and inviting, taking the "graveyard" that was associated in the public's mind with its grief, its sorrow; that old place out at the edge of town that most of us were so afraid of when we were kids that we went around the other way at night to get home; making it over into a place delightful to visit, not just for those who came to bury their dead but for all the people who love the brightness and color and cheerfulness of landscape gardening and artistic architecture.

"All the world loves a lover," they say. All the world loves a garden too. The garden plan of cemetery design represents a great step forward in the treatment of an old problem, the memorialization of our beloved dead. You and I have a part in that, and we are happy in our work. If incidentally, we make some money out of it, who is to complain? Again I say that the workman is worthy of his hire and the American public always feels that way about it.
There is the danger, of course, that a too-great materialism may creep in; that we may get to depend upon the material too much in the way of reward. That is a danger always present as the new and better things of our day have come about. Aboard that plane, flying across the Atlantic last summer, I had time to do a lot of thinking.

I remembered that during the war Madame Chiang Kai Shek in an address, I think it was at one of our colleges, presented her message under three captions¬- “learning from the past," "living in the present," and "dreaming of the future." As we winged our way across the ocean on that great French Constellation plane, I looked back over nearly thirty years in the cemetery business and tried to assess the lessons learned, tried to apply those lessons to today s problems and make use of them as we "plan the future."

In Paris this summer I again visited the Louvre Museum. There is one particular picture there that I always like to see. Some of the things in the Louvre you are supposed to admire leave me a little flat. I am not educated up to them, I guess. The Mona Lisa is one, and the Venus de Milo, just isn’t my style. Some of those things remind me of what Mark Twain said about classical music. He said, "It's the kind of music you keep listening to in the hope that it will turn into a tune." Some of the world's art treasures don't "turn into tunes" for me. But there's this particular picture that I always go to see. It is by an artist named David. He painted with a lot of color, and I like that. This picture that I am talking about is a very large one, a picture of an historical event-¬"The Crowning of Napoleon." It is a picture of that time when the Little Corporal had come to the zenith of his power. All Europe lay at his feet, and he had assembled here the high brass of Europe, military, ecclesiastical and civil. He wanted to found a dynasty, to perpetuate his power. Right at the last minute of the crowning ceremony the vain Napoleon reached over and, took the crown out of the Pope's hand and put it on his own head. He wasn’t willing to admit that even the head of his church "ranked" him enough to do that thing for him.

The next day over on the other side of the city we visited his tomb, and I could not but remember how few short years intervened between his crowning and his defeat in the field of battle, his fleeing from his enemies, his capture, his imprisonment his death in prison. In this picture I was impressed with the fact that those whose hope of the future rests upon mastery of material things, those who forget that the intangible, the “unseen" forces are those that will continue and endure are in for a rude awakening.

In 1938 we were in Italy and Mussolini was strutting his stuff in a big way about that time, jutting out his chin, making his flamboyant speeches. All of Italy was organized, even the little kids were marching, boys no older than our Boy Scouts in full military apparel, everybody shouting Mussolini’s name and praises. "Viva Mussolini," "Viva il Duce" was written everywhere, on the barns, bridges, warehouses and even on the rocks of the hills. It was, at the high point of the Duce's career. He talked in terms of rebuilding the empire of the Caesars, reviving the glories of Rome in the modern world. The Italians believed it and wildly acclaimed him as only the Latin people can enthuse.

Ten years later - that was two years ago - I visited a filling station at Milan, Italy, the place where they had hanged him, ignominiously hanged him to¬gether with his girl friend, after he was dead, head down. I couldn’t help but remember something St. Paul said once, for we look not at the things that are seen" he said "but at the things that are not seen, for the things that are seen, are temporal, 'but the things that are not seen are eternal." The world has been slow to learn.

The idealism of the memorial park movement will last and last through centuries. The material aspects are subject to change and a too-great "materialism" in our attitude and behavior may react to our disappointment. Last summer we got a car in Munich for an all day trip down into the Bavarian Alps to a little village called Berchtesgarten. That was where the late Mr. Hitler made his "hide-out" to entertain his satellite stooges. This was the place where the "top brass" of Nazism assembled. On reaching the little town we got into a military car-the ordinary car wouldn't pull it-and wound our way up the side of that mountain, clear up to the snow line, and then went through a long tunnel hewn out of solid rock. At the end of the tunnel we got into a spacious elevator and ascended four hundred feet through solid rock and came out at the top the "Eagle's Nest," remember? That was the Holy of Holies of the Hitler cult. As we looked down from there, about half-way down, a group of buildings lay in ruins. This was Ober-Salzburg and here was Hitler's house, and Goring's, Martin Borman's and others of the high brass of Nazism.

This wreckage symbolized the tragic end of this man Hitler, who talked about "a thousand year of German rule" that he was going to impose on the world with his strong right arm, with his preponderance of arms. Now the place where he lived and plotted is just a pile of twisted steel. And that fellow Goring, who promised his people that no foreign airplane would ever cross the German bor¬ders, his house is there too and wrecked even worse than Hitler's.

Later we visited in Southern Bavaria a little town called Oberammergau and sat one day in a great audience of sixty-two hundred people to view the world famous "Passion Play." Two, three, sometimes four times a week such an audi¬ence assembled.

Who were they? Well, they were people of every color, race and creed. People from all over the world and from the islands of the sea, coming there in almost countless thousands and sitting in an all-clay session . . . you go at 8: 30 in the morning, you get out at noon, you come back at 2 o'clock and get out at 6 ... what is it you are looking at? The dramatization of the last week of the earthly life of a man who failed, a man who was defeated, executed, two thousand years ago. His enemies overcame Him and His friends deserted Him and it looked like His whole program had crashed.

But here to this obscure village, two thousand years later, they were coming from the far parts of the world to pay honor to His memory, to a man who talked about brotherhood, about "getting along" together, about sitting down and adjusting their differences on the basis of "brotherhood," loving each other. Love doesn't commit murder. Love doesn't steal. Love is not dominated by greed and avarice. Love doesn't do any of these things that rack and harass the world today. He said that in love people ought to get along together. But the Hitlers and Mussolinis and Stalins have scoffed at this as a "slave religion." With sword in hand they have sought dominion over others despite His warning that "They that take the sword shall perish with it."

Another thing that happened on that trip! We visited a church in Rome, called San Pietro de Vinculi, "St. Peter of the Chains." Wandering through it I saw a great heroic size, magnificent sculpture of a great character whose name was Moses. And I thought, "Where have I seen that before," and then I remembered at a Memorial Park builder named Eaton had been over there was so impressed with Michelangelo's Moses that he had made an official authoritative copy and brought it back and put it in his Memorial Park in Los Angeles. To do what? To make money out of it? No. The influence of that great masterpiece of Michelangelo erected in Forest Lawn will through all the years contribute to the culture of his city, inspire the millions who visit his park.

Then later in the old city of Florence, in Tuscany, a city that was well and beneficially ruled by the Medici Family for seven hundred years, we stood on a hill overlooking the city, and here I saw another great white statue, the original" "David" of Michelangelo, and I remembered that man Eaton had been here too had a copy made of this world-famed masterpiece and brought back to Forest Lawn. A gravestone? No. Monument? Tombstone? No. "David" was to have a place in Eaton's outdoor museum of art that he was assembling here in his world-renowned "God's Acre." And again later on the trip we were up in the industrial city of Milan. Here we visited an old monastery, on whose restored walls we viewed the great painted masterpiece of Leonardo da Vinci. Not very interesting because it was so faded now. Again I remembered where I had seen that too. That same man Eaton had been here too and had this marvelous "Last Supper" reproduced authentically in a fadeless medium of art glass, brought it back, and installed it in his cemetery, his modern Memorial Park, Forest Lawn in Los Angeles.

We heard that man Eaton speak the other night, in this room, and I am a little afraid some of the hearers might misinterpret some of the things that he said. He discussed and expanded, you know the subject of how to "comb" out a few more dollars here and there in the operation of our cemeteries. Now I happen to know, and you too know that Mr. Eaton hasn't been so darn interested in dollars back in the past, as his address might imply. Do you know what I con¬cluded about it? That he was mainly trying to encourage some of those cemetery operators present who in recent times and due to higher operating costs have not been getting enough dollars to get along with, trying to say to you, "Here's some unexplored sources of legitimate revenue where you can render additional services that the public needs and thus make an extra buck or two to get you out of the red and keep you alive and in business."

I think it was to Mr. Eaton a matter of encouraging those who were a little discouraged because of the balance sheet they had last seen on their own operations. Whether Mr. Eaton makes dollars or not, we know he has built on the West Coast an institution internationally known, a place of cultural, dynamic influence, a wholesome civic enterprise which will endure for generations after his name is forgotten. Generations yet unborn will pass through the portals of the Forest Lawn Cemetery and be thrilled and inspired, their lives made brighter and their sorrow made easier because this man embodied such ideals and idealism about this new way of memorializing the dead.

I am mentioning Mr. Eaton because he is the most conspicuous among us. He has done it in a bigger way. I think he's had some advantage in the "Holly¬wood" setting out there, but he's done something that in a lesser way you and I can do anywhere in America. Some of us have been doing it. I have had a part in the organization, development and sale of a great many cemeteries.

I would like to interpolate here that if you have found you have made mis¬takes, don't get discouraged. I made them all ahead of you all the mistakes in the book.

So, if we are not perfect, let's not get too concerned about our mistakes, and remember this-that back through the years I have often heard Mr. Eaton speak about the mistakes that he too made. He didn't make as many as I did, or else he's covered them up better. Through those years we were experimenting. We were operating under very different conditions in times.

Now, that’s what’s the matter with some men who are in the cemetery business. The years have brought changes in our problems, our opportunities and in our obligations.

Turning our thoughts for a moment to the specific subject of this speech, let us consider our Market. The market for cemetery property is of course coextensive with the population. Someone asked me yesterday how big my city of Charlotte is, One hundred thirty thousand, according to the last census. Then they asked how many Negroes live there? Forty thousand, and here I can see the questioner was doing mental arithmetic so I beat him to the point and said, "I also own the Negro cemetery," so if you are a little worried about losing part of your market, that is one of the things you can do get over into servicing that market too.

Yes, the market for cemetery property is co-extensive with the population and it is always surprising to find out in any kind of a survey how large a percentage of the population is currently unsupplied. While we were operating West View in Atlanta a leading minister of the South, Dr. Louis Newton, lived right across the street from me. I asked him down to speak to our salesmen one time. We have the kind of sales meeting, by the way, that a preacher can listen in on. Which reminds me that one time in Washington one of our sales ladies brought a very cultured woman; a prospect in to see me. The lady wanted to talk to the head man for some reason. Sitting at my desk, I was discussing the business with her, and along about the middle of my talk this prospect broke in and said, "Why did you quit preaching?" Before I could answer, the sales lady spoke up and said, "He didn't; you ought to come to the sales meetings sometimes." I know I sound like a preacher sometimes. The Book I quote so much (the Bible) is the greatest sales manual in the world. Back twenty-five years ago and more (in preacher days) I interpreted that Book in terms of getting to Heaven, wear¬ing a crown, growing some wings, and walking on the golden streets. But I have discovered through the years that the Bible has to do with everything that concerns us, every day of our life. The greatest sales literature in the world is there at your service. I recommend it to you.

Well, as I started to say, we had Dr. Newton over and he said to my sales force that morning, "You know I probably go out to West View Cemetery more than you do. I have had as many as five funerals in your cemetery in one day. I know it is a beautiful place; I know all of these physical facts you use in interesting buyers, but I know something else that you tell people and I know it to be true, terribly true, and that is that it is a terrible thing for a family to wait until the hour of need to make a decision about cemetery property. I, as the pastor of such people, go through their experience with them so frequently and I know how embarrassing it is financially and otherwise. I had a case like that," he said, "about a month ago. A family in my church who has little money had a death and I had to come in and counsel with them, even had to assist them financially, and it impressed itself so much on me that at my Board of Deacons meeting that night I got up and I said to these men, 'I want to ask you a question; it has nothing to do with the church's business.' (I told them about that family that did not have any cemetery property in their desperate need.) 'I want to ask you men tonight, forty-four of you, how many of you men, if that thing happened in your family next week, how many of you have a place for burial in Atlanta that you would be willing to use?' I said, 'I don't want to hear about a churchyard down in rural Georgia.' I said, 'You would want to bury where you live; how many of you have it all settled?' And you know, out of forty-four men present there were four hands went up. My church is a rich church. These 44 men were bankers, professional and business men, yet only four out of 44 were prepared in this vital matter."

Markets - why we haven't touched the market yet. I have been selling in Charlotte ten years and I have done right well. And yet there are more people living in Charlotte today without a cemetery lot than there were when I started ten years ago. The population increase in terms of families has exceeded all the sales that I and my competitors have made. Most of the towns that you represent would show the same record. This market not only grows by people coming in from the outside, but by growth from within. Every time there is a wedding there is a nucleus of a new home, a new family unit, a user of your product.

So much, and a great deal more, can be said about our market. A great deal already has been said this morning about methods, so well said in fact that I will not try to add anything. The market we face is a challenge. The methods by which we meet that challenge are many and varied. The men who have developed these successful marketing methods have no secrets. They gladly share with you their every successful idea.
One more thought before, I close, about the market. I think I told here of a visit I once made to Palestine, One afternoon while driving from Jerusalem to Jericho, along an ancient road this thing happened. About half-way to Jericho the professional guide (the Dragoman, they call them), pointed out the foun¬dation ruins of an old building and said, "That is the traditional location of the inn to which the Good Samaritan took the injured man he found along here." You will recall the story in the parable. Jesus was talking as he frequently did about "loving our neighbor." One of the hearers spoke up that day and said, "Lord, who is my neighbor?" He didn't answer him directly; but told this story about the man journeying on this highway who fell among thieves who robbed him and beat him and left him for dead. A priest came along (it wasn't a Cath¬olic priest; they didn't have Catholics in those days) and beheld the plight of the injured man but he couldn't be bothered.

Then the Levite passed along the road and he couldn't be bothered either. Then this Samaritan came long, a man from whom the injured Jew couldn’t expect any help, but unexpectedly the Samaritan came over and gathered him up, ministered to him and took him to this inn. He even paid the injured man's bill at the inn and told the innkeeper if it wasn't enough, when he came along again he would pay the rest of it, He must have been a "traveling man." With that story Jesus answered the question, "Who is my neighbor?" "Your neigh¬bor," says the story "is anybody in need of a service that you have the power and the opportunity to render. All of this leads up to an answer for that eternal and everlasting question of salesmen.

Who is my prospect? He is any and every family in your community in need of that "protection" which before need ownership of cemetery property renders. That usually averages seventy, eighty percent of the people in your community who have not settled this matter yet. They are prospects; they are a challenge to you. In them a job is cut out for you. You could do them no greater kindness than to lead them into a pre-need purchase of cemetery property against the day of need. There is your prospect field. There is your potential market. How are you going to get to it?

My watch says I haven't got time to talk about it now. Somebody said recently that no speech was altogether bad if it was brief enough" and I am afraid this one wasn’t brief enough. I remember, too, the, salesman's prayer: "Lord, fill my mouth with useful stuff and close it when I’ve said enough." We of the top brass of sales management frequently set a very bad example.

I congratulate you on the fact that you are in the business that you are. I have, done other things besides cemetery work. I was once president of a woman’s college; can you imagine that? I taught women logic. If that won't put you m the cemetery business, I don t know what will. Outsiders often think that ours is a depressing sort of business. There is nothing of gloom, nothing of somberness in the prosecution of our work. We have the happy satisfaction every time we sell a lot; every time we sell some mausoleum space that we have rendered that family a service that endures through the whole existence of that family. It may be five years, ten years or twenty years before they ever use the lot, and they will forget our name and our face, but when the time comes when they first use that lot and every time thereafter, they are going to be profoundly grateful to the fellow who sold them. I like that kind of a business the kind of business that always renders a service immeasurably greater than the amount of dollars involved.

Whether you are on the West Coast or here in the great Middle West where I grew up or whether you are in the East, or up in New England or down South, it is the same story. Twenty-five or thirty years ago the Memorial Park was an untried experiment, a cemetery without tombstones. People had been putting tombstones in cemeteries for ten thousand years. "You can't change a custom as old as that," so they said to us. We did.

It is a long way we have traveled since the experimental days of thirty years ago. We have made mistakes along the way, and for many of them we are sincerely sorry. None of us is as smart as all of us, and we come to these meet¬ings to learn from each other. One thing about cemetery folks, they are always ready to give out, to share any experiences, any success, any new gadget or gimmick - Forest Lawn with all its international fame is here in the person of its founder, telling us how they do it and inviting you to take and profit by their long and successful experience.

In Chicago a number of years ago I was operating a couple of cemeteries for the late Jacob Rothschild, and it used to break his heart that others who were new in this work visited us, sat in our meetings, copied our plans. "Doc, you run a university; why don't you charge tuition; why don't you make these fellows pay for this information?" I always replied, "Jake, it doesn't impoverish me at all for them to carry ideas away." Through all the years we have shared our literature, our ideas, our plans and even our building plans. Anything that I have you are welcome to if you can use it. God bless you in your work.

From the publication:
“1950-1951 Cemetery Yearbook”
NCA 21st Annual Meeting
Hotel Schroeder, Milwaukee, Wisconsin
October 18, 19, 20 and 21, 1950