Monday, December 29, 2008

Cemetery resolutions for 2009

THIS IS the last thing you need - another list of resolutions/suggestions for the coming year. But threats to cemeteries have never been more serious. Constant suburban sprawl and urban redevelopment are threatening existing cemeteries and grabbing land that otherwise could be used for burial grounds. The economic downturn has led to increased looting at cemeteries of anything that might be of value - from brass ornaments to even wrought-iron gates. These cases are a burden to the cemeteries themselves and to law-enforcement and the courts.
So, in the spirit of gentle prodding, I suggest:
> Visit cemeteries on some other occasion than to bury a loved one. One of the root causes of our problems with cemeteries is that too few people visit unless they are there for a funeral. When I began my research in 2007, the owner-operator of Manahath Cemetery in Glassboro, N.J., told me that our society pushes off important decisions such as burial arrangements - sometimes until never - which, among other things, leaves a tremendous burden on the surviving loved ones.
Well, it also leaves a burden of another type - onto the owners and operators of cemeteries. People don't notice if a graveyard has fallen into disrepair until they go there to visit their loved ones. Maybe if we all spent a little more time in cemeteries while we are alive, we'd see another way to help our communities.
It also might give society a greater sense of respect for the dead. Yes, some of the vandalism that occurs is caused merely by bored teens, but some of it shows a particularly destructive side to human nature. Perhaps if we thought more about cemeteries, we'd show greater respect for the sacred grounds and pass on this sense of respect to our children.
> While there, take pictures. Many genealogical, historical, landscape architectural, etc., organizations would be interested in your work - and you just might pick up a new hobby in the meantime.
> Urge your local cemetery owner-operators to consider natural-burial options. State regulations differ, but many states don't absolutely ban such practices; rather, conventional burials, with wooden coffins, concrete or steel vaults, and finely (and expensively) manicured lawns have become a standard business practice for the convenience of those owner-operators. The non-profit Green Burial Council estimates that enough metal is buried in the ground each year to build a new Golden Gate Bridge.
Likewise, urge owner-operators to consider native plants for their grounds. Natives are - naturally - more resistant to disease and drought conditions and take less work to care for them.
> Urge your local wildlife and nature organizations to form partnerships with cemeteries. In Camden, N.J., observers to the Harleigh Cemetery have recorded dozens of animal and plant species; most cemeteries can do the same - and, with the help of nature organizations, can help replenish what's gone and restore what's trying to get a foothold.
Birdwatching groups, especially, have plenty of options for bird counts; don't forget to include cemeteries as the location for your count.
> Get involved with your local historic preservation organization; many of them are involved at some level in keeping old cemeteries attractive, and all of them can use the help.
> Get involved with your local zoning, planning, redevelopment, etc., organizations. As research has shown, someday, sometime, somehow, we'll have to find room for the 350 million-plus souls in the U.S. alone. The communities with foresight will have ideas on where and how to expand existing cemeteries and where to build new ones. Such organizations also are well-versed in ways to incorporate cemeteries into local "greenways" programs; sometimes the cemetery is the only patch of green in town. These organizations also should be at the forefront in planning for such things as stormwater runoff, drainage, flooding protection and other items that fall under the banner of "urban planning," and folks with knowledge of this particular area of focus would be welcome.
> Commit yourself to one service project a year. If you can get involved with an organization, that's all well and good, but you can also devote some time to your own, personal good deed. You don't need to work under some community banner to be a good citizen. Maybe it's cleaning up some trash around the entrance. Maybe it's buying some American flags to place on veterans' graves, or working with a local vets organization to help them with their projects.
For help in making any of the above resolutions, see the first one listed - visit cemeteries - to get started.

Alaska community seeks solution to cemetery dilemma

Soldotna, a community in Alaska has been wrestling for months on whether to establish a cemetery. There have been decisions, objections, reversals, a non-binding referendum, and, now, a community task force created to decide where best to put a cemetery in town.

Inmates clear old cemetery, get history lesson

Inmates in Maryland are being put to work cleaning up the historic Mount Auburn Cemetery in Baltimore, thought to be the oldest cemetery in the city that was open for blacks to be buried there.

Saving an endangered Minneapolis cemetery

Efforts are under way to restore and preserve a nearly forgotten cemetery in Minneapolis. A total of $350,000 has been earmarked for the project

Friday, December 26, 2008

Weekend whimsy: Fighting over Edgar Allan Poe

Several towns are gearing up for bicentennial celebrations of the birth of Edgar Allan Poe and this story from USA Today includes some info about his burial in Baltimore.

Thanks -- and can you help?

Here's a thank-you from cemetery officials in Modesto, Calif., for all those who helped after a massive act of vandalism at the Pioneer Cemetery, where 80 headstones were toppled.
Here's something worthy of thanks: A Boy Scout in Cape May County, N.J., worked to restore an old cemetery and tried to make it vandal-proof.
And here is a request for help from Berlin, Conn., specifically serving in an unpaid position on a cemetery board.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Photo: September flooding in Illinois

Found this on someone's Flickr site. Photo taken Sept. 15, 2008. The caption says:

"Between Friday and Sunday we were hit with a massive rainfall. We broke the highest rainfall record record for a 24 hour period which went back to 1871. The Des Plaines River is in serious flood stage, the water is all over the Western edge of Concordia."

Upstate New York cemetery has flooding woes

Visitors are upset that the St. Stanislaus Cemetery in Cheektowaga, New York, has drainage problems, which are causing flooding problems on the grounds.

Texas black cemetery commemorated

A historic black cemetery in Belton, Texas, has been given a new name - Far North Belton Cemetery - and received a designation as a historic site.

Congressman urges expansion of Beaufort National Cemetery

U.S. Rep. Joe Wilson had placed a one-year moratorium on so-called earmark requests to his office, but has now introduced legislation to expand Beaufort, home of more than 19,000 service members' graves, from every major American conflict. The measure would:

allow the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to purchase the 5-acre
Lafayette Square apartment complex at 2200 Lafayette St., north of Beaufort
National Cemetery. Another bill calls for the VA to conduct a land availability
study and report its findings.

Wisconsin news

Residents had complained for years about the condition of the Oak Hill Cemetery in Janesville, so the town council agreed to take over operation and accept a transfer of funds from the cemetery association.
Meanwhile, in Waukesha, the Prairie Home Cemetery is planning for green burials.

Kentucky cemetery database complete

The Kentucky Historical Society's Cemetery Preservation Program has finished its database of the society's Digital Collections Catalog. Now, visitors to the Kentucky Historical Society's Web site will have access to information on more than 11,000 cemeteries in the state.
From the article:
Seven years in the making, the database contains basic information about
cemeteries in the commonwealth, including many names and addresses of the
burial sites, the names of people of historical interest that are buried at
the cemeteries, and much more.

Cemetery expansion OK'd in New Jersey

Members of the Freehold Township Zoning Board of Adjustment voted 7-0 to approve the proposal by St. Rose of Lima Church to expand its cemetery by 4.5 acres.

Recovering from Gustav in Louisiana

Months after Hurricane Gustav struck the Gulf Coast, people in Bueche, La., have worked to restore a cemetery damaged in the storm. Interestingly, according to this report, the cemetery doesn't even have name.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Topeka, Kansas, helps fund cemetery

The city of Topeka will provide $60,000 in funding to help the financially strapped Rochester Cemetery remain afloat. Had the city failed to act, the cemetery could go under, which, according to Kansas law, would put it in city hands anyway.

California town votes to expand cemetery

The Pleasanton City Council voted to expand its local cemetery and said it will establish a fee structure.
From the report:

The council decided unanimously to expand the cemetery by 400 plots and to
accommodate as many as 800 more people. The council agreed with the city's staff
report to install 200 double-depth plots and 200 double-cremain niches to the
Pleasanton Pioneer Cemetery.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Laredo, Texas, ponders cemetery sites

City officials say the existing cemetery will run out of space in 4-1/2 years, so they are looking for new locations now.

Sinkhole at Rhode Island cemetery

This problem is caused by heavy rains and flooding, say cemetery officials. Here is another report on the same situation.

Photo, caption from Photo: Christine Hochkeppel
The sinkhole that formed at St. Mary's Cemetery is 10 feet wide in spots, more than 70 feet long and as deep as three feet.

Economic downturn affects cemetery industry

People are cutting back on funeral expenses, even selling their burial plots, to curb their spending and tighten their belts, reports Business Week. 

Monday, December 15, 2008

Green cemeteries; Mark Harris alert

The Houston Chronicle reports on emerging green cemeteries; article includes comments from author Mark Harris.

Wreaths Across America: A roundup of coverage

This is, by no means, definitive, but here is a sampling of links about the program to lay holiday wreaths at the graves of veterans across the United States:


> San Francisco Chronicle

> Houston Chronicle

Note: Photo is from Associated Press; Pam Hines of Edgewater, Md., walked though Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia during wreath-laying on Saturday.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Va. cemetery in disrepair

A Virginia TV station is investigating a cemetery in disrepair, with trash, old grills, even broken-down cars strewn on the grounds. The cemetery owner says he doesn't have the money to keep up the grounds.

Mountain lion spotted in Calif. cemetery

Authorities said it posed no threat to humans, and probably was in the area because deer are in the area.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cemeteries and Flooding: A mapping project

Please scroll down to the bottom of this page, to see the beginnings of a map I'm creating to mark cemeteries hit by flooding, either by natural disaster (green marker) or manmade problems, such as sprawl or runoff (red marker). As I discover more cemeteries, they will be marked; new categories may be created.

First Canadian "green" cemetery

Canada has its first natural cemetery.

Sonoma, Calif., ponders cemetery sale

The community cemeteries run at an annual deficit of about $80,000 to $90,000, which is prompting the city council to consider selling the cemeteries. Public opposition is strong.
A later item here shows that an ad hoc committee examining the proposal will recommend against selling.

Dogs in cemeteries

The recent poll I conducted is closed: The question was asked: Do dogs belong in cemeteries. I got 7 replies: 2 said "Never"; 3 said "Only on leashes"; 2 said "Always." Thanks for voting.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Here is an article about San Francisco and its cemetery history. From the article (emphasis mine):

The vast complex of public and private cemeteries throughout San Francisco
would eventually comprise between 60 and 70 blocks of prime land. This
realization astonished the City Fathers of San Francisco and they passed a law
that would forbid human burials within the City after Aug. 1, 1901.

Here is another piece about one of the suburbs, which is overwhelmingly filled with cemeteries.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Georgia cemetery/landfill story gains traction

CNN has reported on plans to move slave remains in order to expand a landfill. I'm not sure if all the links work, so here is one from AOL.

Vandalism roundup

Frankly, it's impossible to keep up with all the cases, but when I can, I'll report on them here, especially some of the larger instances, such as the one on Modesto, where 80 headstones were toppled.
Here are a couple more cases:
> 42 headstones toppled in El Paso cemetery.
> Morgan County, Alabama.
> Teens punished for Sumner, Washington, vandalism, including $170,000 in restitution.
What do these cases have to do with land use? Perhaps nothing directly, but they put added stress on already-stretched government, law-enforcement and judicial resources, along with those who operate cemeteries. These crimes also have a negative impact on quality-of-life issues. All of these factors affect overall community living standards.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"Green Oasis in Brooklyn"

A new book by John Rousmaniere talks about the history of the historic Evergreens Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Research request: Cemeteries and Flooding

My schedule for the early part of the coming year appears flexible enough to begin some research in the area of cemeteries and the impact of flooding and runoff.
I recently posted an item about the Catholic Cemeteries of Brooklyn filing a civil complaint against the city over flood damage to St. John Cemetery, in Middle Village, because of poor drainage.
For my class work a couple of years ago, I found a story about a very old cemetery along the Chesapeake Bay that, because of rising waters/climate change, is now seeing some of its graves washed into the bay. The video is particularly poignant.
What I am seeking now is similar information -- anecdotal or scientific -- about other cemeteries, so that I can compile some data and perhaps start analyzing it with GIS.
Some folks may be familiar with a landmark study from Temple University, dated August 2006, where they used GIS to determine that FEMA maps for the area of Pennypack Watershed in the Philadelphia area were inadequate, and that flooding potential was actually worse than what FEMA data would indicate. While much of the Temple study involved roads, businesses, housing, etc., I'm sure that overdevelopment can impact cemeteries, as well, with runoff and other problems.
I appreciate any leads you can send my way.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Headstones toppled in Modesto cemetery

Vandals toppled 80 headstones at Modesto Cemetery, which officials say will cost up to $50,000 to repair

California town to upgrade cemetery

Officials in San Rafael OK'd plans to upgrade and expand access to Mount Tamalpais Cemetery

Georgia remains to be moved for landfill expansion

Officials in Clayton County say the graves had been inaccessible and not visited for years, but now that they have announced the move, residents are outraged at the plan.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Locating graves in California with use of radar

Officials plan to use radar to find out the location of graves at the Pacheco Pioneer Cemetery.

South Carolina cemetery may get county takeover

A long-neglected cemetery in Greenville could be taken over by the county in order to clean it up.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Weekend whimsy: A special resting place for Georgia Bulldogs

"Bulldog Haven" is a burial pot especially for Georgia 'Dawgs. And not just any 'Dawgs, but only for letter-winners in athletics.

Dogs and cemeteries: Do they mix?

Cemetery operators and government officials in Massachusetts are trying to enforce laws that keep dogs out of cemeteries.
This is an interesting dilemma, because some cemeteries, most notably the historic Congressional Cemetery in Washington, DC, "rents" its grounds to dog lovers in order to help ends meet.

Virginia Commonwealth University in slave cemetery controversy

VCU owns land near an old slave cemetery it wanted for a parking lot, but some people want the entire site preserved. VCU says it might oblige, but wants the $3 million it paid for the land.

Connecticut cemetery undergoing restoration

Thanks to the help of dedicated volunteers -- and some money from the late Paul Newman's foundation, efforts to restore the historic Center Street Cemetery in Easton, Connecticut, are well under way. Says Valerie Buckley, Easton Senior Citizen Center director:

"We've restored about 40 grave sites -- cleaned up or repaired the stones. It is a pleasing project that is really going well."

Brooklyn cemetery seeks $$ from city for flood damage

The Catholic Cemeteries of Brooklyn has filed a complaint against the city saying that stormwater runoff has caused millions of dollars in damage over the years. The organization says that St. John Cemetery, in Middle Village, is flooded because of poor drainage along Metropolitan Avenue. It is seeking $10 million, plus $25 million in punitive damages. Reports the Queens Chronicle:

The flooding has damaged the cemetery gate, a number of trees and maybe
even graves, said Father Kieran Harrington, spokesman for the Roman Catholic
Diocese of Brooklyn, which includes Queens.

Wanted: $300K to restore Oswego, NY, cemetery

The 150-year-old Evergreen Cemetery will get $326,000 from the New York Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and now needs to raise $300,000 of its own to fix up the decaying place.

Students in Texas map old African-American cemetery

Students from several disciplines at Stephen F. Austin University are undertaking a mapping project at a 19th-century African-American cemetery that fell into disrepair after World War II. They are from SFA's geography, sociology and anthropology clubs.

Who was Eleanor Rigby?

To take a slightly different turn here, there is news that the woman featured in the classic Beatles tune was a real person, and not a figure from Paul McCartney's imagination. A payroll sheet from a Liverpool hospital that McCartney donated to charity was to be auctioned at Sotheby's auction today (November 27). According to this report, the sheet was signed by a hospital maid, "E Rigby," and is said to be the same person buried in 1939 in the graveyard next to the church where McCartney and John Lennon met.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Touring New York cemeteries

The NY Times Travel section has an article on touring the city's cemeteries, and the Web site includes a photo tour. As time permit's I'll get some of those links up here.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Artist David Cox ... Darley Churchyard painting

The New York Times featured a story about 19th-century painter David Cox and an exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art, which is brought to your attention here largely because of his "Darley Churchyard" painting (circa 1858).

Louisiana cemetery fix-up still needed after hurricane damage

A local resident stumbled across a cemetery damaged during Hurricane Gustav last summer, and Louisiana TV statiom WAFB has reported on the need to clean up the damage. An earlier report includes a link of the news video.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Wreath-laying opportunity

Here is a second opportunity to lay wreaths on the graves of fallen soldiers. The Sgt. Mac Foundation was started by the family of Marine Sgt. Eric McColley, who was killed in a February 2006 helicopter accident.
Our first post on this subject brought attention to Wreaths Across America.

Library in Washington State offers tour podcast

The library in Everett, Washington, offers a podcast for taking a virtual, or real, tour of Evergreen Cemetery. Just click on that first link and scroll down for the podcast. There also is a .pdf of a map.

Colorado town grapples with Old West cemetery

The Denver Post has an interesting feature story about the old cemetery in the rocky slopes outside Silverton, Colo. There's no mortician or funeral home in the town; in fact, there are no official burial plots. Silverton Town Administrator Elyse Salazar says it's "somewhat of a free-for-all."

Illinois cemetery has funding woes

The Galva City Council has increased its local tax rate, and says the town cemetery's expenses are outpacing income.
Besides the funding woes - $36,033 lost the last four years - the city also has concerns about how it can buy more ground to expand the 25-year-old cemetery when necessary, and even whether the city can cut upkeep expenses by spraying chemicals on the lawns.
This latter idea is one bad idea,because such spraying could have a harmful impact on wildlife and plant life in the area - not to mention the possible harm to the citizenry. There must be a better way to care for Galva Cemetery. Officials will discuss the cemetery further on Dec. 15.
Ideas out there? Can anyone help?

Atlanta cemetery gets help in recovery

Last March, the noted Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta was heavily damaged by storms and a tornado. Now, more help in the recovery is coming, with the donation of a tree from the Atlanta Botanical Garden.
Among the notables buried at Oakland are "Gone With the Wind" author Margaret Mitchell and golfing legend Bobby Jones.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Connecticut town considers cemetery committee

The town of Berlin, Connecticut, has scheduled a public hearing to set up a local committee to oversee the cemeteries in town.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Massachusetts cemetery in zoning battle of a different kind

In this case, the world-famous Mount Auburn Cemetery is fighting plans for a concrete plant, saying that it would disrupt "the serene and peaceful atmosphere that is critical to the cemetery’s operations." Mount Auburn claims the plant is a non-conforming use, while plant owners say it is the re-operation of a previously allowed use.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Weekend whimsy: On a lighter note, world's best cemeteries

I want to attempt to offer more positive news in weekend posts, so here's a start:
Lonely Planet's top travel destinations for 2009 include its picks for the world's top 10 "places of rest."

Friday, November 21, 2008

Solar energy from a cemetery

The Santa Coloma de Gramenet cemetery, outside of Barcelona, Spain, has had 462 solar panels installed in the grave niches. According to the Associated Press, the energy produced equals the annual consumption of 60 homes. That energy flows into the local grid and is one way the town is a pioneer in fighting global warming.

Hurricane Ike impact still being felt in Gulf Coast cemeteries

This story is a little old, but it bears mentioning anyway: Dozens of caskets unearthed during Hurricane Ike have not been reburied. This site includes video.
And here is an article from the San Francisco Chronicle detailing some of the problems in Louisiana.

Iowa cemetery gets restoration funds from university

An old cemetery in Oskaloosa has received funds from a university to help with the upkeep and restoration.

Wreaths Across America: Remembering America's war heroes

With Veterans Day past us, many will fail to remember the sacrifices of our nation's military heroes until the pre-Memorial Day cemetery cleanups begin next spring. One organization is trying to change that. Wreaths Across America calls for the placing of holiday wreaths at the graves of America's fallen. An article in the New Milford Times, in Connecticut, provides some insight into this holiday memorial. In part, it says:

In December 2007, 286 participating locations hosted Wreaths Across America
ceremonies overseeing the placement of 32,553 wreaths on the headstones of those
who served and sacrificed for our freedoms.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Cemeteries and zoning in Bibb County, Georgia

One of the things we've discovered in our early research into cemeteries and land use is that there seem to be almost as many zoning regulations as there are government jurisdictions. Even in southern New Jersey, where I live, they run the gamut from none to historic to specifics on the amount of paved surface.
But in one county, Bibb County in Georgia, they must not think they need cemeteries at all -- because county commissioners there have pretty much put the kabosh on any new cemeteries there, and seem to have particularly targeted a green cemetery. Among the regulations are significant setbacks from water sources and the requirement that bodies be buried in a “leak-proof casket or vault.”
While perhaps well-meaning, the commissioners are woefully shortsighted. How do they think their Founding Fathers were buried? What do they think of current Jewish and Muslim practices? If they are worried about contamination of water, what do they think of the risks of formaldehyde? Or arsenic, which was part of the embalming practice from the Civil War days through the early 20th century?
The vote already is drawing criticism, including an editorial in the Macon Telegraph, which notes the commissioners' ignorance of burial practices and shortsightedness.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Flooding at Connecticut cemetery; rising water table to blame?

Standing pools of water have caused graves in a Middletown, Connecticut, cemetery to deteriorate, tombstones to tumble.

South Carolina county taking over run-down cemetery

A long-neglected cemetery in Greenville County may be taken via eminent domain if officials cannot reach agreement with the owner.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Wisconsin cemetery needs help

A down-on-its-luck cemetery in Wisconsin that dates back to the first months of the previous century seeks money and volunteer help for repairs and replacement of its garage.
Says cemetery trustee Bob Morden of the dedicated volunteers:
"We all have a good level of pride in our cemetery."

Renewal at New Orleans Cemeteries

We all remember photos of coffins lying along roadsides after the devastating impact of Hurricane Katrina in along the Gulf Coast. Now, thanks to the efforts of community organizers and activists, cemeteries in New Orleans are being returned to their former beauty.
Here is the If You Go information from the article:
HISTORIC NEW ORLEANS TOURS: or 504-947-2120.Two-hour Cemetery Voodoo Tour, Monday-Saturday, 10 a.m. and 1 p.m.;Sundays at 1 p.m., $15 cash and traveler’s checks only ($13 forstudents, $7 for children 6-12), starting at 334-B Royal St. in thecourtyard of Royal Cafe Beignet.
SAVE OUR CEMETERIES TOURS: or504-525-3377. One-hour tours of Lafayette Cemetery in the GardenDistrict, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday at 10:30 a.m. (meetat the Washington Avenue gate on the 1400 block of WashingtonAvenue), $6 suggested donation; and one-hour tours of St. LouisCemetery, Sundays at 10 a.m. (meet in the first floor of the BasinStreet Station Visitors Center, 501 Basin St.), $12 suggesteddonation.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cemetery as wilderness preserve

Walk up to the entrance of a former farm in Ohio and you see a sign for Foxfield Preserve. What you don't know at first blush is that it is a natural cemetery. It is being operated by The Wilderness Center, and is a prime example of how nature preservation and cemeteries can be blended into a single function.

(Photo: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

Colorado cemetery's mapping project

An old cemetery in Colorado was mapped using GPS technology.

Old cemeteries found in Delaware

The Field of Stones project is designed to hunt for long-lost cemeteries in Delaware, including this one in Sussex County. As this article notes, many of these cemeteries -- many of which are private, family cemeteries of old -- are threatened by development.

Photo credit: Chuck Snyder/The News Journal

Phila. suburban veterans cemetery

Here is one of the stories available this morning on the dedication of the veterans cemetery in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.

Green burial: story in Philadelphia Inquirer

The Inquirer has an excellent article this morning on the green, or natural, burial phenomenon.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Sopranos" cemetery is restored

A northern New Jersey cemetery featured in episodes of "The Sopranos" is returning to its former glory, after a cleanup effort that began in the summer.

Veterans cemeteries, state by state

AARP's monthly newsletter/bulletin included this map, detailing the number of veterans cemeteries in each state.
You will soon be able to add 1 to Pennsylvania's total, with the dedication of a new cemetery outside of Philadelphia. The issue of creating this cemetery has gone on for years; here is a link to a story from June 2007; the issue involved a local school board, a developer and a land swap.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Economic meltdown threatens cemeteries

Even before the calamity of Wall Street in late summer and early autumn, the troubled economy affected U.S. cemeteries.
As the price of precious metals rose, so did the rise of thefts of ornamental markers at cemeteries.
"There's definitely an uptick; you might call it a rash," Bob Fells, general counsel for the International Cemetery Cremation and Funeral Association, told USA Today in August. "This seems to happen any time the price of metal goes up."
Among the crimes detailed in that USA Today article:
•1,000-pound bronze gates stolen from two mausoleums at a cemetery in Wilmington, Delaware.
•More than 200 brass urns stolen from two cemeteries in Cumberland, Maryland.
•$500,000 worth of brass urns and ornaments stolen from Chicago cemeteries.
The scrap-metal industry has issued guidelines for its members to follow regarding acceptance of suspicious materials, but those guidelines are only as good as the moral compasses that guide scrap-metal dealers.
Meanwhile, looting is only part of the economic trouble facing cemeteries.
Hardly a day passes when there is not some news about cemeteries falling into disrepair and needing financial help to right themselves. Many churches operate on shoestring budgets in the best of times, and when times go bad, they are the first place people turn to for food and comfort. Those church cemeteries often can be left in the lurch. Other, privately run cemeteries run into similar cash-flow problems, particularly in a culture that thinks more about defying age than planning for the afterlife (whatever your religious or non-religious bent).
And then, there are the senseless vandals who have nothing better to do than to deface and destroy? You can bet that cemetery vandalism is low on the list of priorities for ever-squeezed law enforcement.
So, how can we fix this? As we approach the 145th anniversary of the dedication of the national cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, it is time for us to rededicate ourselves to treasuring our sacred ground.
Get involved in your local historical and/or genealogical society. Form a task force in your community. Plan nature outings in cemeteries. Include cemeteries in "greenways" projects. At the risk of making a terrible pun: Make cemeteries a vital part of your community's life.
Founding Father Ben Franklin once noted: "Show me your cemeteries, and I will tell you what kind of people you have."

The American Resting Place: book review

The Washington Post had a book review in June on this book. The Post link includes an audio interview of the author.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Arlington National Cemetery's tight squeeze

Here are some articles about the tight conditions around Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.
The first is from National Geographic in June 2007, and the other is from Arlington Connection, from August 2008, which indicates the problems are not getting any better.

Built-out town can't squeeze in a cemetery

The Detroit Free Press reports that plans to establish a cemetery have been halted, because there is no room in this town.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Philadelphia cemetery goes 'green'

A cemetery in Philadelphia is part of the burgeoning "natural" cemetery movement. Here is a story and video link from a local TV station.

Old cemetery site in the middle of Denver

Workers at a parking garage construction project near the State Capitol in Denver have discovered remains from one of the city's first cemeteries.

Welcome to "Whistling Past the Graveyard"

Where do we go when we die, I once asked a room full of planning experts.
Their response was as quiet as a cemetery. I think they thought I was a bit of a loon, who had slipped into their midst.
In reality, I simply was a budding GIS student, coming off my first class in the subject: Land Use, at Rowan University in Glassboro, N.J. For my research project, I discovered that while cemeteries might be one of the most common land uses in a community, they are definitely under the radar when it comes to planning, smart growth, development and other related fields.
I didn't leave them squirming in their seats for long -- I basically told them what I just told you: that cemeteries are not much talked about in planning circles.
Cemeteries, in fact, are very much a part of the community fabric in many ways:
> They often take up prime real estate, and many are tax-exempt, which makes it tougher on ratable-starved towns.
> Without proper care, they can fall into disrepair and become havens of neglect and criminal activity, which costs countless hours for caretakers, community organizers and law enforcement.
> In some urban areas, they can be the only green spaces on the landscape.
> Older cemeteries can be potentially hazardous to your health -- arsenic was once the embalming substance of choice, and there are stories that some archeologists wear hazmat suits for their work.
> Some of the newest are returning to the oldest ways, via the natural burial movement.
> Cemeteries, particularly the expansive, landscaped ones, can be havens for myriad forms of wildlife.
> In many communities, cemeteries hold an important place in the historic, tourism and cultural landscapes.
In short, they are essential. We, um, can't live without them.
In the last 18 months or so, I've read and gathered a number of articles and links about cemeteries. As this blog gets up and running, I will add some of the best to this site, as well as offer new reports.
My goal is to offer both original content and the best of cemetery reporting from around the world. If I'm capable, I'd like to expand this to offer calendar items and other news of interest to my fellow taphophiles.
So enjoy.
Photo credit: New York Times