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.