Monday, December 28, 2009

Saving historic Va. cemeteries

Volunteers in Richmond, Va., are working to save two historic cemeteries that have been damaged by nature and neglect.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Green burial grows in popularity in Georgia

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a feature story about the growth in interest of green burials in Fulton County, Georgia.

Wreaths Across America

The Washington Post reports on Wreaths Across America.
A columnist at the Phila. Inquirer reports on his participation.

Cemetery mapping project in South Dakota

A cemetery in Fort Pierre, South Dakota, received a $2,000 grant to map a cemetery that dates to the late 1800s.

Judge OKs cemetery seizure for O'Hare expansion

Just found some reports on the Web about this case. A judge OK'd the seizure of about 6 acres for the expansion of O'Hare airport in Chicago.
Chicago Tribune
Chicago Sun-Times

Thursday, December 10, 2009

New report: "Designing for Place in Urban Cemeteries

Here's an academic article from Georgia Tech about cemeteries as important places in urban environments. It focuses on Atlanta's historic Oakland Cemetery.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A blogger at Planetizen has written about a Baptist minister's desire to bury his son in the backyard of the minister's church. Zoning laws prohibit the action, though there are no state prohibitions.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Philadelphia graves moved to make way for parking lot

Archeologists are removing the remains of about 1,500 people in the Northeast section of the city to make way for parking at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America.

Friday, November 27, 2009

SCI gets OK to buy Vegas mortuary

A settlement has been reached to allow Service Corp. International, the nation's largest funeral business, move forward to buy a Las Vegas mortuary. The deal requires some FTC approval.
Here's SCI's news release on the matter.
And here are a couple more reports:
Las Vegas Review Journal
Las Vegas Sun (includes a map of sites involved)

Philadelphia cemetery plans Jewish section

West Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia will establish a Jewish section.

New Hampshire inmates research cemetery

Also from New Hampshire, a story about inmates at a jail who are researching a nearby paupers' cemetery.
Note: Someday, when my time is my own again -- and not my discrete math class' -- I'll begin work on a piece about how better to employ ex-cons, and even those now serving time, in cemeteries.

Cemetery mapper in New Hampshire

Here's a nice feature story about a New Hampshire man who "maps" cemeteries using GPS and other tools.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Author of On Hallowed Ground

Here is a brief talk by author Robert Poole on his new book, On Hallowed Ground, about Arlington National Cemetery, from the Amazon Web site.

Vets struggle to find cemeteries close to home

USA Today reports that despite the openings of some new veterans cemeteries, many vets still don't have a cemetery close by. This article includes a link to an interactive map showing all the vet cemeteries across the country.

New York town receives $5,000 grant

Waverly, New York, received a $5,000 grant to help preserve a local cemetery. The funds will go toward repairing a cannon from the Civil War era.

Nevada city obtains cemetery from county

A cemetery is contained within a new property obtained by Fernley, Nevada, after a deal with the county.

Another article on new Arlington book

USA Today has a feature about Robert Poole's new book on Arlington National Cemetery.

Friday, November 6, 2009

VA gives $10 million for cemetery in Kansas

Propertly next to a veterans hospital in Leavenworth will be developed as officials OK expansion of the Leavenworth National Cemetery. According to a report, the project will:
providing approximately 14,000 additional gravesites at the 123-year-old
cemetery. The new phase will include pre-placed double-depth crypt gravesites,
traditional gravesites, a columbarium and in-ground cremation sites as well as a
committal shelter, water distribution systems, roads, utilities, signs and

Hundreds of unmarked graves found in Idaho

Workers using radar surveyed a cemetery in Hailey, Idaho, and found hundreds of unmarked graves in an area known as the "Chinese Cemetery." Authorities say that a brush fire in the 1930s destroyed a number of the markers. Officials now plan to erect a monument to the uknown dead. About 300 Chinese people lived and worked in the town in the late 1800s, including working in mines and keeping shops.

Cemetery reform in Illinois

Despite the tragedy at Burr Oak in Illinois, lawmakers in that state brought no reform laws to the floor for a vote, though a House panel did pass measures.

Review of new book on Arlington National Cemetery

Here in the Washington Post, Fergus Bordewich reviews a new book about Arlington. Bordewich is the author of a book on the planning and building of Washington, D.C., and, Mr. Bordewich, if you are reading this blog, I promise -- I am reading your book and I do hope to finish it someday!

Florida cemetery to get $300,000

In response to residents angered by the condition of a cemetery, Lake Wales will spend $300,000 for improvements, including replacing the dilapidated office and upgrading roads and the irrigation system.

Hawaiian cemetery loses rezoning bid

The state Land Use Commission denied a request to rezone 56-plus acres in a hot dispute between a cemetery owner and its neighbors. Hawaiian Memorial spent two years trying to get through a plan for expansion, only to be thwarted by the state agency.

5K run to support cemetery in Arkansas

A non-profit group that supports the Fayetteville National Cemetery will hold a 5K run to raise funds to buy land to expand the cemetery. Here is the link to the group's site.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Apologies for the slim pickings here at this blog

The blog is unofficially in limbo, as I step away from geography and cemetery matters for a math class that is required for my GIS certification. If you are interested in following my adventures in Discrete Math, please head to "1-1 does not equal zero," my math-class blog.

Decision near on Fall River cemetery

Officials in Fall River, Mass., should decide soon on whether to take over a historic cemetery that has been "orphaned" in recent years.

Provincetown, Mass., cemetery nears capacity

The supervisor of Provincetown's cemetery on the tip of Cape Cod reports that the cemetery is near capacity and that it will be eight months to a year before the new portion is ready for burials.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Making a Texas cemetery a local amenity

People in San Angelo, Texas, are working to make its Fairmount Cemetery a more attractive park - yes, park - for its residents to use. Plans include a gazebo as an information station, landscaping, statuary and other additions/alterations that will attract the community. Funding is expected from public and private sources. The mayor says the plan is too late to be inserted into the current budget, but indicates he likes the plan.
Let's hope it doesn't fade away in the interim. This plan sounds like a good idea.

New take on cemeteries in the down economy

The Los Angeles Times writes about the economic struggles cemeteries face. This focuses largely on preserving the statuary of such historic sites at Green-Wood in Brooklyn, N.Y., but touches on other economic concerns, as well.

New CEO at Philadelphia's Laurel Hill Cemetery

Here's a profile on the incoming CEO of Philadelphia's renowned Laurel Hill Cemetery.
A developer in Miami, Florida, has changed plans for an affordable housing project in the wake of discovering a long-forgotten black cemetery. Here is an earlier report from this blog.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Cemetery takeover in Connecticut?

A new law in Connecticut that takes effect on Oct. 1 will allow municipalities to take over abandoned or neglected cemeteries. The measure has come about largely as a result of the town clerk of Easton, Derek Buckley, who told legislators about local efforts to take care of cemeteries.

Scout works at California cemetery

A college student worked toward becoming an Eagle Scout by helping to spruce up an old cemetery in Redding, California.
Phillip Bigler, author of a respected book on Arlington National Cemetery, "In Honored Glory," was interviewed today (Aug. 28, 2009), on the public radio program "Here & Now." He talked about the cemetery in the wake of news that Sen. Ted Kennedy will be buried there, beside his brothers.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Capital campaign in Washington state?

Officials in McCleary, Washington, are considering a measure to create a Cemetery Capital Improvement Plan and use some of the local real estate excise tax for cemetery maintenance and possible expansion.

While pols fuss, volunteers work

Officials in Belleville, Illinois, are working on ways to solve a problem of potential embezzlement of prepaid funeral funds, volunteers are making sure that the Mount Hope Cemetery still looks good.

"Jigsaw puzzle" troubles at Connecticut cemetery

Folks in Meriden, Connecticut, performed their due diligence in cleaning up a cemetery, mapping and surveying, and what they discovered were a couple of problems: a town-owned paved road that leads to some houses actually is a cemetery access road, and a neighbor's fence is actually about 10 feet onto cemetery property.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Butterfly release in cemetery garden

In honor of loved ones who have passed away, organizers held their annual butterfly release at the Pelican Woods Cemetery and Nature Trail in Breezy Point in Minnesota.

Fencing costs at Ohio cemetery

Government officials in Marietta, Ohio, are trying to figure out how to pay for a fence repair at a cemetery, at a cost of $168,000 or more, even up to a half-million dollars. This is another instance that many folks don't realize cemeteries and government operations sometimes cross paths.

Cemetery gardening

The Baltimore Sun's gardening blog sent me to this story in the Christian Science Monitor that details how a small town near London, England, is using every available plot of land for gardening, including a cemetery.

Corpus Christi, Texas, annexes land for veterans cemetery

Here's an excerpt from a report on action by the Corpus Christi council to acquire land for a veterans cemetery:
- approved the annexation of about 55 acres near the intersection of Carbon
Plant Road and Interstate 37 for a veterans’ cemetery. The land annexation is a
step needed before the land can become a cemetery. The cemetery will have space
for 4,500 burial plots during its first phase of construction, which state
officials have said will take about 10 years to fill. After the Texas Veterans
Land Board completes the cemetery’s site plan, it will ask the U.S. Department
of Veterans Affairs for $9.3 million for the project. It is expected to take
about 18 months to build.

Carlsbad, New Mexico, acquisition issues

The city council and county officials are struggling with how to transfer operation of a cemetery whose operator was jailed for fraud. Eddy County originally proposed buying the cemetery, but now it appears that the city will do so. The sides are working out funding arrangements.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Cemetery, condo owners in dispute in New York

Residents of a condo complex in the Lower Hudson Valley are upset that a planned cemetery expansion would creep closer to their property. The dispute goes beyond the usual not-in-my-backyard fray; the cemetery claims that part of the complex parking area is actually built on cemetery land. Condo-complex owners say they've maintained that part of the property for about 10 years - and also allege that a loss of trees because of the expansion would cause drainage problems (ed. note: as if an impervious surface does not).

Provincetown cemetery gets a savior

The oldest cemetery in Provincetown, Massachusetts, has a volunteer committed to its upkeep.

Budget woes cause personnel cuts in Indiana

Because of tightening budgets, the Beech Grove Cemetery in Muncie, Indiana, will lose two of three groundskeeper positions.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Where is the cemetery in Gilbert, Arizona?

Some residents have begun to point out that the town does not have a cemetery. There apparently were plans for one in the 1980s, but they fell through, and the issue fell through the cracks.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Second-quarter earnings: Service Corporation International

Here's a link to the transcript of the conference regarding SCI, the nation's largest death-care provider. Page 3 of the transcript talks about cemetery earnings.

Hartford, Connecticut, sees historic cemetery fall into disrepair

A historic burial ground, Old North Cemetery - which, ironically, includes the grave of noted landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead (think, Central Park) - is falling into disrepair, along with other parks in the town.

California gets new law regulating neglected private cemeteries

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a law allowing the appointment of a temporary cemetery administrator if a private cemetery falls into disrepair.

Ohio town moves closer to opening cemetery entrance

Here's a bit from a news article about the Fostoria city council, which is considering a measure to open an entrance at a local cemetery:
In other news, a controversial ordinance that would force the city to
reopen the Summit Street entrance to a local cemetery was given its second
Department head Felix Gonzalez previously had visited council and
reported damage done to headstones by careless drivers using the cemetery, as
well as illegal drug and alcohol activity by area teens.
Mayor Davoli said
the cemetery is not a throughway.
Sandra Munsey of Mount Vernon Drive
reminded council a petition was submitted to have the entrance reopened.

Long Island cemetery land-swap gets thumbs down

After more than a year of negotiations, the Southampton Town Trustees said no to swapping a plot of land owned by the Westhampton Cemetery Association for a town-owned lot next to the historic burial ground. The cemetery is running out of room, but the land eyed for expansion consists of wetlands. Without expansion, the cemetery will close once its final 30 plots are used, and the town will take over maintenance.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Jewish burial societies

The New York Times reports that, with the demise of Jewish burial societies, some cemeteries are falling into disrepair.

Overview: Cemeteries seek more oversight

In the wake of the Burr Oak case in Illinois, ABC News has a report on the problems with cemetery management. Again, not really the domain of this blog, but there are ripple effects to cemetery mismanagement that do affect cemeteries and land use.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Old cemetery adjoins Virginia housing development

An old family cemetery in Virginia coexists beside a modern housing development.

Needless worries in Colorado Springs

A city councilman wondered why dirt was being placed in a city cemetery, and worried that the dirt was a precursor to graves being placed on top of old ones. No worries, says the city manager' they are just replacing soil that has eroded.

Why cemetery scandals happen

In the wake of the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal about bodies dug up and graves resold, one columnist weighs in on how something like this could happen. In short, society is more mobile and people are less physically tied to an area where loved ones are buried and people are less comfortable with death.
It shouldn't take a Burr Oak to make people sit up and take notice of the deplorable state of some of our cemeteries. Not every cemetery is a Burr Oak waiting to happen; nor is every cemetery a parcel in ruin, but until they become a prime element in comprehensive land use policy, the danger of tragedy exists.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Volunteers work to spruce up Arlington National Cemetery

Hundreds of volunteers, many from professional landscaping companies, turn out to work on fixing up Arlington National Cemetery.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Burr Oak, Illinois

Much of this involves criminality that doesn't really apply to the scope of this blog, but the scandal is so eye-opening, I'm posting a couple of links here. I'll add more, as the story unfolds, especially since I'm reading about flooding/drainage/etc - which *are* land-use concerns, but for now, here are some links to the basics:
Chicago Sun-Times
New York Times
Chicago Tribune

Indian mounds in Alabama to be replaced by Sam's Club

I'll find more on this later, but here's news from the Native American site Reznet about the destruction of an Indian burial mound in favor of a Sam's Club in Alabama.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Forest Lawn: Where Michael Jackson won't be buried

MJ's final resting place is elsewhere, but here's an interesting feature about the noted Los Angeles cemetery Forest Lawn, where his funeral procession began today.

Pocket cemetery app from Apple

Apple has approved and is now celling a pocket cemetery app that you can put on your iPhone. People can now create virtual memorials for the dead, complete with customized tombstones.

Funds raised to restore Jamaica, N.Y., cemetery

Efforts will soon be under way to restore the Prospect Cemetery, a Colonial-era cemetery in Jamaica, New York (on Long Island) after a fundraising effort generated $1.2 million. Earliest graves date to 1668.

Texas cemetery restoration

A cemetery in San Marcos, Texas, that has been damaged by fallen wood, overgrowth and (yes) cattle is being restored by a local historical commission.

Lightning damages building in New Hampshire cemetery

A building on the ground of the South Road Cemetery in Belmont, New Hampshire, was damaged by a lightning strike.

Aspen, Colorado, cemetery in disrepair

The local government is working to take over and fix up a historic cemetery in Aspen, Colorado, which dates back more than 100 years. Some of the city's early founders are buried here.

Update on discovered Miami burial site

The Miami Herald reports that the mystery surrounding a newly discovered burial ground grows deeper. Records show that more than 200 people may have been buried in the area - many of them Bahamian - but so far the remains of only about 20 people have been found. The remains were found during preliminary construction work on new affordable housing.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Grand jury investigates cemetery operations

Here's an unusual take: a county grand jury in San Luis Obispo County, California, has investigated the care of local cemeteries.
Here is the grand jury's report:

Ohio cemetery on the rebound

A year after residents complained about the conditions of Spring Grove Cemetery in East Liverpool, Ohio, this report shows that local volunteers have helped turn things around.

Cemetery in disrepair (in spots) in North Carolina

Some of the grounds look OK at a Statesville cemetery, according to this article, but there are broken and missing headstones and other problems, including larger one of who should be taking care of the cemetery.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Camden, N.J., diocese opens new cemetery

The Catholic Diocese of Camden in New Jersey has opened All Saints Cemetery in mostly rural Franklin Township in Gloucester County. The diocese says it opened the location here, because the membership has widened beyond the traditional urban/suburban locales. Here is a photo gallery from the Courier-Post site.

Feature story on garden cemeteries

This Associated Press article is being circulated around the nation. This is the version that appeared in the Abilene Reporter News.

Mount Auburn expansion effort: Taxes, etc.

The famous Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts, has an agreement to buy 2 acres for expansion. This story details efforts to gain tax revenue from the non-profit cemetery, which is exempt from paying real estate taxes. The cemetery wants to enter into a Payment-In-Lieu-Of-Taxes (PILOT) agreement. An earlier agreement that expired in 2006 called for Mount Auburn to pay $20,000 a year. Since then, under terms of that agreement, it's paid $1 a year.
Mount Auburn was the first cemetery in the Rural Cemetery Movement. I'm unfamiliar with the PILOT agreement for cemeteries; if it's the first to create such an agreement, it'd be interesting to see whether others follow suit. I'll be doing the research on this.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Residents rally around hidden black cemetery

Residents in Miami are coming to the defense of a potential former black cemetery found in a construction site, where affordable housing is planned.

Kansas City Jewish cemetery chapel gets makeover

A beautification program is ongoing at Blue Ridge Cemetery. Says one synagogue member:
The cemetery is not for the dead; it’s for the living. It’s for people to
recognize and show respect for their family. The Torah doesn’t say you have to
love your parents; it says you have to honor them.

Mesa, Arizona, considers cemetery expansion

The City Council is considering a plan to buy about 3 acres of ground to expand the local cemetery. Cost to buy the land is estimated at $670,000

Cemetery used in science experiment to combat mosquitoes

Scientists in Peru tested the toxicity of a mosquito-larvae-killing substance by setting up locations in nooks and crannies of a cemetery. They put the deadly substance into small spots of moisture, and, reports the New York Times:
The researchers found that putting stations in as little as 3 percent of
the available spots in the cemetery resulted in coverage of almost all the
breeding habitats in the immediate area, and mortality of up to 98 percent of
the mosquito larvae.

Overgrown Camden, N.J., cemetery overwhelms families

No one is taking care of Evergreen Cemetery in Camden, resulting in overgrowth, debris and other signs of disrepair. Click here for a gallery of photos from the Courier Post in New Jersey

The Tapho Files 2: Andres Lepik

This edition of The Tapho Files features Andres Lepik, curator of the Department of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which is hosting the exhibit “In Situ: Architecture and Landscape” through Jan. 18, 2010.
Lepik, who was hired by MoMA in July 2007, previously was chief curator of the 20th- and 21st-century architecture collection at the Kunstbibliothek in Berlin. He originally was a student of art history, who also loved the study of architecture and, most recently, of landscape architecture, thanks in part, he says, to his appreciation of Central Park.
“In Situ” draws on MoMA’s permanent collection in featuring some of the most famous landscape architecture in the world. Included is artwork of three cemeteries: Erik Gunnar Asplund’s Woodland Crematorium in Stockholm, Sweden; Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery, near Modena, Italy (pictured here; credit is below); and Enric Miralles and Carme Pinos’s Igualada Cemetery, near Barcelona, Spain.
The following Q&A is condensed from our conversation of Friday, June 19, 2009:

Whistling Past the Graveyard: What was the impetus for including cemeteries in this exhibit?

Andres Lepik: I was looking at what we had in the collection. The project was related to landscaping, and I found that there were cemeteries also in the collection that I didn’t know. And in looking in the material, we found three of them, and that’s the reason (they were included). We don’t have much landscape design in the architecture collection; it was never a purpose of the collection, there was never an interest in it. But we have some, so (we decided), let’s put the few we have together.
It was a natural step to include the cemeteries, because otherwise, I couldn’t have filled the room. … One project we found, and then I saw that we had two others, and I said, OK, let’s do one wall with the cemeteries. There are some famous examples here in the collection. Let’s bring all three together and make one wall, like it’s a chapter in landscape architecture.

WPTG: These were things already in the collection.

AL: The whole exhibition is based on the permanent holdings in our collection … Architecture design cannot be presented the whole year, because these graphics and watercolors will fade out. We have to bring them back to storage once in a while. The maximum we can show them is like three to six months and then they have to have a rest, so that means we cannot keep those drawings in the wall forever, because they would fade out in the light.

WPTG: When you started looking through the material to decide what you were going to include in the exhibit, was it a surprise that you decided that you could include cemeteries. In all honesty, there are other things you could have brought out.

AL: I thought it’s a very interesting part for architects. We have some beautiful drawings here. I thought this was really, really interesting … to bring the audience into this room, with what you might expect – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house, the model in the collection … and the cemeteries could be something for people to think about. The relationship between cemeteries and landscape. How architects approach the topic.

WPTG: That’s one of the things I’ve learned in my research. When people are told about the subject, and learn about the subject, it comes together naturally for them. But it’s not something that’s the first thing on people’s minds. … You say you have drawings in this exhibit?
AL: Yes, we have three cemeteries. The first one is Erik Gunnar Asplund. He did this cemetery in Stockholm, which is called Woodland Cemetery, Woodland Crematorium. This is a famous project. He worked on it for more than 10 years, 15 years, and he developed the whole landscaping and all the buildings … It’s great … It’s from the earlier times (of the 20th century). It was finished around 1937, 1936 … There are five drawings.
From the later century, around 1971, we have Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo, which is near Modena in Italy, which is a very interesting contrast to the other one. In Italy and Spain, there is a completely different tradition for the cemeteries, because they put the urns in walls. And in the northern countries, they have this sort of park-like, open landscaping, where you have the graves in the earth, and in Italy and Spain, you have these ashes in urns that you put into walls. You have these buildings constructed, which encloses landscape, and the other is more like a landscape that includes some buildings. I found it quite interesting that we can have both topologies, the northern topology of Asplund, and the southern Europe, Aldo Rossi. They’re from different times in the century. This opens up the spectrum (to) the different range of possibilities.

WPTG: The third one is …

AL: The third one is by Enric Miralles and Carme Pinos. A Spanish cemetery, Igualada; it’s near Barcelona. It’s pretty interesting; it’s kind of like the Aldo Rossi, the building walls for the urns, but at the same time it’s open. It’s an extension of an existing cemetery, but they chose to enhance the landscape and build some part into the mountains, or the hills there. Like to make it an experience of walking through a landscape of the dead. It’s a very, very interesting project. I mean, we have only a paper model; it’s not enough. I would like to have more…know better what this project is.

WPTG: The Aldo Rossi … that’s also drawings?

AL: A set of three drawings.

WPTG: Did you find any evidence that there was ever any American cemeteries included in the museum’s permanent collection?

AL: No, not that I know. I’m not sure. I didn’t go through all the files and records, but as far as I know and as far as I talked to colleagues … as far as landscape architecture, it has never been thematized in this way. As far as landscape architecture, it's neve been done. The Woodland has been shown in other exhibitions before … but never as a topic of cemeteries.

WPTG: And again, from my personal observation, I don’t think cemeteries (in America) have been given that kind of frame of reference as perhaps in Europe ... I don’t think there’s the same kind of recognition about the possibility ... In some cases they are, but I still think they are more on the periphery of people’s consciousness than perhaps in Europe.

AL: That’s absolutely right. In Europe, if you go to ... cities, there is a sort of tourism to go to cemeteries and to find famous graves of famous people and also something architecturally interesting in cemeteries, to go and see them. I’ve never heard of that in the U.S. Maybe some historic examples here, but ... you don't go for the architecture or the landscaping. You go because of the relevance, not for the architecture or the landscaping.


Art: Aldo Rossi (Italian, 1931-1997)Gianni Braghieri (Italian, born 1945)Cemetery of San Cataldo Modena, Italy, Aerial perspective (1971)Crayon and graphite on sepia diazotype. 24 x 49 3/4" (61 x 126.4 cm)The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2000

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cemetery makeover planned in Vineland, NJ

A historic Jewish cemetery in Vineland, New Jersey, will get a $250,000 makeover in time for the city's 150th birthday celebration in August 2011. Among the notables buried at Siloam Cemetery are the city's founder, Charles K. Landis, and the creator of Welch's Grape Juice, Dr. Thomas Welch.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Town's groundskeeping policies, re: herbicides

This is a letter to the editor from a city grounds official in Dickinson, North Dakota. Among other things, he mentions the hazards of using herbicides, which, if not used under the right conditions, can harm trees on the property.

Marietta, Georgia, mulls cemetery enclosure

Officials are discussing whether to fix the existing fence or replace it with something new, but similar in appearance.

Resident files complaint over conditions of Ohio cemetery

Citing poor groundskeeping, damaged tombstones and other poor conditions, a resident in Middletown, Ohio, filed a complaint with state officials about the operations of a historic cemetery. Said cemetery volunteer Vivian Moon:
“Middletown Cemetery hasn’t been anyone’s priority for more than 60

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cemetery records fading from history

This is a little different from the usual material we cover here, but this, I'm sure, is a typical case for very old cemeteries in America: The town of Northboro, Mass., is having trouble maintaining its oldest cemetery records, which are fading and falling apart.

Update on Peoria library site

An Illinois state archeologist is scheduled to visit a site Wednesday (June 17) in Peoria where workers uncovered 93 gravesites at the site of a proposed library expansion.

Sheriff's swap: One "adult beverage" for a cemetery

The sheriff in Hopewell, Va., owns a historic cemetery in his town, which came into his possession at a local tavern.

Monday, June 15, 2009

New York cemetery for sale

Officials in New York City are trying to sell a 13-acre site.

Cemetery discovered at Florida construction site

Historians and archeologists are exploring a site near the edge of some of Miami's oldest neighborhoods. This article from the Miami Herald gives some good details. The construction is for affordable housing.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Greensboro, North Carolina,, wrestles with neglected cemetery

Citizens are striving to resurrect and preserve an old cemetery in the town.
The Westhampton Cemetery is close to capacity, but cemetery and town officials cannot decide on a plan to acquire more land. This is the latest story, first brought to you here. Officials thought they had a plan to swap land in a pricey neighborhood for land near a dam, but the dam site is environmentally wetlands. Nothing actually wrong with the original site, from what I read, except that folks in the price neighborhood don't want a cemetery next door. (Author's note: ... even though cemeteries don't depreciate home prices, at least no more than Wall Street greed-heads.)

Work begins on preserving old Maine gravestones

Workers are preserving old gravestones at the Old North Cemetery in Portsmouth, which was established in 1753.

Cemeteries "Fight the Bite"

This is a bit unusual, but worth mentioning here: Cemeteries in California have required visitors to leave flowers in a water-absorbing polymer, in order to cut down on the amount of free-standing water that could become breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitos. Interesting idea.

Library site has graves

Archeologists examining a site for a planned library have found remnants of an old gravesite.

Article about garden cemeteries

A piece at the lifestyle section of Raleigh, North Carolina TV station WRAL's Web site has a nice overview piece about garden cemeteries, which were part of the rural cemetery movement.

New Mexico cemetery in disrepair

A cemetery in Bloomfield has fallen into disrepair. The president of the cemetery association says that a part-time, temporary caretaker cannot do the job and that individual gravesites are the responsibility of the family members.

Massachusetts National Cemetery picks firm for expansion

An architectural firm in Boston has been chosen to design the expansion of Massachusetts National Cemetery. The primary reason for the project is the increasing number of deaths of World War II-era veterans. Construction should begin next year and be finished by 2012.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Erosion in Canada threatens cemetery

Some graves could tumble into the Arctic Red River in the North West Territory, because of the thawing permafrost and subsequent erosion.

Cemetery and prairie preservation

Thanks to a connection at MyCity, who told me that in Indiana, the Nature Conservancy is helping preserve some prairie land in and around a cemetery...Seems as if both sides will benefit.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Sports columnist finds plenty to write about in local cemetery

The terrific Dayton Daily News writer Tom Archdeacon notes some of the great sports figures whose graves he's found in Woodland Cemetery.

Texas legislature makes changes to cemetery law

This is from the Austin American-Statesman. The article cites a number of measures passed by lawmakers, including this:
On the grave end of the cradle-to-grave spectrum, lawmakers OK'd HB 2927,
which awaits [Gov. Rick] Perry's review.
The measure was sparked by concerns raised when
a Texas Ranger Museum expansion project in Waco could have caused disturbance at
an adjacent historical cemetery. A legislative review concluded that state
cemetery laws needed an overhaul.
The review led to the bill, which, among
other things, clarifies state jurisdiction over cemeteries and mandates a "good
faith effort to locate and remove all human remains, any casket or other
covering of the remains and any funerary objects associated with the remains"
whenever a burial site is disturbed

Michigan towns debate cemetery funding, operation

Concerned that there is no firm way to create a budget, towns in Iron County, Michigan, try to work out a satisfactory arrangement

Georgia county zoning board considers family cemetery

The zoning board will consider whether a family can establish a cemetery. The measure also must get county OK.

Ohio cemetery falls into disrepair

Another report of a neglected cemetery, this one in Ohio.

TV report highlights neglected Detroit cemeteries

Government cutbacks have led to problems of neglect at some cemeteries in Detroit

Kansas City's Elmwood Cemetery

Here's one man's walking tour of the historic cemetery.

Cycling in Arlington?

A debate is ensuing in and around the nation's capital over whether cyclists should be allowed to ride in Arlington National Cemetery. Here is Streetsblog's take on the issue.

Squirrel stealing cemetery flags

Reports out of Port Huron, Michigan, reveal that a squirrel has stolen about a dozen flags from a cemetery as he and his mate build their nest.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

South Dakota volunteers work to preserve cemeteries

This article highlights the work of volunteers who help keep up cemeteries in South Dakota.

Old cemeteries meet new development

Here's a nice overview story from Arkansas' Morning News about the tug of war between old cemeteries and new development. Quoted in the article is Paula Marinoni, a preservation advocate and real estate executive broker:
It’s everybody’s issue, not just a developer issue. The onus is on the
entire community. It’s a matter of ethical responsibility for the

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Green means go -- and green should mean cemeteries

By Deborah Woodell
Whistling Past the Graveyard

THE WORLD is turning many shades of green as society struggles with a collapsing economy and strives to build a new, sustainable, 21st-century economy.

President Barack Obama is leading the charge for green jobs and a new green economy. No longer is green solely the purview of leftist, tree-hugging types. Now, green is being embraced by all walks of life as we strive for a new way of living.

Within this conversation is an element that still takes green in the most literal sense. All over the country, communities are recognizing the value of green space and taking steps to create new green spaces and/or preserve what's there. And very often, what's there is a cemetery.

Cemeteries were at the heart of the earliest communities in America; in Philadelphia, where I work, Founding Father Benjamin Franklin's grave is in a cemetery in the heart of Old City, offering passers-by the opportunity to enter this small sanctuary of solace. The rural cemetery movement of the 19th century sent many graveyards out into the countryside, where visitors communed with nature while mourning the dead. Now, many of those same places -- which once were in the middle of nowhere -- are in the middle of sprawl.

Now, as communities strive to make "green connections" within their "gray communities, cemeteries should be integral parts of the process.

In some places, they are. Philadelphia includes cemeteries in its GreenPlan Philadelphia project. Lowell, Massachusetts, includes cemeteries in its plan for the Concord River Greenway. Salisbury, North Carolina, includes the Memorial Park Cemetery in its Greenway project; this portion of the Greenway is sponsored by a funeral home and "includes a bridge and encircles a scenic lake with visible wildlife." Indeed, a Google search of cemetery and greenway produces more than 43,000 hits. But unfortunately, the results seem mostly anecdotal; a town here, a neighborhood there.

It's time to make cemeteries a key component of all greenways projects. Studies indicate that property values remain higher for homes near all kinds of open space, including cemeteries. In addition to the open-space value, cemeteries also provide cultural, historic and community links, become havens for wildlife, and, in some places, offer the only green space in the neighborhood.

Some criticism and fears of cemeteries are legitimate. Left unattended, cemeteries become sites of neglect and disrepair, or even vandalism and criminal activities. But fully incorporating cemeteries into greenways projects brings them into the mind-set, keeps them from becoming unattended, abandoned sites. Cemeteries become abandoned when no one cares; make them integral to your community's plans, and they won't become abandoned.

Less than two weeks from now, cemeteries will be front and center in our nation's consciousness, as we celebrate Memorial Day. Even the shabbiest ones get spruced up for this annual ritual. Yes, cemeteries are there for us to honor the dead. But cemeteries are for the living, too, and should be part of all plans to make our communities more livable.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Georgia town to take control of abandoned cemetery

Bainbridge, Georgia, is taking over an abandoned cemetery. Work has begun to begin condemnation procedures to take over the property

Archeologist wants to "locate Louisiana cemetery

An archeology professor from Michigan wants to use remote-sensing equipment to locate the graves in a pauper cemetery in Shreveport, Louisiana, that dates back to the Civil War.

Property rights vs. historic preservation

Greenville, South Carolina, is wrestling with historic preservation issues that could affect cemeteries. Funding is available for preservation measures -- but only if local standards match those of the states. Property-rights advocates say that this could give local historic preservationists powers even greater than eminent domain.

Ohio college students tackle cemetery project

A professor and students from Wooster College in Ohio are taking on the task of finding the actual location of a long-abandoned cemetery that holds the remains of early Mennonite members of the community.

Idaho cemetery desecrated by clearing project?

Law enforcement in Idaho is investigating whether a farm desecrated a cemetery by uprooting trees and performing other clearing tasks.

Ga. county finds itself struggling with abandoned cemetery

Officials in Bibb County, Ga., just discovered that they have no rules on handling abandoned cemeteries. The state has rules, which counties are free to adopt on their own. In this case, an abandoned cemetery has snarled plans to construct "a planned 1,000-acre residential and commercial development." Descendants of three of those buried in the Civil War-era graveyard object to moving graves.
Here is an opinion piece on the matter.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Inmates back working in Fla. cemeteries

Regulations prevented inmates from working on "private property," but now, officials have determined that they may in fact work to maintain the grounds of the local cemeteries in Chiefland, Florida.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cubs' fans final resting place

A columbarium set up to look like a part of Wrigley Field has opened at a Chicago cemetery. Here is one of the links with video.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

North Dakota lawmakers OK cemetery protection from assessments

From the Grand Forks Herald, which requires registration to see content:
By: Ryan Johnson,
Grand Forks Herald

The North Dakota Senate reapproved a bill today that will ban cities in the state from charging nonprofit cemeteries special assessments.
Senate Bill 2441 was introduced by Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, in March. It was unanimously approved by the Senate on April 7, and passed the House of Representatives 88-4 on April 15.
The bill needed to go back to the Senate for lawmakers to approve an amendment that was added during its House discussions. With Tuesday’s 45-1 vote by the Senate, the only remaining step before it becomes law is approval by Gov. John Hoeven.
“The legislature is totally done with it,” Holmberg said.
He became involved this spring after the Grand Forks Cemetery Association unsuccessfully appealed its $240,000 of previous special assessments to the Grand Forks City Council.
If signed into law by Hoeven, the bill would allow cities to spread the loss of revenue among the entire municipality or to use non-tax funds to make up the difference.

Green burials in Michigan

With the approach of Earth Day, the Detroit Free Press reports on the growing phenomenon of green burials.

Monday, April 20, 2009

North Carolina cemetery under local man's care

Because there is no record of actual ownership of a historic cemetery in Dobson, North Carolina, a local businessman has taken it upon himself to care for the site.

Foxes take up residence at Orlando cemetery

Rather than trap and remove a family of foxes that has made a den on the groups, operators of the Greenwood Cemetery in Orlando, Florida, have decided to let the foxes remain there, and warn visitors of their furry residents.

Erosion threatens historic Ohio cemetery

Heavy rains and the spring thaw have created an erosion problem that threatens graves in Spencerville, Ohio, of soldiers who fought in the War of 1812. The local historical society and Auglaize County officials lack the funds to fix the problem, and the project would need backing from sponsors to approach the Army Corps of Engineers to do the work.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

MoMA features cemeteries in landscape architecture exhibit

The Museum of Modern Art in New York is the host of a new exhibit, In Situ: Architecture and Landscape, and features Erik Gunnar Asplund’s Woodland Crematorium (1935-1940), Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery (1971-1984), and Enric Miralles and Carme Pinos’s Igualada Cemetery (1985-1996). Here is the link from the MoMA site. From
The exhibition closes with three cemeteries whose designs demonstrate that
our relationship to landscape often transcends our quotidian needs. The
exhibition is on view in The Philip Johnson Architecture and Design Galleries,
third floor, from April 8 to September 14, 2009. It is organized by Andres
Lepik, Curator, and Margot Weller, Curatorial Assistant, Department of
Architecture and Design, The Museum of Modern Art.

Philadelphia cemetery in disarray, draws outrage

The Mount Moriah cemetery is a national landmark, but the conditions are in disarray, a Philadelphia TV station reports.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Illinois residents working to restore 19th-century cemetery

The Friends of Mount Bloom Cemetery in Illinois are working to restore some of the grandeur of the graveyard, which dates to 1847.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Massachusetts town seeks labor cut at cemetery

Officials in Milford, Massachusetts, are seeking ways to cut labor costs at Vernon Grove Cemetery without laying off workers.

North Dakota Senate OK exemption from assessment for cemetery

The North Dakota Senate approved a measure that would protect the non-profit Grand Forks cemetery association from being hit with special assessments. The city is seeking $300,000 from the association, but it claims a state Supreme Court ruling exempts it from such assessment.

Missouri groups work to reclaim old cemetery

Several groups in Missouri will work to reclaim an old cemtery in Hannibal, Missouri.

Georgia DOT uncovers old cemetery

While doing work on a highway extension in Bibb County, Georgia, Department of Transportation workers discovered remains from an old, unmarked cemetery that may contain slaves.

Planners in Tennessee at a loss over cemetery zoning regulations

A local surveyor in Dyer County, Tennessee, said he has been asked to establish a family cemetery on private grounds, but the planning commission does not know what the current regulations require.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Funeral home alleged to have mistreated veterans' corpses

This isn't the type of thing I normally follow at this blog, but the story merits as much attention as possible: A funeral home that handles the remains of slain veterans is accused of, among other things, leaving remain in an unrefrigerated garage and in hallways and on make-shift gurneys. The funeral home is part of the Service Corporation International conglomerate, one of the world's largest death-care providers, whose work includes managing and owning cemeteries.
Here is a link from the Washington Post, which broke the story Sunday. The Post coverage includes video.

Skulls and bones at church in Wamba, Spain

This is the Associated Press caption that accompanies this remarkable photograph:

Skulls and bones are displayed inside the Santa Maria's church at the small village of Wamba, near Valladolid, Spain, Sunday, April 5, 2009. According to investigators, somewhere between the 15th and 17th centuries, the need for
room in the surrounding cemetery prompted the opening of the oldest tombs and
placing the bones in the ossuary. (AP Photo/Daniel Ochoa de Olza)

Noted Philadelphia cemetery gets makeover

The famous Laurel Hill cemetery, one of the first cemeteries in the rural cemetery movement, which was long neglected and became overgrown for years, is undergoing a revitalization.

Lean times hurt cemeteries in Maine

Here's a story from Maine that further illustrates what I reported in mid-March: In times of tight budgets, cemeteries can suffer.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Green-Wood Cemetery "gallery"

An art gallery of sorts has been created at the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Grand Forks update

Here are a couple of updates on attempts to protect the Grand Forks, North Dakota, cemetery association from being assessed a tax levy for flood control.
Dickinson Press

StoneMor earnings up

Here are a couple of items about the latest earnings report from StoneMor, in Levittown, Pennsylvania, a death-care/cemetery management firm.
Fox Business
Philadelphia Inquirer

Voters in Illinois town to decide cemetery fate

Voters in Pontiac, Ill., will go to the polls on Tuesday to determine whether the town should take control of the cemetery.

Opinion piece on maintaining cemeteries

Here's an op-ed from Utica, New York, that says it's our civic duty to maintain cemeteries. And here is a link to a New York-based adopt-a-cemetery organization linked to the article.

Bees nesting in North Carolina cemetery

Some solitary mining bees are making their homes in the Gaston, North Carolina, Memorial Park. But folks shouldn't fret; experts say the bees' nests -- holes in the ground -- actually aerate lawns. The bees are not aggressive. From the article:

Solitary, ground nesting bees play a vital role in ecological systems,
especially in pollination of crops and wild plants.

Alabama update on remains

Some remains that have been discovered in Montgomery, Alabama, appear to be medical waste, while other are believed to be from a yellow fever epidemic in the 1800s.

New cemetery in Henrietta, New York

Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Henrietta has begun work on a new, 109-acre cemetery. It initially will have 8,000 graves, but could eventually grow to 100,000 officials say.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mass grave in Alabama may contain bodies from 1870s epidemic

A mass grave was discovered this week in Montgomery, Alabama, and officials say it might contain victims of a yellow fever epidemic that that hit in the 1870s.

Arkansas cemetery gets cleanup help from inmates

The famous Evergreen Cemetery in Fayetteville, which was damaged by a January ice storm, got help from inmates in the ongoing cleanup effort. Here's our earlier link to the impending reopening.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Utah town takes steps to acquire cemetery plots

The town of Pleasant Grove, Utah, now has the authority to legally acquire cemetery plots that go unused for generations, if an owner cannot be found.

U.S. Senate considers veterans cemetery in Colorado

The Senate introduced a bill to establish a veterans cemetery near Colorado Springs. Colorado Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall back the plan.

Arkansas cemetery nears reopening after ice storm

The Evergreen Cemetery in Fayetteville, Arkansas, which was closed after it was damaged by an ice storm in January, is expected to be reopened in April, officials said. This link, from a TV station, includes contact info for anyone who wants to help with the remaining cleanup.
Citizens in Dell Prairie, Wisconsin, approved a measure to acquire an acre of land for expansion of a town cemetery. The purchase price is expected to be about $6,500, lower than the $9,000 offered to the owner earlier.

Old cemetery uncovered in Kentucky

Workers on a project to install a new outdoor stadium at Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington uncovered a cemetery at the site.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Orphaned cemeteries in judge's hands

A judge in Lebanon County, Pa., will rule on who is responsible for two abandoned cemeteries in Palmyra, Pa. From the article:
A cemetery association was established by members of the two churches in
1867, but the association disbanded about 30 years ago, and the churches took
over management and maintenance of the cemetery.
Through the years, the
association’s records have been lost, so there is no list of members or lot
holders. The churches maintain that, because they are not the legal owners of
the cemetery, the responsibility for maintaining a neglected or abandoned
cemetery lies with the borough.

Florida highway project threatens cemetery

Plans to widen Palm Bay Road in Brevard Count, Florida, have threatened some old graves of two infants who died in the early 1900s.

Flooding season: A request to readers

With this news out of North Dakota that the Red River is rising, I ask readers of this blog to keep me in the loop if any cemeteries are hit by the annual spring floods. Please send me information to the blog's contact address, and please let me know if you have a link to photos online. I'll link to your photo galleries, and to any news reports of cemeteries damaged by flooding.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Alabama town gets cemetery map

The town of Jemison, Ala., has gotten an official map of Pine Hill Cemetery, so that officials know what plots are available. Says Mayor Eddie Reed:
“I wish we were never in the cemetery business, but we are.”

Development projects unearth remains

USA Today gives a thorough look at the various projects across the country that have run into delays after digging up gravesites.

Connecticut lawmakers eye measure for cemetery takeover

The town of Easton, Connecticut, would be allowed to take over four abandoned cemeteries, under a measure being considered by the Connecticut General Assembly.

Tax levy planned for Nebraska town

Wallace, Nebraska, officials want to implement a tax of less than 10 cents per $1,000 value to help with the upkeep of Morning View Cemetery, which gets about $20,000 annually in interest with which to operate, about $2,000 less than it needs.

Lawmaker comes to rescue of Grand Forks cemetery

The Grand Forks, North Dakota, city government is seeking nearly $400,000 in special assessments from a cemetery association to help pay for flood protection, but a state lawmaker has introduced legislation to relieve that burden. Here is our earlier report on this, which includes a link to the original state Supreme Court decision ruling that cemeteries are exempt from such tax assessments.
Here is a story from Fargo on the subject.

New York eyes converting a cemetery to one for veterans

Sen. Charles Schumer is pushing for creation of a veterans cemetery in western New York. He is backing a plan to acquire Cheektowaga's Pine Lawn Cemetery and turn it into a facility for veterans, saying that money for the project could come from the federal stimulus bill.

Manufacturer comes to the aid of a cemetery

A financially struggling cemetery in San Gabriel Valley, California, has received some aid from a local manufacturer, M.C. Gill, which manufactures parts used in building aircraft and other vehicles.

Map not to scale, but praised nonetheless

A new map of the Bayview Cemetery in Bellingham, Washington, is not designed to be geographically correct, and that's OK with some folks.

Cemetery cites privacy issues

This is not really the domain of this blog, but it's interesting and worth sharing. An amateur genealogist began compiling the list of the deceased at Old Union Christian Church Cemetery in Lexington, Kentucky, but stoked the ire of the church board, saying that his publishing of the information online violated the privacy of those buried there and their families. His Web site has 475 documented burials at the site. A Kentucky law professor says the information is in the public domain.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Tapho Files 1: James Howard Kunstler

WELCOME to a new feature at Whistling Past the Graveyard. To kick things off, noted author James Howard Kunstler, a well-respected voice in the New Urbanism movement, answered several questions for me about cemeteries and New Urbanism. Kunstler is the author of several leading books about our modern environs, including "The Geography of Nowhere," "Home from Nowhere" and "The Long Emergency." His latest book is "World Made by Hand," billed as a "novel of the Long Emergency set in upstate New York in the not distant future." He also is a renowned speaker and the star of the KunstlerCast weekly audio program, as well as an accomplished painter.
In the future, I hope to offer more views from other leading figures of our day.
But first, James Howard Kunstler:

Whistling Past the Graveyard: Where do cemeteries fit in within the overall planning picture, via New Urbanism or even among more "traditional" planners?

JHK-- As far as I know, the cemetery has been an afterthought at best, and a non-thought more usually when it comes to anything in post 1950 planning. Prior to that, they enjoyed status as park-like amenities in cities that were smaller and slower than today's are -- with their disruptive overlays of Happy Motoring. The two prototypes for this were Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Mass., and Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, which were designed explicitly for strolling and laid out with great thought and artistry. This tended to be so because people died in places that had been their homes most of their lives. Our collective attitude today seems to regard death as a medical error, something to be embarrassed and ashamed of. Most new cemeteries are laid out with all the thought and care of tract housing, and surrounded by chain link fence (a material more suited to dog runs and scarp yards). The sense of the sacred seems to have eluded us. Now it is little more than a below-ground storage problem, with all the additional hydrological concerns. To my knowledge, the New Urbanists have not included a cemetery in any of their plans.

WPTG: Cemeteries often get lost amid discussions about housing, mixed use, transit, infrastructure, etc. All are legitimate concerns, so how can cemeteries step up their game and become part of the conversation and get some much-needed attention? Is this solely a from-the-ground-up movement, or can it come from the top down?

JHK-- The decades ahead -- the period I call "The Long Emergency" will furnish plenty of "customers" for cemeteries as the "usual suspects" (starvation disease, hardship, war) do their things in a resource-scarcer world. In general, our values and mores are likely to change radically in the face of this, including our treatment of the dead. Note too that our towns and cities will be changing a lot too -- and not in the direction of science fiction -- more like a return to the mid-19th century.

WPTG: Why do you think cemeteries have been so underrepresented in planning/New Urbanism discussions?

JHK -- Two reasons. 1. as in any real estate venture of our time a cemetery would have to occupy valuable lots that might otherwise be assigned to houses. 2. Few New Urbanism projects have active churches associated in their design. Add perhaps another: Americans in recent decades have moved so frequently that there is little expectation of dying-in-place.

WPTG: Who are the people you know who remain mindful of cemeteries in their work?

JHK -- nobody, really.

WPTG: There seem to be nearly as many zoning designations for cemeteries as there are communities. In my town, Winslow Township, NJ, they're a "non-conforming use." Two towns up the highway, they have specs down to lot size, frontage, percent of paved surface, and the like. So what's the best way to include cemeteries in master plans and the like? Is there a need for some uniformity?

JHK: You may find this answer impertinent, but I genuinely believe that the disorders of "The Long Emergency" will be such that planning departments will be dismantled for lack of government funding and the public will ignore the zoning laws as the motoring experience and all its niggling demands shrinks into history.

WPTG: Where, in your travels, have you seen the best recognition (for lack of a better word) of cemeteries and their role in an urban-scape?

JHK -- In many parts of the eastern USA where cemeteries were established in relation to churches, and where they were part of that mid-19th Century park movement. A very high proportion of people are cremated these days -- I suppose because they haven't lived in a given place long enough to have allegiance to it, or the place is not worthy of allegiance, or because it's less expensive for surviving family members.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Religion study and cemeteries

It's been interesting reading to follow news about the new American Religious Identification Survey, put out by Trinity College, in Hartford, Connecticut.

But what does that have to do with cemeteries? Well, for starters, one of the highlights of the study is that:

One sign of the lack of attachment of Americans to religion is that 27% do not
expect a religious funeral at their death.

It will fall to the non-religious cemeteries to carry a larger load of burials, including those run by governments. And, as I reported last week, cemeteries are suffering in the recession and will struggle to meet the demand, even if the demand falls amid rising interest in cremations. Not everyone will opt for cremation - for cultural or personal reasons - so their remains will have to wind up someplace.

Green burial is another growing option, but until regulators do more to understand and embrace this option, operators/proponents of green cemeteries will have their own battles to fight. I talked with a cemetery colleague last week and commented that Bibb County, Georgia, appears to be Ground Zero for the fight to create a green cemetery, which the rewriting of the codes to exclude a proposed site. But I'm sure Bibb County is not the only place wrestling with this issue. Green burial advocates need to remind people that burials in the United States all were green, until the introduction of the funeral industry in the middle of the 19th century (when arsenic became the embalming substance of choice). Now, let me reiterate: The conventional funeral industry not the enemy, by any means, but nor is the green burial industry (and, yes, while advocates might have idealistic intentions, it is, bottom line, an industry). There is room for both, literally and figuratively.

But here's another interesting point to the religion study. As more people choose to be non-religious, that puts more strain on existing churches to fund their everyday operations and their worship services - pay salaries, teach religious education, build sanctuaries, etc. - let alone their burial grounds. A lot of churches - if not all - already have some fiscal concerns. This economy is hurting everyone. So, fewer people attending church could mean more risk of religious cemeteries falling into disrepair.

As the ARIS reports:

Forestalling of religious rites of passage, such as marriage, and the lowering
expectations on religious funeral services, could have long lasting consequences
for religious institutions.

I'm not advocating any particular religion - nor am I advocating the no-religion option - but the choices Americans make about their religion will have significant impact on American cemeteries.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Recession hits cemeteries hard

By Deborah Woodell
Whistling Past the Graveyard

Unlike banks, brokerage houses and automakers -- and even you and me -- there is no rescue plan for financially struggling cemeteries in the United States.

“There is no bailout; there is no magic bullet,” Robert Fells, external chief operating officer and general counsel of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, a trade organization of some 7,200 members, told Whistling Past the Graveyard.

Cemeteries don't generate big headlines the way General Motors, AIG, or Bank of America do. But stories of struggling cemeteries are everywhere -- just look in your favorite search engine.

In Colorado Springs, Colo., city officials have requested information from potential business partners to help control costs and grow revenue for two municipally operated cemeteries.

Cash-strapped Pontiac, Mich., which faces a budget deficit of more than $6 million, is in the process of selling two historic cemeteries for $475,000 to StoneMor, of Levittown, Pa. Mayor Clarence Phillips told the Detroit Free Press that Oak Hill and Ottawa Park cost the city $300,000 to $400,000 a year to maintain, and some residents reportedly have complained about the lack of care there.

"I think it's a great deal because, they will take care of the cemeteries properly," Phillips said.

Greenville, Texas, recently agreed to contract out its lawn and maintenance work to a private contract.

"The Parks and Recreation Department looked at if they could maintain the cemeteries cheaper than a private company," director Colby VanGundy told Whistling Past the Graveyard in an e-mail. "A cost analyst was done and the bid came cheaper than what the City had been doing the work."

He recommended a contract of about $75,000 a year for a landscaping company to mow and trim vegetation, as opposed to the $110,000 the city was spending.

The stories are similar all across the country -- from Littleton, Massachusetts, to Fresno, California. Sometimes, it's the government seeking help from private enterprise; sometimes private operations seek help from their local governments.

“The cemetery is a business like no other,” Fells said. “It is the only business that says, ‘We will be in service FOREVER. We’ll be in business until doomsday.’ ”

Even North America's largest provider of death-care services has felt the pinch. In its end-of-the-year financial report, the publicly traded Service Corporation International reported a drop in revenue from $760 million in 2007 to $679.9 million last year. In its news release reporting the annual finances, the company said: "Cemetery operations were more susceptible to economic and financial market conditions, with comparable gross profit decreasing $28.4 million or 59%, driven by lower preneed sales, lower trust fund income recognized and less cemetery property construction revenue."

Besides those problems cited by SCI, myriad other problems have led cemeteries to these dire straits. The costs of basic cemetery care – watering, mowing, trimming, and the workers who perform those tasks – are rising, and many governments have already privatized those services as a way to contain costs – or at least have a firm number. The Colorado Springs Gazette reported that the water bill rise from rose from $37,710 in 2003 to $115,000 in 2007, leading to privatization of those services.

"Out here, we irrigate our cemeteries, and water is expensive,” Will DeBoer, manager of two city cemeteries, Evergreen and Fairview, told Whistling Past the Graveyard. Neither of those cemeteries receives taxpayer support.

As burials drop, so does revenue. Nationally, about 25 percent of the public is choosing cremation over traditional burials. In Colorado Springs, that number is 66 percent.

“Typically, people in the West are not from the West,” DeBoer said, which means their cremains are sent home, or scattered in their favorite places. And it means fewer burials.

Sometimes, cemeteries are faced with unforeseen expenses, such as the estimated $3 million in damage that Atlanta’s historic Oakland Cemetery suffered after a tornado in March 2008, or the estimated $100,000 each in vandalism damage in February at cemeteries in Kentucky and Georgia. Scrap metal thieves are increasing targeting cemeteries; cemeteries in San Diego have lost more than 300 brass and bronze grave markers since 2006, according to the National Insurance Crime Bureau.

“There is no greater underdog than the cemetery,” said Dusty Smith, who heads the International Association of Cemetery Preservationists, which is based in Florida.

In some cases, the cemeteries’ perpetual care funds have been rocked by the financial crisis itself – DeBoer noted that his cemetery perpetual-care fund took a $1.5 million hit because of the market in 2008.

Fells said the lack of proper business planning is a problem.

“Show me a cemetery in trouble, and I'll show you a cemetery that doesn't have sound business practices," he said.

“Some of them have no five-year plan, or 10-year plan.” Others, he noted, are hamstrung by both their operators' fiscal conservatism -- "Some of them don't invest in anything riskier than a passbook savings account, or maybe a six-month CD" -- or by regulations that restrict investment strategies.

Like many cemetery operations, Klamath Memorial Park, which opened in 1946 in Klamath Falls, Oregon, the $400,000 principal is untouchable until the cemetery is full. In the meantime, the city plays about $150,000 a year to operate and maintain the cemetery.

Smith noted that perpetual care seldom keeps pace with rising costs, even in good times. When the nation’s earliest cemeteries were established in the 1600s and 1700s, perpetual care cost a dollar.

“Now, what does a dollar get you?” she said.

“We have a product no one wants now,” DeBoer said. He went on to note that while there might be strong emotional and cultural sentiments about cemeteries, “Bottom line, it’s a business.”

Cemeteries also suffer from a lack of attention, unless they’ve turned themselves into a cultural or historic landmark. Smith said her research has shown that many cemeteries begin to fall into neglect and disrepair about 40 years – about a generation – after the final plot is filled. Except for people interested in history and genealogy, few people find a reason to visit a cemetery, once the immediate descendants of those buried die.

In Florida alone, she said, of the 4,000 known cemetery locations in Florida, 63 percent of them are considered abandoned or severely neglected.

Added Fells: “Once or twice a year, I’ll get a telephone call from an elderly man … and he'll say that no one is stepping forward. ‘Who will take over for me when I’m gone?’ ”

So, how will cemeteries be rescued, and where will the money come from?

In this tough economy, selling off land for development does not appear to be an option, according to DeBoer, whose city previously did just that.

“We’ve sold off parcels to developers in the past, but the real estate market and development are really down,” he said.

Depending on what business partnerships Colorado Springs can develop, he won’t rule out closing off the cemetery to new burials – while reassuring concerned residents that the cemeteries themselves won’t close.

“Every cemetery has a finite life span [regarding active burials],” he said, “but I’m confident that the cemeteries will always be there ... Cemeteries are in it for the long haul."

The joke going around now is that nothing is more "shovel-ready" than cemeteries, but there is little direct funding for them in President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package. It does include $50 million for memorial maintenance projects for Veterans Affairs' National Cemetery Administration. According to a statement from the office of U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards, a Democrat from Texas' 17th Congressional District: “These funds will enable the National Cemetery Administration to work toward an established set of cemetery standards of appearance throughout the system.”

Some states undoubtedly will use stimulus funds for specific projects. Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle already has indicated that some funds will go toward veterans’ burials in state or county cemeteries, because there is no national cemetery in the state.

But unless governments fund their cemeteries – an increasingly unattractive option for them – most of the money to fix up cemeteries and keep them operating will from individual operators, community organizations and individual residents – just as it always has.

Smith said that there once were 4,300 sources of federal dollars for historic preservation, but now there are only 222. She did say the private sector does have about 16,000 grants for preservation, but the competition for those funds is growing.

“A lot of that money goes to keep [historically designated] cemeteries in good shape, instead of fixing up the abandoned ones,” she said.

Smith, who got her start in cemetery preservation as an outgrowth of an interest in paranormal research, requires her members to perform cemetery cleanup work once a month as part of their membership in IACP. That organization is a 501(c)(3) non-profit, but gives out advice and guidance, not funds.

Around the country, individuals and organizations hold cleanup days and perform other community activities. As winter recedes and spring arrives, the number of those projects will rise, giving many citizens the chance to do what the economy isn't -- keep our cemeteries in good health.

Recession story: Newark Star-Ledger

The Newark Star-Ledger also reports on the drop in business at cemeteries.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Teen vandals get community service

Four teens who vandalized a Jewish cemetery in January were ordered to perform community service as part of their sentence.
  How's this for a thought? Why not have them perform that community service by cleaning up cemeteries?

New cemetery planned for southern New Jersey

Plans are under way to create a new mausoleum/cemetery in Medford Township, Burlington County, NJ. The new operator is a former employee of NFL Films.

Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta reopens this weekend

Historic Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta, which was heavily damaged by a tornado in March 2008, will reopen this weekend. 

Remains removal OK'd in West Virginia

A  judge has approved the removal of 22 graves in a family plot in order for Patriot Mining Co. to gain access to 80,000 to 100,000 tons ($5.2 million) of coal.

Monday, March 9, 2009

More on West Virginia cemeteries vs. coal company

The Associated Press reports on the earlier-mentioned proposal to move 22 graves to expand coal-mining operations in West Virginia.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Cemetery expansion opposed in Hawaii

The Hawaiian Memorial Park Cemetery is seeking a rezoning of property from conservation to urban, so that it can expand, but nearby residents fear what the zoning change will do to their area. From this article:
The cemetery's owners want to expand, developing 35.6 acres of conservation
land to provide burial space, mausoleums and cremation sites. But to do that,
they must obtain the approval of the state Land Use Commission to rezone 56.5
acres of conservation land to urban use, because cemeteries are not allowed on
conservation land.

Tennessee woman battles state DOT over land for highway

The Tennessee Department of Transportation already acquired some of the land of Dorothy Beard, but now that says design plans have changed and that it needs more of her land -- including part of the family cemetery -- to complete its Highway 840 project. TDOT says it won't touch any graves.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Texas town to drill for gas; cemetery to get part of windfall

Officials in the Crestwood section of Fort Worth, Texas, approved a measure to drill for natural gas, putting seven wells on a site in Greenwood Cemetery. Residents in the area will get a reported $14 million in royalties, and the cemetery will get a piece of that. Cemetery general manager Arlie Davenport says they will use the funds for capital improvements: "We celebrate our 100th anniversary this year, and these royalties will help make the next 100 years better than the last."

Service Corporation International reports 2008 financials

Here is a handful of items regarding the annual report of Servcice Corporation International, a leader in the death-care industry:
A news release about the fourth-quarter and annual finances.

Here's my summary: Cemetery revenues for the final quarter of 2008 were $160.5 million, down from $202.0 million in 4Q 2007. For the full year, 2008 revenue totaled $679.9 million, down from $760.0 million in 2007.

A transcript of the the conference call on the matter:

Here's a blurb from the company about its operations:

About Service Corporation International
Service Corporation International (NYSE: SCI), headquartered in Houston, Texas, is North America's leading provider of deathcare products and services. At December 31, 2008, we owned and operated more than 1,300 funeral homes and 350 cemeteries (of which over 200 are combination locations) in 43 states, eight Canadian provinces, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Through our businesses, we market the Dignity Memorial(R) brand which offers assurance of quality, value, caring service, and exceptional customer satisfaction. For more information about Service Corporation International, please visit our website at For more information about Dignity Memorial(R), please visit

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Feral hogs in San Antonio cemetery

Feral hogs are causing damage at the Mission Burial Ground.

$250G for "cemetery interpretation" in Nacogdoches, Texas

The city of Nacogdoches, Texas, and Stephen F. Austin University are receiving a $250,000 "Preserve America" grant from the National Parks Service for a joint project to map and study the Oak Grove and Zion Hill cemeteries in the city. From the article:
The first objective of the project is to build upon existing Geographic
Information Systems data to create a model cemetery-interpretation program for
the Oak Grove and Zion Hill cemeteries in Nacogdoches. Once established,
genealogy researchers and heritage tourists may access the program online to
learn about the historic cemeteries and the people buried in them.

Grand Forks council denies appeal from cemetery association

The Grand Forks council denied the request from the cemetery association to reduce its $240,000 in assessments to pay for a dike in the city.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Grand Forks, North Dakota, cemetery group under financial fire

You have to register for free access to the Grand Forks Herald, so here is the full story, from earlier in the week ... the Herald also came down on the cemetery association's side in an editorial, citing the 1970 state Supreme Court decision protecting cemeteries from assessments, and noting, among other things that cemeteries "tend to be shoestring rather than prosperous organizations."
The Grand Forks Cemetery Association asked the City Council to reduce its dike assessments Monday, a decision that could affect assessments for other cemeteries in the city.
The Grand Forks Cemetery Association asked the City Council to reduce its dike assessments Monday, a decision that could affect assessments for other cemeteries in the city.
Cemetery officials appealed the 2001 and 2003 assessments, which association President Gordon Iseminger said was “excessive.” Not only that, he said, a 1970 state Supreme Court ruling said cities can’t special assess nonprofit cemeteries.
City Attorney Howard Swanson said he felt that the ruling was in error and, if the issue were to go to court again, today’s Supreme Court would over turn it.
At this point, the two sides are in a standoff. State law does not allow the city to take possession of a cemetery even if the cemetery did not pay its assessments. If the cemetery doesn’t pay, there’s little the city could do.
Some other cemeteries in Grand Forks also have been delinquent on their assessments. If the city were to decide to grant the Grand Forks Cemetery Association’s appeal, it will have set a precedent for the others. Other property owners in the city would have to bear the burden of the third dike assessment that the cemeteries are not paying.
Council member Curt Kreun said these fees were assessed to everyone else in the city. “We’re all in this together, and we all should pay our fair share.”
If the city decides next week to sue the association to recover the funds, the case could go to the state Supreme Court, according to Swanson.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Vandalism update: Versailles, Kentucky

Authorities say they are pursuing several leads in the case of 150 headstones that were toppled at the Versailles Cemetery in Kentucky. They also say they are increasing the reward from $2,000 to $5,000 in the incident, which caused $100,000 in damage.

Oregon cemetery district to offer green burials

Because of increased interest in natural burials, the Estacada Cemetery District is beginning to offer them.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Vermont seeks to expand cemetery protection

Vermont lawmakers are looking to expand protection of cemeteries and graves from the threat of moving.
Currently, Vermont's burial statute allows a parent, spouse, sibling or
child of the deceased to object to a grave relocation.
The bill would expand the list to include descendants of the dead, local cemetery commissioners, historical societies, veterans groups and cemetery preservation groups such as the Vermont Old Cemetery Association.

Long Island cemetery plan draws environmental concerns

People opposed to a proposed cemetery plan on Long Island worry that embalming fluid (formaldehyde) and heavy metal from caskets could pollute groundwater. Here's an interesting tidbit from the article:
Little research has been done in the United States on cemeteries' potential to pollute groundwater. Experts say conditions vary from site to site. Much depends on soil type, density of graves, and age of the burial ground - in the 19th century, arsenic was used to preserve bodies, a practice since stopped."It's an important issue that has not been solved," said Alison L. Spongberg, a geologist with the University of Toledo who studied water quality at four Ohio burial grounds. "A graveyard is nothing more than another type of landfill ... Of course they have to affect the groundwater if you put too many in one spot."

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Dead Space Project

Here's a link to a research project on a New Orleans cemetery, St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, by the University of Pennsylvania. I'm also putting a link among the other research sites off to the side of this blog.

South Dakota town mulls OK for green cemetery

The town of Mitchell, South Dakota, responding to changes in public sentiment, is reviewing changes to its laws to allow green burial.

Oregon cemetery may go private

The public cemetery for Klamath Falls may be sold to private interests, according to this report. The report says the city pays $150,000 annually in maintenance costs and is soliciting bids. Only interest from the $400,000 perpetual-care trust can be spent on maintenance; the principal must be untouched until the cemetery is filled.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Historic Florida cemetery to be rededicated

The Hickory Hill cemetery in the Tallahasse area, which dates back to the post-Civil War era, is being rededicated after a 15-year effort to clean it up

Colorado cemeteries 'fight for life'

Two cemeteries in the Pikes Peak area are struggling financially, so Colorado Springs is soliciting bids for potential private partners to help keep them operating.

Friday, February 20, 2009

New York cemetery seeks help in paying bills

Calvary Cemetery in Johnson City, NY, is asking for government help in paying its water and sewer bill

More vandalism: Kentucky, South Carolina

Here are some more links to the Versailles Cemetery vandalism, in which about 150 headstones were knocked over:
The Herald-Leader
WZTV, a Fox affiliate

And here is a smaller incident from Seneca, South Carolina:

One reminder: I mean no disrespect to those incidents that don't make this blog. I take all vandalism incidents seriously, but sometimes I just cannot get them all listed here. Each of these crimes takes away valuable law-enforcement, judicial and community activity resources, not good in these economically challenging times.

Plans for veterans cemetery scrapped in Alaska

Some lawmakers are upset that Gov. Sarah Palin's 2010 budget plan scraps plans for a veterans cemetery in Alaska. Here's a second report on the same subject. The state needed to commit $750,000 ($250,000 over each of the next three years) in order for the federal government to contribute the other 90 percent of the funds for the project

New cemetery planned for Las Vegas

The Clark County Commission has given an OK to build a new cemetery in Las Vegas. Here is another TV report on the matter. Here's our link to an earlier report on this.