Cemeteries

No Man Left Behind

On Thursday, November 10, 2016 a funeral was held for a two Vietnam veterans with no living relatives. However, they were not laid to rest alone. The funerals for Clifford Ray Dudley and Marine Lance Cpl. Dennis Ray Ashley Corpus was held in Christi, Texas at the Coastal Bend State Veterans Cemetery. When no next of kin were found, the cemetery made a call to the public to attend the funerals. They posted on their Facebook page, “We do NOT leave Veterans behind.” About 400 people showed up to mourn the veterans.

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Similarly, last Friday November 11, 2016, another funeral was held in Texas for a Navy veteran with no relatives. Richard Lee Anderson served in the navy from 1996 to 2002, and although funeral director Robert Falcon tried to find his family, it was to no avail. “At such a young age we thought that we would have no problem with trying to locate family and unfortunately it's just been very unsuccessful,” Falcon told Fox 7.

“If a veteran passes away at a VA hospital or veterans home, and no one claims him/her as a family member, the staff will work with the state or national cemeterys, to ensure that there is a plot or urn provided, and military funeral honors for that veteran… Funeral directors will also call the morgue, or vice versa, and they in turn will contact the nearest veterans cemetery, and ask them to check to see if that person was a veteran.”However, they are under no obligation to contact anyone to attend the funeral. Regardless, the tradition has been held for years.

This July about 200 people in New York went to pay their respects to a 91-year-old homeless veteran with no known relatives. One of the people in attendance highlighted the importance of the act “We are connected through our service and through our sacrifice. Look around now, she has 200 or so family members. As long as you’re a veteran you have friends and family everywhere and you’re never alone.”

Debora Flores Franco


Cemetery Tourist: Salem Cemetery in Winston-Salem, NC

Salem Cemetery was incorporated in 1856-1857 by E.A. Vogler, C.S. Bonner, A.H. Shepherd, H.A. Lemly, Thomas J. Wilson, Robert Gray, William Barrow, E.S. Patterson, E. Belo, H.W. Fries, Joshua Boner, E. Fries, and Jesse A. Waugh as the "Salem Cemetery Company." 

An early depiction of Salem from 1881 shows Salem Cemetery south of Cemetery Road and west of Park Avenue.

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Salem Cemetery is adjacent to the Moravian cemetery of God's Acre, established in 1771, and just south of downtown Winston-Salem.  Photos below are from a visit on November 19, 2016.

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Cemetery Tourist: Crown Hill Cemetery In Indianapolis, Indiana

DSC03465Crown Hill Cemetery was incorporated as a non-profit, non-sectarian cemetery in September 1863.  The cemetery originally included 236 acres of farmland located north of Indianapolis, Indiana.  The first interment, of Lucy Ann Seaton, took place on June 2, 1864.  In 1866, the federal government purchased a portion of the cemetery and dedicated it as a national cemetery for the interment of Union soldiers.  Additional acreage was purchased in 1869, 1886, 1887, and 1911. The cemetery currently includes 555 acres, which makes it the country's third largest cemetery. 

I grew up a mile away from Crown Hill Cemetery and it has always been at the edge of my consciousness.  It has only been in the last few years that I've taken the time to really explore the cemetery, which serves as a guide to the history of the city of Indianapolis.  My most recent visit took place on November 8, 2016. 

Crown Hill Cemetery is named, transparently, for a hill known as "The Crown."  Before Indianapolis merged with Marion County in the 1970s, The Crown was the highest point in the city.  (For those interested in Indianapolis trivia, the highest point is now in Pike Township.)  At the top of The Crown is the tomb of James Whitcomb Riley.  Riley, known as the "Hoosier Poet," was born in Greenfield, Indiana in 1849.  Although Riley is now little known outside of Indiana, he was famous in his day, primarily for his poems "Little Orphant Annie" ("An' the Gobble-uns 'at gits you Ef you Don't Watch Out!") and "The Raggedy Man."  His death in 1916 was national news.

Continue reading "Cemetery Tourist: Crown Hill Cemetery In Indianapolis, Indiana" »


Who gets to choose whether a body is moved?

On November 1, 2014, a West Michigan family buried their loved one, Shirley Sisco, at Pretty Prairie United Methodist Cemetery in Howe, Indiana. Sisco laid to rest for nearly years surrounded by other deceased members of her family. 

All of this changed when members of Sisco's family were informed that the cemetery had plans to dig a driveway right where Sisco was buried. Apparently, Sisco was buried in the wrong location, and the driveway construction was planned at the time of her burial.

Instead of changing the plans for the driveway, the cemetery plans to change the final resting place of Sisco, contrary to Sisco's family's wishes. The cemetery's plan is to dig trenches on either side of Sisco's vault, dig a new grave at the foot of Sisco's current grave, and pull her vault into the new grave with straps, a thought Terry Bower, Sisco's daughter, struggles with.

Who gets to make that decision?

Because Pretty Prairie Cemetery is a religious cemetery, Pretty Prairie has a lot of leeway in creating rules and regulations. According to Indiana Code 23-14-33-3, the rules and regulations of religious cemeteries trump the general cemetery law. In other words, the governing head or body of a religious cemetery is able to establish rules and regulations for that religious cemetery without regard for any other cemetery laws that govern all other cemeteries.

Under Indiana Code 23-14-33-3, if Pretty Prairie has no rules or regulations regarding the relocation of a body, the general cemetery code applies. Even under the general cemetery code, Pretty Prairie would still be able to move Sisco's body. Though Indiana Code 23-14-57-1 limits the removal of a body from a cemetery without consent of the next-of-kin or a written order, Indiana Code 23-14-57-3 provides that a cemetery is not prohibited from moving a body to "some other suitable plot in the cemetery." Additionally, Pretty Prairie cannot be held liable for burying Sisco in the wrong plot in the first place, according to Indiana Code 34-14-59-1(1).

Unfortunately for Sisco's family, there is probably nothing they can do to stop Pretty Prairie from moving Sisco's body and constructing the driveway right through her old grave.

Sarah Saint


No Construction Permit for Mausoleums in DC, Even in Historic District

When Benjamin C. Bradlee, former editor of The Washington Post, died on October 21, 2014, he was buried in a plot in Oak Hill Cemetery. The plot was purchased by the Bradlee family ten years prior to his death because the cemetery was running out of room.  

Oak Hill Cemetery is a nearly 170 year-old rural cemetery nestled in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, DC. To solve the issues of decreasing availability, the cemetery has begun renovation efforts to create additional burial sites. One of these renovation projects has been to sell new mausoleum plots on one side of the cemetery's entrance Ellipse.

Shortly after Bradlee's internment, Bradlee's widow, Sally Quinn, received a letter from the cemetery advertising that new plots were available for purchase. Quinn decided to buy one of the new plots and began working with an architect to create a mausoleum that could house Bradlee, herself, their son, and their son's family.  The Bradlee family mausoleum is the first mausoleum to be built in the entrance Ellipse. Bradlee was re-interred in the mausoleum about one year after his death. 

Oak Hill's decision to sell mausoleum space in the cemetery's entrance Ellipse is being opposed by several advocacy groups, including the Cultural Landscape Foundation, interested in preserving the historical integrity of the Ellipse. Prior to the construction of Bradlee's mausoleum, the Ellipse was an oval shaped lawn area with only a few statues, a fountain, and Renwick Chapel, which is a registered historic site. The Foundation argues that placing the mausoleums there "disrupts the historic entrance ensemble, thereby diminishing the integrity of the setting of the Renwick Chapel, the gatehouse, and the Ellipse. The mausoleum also adversely impacts the scenic views once afforded from the elevated plateau into the terraced grounds below." 

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In the fall of 2015, the District of Colombia Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs found that the mausoleum lacked the required construction permit. The District of Colombia Municipal Regulations (DCMR) Construction Codes state that a permit is required for the construction of any building or structure within the city limits of the District of Colombia. Furthermore, work that is completed in a historic district requires review of the design by several historic preservation oversight organizations. Considering that both Georgetown is a historic district requiring permits for even small construction projects normally exempted in non-historic districts and the historic status of Renwick Chapel, the city also felt the mausoleum was lacking the necessary historic oversight. 

After the city's initial determination, Oak Hill met with the city in an effort to get the city to reconsider its initial interpretation. The city reexamined the interpretation, found it had been in error, and then issued a policy statement, which "codified a longtime written understanding," of exempting mausoleums under 250 square feet from requiring a construction permit. 

However, advocacy groups felt the city was violating the procedural requirements of regulatory rule making and skirting the laws designed to protect the historic nature of Georgetown. The advocacy groups filed an appeal with the District of Colombia's Office of Administrative Hearings, and in September of this year, an administrative judge dismissed the case. The advocacy groups are now examining whether they have any other methods of recourse. Depending on what the order says, one avenue may be to appeal the final order to the District of Colombia Court of Appeals

In the summer of 2016, the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs did propose a new rule that would add "mausoleum" to the construction code definitions and alter the District of Colombia Municipal Regulations to specifically exempt mausoleums under 250 square feet from requiring construction permits. The proposed rule was open for comments from the public for thirty days, ending on August 8, 2016. The final rule has not yet been adopted. 

Thus, as it stands right now, construction permits are not required for mausoleums in Washington, DC, even in a historic district. 

 Rebecca Daddino


Depictions of God are Out, but Statues of Elvis are In!

Sweden now has its first cemetery in which a devout Catholic, fervent Muslim, and acknowledged atheist can spend eternity together.

According to a 2015 Gallup International and WI Network of Market Research survey, almost 80% of the Swedish people consider themselves to be “not religious” or a “convinced atheist”. Josef Erdem, with the permission of the Church of Sweden, had the vision of a “cemetery for everybody”.  The cemetery is next to the Stora Tuna church, which already has a Christian graveyard; the church will even maintain both cemeteries.    The only restriction in this universal resting place? No religious markers of any kind—no crosses, no depictions of God, no scripture passages from the Bible, and I would assume, no angels ascending upwards—and no nationalist symbols. Other than that, families can still use any decoration or adornment to memorialize the lives of their departed loved ones. So, God is out, but Elvis is in.

So why is a cemetery to accommodate the pious and the non-believer a newsworthy story? A universal, non-sectarian cemetery defies Catholic canon law going back to Biblical times. Consistent with Roman tradition, as illustrated by the story of Abraham, we want to be buried with our ancestors. This often results in separation of faiths even within cemeteries open to those of more than one faith.  The Zentralfriedhof, Europe’s largest cemetery, includes separate sections for Catholics, Protestants, Jews and other religious groups. Tanya D. Marsh & Daniel Gibson, Cemetery Law 350 (God’s Acre Publishing 2015). Catholic canon law also limited church burial to those deemed in good standing at the time of their death.  Why all these restrictions? The churchyard cemetery is consecrated ground and must be protected as such to ensure the salvation of the souls buried there. So, by letting just anyone in, the cemetery becomes just a place for dead bodies and no longer a religious waiting room in anticipation of the Resurrection.

On the other hand, a universal, non-religious cemetery allows inter-faith families to stay together instead of being separated for eternity due to differing religious beliefs.  It can be seen as the ultimate acceptance of different belief and value systems. And, the family of the deceased can still memorialize the gravesite with symbols and relics honoring the departed—as long as God is left out of the picture.

Lisa Roach


Cemetery Car Show Cancelled

Cemeteries carry a reputation as a place for mourning, grief, and sadness for those who visit the grounds.  The fear embedded in those who will never set foot in a cemetery is contributed to cemeteries being personified as scary, forbidden lands.  While these stereotypes of cemeteries have existed since their existence, some cemeteries are taking steps to change the community members’ minds.  Recently, cemeteries are offering to host events on their grounds to welcome all community members to enjoy the grounds.  However, cemeteries attempting to change their public perception has led to complaints from those who use the cemetery for its “intended purpose”.

In Roseville, Minnesota, the Roselawn cemetery board has canceled a car show after some residents voiced concerns about the event’s location.  The Roselawn Cemetery had planned to host the “Rods and Stones” car show on their cemetery campus, but took to social media to cancel the event after local residents expressed their distress.  The Roselawn Cemetery board apologized for planning to host the car show and urged the public to recognize that their “intention was never to be disrespectful or disruptive to any visitor or to the memory of any loved one.”  The Roselawn Cemetery board said the event’s benefits were threefold: it was intended to raise funds for the Minnesota Street Rod Association’s college fund, to help make cemeteries “less intimidating and forbidding,” and to connect with local residents. 

It appears that Roselawn Cemetery’s attempt to connect with the community and invite people to enjoy their grounds was not taken well by those who have loved ones resting in the cemetery grounds.  Should cemeteries try to change their public perception by hosting “fun” events for the community or should they remain a solemn place for prayer and reflection?  It is unclear if hosting a hot-rod car show is the most appropriate manner to utilize the cemetery property, but there may be greater community support for more tame events to take place in the future.

Rivver Cox


The Plot Thickens: A Court Will Have to Sort Out Dispute When Men Placed in Each Other's Graves

In October 2015, Lewis T. Chadwick, Jr. was buried in Pocasset Hill Cemetery in Tiverton, Rhode Island. Five months later, Raymond Murray was buried three graves away. The problem? Chadwick is buried in Murray's grave and Murray is buried in Chadwick's. 

The solution Chadwick's widow prefers, which is supported by the chairwoman of the town cemetery commission, is to leave the men where they are and switch the deeds. However, Murray's family wants the plot they selected, which would involve disinterring the men and re-interring them in the correct graves. The town attempted to facilitate an agreement between the families, but when this proved unsuccessful, the town filed for a declaratory judgment in Superior Court. Until resolved, the men remain in the graves which they presently occupy. 

No Rhode Island statutes directly address this issue, and Rhode Island case law indicates that once a body is buried, a court will only order removal for "necessity" or "laudable purposes." (See Sullivan v. Catholic Cemeteries). The issue here will be whether correcting the mistake falls within "necessity" or "laudable purposes." Another issue will be how to decide which family takes precedence over the other. The existing cases only deal with disputes between members of the same family.

Case law also seems to indicate that "consent" is a "crucial factor" considered by the courts. It is unclear when Murray's family found out about the mistake, but if they found out before burial, and permitted it anyway, did they consent to his burial in that plot? If so, will the court consider the emotional circumstances a negating factor?  

Although case law indicates that cemetery plots are property, courts have distinguished them from other real property in numerous ways. Will a court consider "uniqueness" of the plots as is often a consideration in real property disputes? If so, are the plots unique enough? The plots are in the same row of the cemetery, approximately thirty-two feet apart, and are both four-person plots. 

Finally, Pocasset Hill Cemetery is a municipal cemetery run by the Town of Tiverton. While the town is going to pay for the switch if ordered by a court, will the families have any recourse against the town or the cemetery?

Rebecca Ann Daddino


Jewish Cemetery Vandalized Days Before Jewish Day of Atonement

Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Atonement, is the holiest day of the Jewish year.  A few select individuals in New York can only hope for atonement this year after vandalizing a New York-area Jewish cemetery just days prior to the start of Yom Kippur.

On October 9, just two days before the evening Yom Kippur began, a Jewish cemetery in upstate New York was found defaced with swastikas, "Heil Hitler," and the letters "SS," representative of the Nazi security force, spray-painted at the entrance.  Although none of the headstones within the cemetery were damaged, the vandals left their mark in conspicuous black spray paint.

The vandals, if caught, may be subject to punishment under New York Penal Law.  Section 145.22 of the Law defines cemetery desecration in the second degree as when "with intent to damage property of another person, and having no right to do so nor any reasonable ground to believe he has such right, he damages any real or personal property maintained as a cemetery, plot, grave, burial place or other place of interment of human remains…"  As a class A misdemeanor, a sentence between fifteen days and one year can be imposed.

Alternatively, § 145.23(a) may apply when the assessed damage amounts to two hundred fifty dollars or more, thus constituting cemetery desecration in the first degree.  Cemetery desecration in the first degree is a class E felony, which is a fixed term crime with a sentence of between three and four years.

Without regard for any potential spiritual ramifications of desecrating a religious cemetery days before the religion's observation of its Day of Atonement, the vandals in question are most certainly subject to these earthly consequences.

Jillian Sexton


Contemplating the Place of Cemeteries in Society: The Proposed Disinterment of Human Remains at Hillside Cemetery in Reno, Nevada

Dsc_8926-2Hillside Cemetery is an old pioneer cemetery in Reno, Nevada. The last burial at Hillside occurred in 1959. The individuals laid to rest at Hillside range from the founding fathers of Reno to a Paiute chief to infant victims of scarlet fever. Regardless of the occupants, Hillside Cemetery fell into disrepair and was, apparently, a popular location for parties. As a result, the owner, Drew Lawton, of Hillside decided to sell the property for development.

Mr. Lawton’s decision was in compliance with N.R.S. § 451.070, which allows a cemetery to order the disinterment and removal of human remains on the property if (1) either “the further maintenance . . . the cemetery . . . is not in accordance with health, safety, comfort, or welfare of the public,” or (2) if a “financial provision must be made for future care of gravesites within a specified area.” After the notice of intent to disinter the bodies was posted, there was immediate push-back. In response to the outcry, Mr. Lawton postponed his decision to disinter the remains. Since the postponement, members of the Reno community have actively worked to beautify and preserve Hillside, demonstrated by the Hillside Cemetery Volunteers page and the Hillside Cemetery Preservation Foundation (HCPF).  

What struck me about this particular instance was the seeming change of heart with regards to Hillside in the community. Hillside was subject to neglect and vandalism. So, why did the Reno community change its mind regarding the importance of Hillside Cemetery? The HCPF highlights the importance of Hillside as a historical site in Reno, but the opportunity to restore Hillside has long presented itself. According the HCPF, Hillside never had a care trust in place, and the last time the gardens were cared for was 1905. I suppose the imminent threat of losing Hillside spurred members of the community into action, illustrating the old adage “you don’t know what you have until it’s (almost) gone.” Either way, it seems Hillside is around to stay, at least for now.

Maria Collins