Green-Wood Cemetery is Buzzing

Historically, Brooklyn's Green-Wood cemetery has been selected as the final resting place for many buzz-worthy people, such as composer Leonard Bernstein, newspaperman Horace Greeley, "Wizard of Oz" actor Frank Morgan and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. But, of late, Green-Wood has some new, lively residents, over 600,000 honeybees. Cemetery-Beekeepers4-1880x1219These bees are responsible for producing the locally acclaimed honey named, "The Sweet Hereafter," which is sold from a wheeled cart outside the cemetery's gothic gate. 

Up until 2010, New York City had a ban on beekeeping. But, one day in 2014, while sitting in Green-Wood's central chapel, Davin Larson, who worked with bees while growing up in the Midwest, came up with the idea to keep beehives onsite. Green-Wood and its sprawling 478 acres of greenery is one of the larger green areas in New York City, which seemed like an ideal location to keep bees within the limits of the city.  Larson proposed his idea to a cemetery volunteer and backyard beekeeper, Nicole Francis, who then sold the concept to the cemetery's public programming director. Larson was originally concerned that families who have relatives buried at the cemetery would object to the idea, but he says, "they've been nothing but supportive."

The bees not only produce lots of honey, this year alone the beekeepers harvested 200 pounds of honey, but also help to beautify the landscape by pollinating tons of flowering plants and trees. Larson did not want to interrupt the surrounding landscape when installing the hives, so with some innovation, he propped up the hives on excess, uncarved headstones that were previously stored 485Cemetery Beekeepersin the cemetery's workshop to make them appear almost as grave markers. But, maintaining the hives can be expensive, so supporters of the beekeeping are encouraged to make donations on the Green-Wood website to sponsor hives and efforts of Larson: $500 for one hive, or $250 for half a hive. This is the second year that Green-Wood has produced honey. The honey from this year's harvest is for sale the weekend of November 12-14 outside the main entrance of the cemetery. Overall, the community seems to enjoy the idea of having locally produced honey and regards the efforts of Larson as the "Bee's Knees."

Alexa Gaudioso

What's the Buzz Between the Tombstones?

The final resting place of celebrities who created a buzz when they were alive, is now the home to some 600,000 honeybees and a beekeeping operation that continue the buzz between the tombstones.  Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery allows beekeeper Davin Larson to run the beekeeping operation on the cemetery grounds near 500 acres of rolling hills.  Upon visiting the cemetery, Larson knew that the grounds were the perfect place to keep bees in the city; the cemetery is one of the larger green areas in the city.

Green-Wood Cemetery is also granting Larson to sell the churned out honey outside of the cemetery's Gothic main gate under the name "The Sweet Hereafter."  Larson was able to achieve this dream by proposing the idea to fellow beekeeper, and cemetery volunteer, Nicole Francis who sold the concept to the cemetery's public programming director.

The relationship is mutual between the cemetery and the beekeeping operation.  Today, the bees help pollinate the cemetery's tons of flowering plants and trees.  Along with keeping the grounds healthy, the cemetery has allowed individuals to sponsor hives to help defray the cost of maintaining the hives.  In order for the bees to build honeycombs, they feed on sugar water.  However, for the bees to obtain sugar water in the winter months, Larson had to buy 400 pounds of sugar this year to meet the bees needs to produce honeycombs.  Maintaining these hives is not cheap and if you wish to sponsor a hive, you may make a donation of $500 to sponsor a hive, or $250 for halve a hive. 

Green-Wood's beekeepers have harvested 200 pounds of honey already this year.  As business is booming the question becomes whether or not the public or relatives of those buried in the cemetery minded the bees company.  “I was concerned people who have relatives buried in Green-Wood would object, but they’ve been nothing but supportive,” Larson said.

Rivver Cox


Clean Up Your Cemetery Act!

You would think there would be some accountability in death.

As most states do, South Carolina has a cemetery board. Established by the South Carolina Perpetual Care Cemetery Act, the Board has the power and duty to promulgate regulations of the state’s cemeteries, as per §48-8-20, with some exceptions (e.g., governmental cemeteries). The Act seems fairly rigid in its rules: no company may operate a cemetery without a license from the Board; the company must follow detailed guidelines in establishing a perpetual care trust fund; and the Board has the authority to take disciplinary against a licensee who violates any of the provisions.

In theory, the Board would hold Steve Kent, owner of the Barnwell County Memory Gardens and Bamberg County Memory Gardens, accountable for the reported overgrown and unkempt conditions of the gravesites in his cemeteries. In practice, it appears that the Board has been unable to enforce action against Kent ever since it revoked his cemetery licenses for not turning over financial records, which is required by law. Once the Board revokes a license, it is no longer responsible for monitoring the cemetery’s conditions. As one perceptive cemetery owner speculated, if her license is revoked, she can pretty much operate her cemetery in any way she sees fit and can throw out the rule book.

Well, as the Deputy Director of Professional & Occupational Licensing most likely was quick to note, there are other recourses to hold these cemetery violators accountable. The SC Perpetual Care Cemetery Board filed action against Steve Kent in the SC Administrative Law Court. After Kent willfully violated a Court Consent Order and a Court Contempt Order, the Court found that Kent remains in contempt for continuing to disobey its orders. The Court added $50,000 for the current finding of contempt to the previous $10,000 in sanctions. But in spite of all that, Kent has still not paid the fines and the cemetery is still a mess, although apparently it continues to operate.

So, what options are left for the despairing loved ones who have to trample overgrown weeds to pay respects to their departed? According to §6-1-35, the Preservation and protection of cemeteries Section of SC General Provisions of the Local Government, counties and municipalities are authorized to preserve and protect a cemetery that is not being maintained—but good luck getting that to be a priority. Then, there is always a tort action, but going back to the basic requirements of tort, is there a duty? Is there a special relationship between the families of the buried and the cemetery owner? What is the nature of the injury? Emotional distress? Or should a family member just trip and fall over the ill-maintained markers?

Lisa Roach

Activists Say Road Construction is Encroaching on Slave Cemetery in Virginia


Outside of Washington, D.C., construction on a new interchange is encroaching on a marked slave cemetery. Residents in Loudoun County, Virginia, are worried about the new construction  on the interchange between Belmont Ridge Road and Route 7. These residents have been restoring and protecting the cemetery as an integral part of Loudoun County's history. 

Pastor Michelle Thomas of the Loudoun Freedom Center is one of the cemetery's biggest advocates. The mission of the Center is to "eliminate injustice and engender hope, understanding, and reconciliation . . . as it relates to the lives & contributions of the enslaved . . . who may be buried throughout Loudoun County." Thomas and residents in the area discovered that the construction moved the cemetery's fence line, and some digging had occured. 

In the course of construction, trees that protect marked and unmarked graves were removed. These trees protect the cemetery from erosion and vandalism. Virginia Code §18.2-127 makes purposeful destruction of cemeteries and burial grounds a criminal act. It is even a felony to destroy or damage marked gravestones. These statutes do give the residents of Loudoun County and the Center a legal remedy for any damages to the cemetery, but would essentially require a neighborhood watch after the removal of the trees. 

Although a spokesman for the county assured residents that the cemetery will remain undisturbed, residents are still worried. The County promises to monitor the area for those trying to disturb the remains, but the nearby residents are remaining vigilent. These guardians of the slave cemetery wish to ensure that the dignity and respect they've worked so hard to restore remains intact.

Amelia Lowe

Death by Headstone: Should Cemeteries Do More to Protect Their Visitors?


Everyone knows that the upkeep of cemeteries varies drastically across the country. Some are pristine  with the grounds well kept, while others are run down, seemingly abandoned. However, there are two things almost all cemeteries have in common despite their conditions; headstones and visitors. 

In May 2016,  a young boy was killed while playing with friends when a headstone fell on top of him in a cemetery in Glasgow, Scotland. According to the eight year old's friends, another child jumped on a gravestone to get onto a wall, causing it to topple over on top of the boy. The death lead to a full on inspection, with 500 to 900 headstones being laid flat due to safety concerns. 

The situation is certainly tragic. But it also begs the question, was it avoidable? Does a cemetery have a responsibility to prevent accidents like this from happening? There is no doubt that there are certain measures that could be taken to prevent an accident like this. For example, gates to prevent children from entering the cemetery at unsupervised times or ensuring the structural integrity of headstones  by implementing certain requirements for placement. BUT, some of the measures available would be impractical based on cost and time required to implement. Not to mention that the ownership of cemeteries ranges from public cemeteries to church ownership, one reason the maintenance of cemeteries doesn't seem uniform. 

There is also the issue of reinforcing old headstones that seem to be unstable. Should a cemetery owner be required to contact the owner of the grave site before taking action to ensure its safety? There are limitless questions regarding the issue.

Currently there is no easy solution for the safety concerns headstones pose to visitors of cemeteries. But one thing is for sure, it is an issue that both the owners of the cemeteries as well as visitors with children should keep in the forefront of their mind. 

Alston Merritt

A Free Farewell: Providing Funeral Services to the Unclaimed, Unknown, or Indigent

What happens when a person passes with no family, no funds, or no known name?

In 2015, the Warren County Coroner’s office provided for 51 burials of such persons. In that county, it is the responsibility of the county coroner’s office to take physical control of any dead persons until either the bodies are claimed by a relation or friend or the bodies are left unclaimed.

Kevin Kirby, the Warren County Coroner, has overseen 32 of such burials in this year alone, three of which were considered unclaimed bodies. Coroner Kirby waits about two weeks before burying the bodies of any of the unclaimed or indigent persons, preserving the remains in the meantime. Because Kentucky law does not allow for Kirby to cremate the remains of unclaimed bodies without a family member’s consent, he instead must keep the unclaimed bodies preserved as-is until burial, which is more expensive than cremation.

Besides being responsible for county-assisted burials through his position in the coroner’s office, Kirby also runs a funeral home in the county, J.C. Kirby & Son, through which he is able to provide the “pauper” funeral service. Each county-assisted burial consists of a simple wooden casket for the remains and a graveside burial service, for which Kirby’s office receives a $475 reimbursement from the Bowling Green-Warren County Welfare Board; in addition, Kirby pays the city of Bowling Green $100 to dig the grave.

For the less common occurrence of unclaimed bodies or unknown persons, Kirby says that his office attempts to use all possible means to either identify the person or the deceased’s relatives before burial. For the increasingly more common indigent deceased, the county-assisted funeral and burial service provides the deceased and the deceased’s family members with a funeral rite that the deceased may have otherwise not been able to afford.

Giving each of these unclaimed, unknown, or indigent persons a traditional funeral and burial service seems to be sort of a ritualistic nod to the life of the deceased. According to Kirby, “[i]t’s sad that somebody has lived a life that nobody cares or we can’t find someone. . . . It’s somebody’s son or daughter. They belong to somebody somewhere.” While it is merely the responsibility of the Warren County Coroner to provide for the simple burial of the deceased, Kirby, as well as some others, seem to have extended the traditional funeral service to those deceased who either have no family attending or would not otherwise be able to afford a funeral service.

Sometimes, despite all the economic or legal burdens, the best way to honor the lived of the unknown or unclaimed is to keep tradition alive.

Nina Banfield

Buying A Used Final Resting Place


Not interested in designing or building your forever home?  There is a niche market that will help you locate and bid on a slightly used final resting place. Are you desiring top-quality granite exterior, marble interior, high ceiling, and custom-made windows?  Then you may be interested in Rev. Norman Vincent Peale's mausoleum at Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City that has been vacant since the 1950s.  This modest mausoleum sleeps eight and is selling for $750,000 with the option of personalizing the entrance with your last name.

In New York, where the city revolves around real estate, it stands to reason that big-money prices and maxims like “location, location, location” figure in death as well. Mausoleums change hands just like apartments and townhouses.  And with cemeteries running short on space, cemetery officials have been known to call descendants who own long-empty grave-sites or mausoleums, and suggest a sale. 

Several mausoleums at Woodlawn Cemetery have been home to famous poets, musicians, and business tycoons.  These mausoleums can often raise their asking price due to their attached reputations and legacies.  William B. Leeds, a tin and railroad tycoon, had his mausoleum designed by famous architect in the early 1900s; Woodlawn Cemetery is asking for $4.2 million.  However, Woodlawn offers smaller mausoleums for a nominal $534,000.

Susan Olsen, the cemetery historian, has found letter records that show the "change of hands" of mausoleums at Woodlawn Cemetery throughout its existence.  These letters show the intent of future residents to build or buy mausoleums on the cemetery grounds.  There is also a history of transition of bodies from "receiving tombs," temporary resting areas while mausoleums are being built, to there years in the mausoleum, to the family deciding on a new resting destination for their dearly departed.

Treating burial spots as a recycling business is a new perspective on cemeteries.  It will be interesting to see if this trend continues to spread to other states as the competition for burial locations exponentially increases

Rivver Cox

Disinterment for Driveway? Error Pits Cemetery Against Family

In 2014, Shirley Sisco was buried at Pretty Prairie United Methodist Cemetery in Howe, Indiana. Now, the cemetery wants Sisco’s family to relocate her remains by November 1, 2016, the second anniversary of her death.

The reason? A proposed driveway.

According to the cemetery, “Sisco was buried in the wrong location, and . . . the grave and resting place are currently in the way of a planned driveway.” Understandably, Sisco’s family is none too pleased. They have hired an attorney and argue that rather than disinter and relocate Shirley’s remains—which would have the effect of separating her from other family members—the cemetery should change the path of the proposed driveway.

However, whether the cemetery can compel the Sisco family to disinter and relocate Shirley’s remains turns on the interaction between Indiana law and the rules and regulations of Pretty Prairie United Methodist Cemetery.

The local media covering the feud emphasizes that “Indiana law . . . gives a bit more leeway to religious organizations operating cemeteries.” That is true. In fact, Ind. Code Ann. § 23-14-33-3 expressly exempts cemeteries associated with religious and fraternal organizations from many of the requirements that otherwise govern cemeteries in the state. That includes § 23-14-57, which generally requires a member of the decedent’s family to consent to disinterment.

Nevertheless, the Siscos may still prevail. How? Well, religiously affiliated cemeteries enjoy the aforementioned exemption only so far as their rules and regulations conflict with Indiana law. Thus, if Pretty Prairie’s rules are silent as to disinterment, Shirley may only be relocated with her family’s consent. Unfortunately, further analysis is impossible given that the cemetery’s rules are not publicly available. Regardless, now that attorneys are involved, it likely that Shirley’s remains will remain in their present location well beyond the second anniversary of her death.

Mickey Herman

Historic Grave Markers Do Not Make Good Lawn Decorations


According to Lew Keen of the Newport Historic Cemetery Advisory Commission, theft of historic grave markers for use as patio stones and well covers, among other things, is a chronic issue. In October, five long-missing historic gravestones were finally returned to the Colonial-era cemetery Common Burying Ground in Newport, Rhode Island.

Under Rhode Island law, it is a felony to steal a gravestone, and consequences can include prison for up to three years, a fine of up to $5,000, and paying the cost to repair the grave. R.I. Gen. Laws § 11-20-2 (“Every person who shall willfully and maliciously . . . remove any . . . gravestone . . . shall be guilty of a felony and shall be imprisoned not less than one year and not exceeding three (3) years, and/or be fined no more than five thousand dollars ($5,000), or both and shall, in addition to imprisonment and/or fine, be ordered to make full restitution to any person, business or entity incurring the expense of repairing the grave.”).

Four stones were from 1835 and earlier, marking the graves of a Newport woman, Elizabeth Cook (1835), and her children Betsy (1799), Isaac (1803), and Edward (1804). The Cook family stones were last seen at Common Burying Ground in 1874. The four gravestones were found in a yard during a home renovation in the 1980s. The homeowners stored the gravestones in the basement until they moved. Pam Kelly discovered the stones when she purchased the home from the previous owners. 

The oldest stone returned in October was for a 1-year-old child, William Mayes III, who died in 1690. This stone was found in August also in a yard by Stephanie Pallas in Pennsylvania. Pallas was landscaping, came across a flat stone in her yard, and realized it was a gravestone that belonged in Rhode Island. The stone had been missing from Common Burying Ground since 1979.

A struggle with returning a gravestone all the way from Pennsylvania to Newport was the cost and reliability of transportation methods. Gravestones are not light; Elizabeth Cook's stone weighed about 450 pounds. Hiring someone to deliver Mayes' stone would cost $1000. Shipping via FedEx was only $100, but the Keen was not convinced the stone would be safe. Had the original thief been arrested and convicted, that person would have been responsible for the cost of transportation. Luckily, Bob Butler, a member of the Rhode Island Historical Cemetery Commission came to the rescue, agreeing to pick up the stone and return it to Newport safely in a pre-planned trip. 

All five stones have been reset in their proper places in Common Burying Ground. Students in a historical cemetery preservation class volunteered to reset the Cook family stones, using a crane due to their weight.

Sarah Saint

Proposed Muslim Funeral Home Pits County Officials Against Establishment Clause

No ground has yet been broken, but a Muslim funeral home in Georgia is already facing vocal opposition. The facility—which would be the first of its kind in the state—is part of a multi-stage development recently announced by Al Maad Al Islami, a nonprofit corporation led by Imam Mohammad Islam. The funeral home and an accompanying cemetery constitute the first stage, set to be built along Highway 162 in Newton County, located southeast of Atlanta. According to Islam, the second stage of the project would include building a mosque on the site. Depending on the availability of additional funding, a school and public park may round out the project.

Though surely applauded by many, the plan is also facing considerable opposition. Newton County Commissioner John Douglas has expressed his reservations about the project, claiming that “[a]ll the emails [he’s] gotten . . . have been negative for various and sundry reasons.” Among them – a concern that the funeral home, cemetery, and mosque might prompt federal authorities to begin settling refugees in the area.

Douglas’ qualms, however representative and loudly voiced, will prove impotent against both local and federal laws that protect religious organizations, including cemeteries, from discrimination. According to the Newton County Zoning Administrator, both churches and cemeteries are permitted uses on the property in question.

More importantly, as at least one county official has noted, “federal law prohibits [government] from imposing regulations on one religious development and not others.” In fact, in both Larson v. Valente and Board of Education of Kiryas Joel Village School District v. Grumet, the Supreme Court emphasized that preferring one religion over another violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution.

Therefore, because Newton County does not limit where houses of worship may be built, and because a Christian church already exists across the street from the planned development, any governmental action attempting to impede Al Maad Al Islami’s development will likely run afoul of the Establishment Clause.

Mickey Herman