Thursday, April 26, 2012

Random thoughts about cemeteries

I spent about three months in the Mesa City Cemetery (better than spending eternity, I guess) on a scanning project and I had ample opportunity to observe the operation of the cemetery and the interaction with its potential and actual customers (I don't know if that is the right word). Cemeteries here in the American Southwest are understated to say the least compared to some of the more monumental cemeteries more to the east. For example, the Mesa City Cemetery has an older section with traditional gravemarkers, but all the new burials must have ground level flush markers. I suppose this is to make maintenance easier, but then they allow flowers so almost every grave would have to be maintained individually anyway. For one thing, it makes finding a particular grave very much harder since they all look exactly the same.

One thing they can do with ground level flush gravemarkers is put the graves a lot closer together. They now stack the burials on top of each other also, up to three deep. This is another municipal mystery. Land is plentiful and there are huge, I mean huge, vacant tracts of land in Mesa owned by the City. So why do they have to "save" space by burying people three deep? While I was there at the City Cemetery, they dug up one burial to put in another. Maybe the first burial didn't pay for a permanent site? I never did hear the details on that one. Maybe they are only renting space?

It is hard to say whether a cemetery is a profit source for a city. From my perspective, I think they could be. Especially, the miserable rocky desert plots in northern and eastern Arizona. If your idea of a cemetery is grass, flowers and trees, you need to visit one of our gems. We have rocks, weeds and wind.

It seems that people put off purchasing a cemetery plot until they need one. Well, what I mean by that is the relatives are usually in buying a plot after someone has already died. My perception is that almost the only other time people come in is when they look like they are passing away or close to it.

From the records in the cemetery, most burials are arranged by the mortuaries, at least in Arizona. There is a charge for a cemetery plot, of course. But also charges for opening the grave and for the stuff they need at the grave site for a memorial service or burial. The cost of the funeral usually also includes the cost of the service at the grave if they are separate.

In Arizona, and I would guess elsewhere, they wait until the ground "settles" before putting up a gravemarker. In Arizona this means waiting until they put gravel over the grave or until the ground has become as hard as cement. We have a ground cover here called Bermuda grass. It is really a low growing weed but it passes for grass part of the year. In the winter when the nighttime temperatures drop below 61 degrees, Bermuda grass goes dormant and looks dead. You might think that this would be appropriate for cemeteries, but one cemetery here paints the dead grass green. I am not kidding.

Most people think of death certificates when they are looking for death records. But death certificates, if you can find one, are only the tip of the iceberg (a really inappropriate analogy). There are also grave permits, mortuary documents, funeral programs, obituaries, cemetery sales records, monument records, maintenance contracts and all sorts of other records associated with a death and burial.

Sometimes the information on the gravemarker is inaccurate and this is sometimes on purpose. People have a tendency to have post-mortem conversions even if they missed the death bed repentance part. What I mean is that obituaries and death notices paint a lot rosier picture of the deceased than they may have actually warranted.

I decided that when I passed away, I want my high school graduation picture in my obituary. Then everyone would read it to find out how such a young person passed away.

The early records of the Mesa City Cemetery were absolutely saturated with childhood deaths. There were many more infants and children who died than any other category. I also became pretty sensitive to the fact that a very high percentage of the people who died were younger than I am now.

Enough of random thoughts. Back to work.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting article. Multi-story burials are quite common in the UK too, but I guess space is a bit more at a premium. Nice article, thanks for sharing.

    David@lastrp.com

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