Burial Grounds

views updated May 23 2018

Burial Grounds

Three kinds of gravescapesthat is, memorials and the landscapes containing themhave dominated the funerary scene in North America from colonial times to the present. The first, the graveyard, almost invariably is located in towns and cities, typically adjoined to a church and operated gratis or for a nominal fee by members of the congregation. The second, the rural cemetery, is usually situated at the outskirts of towns and cities and is generally owned and managed by its patrons. The third, the lawn cemetery, is typically located away from towns and cities and ordinarily is managed by professional superintendents and owned by private corporations. These locations are generalities; in the nineteenth century both the rural cemetery and the lawn cemetery began to be integrated into the towns and cities that grew up around them.

The Graveyard

From the beginning of colonization and for many years thereafter, Euroamerican gravescapes in North America uniformly presented visitors with a powerful imperative: Remember death, for the time of judgment is at hand. The graveyard serves as a convenient place to dispose of the dead; however, its more significant purpose derives from its formal capacity to evoke or establish memory of death, which serves to remind the living of their own fragility and urgent need to prepare for death. Locating the dead among the living thus helps to ensure that the living will witness the gravescape's message regularly as a reminder "to manifest that this world is not their home" and "that heaven is a reality" (Morris 1997, p. 65). Devaluation of all things accentuating the temporal life is the starting point for a cultural logic that embraces the view that "the life of the body is no longer the real life, and the negation of this life is the beginning rather than the end" (Marcuse 1959, p. 68).

Inscriptions and iconography continually reinforce these imperatives by deemphasizing temporal life and emphasizing the necessity of attending to the demands of eternal judgment. Only rarely, for example, do the memorials indicative of this perspective provide viewers with information beyond the deceased's name, date of death, and date of birth. Icons reminiscent of death (for example, skulls, crossed bones, and the remarkably popular winged death's head) almost invariably appear at or near the center of the viewer's focus, while icons associated with life appear on the periphery. Popular mottos like memento mori ("remember death") and fugit hora ("time flies," or more literally "hours flee") provide viewers with explicit instruction.

Certain actions run contrary to the values that give this gravescape its meaning. For example, locating the dead away from the living, enclosing burial grounds with fences as if to separate the living from the dead, decorating and adorning the gravescape, or ordering the graveyard according to dictates of efficiency and structural linearity. The constant struggles to embrace and encourage others to embrace the view that life is nothing more than preparation for death demands constant attention if one seeks to merit eternal bliss and avoid eternal damnation. This view thus unceasingly insists upon a clear and distinct separation of "real life" (spiritual life, eternal life) from "illusory life" (physical life; the liminal, transitory existence one leads in the here and now). The formal unity of memorials in this gravescape both ensures its identity and energizes and sustains its rhetorical and cultural purpose.

Even from a distance the common size and shape of such memorials speak to visitors of their purpose. Although the graveyard provides ample space for variation, an overwhelming majority of the memorials belonging to this tradition are relatively modest structures (between one and five feet in height and width and between two and five inches thick), and most are variations of two shapes: single and triple arches. Single arch memorials are small, smoothed slabs with three squared sides and a convex or squared crown. Triple arch memorials are also small, smoothed slabs with three squared sides but feature smaller arches on either side of a single large arch, which gives the impression of a single panel with a convex crown conjoined on either side by similar but much narrower panels, or pilasters, with convex crowns. Together with location and general appearance, such minimal uniformity undoubtedly helped to ensure that visitors would not mistake the graveyard for a community pasture or a vacant lot.

The Rural Cemetery

For citizens possessed of quite different sensibilities, the graveyard was a continual source of discontentment until the introduction of a cemeterial form more suited to their values. That form, which emerged on September 24, 1830, with the consecration of Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery, signaled the emanation of a radically different kind of cemetery. Rather than a churchyard filled with graves, this new gravescape would be a place from which the living would be able to derive pleasure, emotional satisfaction, and instruction on how best to live life in harmony with art and nature.

Judging from the rapid emergence of rural cemeteries subsequent to the establishment of Mount Auburn, as well as Mount Auburn's immediate popularity, this new cemeterial form quickly lived up to its advocates' expectations. Within a matter of months travelers from near and far began to make "pilgrimages to the Athens of New England, solely to see the realization of their long cherished dream of a resting place for the dead, at once sacred from profanation, dear to the memory, and captivating to the imagination" (Downing 1974, p. 154). Part of the reason for Mount Auburn's immediate popularity was its novelty. Yet Mount Auburn remained remarkably popular throughout the nineteenth century and continues to attract a large number of visitors into the twenty-first century.

Moreover, within a few short years rural cemeteries had become the dominant gravescape, and seemingly every rural cemetery fostered one or more guidebooks, each of which provided prospective visitors with a detailed description of the cemetery and a walking tour designed to conduct visitors along the most informative and beautiful areas. "In their mid-century heyday, before the creation of public parks," as the scholar Blanche Linden-Ward has observed, "these green pastoral places also functioned as 'pleasure grounds' for the general public" (Linden-Ward 1989, p. 293). Mount Auburn "presented [and still presents] visitors with a programmed sequence of sensory experiences, primarily visual, intended to elicit specific emotions, especially the so-called pleasures of melancholy that particularly appealed to contemporary romantic sensibilities" (p. 295).

The owners of rural cemeteries played a significant role in the effort to capture the hearts and imaginations of visitors insofar as they sought to ensure that visitors would encounter nature's many splendors. They accomplished this not only by taking great care to select sites that would engender just such sentiments but also by purchasing and importing wide varieties of exotic shrubs, bushes, flowers, and trees. Both from within the grave-scape and from a distance, rural cemeteries thus frequently appear to be lush, albeit carefully constructed, nature preserves.

Promoting a love of nature, however, was only a portion of what patrons sought to accomplish in their new gravescape. "The true secret of the attraction," America's preeminent nineteenth-century landscape architect Andrew Jackson Downing insisted, lies not only "in the natural beauty of the sites," but also "in the tasteful and harmonious embellishment of these sites by art." Thus, "a visit to one of these spots has the united charm of nature and art, the double wealth of rural and moral association. It awakens at the same moment, the feeling of human sympathy and the love of natural beauty, implanted in every heart" (Downing 1974, p. 155). To effect this union of nature and art, cemetery owners went to great lengthsand often enormous coststo commission and obtain aesthetically appealing objects to adorn the cemetery and to set a standard for those wishing to erect memorials to their deceased friends and relatives.

In this way cemetery owners recommended by example that memorials were to be works of art. Even the smallest rural cemeteries suggested this much by creating, at the very least, elaborate entrance gates to greet visitors so that their cemeteries would help to create "a distinct resonance between the landscape design of the 'rural' cemetery and recurring themes in much of the literary and material culture of that era" (Linden-Ward 1989, p. 295).

The Lawn Cemetery

The rural cemetery clearly satisfied the values and needs of many people; yet a significant segment of the population found this gravescape too ornate, too sentimental, too individualized, and too expensive. Even Andrew Jackson Downing, who had long been a proponent of the rural cemetery, publicly lamented that the natural beauty of the rural cemetery was severely diminished "by the most violent bad taste; we mean the hideous ironmongery, which [rural cemeteries] all more or less display. . . . Fantastic conceits and gimeracks in iron might be pardonable as adornments of the balustrade of a circus or a temple of Comus," he continued, "but how reasonable beings can tolerate them as inclosures to the quiet grave of a family, and in such scenes of sylvan beauty, is mountain high above our comprehension" (Downing 1974, p. 156).

Largely in response to these criticisms, in 1855 the owners of Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery instructed their superintendent, Adolph Strauch, to remove many of the features included when John Notman initially designed Spring Grove as a rural cemetery. In redesigning the cemetery, however, Strauch not only eliminated features typically associated with rural cemeteries, he also created a new cemeterial form that specifically reflected and articulated a very different set of needs and values.

In many ways what Strauch created and what lawn cemeteries have become is a matter of absence rather than of presence. The absence of raised mounds, ornate entrance gates, individualized gardens, iron fencing, vertical markers, works of art dedicated to specific patrons, freedom of expression in erecting and decorating individual or family plots, and cooperative ownership through patronage produces a space that disassociates itself not only from previous traditions but also from death itself. This is not to say that lawn cemeteries are devoid of ornamentation, as they often contain a variety of ornamental features. Nevertheless, as one early advocate remarked, lawn cemeteries seek to eliminate "all things that suggest death, sorrow, or pain" (Farrell 1980, p. 120).

Rather than a gravescape designed to remind the living of their need to prepare for death or a gravescape crafted into a sylvan scene calculated to allow mourners and others to deal with their loss homeopathically, the lawn cemetery provides visitors with an unimpeded view. Its primary characteristics include efficiency, centralized management, markers that are either flush with or depressed into the ground, and explicit rules and regulations.

Yet to patrons the lawn cemetery affords several distinct advantages. First, it provides visitors with an open vista, unobstructed by fences, memorials, and trees. Second, it allows cemetery superintendents to make the most efficient use of the land in the cemetery because available land is generally laid out in a grid so that no areas fail to come under a general plan. Third, by eliminating fences, hedges, trees, and other things associated with the rural cemetery and by requiring markers to be small enough to be level or nearly level with the ground, this gravescape does not appear to be a gravescape at all.

Although lawn cemeteries did not capture people's imaginations as the rural cemetery had in the midnineteenth century, they did rapidly increase in number. As of the twenty-first century they are considered among the most common kind of gravescape in the United States.

See also: Cemeteries and Cemetery Reform; Cemeteries, War; Funeral Industry; Lawn Garden Cemeteries


Downing, Andrew Jackson. "Public Cemeteries and Public Gardens." In George W. Curtis ed., Rural Essays by Andrew Jackson Downing. New York: Da Capo, 1974.

French, Stanley. "The Cemetery As Cultural Institution: The Establishment of Mount Auburn and the 'Rural Cemetery' Movement." In David E. Stannard ed., Death in America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1974.

Linden, Blanche M. G. "The Willow Tree and Urn Motif: Changing Ideas about Death and Nature." Markers 1 (19791980):149155.

Linden-Ward, Blanche. "Strange but Genteel Pleasure Grounds: Tourist and Leisure Uses of Nineteenth Century Cemeteries." In Richard E. Meyer ed., Cemeteries and Gravemarkers: Voices of American Culture. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Research Press, 1989.

Ludwig, Allan I. Graven Images: New England Stonecarving and Its Images, 16501815. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1966.

Marcuse, Herbert. "The Ideology of Death." In Herman Feifel ed., The Meaning of Death. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959.

Morris, Richard. Sinners, Lovers, and Heroes: An Essay on Memorializing in Three American Cultures. Albany: SUNY Press, 1997.

Tashjian, Dickran, and Ann Tashjian. Memorials for Children of Change: The Art of Early New England Stone Carving. Middleton, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1974.



views updated May 14 2018


Areas that are set aside by public authority or private persons for the burial of the dead.

A public cemetery is open for use by the community at large while a private cemetery is used only by a small segment of a community or by a family.

A cemetery includes not only the actual grave sites but also surrounding areas such as avenues, walks, and grounds.

Cemeteries are not governed by laws that apply to real property or corporations due to their inherently different nature. Most states have established laws that specifically apply to cemeteries.

Establishment and Regulation

The establishment of a cemetery involves the process of formally designating a tract of land for use for the burial of the dead. It must be set apart, marked, and distinguished from adjoining ground as a graveyard.

The state, in the exercise of its police power, has the right to regulate the creation of cemeteries by providing for their establishment and discontinuance as well as to monitor their use. Private interests in the place of burial are subject to the control of public authorities, which have the right to require the disinterment of bodies if deemed necessary.

Burial sites may not be absolutely prohibited by legislative action inasmuch as they are considered indispensable and directly related to the public health. Provisions in corporate charters cannot prevent the exercise of police powers

with regard to which lands may be used for burial purposes, since burial in certain places might create a public nuisance.

Regulation by Municipal Corporations Subject to express legislative authority, and by virtue of its general police powers, a municipality may reasonably regulate places of burial within its borders. The key requirement is that a municipality may not act arbitrarily with regard to the regulations it adopts.

The power of a municipality to regulate cemeteries is an ongoing one that may be exercised as required by considerations of public health and welfare. Regulations may prohibit such actions as future burials in existing cemeteries, the enlargement of existing cemeteries, or the establishment of new ones.

A municipality may own and maintain a cemetery when it is expressly authorized to do so. General control may be exercised over a cemetery that a municipality owns, but control may not be exercised arbitrarily, capriciously, or unreasonably.

Corporations and Associations A cemetery corporation, as defined expressly by statute, is any corporation formed for the burial of the dead in a receptacle or vault. Such a corporation may or may not be organized for pecuniary profit and may or may not be organized under the general corporate law.

The members of a cemetery corporation are those people who own plots according to express statutory provisions. They cannot make a profit out of the sales of lots if the corporation is not for profit. Nor can they make a gift of their plot to another independent corporation.

If statute permits, cemetery corporations may issue stock and pay dividends to stockholders. Stockholders may enact bylaws.

Some statutes provide that a cemetery may give land shares, which are certificates entitling the holder to receive a portion of the profit from the subsequent sales of plots, in exchange for payment for the land purchased. This type of certificate is not a stock certificate but is in the nature of a nonnegotiable promise to pay money.


The establishment of cemeteries may be prohibited by state or local legislative bodies, but only under certain circumstances. The interment of dead bodies is necessary and proper and therefore the prohibition of the establishment of a cemetery must be based on the potential danger to human life or health. State and municipal organizations are not permitted to prohibit burial for such reasons as the value of adjoining land being lessened or because a cemetery might be a source of annoyance to inhabitants of the surrounding community.

Under some statutory provisions a cemetery cannot be established within a certain distance of a private residence, store, or other place of business without the owner's consent. Similarly, certain statutes provide that, prior to the establishment of a cemetery, consent must be obtained from the county or municipal authorities within whose limits the cemetery will be located.

Title and Rights of Owners of Plots, Grounds, or Graves

The purchaser of a plot in a cemetery is generally regarded as having obtained only a limited property right. He or she acquires a privilege, easement, or license to make burials in the purchased plot, exclusive of all other people, provided that the land remains a cemetery.

The plot owner's interest is a property right entitled to protection from invasion and the title is a legal estate. The owner's rights are subject to the police power of the state as well as the rules of the cemetery and any restrictions made in the contract of sale.

A cemetery corporation may cancel the contract of sale of a plot where regulations of the corporation that are part of the contract are violated by the sale due to a mistake of fact.A purchaser may, in turn, rescind the contract where substantial misrepresentations have been made by the corporation.

Plot holders cannot be prevented by cemetery owners from erecting markers, entering the grounds, or interring family members in the plots they own. If a plot owner dies intestate, the rights to the plot pass to the heirs in the same manner that personal property passes in the absence of a will. A gravestone or marker is the personal property of the person who places it near a grave and its ownership is passed to this person's heirs.

abandonment is the only way in which the use of land as a cemetery may cease. It takes place either by removal of all the interred bodies or by neglect to such a degree that the property is no longer identifiable as a cemetery. The removal of bodies may be ordered by public authorities when necessitated by the public health. The owner of a cemetery may opt to discontinue the sale of plots as initially planned, but permission to do so from government officials might be a prerequisite.

Duties as to Care and Maintenance

The owner of a plot has the duty to care for and maintain the plot either personally or through an agent. A cemetery's trustees may supervise plots to prevent them from disintegrating to the point of unsightliness.

If a statute so requires, a cemetery association must care for its plots. If a charter imposes a duty upon the association to keep the grounds in repair, this obligation does not encompass plots sold to individuals.

A cemetery association has the duty to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. Doing so includes the proper maintenance of portions of the cemetery used for travel or occupation by attendants of burials.

Uniform and reasonable rules and regulations may be made for the care and management of lots by the proprietors of a cemetery. Such rules must be equal in their operation. An unreasonable rule would be to prohibit the owner of a lot from hiring his own caretaker; however, a rule requiring that such work be done by competent persons would be reasonable.

Right of Burial

Everyone is entitled to a decent burial in a suitable place. The right to be interred in a particular cemetery is an easement, license, or privilege. An element of this right is the privilege to be buried according to the usual custom in the community and pursuant to the rules and regulations set forth by the proprietor of the cemetery. When an individual does not purchase a plot subject to any restrictions on burial, the proprietors have no subsequent power to limit such right unreasonably.

An individual who obtains the right to be buried in a cemetery subject to the control of a religious organization takes the plot subject to the organization's rules. This may limit the burial right to its members or to those in communion with such organizations. The church has exclusive jurisdiction over the question of whether a person is in communion with a religious organization and thereby entitled to burial in its cemetery.

Interference with Owner's Rights

A cause of action may be based upon the interference with the rights of a plot owner. An unlawful and unwarranted interference with an individual's exercise of the right of burial in a cemetery lot is a tort. An infringement of the rights of a plot owner may be prevented by an injunction if an injury is threatened.

Either criminal or civil liability, or both, exist for trespass or other types of injuries to a cemetery or to individual burial plots. If a burial ground or plot is wrongfully invaded or desecrated, an action of trespass may be brought against the wrongdoer. vandalism and destruction of tombstones are criminal offenses. The person who erects a tombstone may maintain an action for injury to it. After that person's death, his or her heirs may prosecute such an action. Generally, the measure of damages for trespass is the cost of restoration. Since there is a strong public policy against injury to gravesites due to the indignity of the act, punitive damages—intended to deter future acts of desecration—may be awarded.

further readings

Cronin, Xavier. 1996. Grave Exodus: Tending to Our Dead in the 21st Century. Fort Lee, NJ: Barricade.

Echo-Hawk, Roger C., and Walter Echo-Hawk. 1996. Battlefields and Burial Grounds: The Indian Struggle to Protect Ancestral Graves in the United States. Minneapolis, Minn.: Lerner.

Harnish, Jessica L. 2002. "Unlawful Concealment and Desecration of Burial Sites not Considered an Improvement to Land." University of Baltimore Journal of Environmental Law 9 (spring): 141–4.

Mitford, Jessica. 1964. The American Way of Death. Greenwich, Conn.: Crest.

Murray, Virginia H. 2000. "A 'Right' of the Dead and a Charge on the Quick: Criminal Laws Relating to Cemeteries, Burial Grounds and Human Remains." Journal of the Missouri Bar 56 (March-April): 115.

Rezatto, Helen. 1980. Mount Moriah: Kill a Man, Start a Cemetery: The Story of Deadwood's Boot Hill. Aberdeen, SD: North Plains Books & Art.

Wright, Roberta H., and Wilbur B. Hughes. 1996. Lay Down Body: Living History in African American Cemeteries. Detroit: Visible Ink.


Corpse; Easement; Property Law.


views updated May 29 2018


In Hebrew a cemetery is variously termed as bet kevarot ("place of the sepulchers"; Neh. 2:3, Sanh. 6:5); bet olam ("house of eternity"; see Eccles. 12:5) or its Aramaic form bet almin (Eccles. R. 10:9, Targ. Isa. 40:11, tj, mk 80b); bet mo'ed le-khol ḥai ("the house appointed for all living"; Job 30:23); or euphemistically bet ḥayyim ("house of the living").

The institution of a cemetery as a common burial ground is post-biblical; the general custom until talmudic times was burial in family sepulchers. However, ii Kings 23:6 mentions "the graves of the common people" at the brook of Kidron in Jerusalem. In mishnaic times special cemeteries are mentioned for persons executed by court order (Sanh. 6:5), otherwise the general custom was burial in family plots on a person's own property, either in caves (Palestinian custom), or in the earth (Babylonian custom). A family grave site was marked by a whitewashed stone (ẓiyyun le-nefesh) to warn passers-by against defilement (Shek. 1:1). Tombstones, mausoleums, and special grave monuments on these sepulchers are often mentioned in biblical and talmudic literature. Cemeteries are not "hallowed ground" in any religious sense.

The establishment of communal cemeteries arose out of practical considerations among which were the traditional purity laws which forbid Kohanim to touch a corpse or come within four cubits of a grave. In talmudic times the cemetery was the object of fear and superstition as it was regarded as the dwelling place of evil spirits and demons. Thus it was considered dangerous to remain there overnight (Ḥag. 3b; Nid. 17a). The cemetery, perhaps for these reasons, was to be located far from a town, at least 50 cubits distant from the nearest house (bb 2:9). It was guarded by watchmen against grave robbers or animals (bb 58a). This is the origin for the custom of fencing off the cemetery.

The care bestowed upon the cemetery in talmudic times is reflected in the saying: "The Jewish tombstones are fairer than royal palaces" (Sanh. 96b; cf. Matt. 23:29). A plot designated for a cemetery may not be used for any other purpose. Any occupation showing disrespect of the dead such as eating, drinking, or using the cemetery as a shortcut, is forbidden. Animals are not permitted to graze there and grave vaults may not be used as storage rooms (Meg. 29a; Sh. Ar., yd 364:1; 368). Based upon Proverbs 17:5 tallit or tefillin should not be worn in a cemetery, nor should a Torah scroll be read there so as not to "shame" the dead who are no longer able to perform these mitzvot (Sh. Ar., yd 367:2–4). Kohanim are forbidden to enter a cemetery except for the burial of a close relative – parent, child, wife, brother, or unmarried sister (Lev. 21:2–4); it has therefore become the custom to bury kohanim in a special row close to the cemetery wall to enable their relatives to visit the graves without entering the cemetery proper. In the Middle Ages cemeteries were situated at the extreme end of the ghetto with a special building for the ablution of the dead (tohorah) where the burial prayers were also recited. The limited area of the Jewish cemetery in the ghetto often made it necessary to inter bodies above those previously buried there. Thus the rule became general to have a space of six handbreadths between each layer of graves (Tur, yd 362:4; also Siftei Kohen ad loc.). This is also the minimum space to be left between adjoining graves.

Visiting cemeteries on public fast days to offer prayers at the graves of the departed "in order that they may intercede in behalf of the living" (Ta'an. 16a, 23b, Sot. 34b, Maim., Yad, Ta'anit 4:18) was a widespread custom and remained such throughout the ages (Sh. Ar., oḤ 579:3), especially on the Ninth of Av and in the month of Elul (Isserles to oḤ 559:10; 581–4). In times of danger of pestilence or epidemics as well as at a difficult childbirth, it was customary to have a procession around the cemetery (hakkafot), during which psalms and penitential prayers were recited to avert the danger. Ashkenazi women customarily measured the circumference of the cemetery walls with cotton thread and used the rewound twine as wicks for white wax candles that would be long enough to burn twenty-four hours; these were then donated to the synagogue for use on Yom Kippur. Prayers and supplications recited over every wick asked dead relatives, particularly pious women, to intercede for the living.

Owing to the lack of space the dead were buried in a row in the chronological succession of their burial. It was, however, accepted custom to reserve a special area for the rabbis and other prominent and pious members of the community. In many communities men and women were buried in separate rows. Apostates, especially baptized Jews, persons of evil repute, and suicides, were buried in a separate corner of the cemetery (Sh. Ar., yd 345). This rule was later mitigated by most halakhic authorities in the case of suicides as they could not be certain that the act of suicide was deliberate and premeditated, and also out of consideration for the feelings and the good reputation of the family (Ḥatam Sofer, Resp., yd, no. 326). In this spirit the general custom in Reform and Conservative Judaism is to bury suicides in their family plots (see *Suicide). The burial of "sinful people" (apostates, etc.) in their family plots is also permitted by many communities on the principle that death in itself is an atonement for sin (cf. Sif. Num. 112). Two enemies should not be buried side by side, neither should the wicked be interred next to the righteous (Sh. Ar., yd 362:5–6).

The custom of decorating graves with flowers was strongly opposed by Orthodox rabbis on the basis of the talmudic rule that "whatever belongs to the dead and his grave may not be used for the benefit of the living" (ibid., 364:1), and because they regarded this custom as an imitation of gentile customs (ḥukkat ha-goi). Reform and Conservative Judaism do not object to the planting of flowers and shrubs in the cemetery since it is done in reverence of the dead (cf. Beẓah 6a, also Loew, Flora, 4 (1934), 340). Many cemeteries in Israel permit such decoration and, particularly in military funerals, it has become the custom to put wreaths of flowers on the grave.

During the last century many cities in Europe established communal cemeteries in which separate sections were provided for the different faiths. Leading rabbinical authorities held that if the Jewish section is given to the Jewish community as a permanent possession, this section may be used as a Jewish burial ground but it must be fenced-off with a space of four cubits between the Jewish and the general section (M. Deutsch, Duda'ei ha-Sadeh (1929), no. 66). Upon visiting a cemetery after the lapse of 30 days a prayer is recited which closes with the second benediction of the Amidah (Ber. 58b; Tosef., Ber. 5:6; Sh. Ar., oḤ 225:12). The most widespread book of special prayers to be recited when visiting a cemetery was Ma'avar Yabbok compiled by the 17th-century Italian kabbalist *Aaron Berechiah of Modena. In modern times prayer books of all trends in Judaism contain special prayers, in Hebrew or in the vernacular, to be recited at the visit of gravesides.

See: *Cremation, *Death, *Grave, *Ḥevra Kaddisha, *Tombstones.

[Meir Ydit]

In the United States

Since Jewish worship does not require a special building, the purchase of a cemetery often indicates the establishment of a Jewish community. In 1656 the New Amsterdam (New York) authorities granted to Shearith Israel Congregation "a little hook of land situated outside of this city for a burial place." The exact location of this cemetery is now unknown. The congregation's second cemetery (Chatham Square), purchased in 1682, is still in existence. The Newport, Rhode Island, cemetery dates from 1677; Philadelphia's first Jewish burial plot from 1738; and that in Charleston, South Carolina, from 1762. The early cemeteries were managed by the officers of the synagogue. Toward the end of the 18th century, Shearith Israel established a society (Hebrah Gemilut Hasadim) to handle the administration of cemetery affairs. This practice was followed elsewhere. In the 1850s societies independent of synagogues began to be established for the purpose of owning cemeteries and providing grave spaces. Another change was the outright sale of burial plots, as against the allocation of graves in rotation. A more striking divergence from the older Jewish practice was the development of cemeteries on a commercial basis. This is now often carried out in conjunction with the allocation of sections of a cemetery to congregations, fraternal orders, or landsmanshaften.

[Sefton D. Temkin]


je, 3 (1903), 636–41; jl, 2 (1928), 814–9; et, 3 (1951), 259–67; J.M. Tykocinski, Gesher ha-Ḥayyim (1960). in the U.S.: D. de Sola Pool, Portraits Etched in Stone (1952); H. Grinstein, The Rise of the Jewish Community of New York (1947), 313–29; B. Postal and L. Koppman, Jewish Tourist's Guide to the United States (1954); S.B. Freehof (ed.), Reform Responsa (1960); idem, Recent Reform Responsa (1963); H.M. Rabinowicz, A Guide to Life (1964), 44–47; M. Lamm, The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning (1969). add. bibliography: C. Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women (1998), 126–46.


views updated Jun 27 2018

1. Burial-ground, especially a large landscaped park or ground laid out expressly for the deposition or interment of the dead, not being a churchyard attached to a place of worship. The first Christian examples of cemeteries physically detached from churches were established by Protestants for two reasons: decency, because of the disgusting state of overcrowded churchyards in towns; and doctrine, because of the desire to weaken RC belief in Purgatory by sundering the living from the dead. Examples are those at Geneva (1536), Kassel (1526), Marburg (1530 and 1568), and Edinburgh (1562). During C18 several suburban walled cemeteries of limited extent were formed, in RC as well as Protestant countries, from sheer necessity (e.g. Paris, Vienna, Berlin, Dessau, Belfast, all in the 1780s and 1790s). However, Europeans had been burying in cemeteries in India in C17, and erecting monuments over their graves (e.g. Surat), and in Calcutta the South Park Street Cemetery was established in 1767, a true necropolis, with streets of fine Classical mausolea and monuments far more magnificent than anything in Europe at that time. Attempts to bring major reforms to European cities were sporadic, generally unsatisfactory, and aesthetically dreadful until, by a complex process prompted by a new sensibility forged through poetry and literature, the English landscape-garden fused with the necessity of burying the dead in decent and hygienic ways, and, as a result of the Decree of 23 Prairial, Year XII (12 June 1804), cemeteries were to be established in France outside urban limits. Brongniart was entrusted with the design of a great cemetery at Mont-Louis, east of the city of Paris, which became Père-Lachaise; this was to become world-famous and enormously influential, for nothing short of a revolution had occurred. Liverpool's St James's Cemetery was created in a disused quarry (1825–9—by Foster); Glasgow's Necropolis (1831–2) followed, and, after Asiatic Cholera arrived in 1831, London's first great garden-cemeteries were established at Kensal Green (1833), Norwood (1837), Highgate (1839), Nunhead (1840), Brompton (1840), and Abney Park (1840), all of which were landscaped and embellished with architecture. No major town or city in Europe or the USA could function properly without a cemetery or cemeteries, and many of great quality were designed. Fine examples in the USA include Mount Auburn, Boston, MA (1831—a superbly landscaped cemetery by Bigelow and others), Laurel Hill, Philadelphia, PA (1839—by Notman, again a stunning layout with an arboretum), Hollywood, Richmond, VA (1848—also by Notman, who must be regarded as one of the founding-fathers of American landscape architecture), Green-Wood, Brooklyn, NYC (from 1838—a marvellously landscaped cemetery laid out by Douglass), and Albany Rural Cemetery, Menands, NY (from 1844—the apotheosis of the large landscaped cemetery, also by Douglass). However, the proliferation of monuments inhibited the maintenance of the grounds, and Downing suggested that memorials should be designed in a way that would not hinder upkeep. One of the first of the so-called ‘Lawn Cemeteries’ was created (1855) at Cincinatti, OH, by Adolphus Strauch (1822–83).

In Italy cemeteries tended to be more of the campo santo type, but very much larger than the medieval Pisan prototype. Examples were the Certosa at Bologna (1801–15), Brescia (1814–49), Verona (1828) and the superlative Staglieno, Genoa (1844–51—with its Neo-Classical galleries and Rotunda by Barabino and Resasco). C20 cemeteries include the war cemeteries established after the 1914–18 war, with contributions from Lutyens, Baker, and others; the fine Woodlands Cemetery near Stockholm by Asplund and Lewerentz (1917–41); the Slovene National Cemetery, Žale (1937–40—by Plečnik, who unquestionably created a masterpiece); the San Cataldo Cemetery, Modena (1971–6 and 1980–90— by Rossi); the Brion Cemetery, San Vito d'Altivole, near Treviso, Italy (1970–2—by Scarpa); the Woodland Cemetery, Leutkirch (1977–82—by von Branca); and the Cemetery for the Unknown, Mirasaka Sousa, Hiroshima, Japan (2001–2—by Hideki Yoshimatsu and Archipro—a moving meditation on nature, loss, and death).

2. Catacombs.

3. Consecrated enclosure for burial of the dead.


Architectural Review, ccxii/1270 (Dec. 2002), 42–5;
Ariès (1981);
Berresford et al. (2004);
Colvin (1991);
J. Curl (2000a, 2002c);
J. Curl (2000a, 2002c);
J. Curl (ed.) (2001);
Etlin (1984);
Loudon (1981);
Meeks (1966);
Stannard (ed.) (1975)


views updated May 21 2018


Cemeteries reflect society's interpretation of the continuing personhood of the dead. Colonial America's small rural family graveyards and churchyard burial grounds were an integral part of the community of the living, crowded with tombstones bearing the picturesque iconography of winged skulls, hourglasses, and soul-effigies, and inscriptions ranging from the taciturn to the talkative—some with scant facts of name, age, and date of death, others offering thumbnail biographies, unusual circumstances of decease ("They froze to death returning from a visit"), homilies in verse ("As I am now, so you shall be, /Remember death and follow me"), and even the occasional dry one-liner ("I expected this, but not so soon").

In the nineteenth century, alarmed by public health problems associated with increasing industrial urbanization, the rising medical profession pressed for new cemeteries on the outskirts of towns, where the buried bodies could not pollute nearby wells and where any "noxious exhalations" thought to cause disease would be dissipated in the fresh suburban air. These new "garden cemeteries" would also function as places to which the inhabitants of the teeming cities could go for recreation and the inspiration of the beauty of nature.

First of the new genre was Mount Auburn Cemetery, picturesquely sited on a bend in the Charles River between the cities of Boston and Cambridge. Three years in the making, with carriage paths and artful landscaping (thanks to the collaboration of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society), it opened in 1831 to enthusiastic reviews and was soon followed by Mount Hope in Bangor, Maine; Laurel Hill in Philadelphia; Spring Grove in Cincinnati; Graceland in Chicago; Allegheny County Cemetery in Pittsburgh; and the battlefield burial ground at Gettysburg. By the end of the 1800s there were nearly two hundred garden cemeteries in America.

The boom in street-railway construction in the 1870s made the outlying cemeteries readily accessible to the public for day-trips and picnics. In several cities the departed could ride the rails to the cemetery, too. (The United Railways and Electric Company of Baltimore owned the "Dolores," a funeral car with seats for thirty-two plus a compartment for the casket. Philadelphia had a streetcar hearse as well, the "Hillside.") But the streetcar revolution also fueled suburban development of the open spaces surrounding the cities of the dead, even as parks for the living began to compete for the shrinking acreage of undeveloped land. (Frederick Law Olmsted, while designing New York's Central Park, completed just after the Civil War, is reported to have said: "They're not going to bury anyone in this one.")

With the passing of the Victorian age and the splitting off of parks from cemeteries, cemetery management began to stress efficiency and profitability. A pioneer of this new approach was Dr. Hubert Eaton, a former mine owner who bought a down-at-heels graveyard called Forest Lawn in Glendale, California, in 1917, and over the next four decades metamorphosed it into a flagship of twentieth-century cemetery design and culture with hundreds of miles of underground piping for sprinklers and flat bronze markers in place of headstones (allowing the trimming of vast areas by rotary-blade machines and of maintenance costs by as much as 75 percent). Area themes included "Babyland" and "Wee Kirk o' the Heather," accented by sculptures such as Duck Frog and the occasional classical reproduction.

While not every memorial park could aspire to be a Forest Lawn, by the end of World War II, private cemetery management had become a thriving industry with its own trade journals—such as American Cemetery, Cemeterian, and Concept: The Journal of Creative Ideas for Cemeteries —and a ready target for both the biting satire of Evelyn Waugh's 1948 novel The Loved One and the merciless investigative reporting of Jessica Mitford's 1963 exposé, The American Way of Death.

Attitudes toward death itself were changing as well. The medicalization of dying, with its removal from home to hospital, helped to transform the awe-inspiring last event of the human life cycle into a brutal, even trivial fact. Whether from denial or mere pragmatism, two-thirds of the students polled at three universities said they would favor cremation, while a rise in the number of anatomical donors prompted medical schools in the greater Boston area to begin sharing excess cadavers with one another whenever one school had a surplus.

Public policy also took an increasingly utilitarian tack. In 1972, ninety years after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the nonprofit status of cemeteries owing to their "pious and public purpose," the Department of Housing and Urban Development declared that burial was a marginal land use and proposed establishing cemeteries under elevated highways, in former city-dump landfills, or on acreage subject to airport runway noise.

"After thirty years a grave gets cold," one mausoleum builder ruefully told cemetery historian Kenneth T. Jackson, who noted the high mobility of Americans near the end of the twentieth century and the fact that older cemeteries "run out of space, and few people still alive remember anyone buried there." As individual markers and statuary fell into disrepair or were vandalized, indifferently maintained graveyards became less and less attractive places—ironically turning again into recreational areas, but now for persons and activities unwelcome in the public parks.

Notable exceptions to this trend are sites where the famous are buried, such as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and of President Kennedy in Arlington National Cemetery, or Elvis Presley's grave site at his Graceland mansion in Memphis, which continue to draw thousands of pilgrims every year.

—Nick Humez

Further Reading:

Allen, Francis D., compiler. Documents and Facts, Showing the Fatal Effects of Interment in Populous Cities. New York, F. D. Allen, 1822.

Drewes, Donald W. Cemetery Land Planning. Pittsburgh, Matthews Memorial Bronze, 1964.

Jackson, Kenneth T. Silent Cities: The Evolution of the American Cemetery. New York, Princeton Architectural Press, 1989.

Klupar, G. J. Modern Cemetery Management. Hillside, Catholic Cemeteries of the Archdiocese of Chicago, 1962.

Linden-Ward, Blanche. Silent City on a Hill: Landscapes of Memory and Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery. Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1989.

Miller, John Anderson. Fares, Please! A Popular History of Trolleys, Horsecars, Streetcars, Buses, Elevateds, and Subways. New York, Dover, 1960.

Mitford, Jessica. The American Way of Death. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1963.

Shomon, Joseph James. Crosses in the Wind. New York, Stratford House, 1947.

Waugh, Evelyn. The Loved One. Boston, Little, Brown and Company, 1948.

Weed, Howard Evarts. Modern Park Cemeteries. Chicago, R. J.Haight, 1912.


views updated May 17 2018


CEMETERIES. The term "cemetery" entered American usage in 1831 with the founding and design of the extramural, picturesque landscape of Mount Auburn Cemetery. A non-denominational rural cemetery, Mount Auburn was an urban institution four miles west of Boston under the auspices of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society (1829).

With the exception of New Haven's New Burying Ground (1796, later renamed the Grove Street Cemetery), existing burial grounds, graveyards, or churchyards, whether urban or rural, public, sectarian, or private, had been unsightly, chaotic places, purely for disposal of the dead and inconducive to new ideals of commemoration. Most burials were in earthen graves, although the elite began to construct chamber tombs for the stacking of coffins in the eighteenth century. Most municipalities also maintained "receiving tombs" for the temporary storage of bodies that could not be immediately buried. New Orleans

favored aboveground tomb structures due to the French influence and high water table.

Mount Auburn, separately incorporated in 1835, established the "rest-in-peace" principle with the first legal guarantee of perpetuity of burial property, although many notable families continued to move bodies around from older graves and tombs through the antebellum decades.

Mount Auburn immediately attracted national attention and emulation, striking a chord by epitomizing the era's "cult of the melancholy" that harmonized ideas of death and nature and served a new historical consciousness. Numerous civic leaders from other cities visited it as a major tourist attraction and returned home intent on founding such multifunctional institutions. Major examples include Baltimore's Green Mount (1838), Brooklyn's Green-Wood (1838), Pittsburgh's Allegheny (1844), Providence's Swan Point (1847), Louisville's Cave Hill (1848), Richmond's Hollywood (1848), St. Louis's Bellefontaine (1849), Charleston's Magnolia (1850), Chicago's Grace-land (1860), Hartford's Cedar Hill (1863), Buffalo's Forest Lawn (1864), Indianapolis's Crown Hill (1864), and Cleveland's Lake View (1869). Most began with over a hundred acres and later expanded.

Prussian landscape gardener Adolph Strauch's "landscape lawn plan" brought a type of zoning to Cincinnati's Spring Grove (1845), which from 1855 on, in the name of "scientific management" and the park-like aesthetics of the "beautiful," was acclaimed as the "American system." Cemetery design contributed to the rise of professional landscape architects and inspired the making of the nation's first public parks.


Inspired by Strauch's reform, cemetery managers (or cemeterians) professionalized in 1887 through the Association of American Cemetery Superintendents, later renamed the American Cemetery Association and then the International Cemetery and Funeral Association. The monthly Modern Cemetery (1890), renamed Parkand Cemetery and Landscape Gardening in 1895, detailed the latest regulatory and technical developments, encouraged standardized taste and practices, and supplemented inter-changes at annual conventions with emphasis on cemeteries as efficiently run businesses. Modernization led to mass production of memorials or markers, far simpler than the creatively customized monuments of the Victorian Era.

Forest Lawn Cemetery (1906) in Glendale, California, set up the modern pattern of the lawn cemetery or memorial garden emulated nationwide. Dr. Hubert Eaton, calling himself "the Builder," redefined the philosophy of death and exerted a standardized control at Forest Lawn after 1916, extending it to over 1,200 acres on four sites. Innovations included inconspicuous marker plaques set horizontally in meticulously manicured lawns and community mausoleums, buildings with individual niches for caskets, no longer called coffins.

Cremation offered a new, controversial alternative for disposal of the dead at the turn of the twentieth century. Mount Auburn installed one of the nation's first crematories in 1900, oven "retorts" for "incineration" to reduce the corpse to ashes or "cremains." Some larger cemeteries followed suit, also providing "columbaria" or niches for storage of ashes in small urns or boxes. Still, acceptance of cremation grew slowly over the course of the century and was slightly more popular in the West.

National Cemeteries

The War Department issued general orders in the first year of the Civil War, making Union commanders responsible for the burial of their men in recorded locations, sometimes in sections of cemeteries like Spring Grove and Cave Hill purchased with state funds. President Lincoln signed an act on 17 July 1862 authorizing the establishment of national cemeteries. On 19 November 1863, Lincoln dedicated the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, adjacent to an older rural cemetery, for the burial of Union soldiers who died on the war's bloodiest battlefield. In June of 1864, without ceremony, the Secretary of War designated the seized 200-acre estate of Confederate General Robert E. Lee in Arlington, Virginia, overlooking Washington, D.C., across the Potomac. Former Confederates dedicated grounds for their dead, often in large areas of existing cemeteries. By 1870, about 300,000 of the Union dead had been reinterred in national cemeteries; some moved from battlefields and isolated graves near where they had fallen.

After World War I, legislation increased the number of soldiers and veterans eligible for interment in national cemeteries. Grounds were dedicated abroad following both World War I and World War II. In 1973, a law expanded eligibility for burial to all honorably discharged veterans and certain family members. To accommodate veterans and the dead of other wars, Arlington grew to 408 acres by 1897 and to 612 acres by 1981. By 1981, with the annual burial rate exceeding 60,000 and expected to peak at 105,000 in 2010, new national cemeteries were needed, such as that dedicated on 770 acres at Fort Custer near Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1984.


Hancock, Ralph. The Forest Lawn Story. Los Angeles: Academy Publishers, 1955.

Jackson, Kenneth T., and Camilo José Vergara. Silent Cities: The Evolution of the American Cemetery. Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 1989.

Linden-Ward, Blanche. Silent City on a Hill: Landscapes of Memory and Boston's Mount Auburn Cemetery. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1989.

Sloane, David Charles. The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1991.

Blanche M. G.Linden

See alsoArlington National Cemetery ; Landscape Architecture .

Burial Grounds

views updated May 21 2018

Burial Grounds


A burial ground is a place of interment. It is a tract of land, a yard, or an enclosure for the subterranean deposition of human remains. Often the objects of legend, burial grounds have varied throughout time according to the cultural practices and religious beliefs of different peoples. Whereas Aubrey Cannon (1989) maintains that human expressions of death in burial grounds follow a general cross-cultural pattern that cycles between elitism and emulation, James Deetz (1996) suggests that burial grounds showcase culturally specific symbols that are evident in every aspect of a given societys lifeways.

The first hominids to bury their dead were probably Neanderthals that lived between 20,000 and 75,000 years ago. In fact, many Neanderthal interments exhibited evidence of burial customs that are still practiced, including the placement of flowers and other grave goods with the deceased and the orientation of the dead along an east-west axis. Group interments in large earthen mounds, also called tumuli, kofun, barrows, or kurgans in different cultural contexts, became common across Europe, Asia, and the Americas in the centuries before and after 1 BCE. Gigantic stone temples that housed burial chambers also occurred across the globe during this time. These mammoth structures included Egyptian and Mayan pyramids and ancient Greek necropolises.

In the centuries leading up to the 1700s, Westerners buried their dead in sacrosanct churchyards according to specific spatial norms that tied directly to their faith in resurrection. Wealthy individuals were interred within the church itself and on the east side in order to get the most direct view of the rising sun on Judgment Day, the poor were laid to rest to the south of the church, and the north churchyard was reserved for stillborns, bastards, and individuals who committed suicide. Even though these shallow churchyards often teemed with bones, scavengers, and maggots, they were still a center of social activity and frequently hosted markets, gaming events, and other gatherings. It was not until the late 1600s that the English Parliament linked these unsanitary practices with the spread of the plague and outlawed shallow graves, large funerals, and unnecessary burial-ground activities. A chronic shortage of space in churchyards in the 1700s forced a change to burial strategies. The north side of the church was no longer for social outcasts, all of the deceased were packed closer together, and numerous coffins were stacked on top of one another under the top-soil, leading many churchyards to tower a dozen feet or more above the floor of the church.

Just as the stone walls surrounding many European churchyards began to collapse under the pressure of the overcrowded burial ground, Parisian officials enacted a drastically different interment policy, transporting the bones of millions of deceased individuals into catacombs beneath the French capital. This initial act of the eighteenth-century cemetery reform movement also led to the creation of the first garden cemeterythe Père-Lachaisewhich spanned hundreds of acres in an uninterrupted picturesque landscape that was far away from the church and the crowded urban city center. Père-Lachaise was the first municipal cemetery, as the government now controlled burial procedures and planning instead of the church. Others quickly followed suit; Bostons Mount Auburn Cemetery, established in 1831, was the inaugural cemetery in the Western hemisphere to embrace this change in burial-ground planning, and it set the standard for large rural garden cemeteries in the United States that persists into the present day.

SEE ALSO Burial Grounds, African; Burial Grounds, Native American


Cannon, Aubrey. 1989. The Historical Dimension in Mortuary Expressions of Status and Sentiment. Current Anthropology 30 (4): 437458.

Deetz, James. 1996. In Small Things Forgotten: An Archeology of Early American Life. Expanded ed. New York: Anchor.

Seth W. Mallios

Burial Ground

views updated Jun 08 2018

92. Burial Ground

  1. Aceldama potters field; burial place for strangers. [N. T.: Matthew 27:610, Acts 1:1819]
  2. Alloway graveyard where Tam OShanter saw witches dancing among opened coffins. [Br. Lit.: Burns Tam OShanter in Benét, 985]
  3. Arlington National Cemetery final resting place for Americas war heroes. [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 95]
  4. Boot Hill Tombstone, Arizonas graveyard, where gunfighters are buried. [Am. Hist.: Flexner, 178]
  5. Campo Santo famous cemetery in Pisa, with Gothic arcades and Renaissance frescoes. [Ital. Hist.: Colliers, XV, 433]
  6. Castel SantAngelo built in Rome by Hadrian as an imperial mausoleum. [Rom. Hist.: Colliers, XVI, 539]
  7. Catacombs of St. Calixtus in Rome, one of the largest of subterranean burial places, with eleven miles of galleries. [Ital. Hist.: Colliers, IV, 458]
  8. Escorial former monastery in central Spain; mausoleum of Spanish sovereigns. [Span. Hist.: NCE, 890]
  9. Flanders Field immortalized in poem; cemetery for WWI dead. [Eur. Hist.: Jameson, 176]
  10. Gettysburg site of Civil War battle; cemetery for war dead. [Am. Culture: EB, IV: 515]
  11. Gods Acre Moravian graveyard in Winston-Salem, N.C., with 3,000 identical marble markers. [Am. Hist.: Colliers, XIX, 471]
  12. Grants Tomb New York City burial place of General Ulysses S. Grant. [Am. Culture: EB, IV: 680]
  13. Great Pyramid of Cheops enormous Egyptian royal tomb. [World Hist.: Wallechinsky, 255]
  14. Holy Sepulcher Jerusalem cave where body of Jesus is said to have lain. [Christ. Tradition: Brewer Dictionary, 814]
  15. Machpelah cave where Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob are buried. [O.T.: Genesis 23:19, 25:9, 49:30, 50:13]
  16. potters field burial ground purchased with Judass betrayal money. [N.T.: Matthew 27:68]
  17. Stoke Poges village whose churchyard is thought to be the scene of Grays Elegy. [Br. Lit.: Benét, 966]
  18. Taj Mahal fabulous tomb built by Shah Jahan for wife. [Ind. Hist.: Wallechinsky, 317]
  19. Tomb of Mausolus Queen Artemisias spectacular memorial to husband. [World Hist.: Wallechinsky, 256]
  20. Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery; commemorates nameless war dead. [Am. Hist.: Brewer Dictionary, 1118]
  21. Westminster Abbey abbey filled with tombs and memorials of famous British subjects. [Br. Hist.: EB, X: 632633]


views updated May 17 2018

cem·e·ter·y / ˈseməˌterē/ • n. (pl. -ter·ies) a burial ground; a graveyard.

Burial Ground

views updated May 14 2018

Burial Ground ★ 1985

A classically grisly splatter film in which the hungry dead rise and proceed to kill the weekend denizens of an isolated aristocratic mansion. 85m/C VHS, DVD . Karen Well, Peter Bark; D: Andrea Bianchi.