Old graveyards have been falling into ruin for decades, some longer, but there is a resurgence of enthusiasm to save them. I think it is because of the increased interest in genealogy and our ability to share stories easily with one another. Whatever the reason, more and more people are taking an interest in preserving burying grounds and cemeteries. I asked my fellow professionals and enthusiasts why is preserving graveyards so important? I have also included some links to their projects where available.
Charter Street Salem, MA
“I think that cemetery preservation is important because the grave markers are the last tangible evidence of our founding members of society. History is not abstract when we can tie it to a specific person or event. In cemeteries we can do that.” Jason Church Feel, Materials Conservator, National Center for Preservation Technology and Training (NCPTT). https://www.ncptt.nps.gov/articles/cemetery-conservation/
“Graveyard preservation is important because they are our history. The stones are a public museum of our craftsmen, historic figures and natural habitats meant to be enjoyed and celebrated.” Crystal Daley, Cemetery Trustee, Danville, NH co-founder restoration of FPBG Gloucester, MA http://www.facebook.com/firstparishburialgroundgloucester/
First Parish Burying Ground Gloucester, MA
“Cemeteries act as open-air museums that better connect us to ourselves and our communities. They provide tangible links to the past and clues to unraveling our history. Here we find the people who made us what we are and by preserving their graves, we are helping to preserve their stories.” Jen Ratliff, Salem, Massachusetts, Archivist and Historian http://www.historybythesea.com
“One of the founding principles of Mount Auburn was the idea that cemeteries could be pleasant and peaceful places for the living. This informs a lot of our conservation practice – we are working not only to preserve the memories of the dead, but also to provide a beautiful space in which the living can contemplate our shared history.” Ariana McSweeney, Preservation Craftsperson, Mount Auburn Cemetery http://www.mountauburn.org
“If people from our storied past were to come back to life, the historic part of the cemetery is the only part of town they would still recognize… We are fond of the quote by William Gladstone that states ‘Show me the manner in which a nation cares for its dead and I will measure with mathematical exactness the tender mercies of its people, their respect for the laws of the land, and their loyalty to high ideals.’ ” TJ Cullinane, President of The Friends of Forest Hill Cemetery, Derry, NH
“Graveyards are the final resting place for our loved ones. Without continued care for the gravestones, the inscriptions will weather away, at which point, these people exist only as a memory.” Joshua Gerloff, MA co owner Epoch Preservation http://www.facebook.com/epochpreservation/
“Graveyard preservation is important for the community, history and people buried there. It showcases our local history, ancestors, stories and the beauty of how it was many years ago and should be preserved for generations to come.” Christine Lutts, Friends of Greenlawn Cemetery Salem, MA https://friendsofgreenlawn.wordpress.com
Greenlawn Cemetery Salem, MA
“In some cases, the stones are the sole record of a person’s existence. They also make history very personal and tangible.” Paula Lemire, Albany, NY – historian at the Albany Rural Cemetery http://albanyruralcemetery.org
“For me, not only do I get to stand with my ancestor by their grave, but I think of all the other family members that stood in that very spot.” Angie Wagner, VP of Pleasant Hill Cemetery, Advance, MO http://pleasanthillcemeteryadvancemo.org/
“Cemeteries are the Keys to our heritage.” Judy Ann Gilliss – History Buff, MA, Magnolia Historical Society, MA
“Graveyards are a local history museum and an art museum, surrounded by local flaura and fauna. Where else can you visit your ancestors, learn more about the past residents of your town, be inspired by sculpture, and befriend a squirrel, all in one place?”. Laurie Moran – taphophile and cemetery inspired artist. https://instagram.com/thecemeterrarium?utm_source=ig_profile_share&igshid=jerydhxz3z34
Charter Street Cemetery Salem, MA
ROBIN HAZZARD RAY
“So often, a gravestone is the only remaining trace of a person’s passage through life. By preserving graveyards, we preserve the memory of lost lives and allow future generations to become curious about the past.” Robin Hazard Ray, Docent, Mount Auburn Cemetery. http://www.mountauburn.org
BOBBIE WATSON MATHIS
“Cemeteries are like time capsules of an area’s unique history. Each stone is an irreplaceable record of an individual and the time they were here on earth. I find the symbols, poems and epitaphs add to these individual’s life story. I start researching and feel I get to know not only the people of the time, but also get a snapshot of the town as well. I see the hardships, loss and celebrations when I start connecting a town’s genealogy.” President of The Union City Historical Society and stone preservationist in Union City, MI. https://www.facebook.com/groups/270307273437214/
What he tells visitors on his cemetery tour. “We drive by cemeteries all the time. Sometimes without knowing it. Unless there is a funeral or it’s Mother’s Day or Memorial Day, or a day like today, we don’t stop or give them much thought. But they are there year ’round. The headstones are sometimes worn from the weather or the years or neglect – or sadly from vandalism – but the worst damage is that of the people if forgotten. These headstones are like bookmarks. Each one represents a life. People die twice… once when they die and the other is the last time they are spoken of. Being dead isn’t so bad – but being forgotten is horrible. … Then I close with the Shakespeare quote from Hamlet. ‘This grave shall have a living monument’ — us!” Mike Gillett, SE Michigan. genealogist, cemetery enthusiast, and Civil War and Revolutionary War reenactor.
Old Hill Burying Ground Concord, MA
VIKI SATKIEWICZ GAYHARDT
“My reason is mostly emotional. Every human being is special and their grave is their final resting place. No matter how much time has gone by, graves should be respected. The deceased were someone’s mother, father, child…it doesn’t matter how much time has passed. Graves are to be respected. Treat them as you would the graves of YOUR loved ones.” Viki Satkiewicz Gayhardt, cemetery appreciator, NH
“Is to preserve these outdoor museums, public art, memorial architecture and cultural heritage, and the community history.” John Dill, Bureau of Cemeteries Operations Manager City of Norfolk, VA
“Preservation of all history is very important, without knowledge of history, people live meaningless lives. Everyone who has ever lived had or has a life’s story.” Clay Beiser, Iowa, cemetery enthusiast and history buff.
“Cemeteries offer a hidden treasure chest into the past. There is no better time than now to help raise awareness to such important information and stories. It is absolutely vital to our communities to help preserve these markers and to keep these stories flowing for generations to come. Green-Wood Cemetery was once 2nd to Niagara Falls in terms of tourist attractions during the Victorian Era, I hope we all can bring that sort of wonder and amusement back to these such special grounds our world has to offer!” Wesley Painter, Brooklyn, NY
Historic Research – GREEN-WOOD Cemetery http://www.green-wood.com
JENNIFER M. DAY
“Gravestones and graveyards can tell us a lot about the local history, including epidemics of diseases. Gravestones aren’t getting any younger. With harsh weather conditions continually eroding away stones, it is extremely important to preserve what remains; using current best practices cleaning up stones, transcribing, if possible, what is written on the stones, and mapping the gravestones in the graveyards for future generations.” Jennifer M. Day, New Hampshire, genealogist and FindaGrave contributor. https://www.findagrave.com/ https://billiongraves.com/
“Shakespeare’s gravediggers called graves “houses that last ‘til doomsday.” For many, the graves that mark these houses are their last sign to the world that they existed. They may not make it as far as doomsday, but it’s an important responsibility to make sure these signs last as long as possible.” Brendan O’Brien, Member of Rumney Marsh Burial Ground Committee, Revere, MA https://www.facebook.com/rumneymarsh.burialground.7
“Because when studied closely, graveyards offer inclusive and accessible information about our cultural attitudes and their changes throughout history. A neglected cemetery can attract unwanted behavior into a community. Neighborhoods are improved when free from the issues caused by neglect in their backyards. A town or city that cares for its cultural resources, cares not only for its past but for its present and future.” Rachel Meyer, co owner Epoch Preservation, Stone Conservator to Salem, MA and author of this article. http://www.facebook.com/epochpreservation/
If you want to add a quote about why Graveyard Preservation is important, please comment below. Feel free to add the state or country you are in and a link to any projects you are involved in.
All photos courtesy of Rachel Meyer and are subject to copyright.
5 thoughts on “We Asked Both Cemetery Professionals and Enthusiasts, Why is Graveyard Preservation Important? This is what they said.”
I feel that maintaining a cemetery is a very important. Every grave represents life. Everyone buried has a story. They have loved, struggled, had children, and left an indelible mark on the world. It is important to honor the lives lived with respect and dignity. I take my job very seriously. There is no history book written that can teach a better lesson that what I see each and every day. The names and epitaphs tell stories of lives lived to the fullest. We could all learn lessons from the past.
It preserves history. It shows how far we have come in medicine. Back when babies died very young. Now we have the vaccines. History should never be forgotten
It is essential to preserve and protect our cemeteries – our history is really present in each local gravestone, from the memories and life of the person buried there to the gravestone carver, who leaves us wonderful treasures of art that mark each period of our history, In New England, we have Burying Grounds that go back to the founding of our towns and cities. There are so many stories about the folks who came before us and made the paths we walk on today.
Rachel – – your work is terrific and vital. Salem is so fortunate to have you caring and restoring our burial grounds and cemeteries. You are breathing new life into these sacred places. We are energized. You are committed to sharing your expertise with volunteers and professionals alike. The Friends of Charter Street Cemetery can’t thank you enough.
Cemeteries are among the greatest teaching sites to all generations. They tell a story of the area but mostly of the people who lived. I was taught at an early age to care for the stones and learn the stories of those there. Many have I taught by taking them to visit such a place. And many now teach the same to younger generations to carry on. Being a cemetery historian is rewarding when you watch others doing for those who came before. Preserving not only the land but the records is vital to the legacy of those who came before us. And this is why I am a Cemetery Historian!!