Historic Cemetery’s wall collapses

An 85-foot section of the Fredericksburg City and Confederate Cemetery’s brick wall collapsed. The historic wall’s collapse is thought to be an aftermath of Hurricane Isabel, which pounded the area a year ago

The Fredericksburg City Cemetery and Confederate Cemetery are surrounded by a common brick wall. In 1867 a group of Fredericksburg women, The Ladies Memorial Association, purchased the land adjoining the Fredericksburg City Cemetery. They had organized one year earlier for the purpose of caring for the graves of the Confederate dead on the battlefields. 

The association then had soldiers re-interred at the new location, which became the Confederate Cemetery. In time, headstones supplied by various Southern states replaced the original cedar posts. A life-size zinc statue of a soldier on dress parade, an impressive monument, was dedicated in 1884 to the “Confederate Dead.” The Ladies Memorial Association continues to care for the cemetery. Each year they hold a Memorial Day observance.

Six Confederate generals and more than 3,300 Southern soldiers lie buried here amid quiet, peaceful surroundings. 2,184 of them are unknown, yet the park has a roster of the known dead. Retired U.S. Army Brigadier General Daniel Davis Wheeler, a Medal of Honor recipient for actions at Salem Heights in May 1863, is buried in the City Cemetery. He married a Fredericksburg woman after the Civil War.

The Central Rappahannock Regional Library has a searchable, online roster of the Confederate soldiers buried in this cemetery. The National Park Service is currently working on a database that will eventually contain the names of all the soldiers who died in the Fredericksburg area as well as information about these people. Call (540) 373-6122 for information. 

A roster listing the interments in the Confederate Cemetery may be consulted at the Fredericksburg Battlefield Visitor Center on Lafayette Boulevard. 

Another 2000 headstones laid flat in Scotland

The Scotsman online news reports that officials that as Morningside Cemetery (Edinburgh) one in three headstones was found to be unsafe. As a consequence more than 2000 headstones have been laid flat by council workers.

The council (Edinburgh City Council), which has put up warning notices alerting visitors that some are loose enough to be pushed over even when touched lightly, has almost completed work to make the dangerous gravestones safe.

The authority had locked the gates at night and insisted grieving relatives be escorted to graves after initial analysis uncovered disturbing evidence of a “major health and safety risk” affecting one in three headstones.

It was announced today that the graveyard, which has around 6000 tombstones, was expected to open fully to the public again a week today.

The authority will be repeating a public consultation exercise introduced for the Morningside programme in the wake of widespread controversy over the handling of checks on graveyards elsewhere in the city. It launched the practice amid fears that a gravestone could topple over and kill a child following incidents elsewhere the UK.

Cemetery lost body, says family (US)

News from BRIDGEPORT, Conn. says a Shelton family has filed a lawsuit against the Diocese of Bridgeport, claiming their mother’s body was placed in the wrong grave and is now lost. The Marron family accuses the diocese of moving the headstone on Jeanne Marron’s grave to cover up the mistake.

Jeanne Marron died on June 27, 1989, at age 59 after a fight with cancer. According to the lawsuit, her body was put in the plot of Donna DeRosa, who had died around the same time, and DeRosa’s body was put in Marron’s plot. The suit then claims the cemetery put Marron’s grave marker over the DeRosa-owned plot. But in August 2001, a friend told the family that the marker had been moved and there was a new grave in its place. 

The family says it asked the diocese to open the Marron grave to make sure the body was there. The casket was found. But when the DeRosa plot was opened, the suit states, there was only a faded pleated dress inside the casket, and no evidence of papers and photographs that had been buried with Jeanne Marron.

A spokesman for the Diocese of Bridgeport said the funeral director for the Marron’s burial opened the casket in the presence of the family last year and identified her remains in the grave where the monument was originally positioned.

He said cemetery records indicated in 2001 that the Marron monument might have been positioned on the wrong grave. He said it had not been placed by employees of St. John’s Cemetery. The monument was moved to the adjoining plot, which didn’t have a headstone, he said. 

Capetown (SA) to get US Style Cemetery

Cape Town’s shortage of grave space is creating gaps for the savvy as US-style “lawn park” cemeteries hit South Africa.

A large landscaped cemetery, being built on the outskirts of Durbanville by a group of businessmen, will open in December.

The 20ha Durbanville Memorial Park, which has space for 40 000 graves, will be quite different to any other cemetery in the city.

It will look like a park – complete with lakes, fountains, bridges and landscaped beds of flowers.

It will also have strict security, with 24-hour guards and a 2.4m-high wall.

“It offers flexibility and security,” said Pierre Steyn, the man behind the cemetery. “Security is the one thing we don’t have in South Africa. People will be able to visit at any time, and not worry about being mugged.”

It was Steyn’s idea to build the multimillion-rand cemetery with a park-like atmosphere. It has taken four years to plan.

The cost for a family grave, which can take up to three people, is R4 500 – some of which goes to a cemetery maintenance fund.

“I foresaw the need for new cemeteries in Cape Town,” Steyn said. “It’s at crisis point now.”

A private cemetery in Strand went bankrupt years ago, but in 1990 a private cemetery, Eden Memorial Garden, was opened in Ottery.

Millicent Tlhapane, owner of Eden Memorial Garden, said the cemetery was costly to develop but customers were drawn to it because of the park-like atmosphere and the fact that it was better maintained than council-owned cemeteries.

The council’s 31 cemeteries are rapidly running out of space. A report to the council’s planning and environment portfolio committee this month estimated that space would run out in by June 2006.

Not since the 1880s has there been such a graves crisis, said Alan Morris, a physical anthropologist at the University of Cape Town’s medical school, of the time when the Somerset Road cemeteries in Green Point approached capacity.

The solution to that problem was to build the Woltemade Cemetery in Maitland, then on the outskirts of Cape Town, complete with its own train station.

The council is also struggling with the costs of maintaining the existing cemeteries, said Peter Delahunt, the city parks manager co-ordinating cemeteries.

Finding new land is a difficult business because much of Cape Town’s land is unsuitable for burials because of the high water table.

One idea Delahunt is exploring is to combine conservation with new cemeteries. The council could “bank” land for future burial use, let nature have its way until then, and return the cemetery to nature when it was full.

South Africa has followed British and European graveyard traditions in that it has church graveyards or cemeteries built on the outskirts of towns, with landscaping receiving little thought.

Privately owned cemeteries that look like vast parks began in the US in the 1850s.

“This is a major mind-set shift,” said Morris. “The fundamental concept is that this should be a piece of heaven on Earth and not just a place where you bury people.

“In a big American cemetery, you ask yourself: ‘Am I in a cemetery’?”

Such cemeteries could be situated up to 30km from a town. One often needs a map to find a particular grave.

“It’s a different way of thinking about death,” said Steven Heynes, chairman of the regional arm of the National Funeral Directors’ Association. “If you bury people in large parks out of the city, the dead are removed from you and you make a day of it when you go visit them,” explained Morris. “If you bury your dead in a churchyard the dead are with you all the time.”

Heynes said it was difficult to predict whether US-style cemeteries would take off in South Africa.

People wanted something secure, he said, where remembrance walls and headstones would not be vandalised and where they could take their families.

Heynes said cremations were becoming more popular in Cape Town among coloured and white people but not among black residents.

A few stats about South African Cemeteries

When assessing the post about the new garden cemetery in Durbanville, South Africa, I came across a few statistics about the cemetery situation in SA. Read on…

  1. It is predicted that extending existing council cemeteries will provide enough space until 2013. The new cemeteries planned by the council will see Cape Town through to 2020
  2. Thirty-six percent of those who died in the Western Cape in 2001 were cremated – at municipal crematoriums in Maitland, Worcester and Malmesbury
  3. Cape Town’s eight Muslim cemeteries are all privately owned because council cemeteries cannot guarantee the burial of bodies before sunset prayers – as required by the religion. Three of the eight cemeteries are full
  4. There were 12 170 burials in Cape Town municipal cemeteries last year. In 2001 there were 536 in Cape Town’s first private cemetery, Eden Memorial Garden in Ottery, and 1 631 Muslim burials
  5. There is a two-tier cost for council cemeteries. In the so-called “A” cemeteries – which have grass, pathways, fences and toilets – a “private” grave costs R1 650. A “public grave” costs R650. Another body may be buried in a public grave later but families have five years to pay the R1 000 difference to turn a public grave into a “private” one
  6. In the more basic “B” cemeteries – which lack amenities and landscaping – a “private” grave costs R450 and a “public” grave R400
  7. Actuarial projections are that by 2011 the Aids epidemic will cause the death rate in the Cape metropolitan area to increase by 50%
  8. The council has rejected exhuming bodies to create new space because it is too expensive and upsetting for relatives