History of Cemeteries In America
For us as humans, death is the final step and one that ends our lives as we know it here on earth. Because of the tremendous amount of mystery surrounding what actually happens after death, it has been both feared and worshipped since the beginning of time. For this reason, our civilization has designed innumerable practices and rituals to deal with death, and perhaps even attempt to understand it. No one is quite sure why we persist in following these rituals, but perhaps it is because of the mystery that surrounds death for us, and the unknown of the afterlife. The one thing that is certain, is that most cultures found within the United States today make use of cemeteries to memorialized their dead. Cemeteries can be found all over the United States. Some are part of a church yard, some are garden like areas of large cities, others are small family plots found isolated in the country, and still others are sanctioned areas designated at the edge of cities or towns that contain mausoleum type structures. No matter how much each type of cemetery may vary from another type, one thing they all have in common is that they are filled with headstones, markers, benches, and or bronze plaques to help us remember the lives of our loved ones and to tell future generations about the people who are buried beneath them. We take the bodies of our lost loved ones and place them in the ground and place a monument over their remains that commemorates them and a the life they once lived. We do this not only out of respect for those who have passed on, but also as a therapeutic way for the living to deal with their grief and find closure. Monuments and Memorials to the deceased help the family and friends remember and give them a place to visit and feel a connection with the person they have lost.
Burial and showing respect for the dead are not new concepts, and in fact date back to the beginning of time. For example, many of the great pyramids of Egypt were build and designed as the final resting places for the great Pharaohs, but cemeteries as we know them today with their stone monuments did not begin until Europe in the 1800's. Historically, in Europe the dead were buried primarily in the churchyards. The location at which you were buried within the church or churchyard determined your status in life. If you were really wealthy and prominent within society, you were buried within the church itself. If you did not rank high enough to be buried inside the church the next best place would be as close as possible to the church on the east side. This was chosen as a particularly desirable spot because it was believed that this location, assured the best view of the rising sun on the Day of Judgment. As your wealth and social status declined your burial plot moved further away from the church itself and to the south side. People who were considered less religious and less important members of society were buried in the north corner of the churchyard cemetery in an area often called the “Devil’s domain”.
In Europe churchyards quickly became over-crowded and simply could not hold all of the people desiring burial there so other arrangements had to be made but in America the churchyard remained the most common burial place through the end of the 1800’s. Finally, after the founding of the Pere-Lachaise Cemetery in Paris, the movement toward creating “garden-like” cemeteries spread to America. People began to appreciate the peaceful setting and somewhere to go to remember their loved ones. In 1831, Dr. Jacob Bigelow and Henry A.S. Dearborn designed the first garden style memorial garden in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Their memorial garden featured an Egyptian style gate and fence, a Norman tower and a granite chapel. It was planned as an “oasis” on the outskirts of the city and defined a new romantic kind of cemetery with winding paths and a forested setting. This innovative type of cemetery began a new death ritual. It was exact opposite of the crowded churchyards where your burial location depended on your status in society, and it became an immediate success, giving rise to many other similar burial grounds in cities across the country. In fact, they became so popular as not only burial grounds, but as public recreation areas as well. Here, people could enjoy the shaded walkways and even picnic on weekend afternoons. The Garden cemetery would go on to inspire the American Park movement and virtually create the field of landscape architecture in addition to changing the way society saw death and burial. This idea gained so much popularity that it spread quickly across the nation and the early 1900’s it had nearly replaced the old, overcrowded and often dismal burial grounds.
There are several examples of these beautiful Garden cemeteries scattered across America, including Bellefontaine and Calvary Cemeteries in St. Louis and Graceland in Chicago. Each of them were created because of overcrowded conditions in churchyard cemeteries and have since become known as showplaces of American history and cemetery artwork and design. It is during this time that an evolution in monuments and headstones occurred. What had once been crude makers designed more to prevent the burial of another body in the same spot, now became a memorial to commemorate the deceased and a place for their loved ones to visit and remember the life well lived. To read more information about the transformation and evolution of headstones and cemetery burial plot markers read our informative article entitled: Headstones in America. Although purchasing cemetery memorials via online is relatively a new concept, it is a wise decision that will save you the consumer both time and money while allowing you to commemorate your loved one with a high quality solid granite memorial that you can be proud of without over-extending your budget and from the comfort of your own home. At Headstones USA we understand your grief and it is our goal to make the entire process as effortless as possible for you. Whether you are looking for a simple affordable grass marker with a basic epitaph, or an elaborate family monument with lots of detail and designs we can help. We have a wide variety of in-stock stones and friendly customer service staff to help you create the perfect memorial. Contact us today for a free consultation and let us help you design a memorial that will symbolize your family and record your genealogy for generations to come.