A Brief History of Cemeteries
Many of our contemporary customs concerning death have their origins in Neanderthal times. In Sharinder Cave, located in Iraq, flowers were found with a Neanderthal’s remains. Personal effects were found with other remains, and Neanderthal man began the practice of burying their dead on an east west axis. Many Orthodox Christians follow this practice today. If the "hiding" of the dead body was not, at first, a ritualized attempt to renew the deceased through planting, it was an early precursor of the sedentary life that would replace the nomadic life then in existence. Our first cites may very well have been for the dead, large burial mounds with tunnels and rooms. Burying the dead, or planting them for later renewal, was the first known human ritual. Both commoner and king were reduced to the same state. Early civilizations recognized the potential for the spread of disease, where burying grounds were concerned, and cemeteries were usually located outside city walls.
Early Christians spent a lot of time hiding in the cities of the dead, and this caused them to forget the necessity of hygienic measures. Often corpses were simply stacked in the churches or poorly buried in church grave yards. You could become a resident of the burying ground by simple going to church.
The science of determining if someone was actually deceased was extremely poor up until modern times. Doctors and families often made mistakes. Elaborate devices were invented to let people above ground know you were not dead. The use of a string and bell was the most common. When embalming became common the threat of such mistakes was minimized. Embalmers have grimly noted that once a body is embalmed or cremated, it is most certainly dead. The English Parliament suspected that funeral and burial customs played a role in spreading the Black Death. So in 1665, legislation was passed barring unnecessary visits by friends and children, large funerals, and most importantly, graves no less than six feet deep.
The rise of Romanticism, in the Victorian Era, gave death a fashionable twist. This, coupled with a series of epidemics in the United States, established the need for ‘garden’ cemeteries. Mount Auburn in Boston, opened in 1831, was the first. It represented a return to the older wisdom of burying the dead in a rural area. Unlike earlier American cemeteries, most garden cemeteries were not associated with a church or parish.
The public took to the new cemeteries and they became a place for weekend walks amidst the monuments and a place to socialize on Memorial Day.
Yes, it is a place of death, an end to life as we know it. But I have often wondered about the lives of the people buried there. “How was your life, Bridget, was it good or was it hard, how did you look, did you have red hair?” “Jimmy, your life was so brief, what were your dreams?” And “You, Tommaso, you left your home, your family, and came to the great unknown, how brave you were". Yes, it is a place of death, but everyone had a life and a story to go with that life. And in the end, we all wind up in the cemetery no matter how that is defined, and someone will someday wonder about us.
Good Cemetery Etiquette
●Observe all posted rules.
●Keep your speed on cemetery roads to ten mph or less unless otherwise posted.
●Stay out of cemeteries after dark. Not only is this taken as a sign of disrespect, but you may also trip and injure yourself or inadvertently damage monuments.
●Avoid mourners. If they approach you, be honest about the purpose of your visit. If you wish to photograph them, ask their permission. On certain holidays, such as Memorial Day or the Day of the Dead, this rule might be relaxed. Many families are very willing to include a stranger in their circle and tell her or him about the love one(s) being honored.
●Be friendly and courteous to all that you meet.
●Do not do tombstone rubbings on thin stones. Your weight may crack or snap the stone.
●Do not remove anything from a grave that you did not put there yourself unless it is obvious litter. This includes flowers, coins, stones, dirt, and other artifacts.
●Observe floral regulations.
●In some cultures, photographing cemeteries or mourners is a taboo. If told to put away your camera, do so.
●Keep a respectful silence. Speak to your companions in a low tone of voice.
●If asked to leave a cemetery by an employee, mourner, or officer of the law, do so without argument unless you have a legitimate purpose for being there. Tourism does not count as legitimate in some locales.
●Do not apply shaving cream to stones. Learn to use the light to your advantage.
●Pick up any litter you may find. Leave no evidence of your visit.
●Turn off your car radio/stereo while driving or parking in cemeteries.
●Leave tombstones where you find them.
●Report fresh incidents of vandalism or theft to the police.
●Do not use cemeteries as a camping ground or a lover's lane.
●Picnics are usually acceptable as long as you clean up afterwards