Monday, May 30, 2011


  Do you get squeamish at the thought of cemeteries? If you put cemeteries into a new light, such as one that shines from history or from downright silly trivia, you may not be so intimidated. While cemeteries hold remains of the dead, they also hold some interesting facts such as the ones listed below:

1. The word “cemetery,” which is the traditional place to bury the dead, comes from the German words koimeterion (meaning a sleeping place), and koiman (to put to sleep). The word, “graveyard,” was not recorded until the early 19th century.

2. The The oldest known Jewish cemetery is the Mount of Olives Cemetery located in Jerusalem and also a burial ground for people of Muslim and Christian faiths. This cemetery is first mentioned in connection with David’s flight from Absalom in II Samuel 15:30.

3. The first tombstone recorded in the Bible is in Genesis 35:20, where Jacob set up a pillar (tombstone) on Rachel’s grave on the road to Bethlehem.

4. In March 2002, archaeologists removed what is believed to be the oldest Christian tombstone found in Japan. Discovered near Osaka, Japan, the grave marker relic was dated in the 16th century from the ground in Osaka Japan. Historians believe the tombstone was buried to hide it from authorities who persecuted Christian in its time.

5. Located on Route 80, near Tombstone, Arizona, the Boot Hill Graveyard became the final resting place to over 250 gunslingers, miners, and other fearless wild west pioneers. One of the tombstone epitaphs reads, Here lies Lester Moore 4 slugs from a 44 no less no more.

6. A U.S. flag, the Declaration of Independence and an autographed picture of President Woodrow Wilson are just a few of the many items placed inside of the Arlington National Cemetery’s cornerstone, which was placed in the cemetery in 1915.

7. Although Union soldiers were removed from shallow and inadequate burial sites at Gettysburg battlefield to a new cemetery shortly after that battle, it was seven years before Confederate soldiers were removed from their shallow battlefield graves. From 1870 to 1873, upon the initiative of the Ladies Memorial Associations of Richmond, Raleigh, Savannah and Charleston, 3,320 Confederate remains were dug up and sent to cemeteries in the south.

8. The oldest known pet cemetery was uncovered in Green Country, Illinois by archaeologist, Dr. Stewart Schrever. He believes the pets were interred there around 6500 BC.

9. The oldest operating pet cemetery in the United States is the Hartsdate Pet Cemetery in New York, established in 1896. It also bills itself as “America’s First and Most Prestigious Pet Burial Grounds.”

10. The Vicksburg National Cemetery has the distinction of having the largest number of Civil War interments of any national cemetery in the United States. Of the approximate 17,000 Union veterans, only 5,000 are known. There are no Confederate burials here.

11. Chicago’s Lincoln Park was created in 1864. The original 120 acre cemetery had most of its graves removed and was expanded to more than 1000 acres for recreational use. A small-pox hospital was located on the grounds as well.

12. Saint Joseph’s Cemetery, the only known United States cemetery facing north-south is located in Rayne, Louisiana. It was once listed in Ripley’s Believe it or Not!


   Is it called Memorial Day or Decoration Day? Many people, especially those in the south, ask themselves this question every year. Compounding the confusion is the fact that both celebrations are often held on the same weekend in May. Most of us have participated in Memorial Day celebrations. I've had the experience of participating in several Decoration Day celebrations as well.
   According to History.com Memorial Day was first celebrated as Decoration Day. This day first happened officially a few years after the Civil Warn ended on May 30, 1868.

   General John Logan of the Grand Army of the Republic is widely credited for the original proclamation. This held great importance even though the Grand Army of the Republic was a group of former soldiers and sailors and not a governmental organization.

Richard Nixon officially declared Memorial Day to be a federal holiday in 1971. It is held on the last Monday in May as a remembrance of those brave men and women who died in war. Traditionally, a wreath is placed in Arlington Cemetery as a way of memorializing those who died.

  Decoration Day had similar beginnings and is in fact the tradition that gave birth to Memorial Day. Even today it is celebrated by many small churches in the south. It began as a way to honor Civil War dead but soon became a time to put flowers or other decorative items on the graves of all the dead.

 Southern churches are famous for having cemeteries on the same land as the church itself. Sometimes, a driveway will separate the two sections but not always. It is very common for the cemetery to be adjacent to the church.
Decoration Day is usually celebrated on the last Sunday in May. Often, this is combined with a church homecoming celebration possibly all day preaching and dinner on the grounds. This is different from a Memorial Day celebration where only the graves of soldiers are decorated.

   Church members will go to great lengths to be sure that all graves are decorated and cleaned. There may not be any living family members for a particular plot but there will be flowers on the grave.
   It is said that "cleanliness is next to Godliness". This is where the church literally shines. Headstones will be scrubbed and cleaned until they shine like new pennies. All debris is removed from the cemetery. The grass will be cut, weeds pulled and all of the cemetery grounds will be trimmed.

   Only then is the cemetery ready for the flowers to be placed. On Decoration day each grave will be decorated to the one hundred flowers stuck in the dirt on any given grave. You may see pots of live flowers, expensive floral arrangements or hand picked bouquets. The graves may also have photos or other mementos placed upon them.
   The commitment to honoring the dead isn't just made in flowers. On Decoration Day, many southern churches will collect monetary donations as people come to tend their plots. These funds go toward cemetery upkeep and play an important role in the continued maintenance of the cemetery.
   Even though the two special occasions occur on the same weekend and share common beginnings the two days are not the same. As more people celebrate Memorial Day fewer are left to celebrate or even understand Decoration Day.