Cemetary Upkeep

I was driving by a cemetary the other day on the way to a friend’s house when a thought hit me. At a certain point, the land they own will be full, either full of graves, or all the plots fully sold.

Now for this question let’s assume two things:

  1. The cemetary is surrounded by development and cannot buy any more land
  2. The cemetary has sold all plots and all original purchasers plan on using them or have used them so there will be no additional plot sales

How would said cemetary keep up the grounds and staffing? Would they keep people on staff? I only wonder this because if there are no more plots to sell, how would they have income to keep paying the maintenance crews and whatnot? At what point is it ok for them to abandon taking care of the grounds?

Maybe transfer the bodies to a new and larger gravesite?

It works a couple different ways (and there are different laws, depending on which state you’re in).

  1. The price you pay for a plot includes some percentage for “perpetual upkeep” or some similar phrase. The cemetary operator is supposed to put that money into an account, and the interest on that account pays for groundskeepers, property taxes, etc.

  2. Every year the owners of the plots (or, more often, their estate or heirs) get billed a small fee for maintenance.


  1. The cemetary operator is a business moron, and when he sells all the plots he realizes he doesn’t have the money for upkeep. He then sells the cemetary to land developers, who build houses on the land. The spirits of the dead haunt the neighborhood, destroying much of it in an otherworldly vortex.

where i am from, i used to take care of the cemeteries (mowing, general upkeep) and it was the duty of the city to keep the places clean. i was payed by the township. i do not know if larger cities have privatized cemeteries or not, but that is how it works here in the middle of illinois.

Are you sure that the plots are not reused? I heard that it is less common in the US, but it is still an option.

While it is standard practice in Europe to reuse plots, very few, if any, US cemteries do that.

How do you “reuse” a plot? Toss ol’ Abigail Goodwyfe in the dumpster out back to make room for the new up-and-coming deceased? Start stacking them on top of each other like a game of cadaver Connect Four?

As JerH said previously, most cemetaries/funeral homes include in the price of the services a ‘perpetual care’ cost. That money is put into a trust that is solely for the upkeep of the plots.

I found this link from the ‘Cemetery Research Group’ with information from a survey done on reuse of graves. With regards to how graves are reused, it states:

That is exactly the method used here. There is a waiting period of typically 25-30 years between uses and for certain types of graves this can be renewed for a fee. This way a city can use the same cemetery indefinitely as long as the population remains roughly the same, and there is a regular income in fees.

Many cemeteries in my area (Minnesota, I’m thinking of the rural parts) are connected with a church. The current church members wind up paying for some or all of the maintenance costs. Of course, our European-descendant history does not go back too far in time so in most rural areas, you are helping to pay for upkeep on a relative’s grave, and probably ones that are more likely to be remembered. After a few more hundred years I can see a problem with people caring less and deciding to rebury remains deeper. A potential problem is that many places require concrete burial vaults around the coffin that will make future movements much harder.

In New Orleans, from what I’ve read, all burials are in above ground vaults due to the high water table. The body preparation process involves a decomposition accelerator so that the body is ‘gone’ by time the space is next needed (hopefully). Although, cremation would seem to be an easier route.

In much of the U.S. there are public, private, and family cemeteries. The answer varies according to where you are and which kind you’re talking about.

In New York, it’s the responsibility of the town (i.e., the township) government to provide minimal care – mow three times a year, re-erect fallen headstones, etc. – for any cemetery not otherwise provided for. I believe this is the case in many other states as well. In many states, municipal corporations own cemeteries which their D.P.W. crews are responsible for the care of. This is a small element of what is done with your property taxes (and sales taxes in places where local governments can collect them).

Private cemeteries are owned by a cemetery corporation, which makes money by selling burial plots and by investing perpetual care payments. Many of them also have an endowment fund into which donations are placed, also invested. The income from perpetual care funds, including interest from invested money, goes to pay for upkeep. If you have someone buried in a private cemetery where perpetual care is optional, you get minimal care as a part of owning the cemetery plot, and more care from buying the P.C. option.

Family cemeteries (or burial grounds) are taken care of by descendents, or where nobody lives in the area any more, by people hired by the descendents to do so. They are, as the name indicates, exclusively for members of an extended family. We live nearly across the street from the burial ground where our landlady’s mother was buried last year, and another distant cousin of hers was buried there a few weeks ago. One nearby family member with a riding mower, and a couple of his boys with weedeaters, come in and care for the parcel every couple of weeks.

In my town, there was an old village burial ground that was used beginning in about 1770. It became a public cemetery in 1817. In 1850 a larger private cemetery was created by the grandfather of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Some of the families of those buried in the old cemetery had their folks exhumed and moved. In 1853 construction began on the railroad, which was to run through half of the old burial ground. The state legislature granted the proprietors of the railroad to move bodies to the newer cemetery. About 40 years later, the remaining part of the old burial ground was taken over by a village improvement association and they, too, got permission from the state to move the rest of the bodies to the larger cemetery.

Two of the town’s cemeteries (the 1850 one and another circa 1797) are operated now by the same non-profit corporation. They both still have open plots available for sale. A third, smaller cemetery is now maintained by the town. It is used only once in a while for burial of someone without any means for burial in a private cemetery.

We are running out of space, though, and with the prices of real estate in an old New England seacoast town, I wonder who today would be able to establish a new cemetery here.

And our landfill is closed, too. . .

Up and coming? Not unless it’s sold to the aforementioned developers.

For certain cemetaries in New Orleans, yep. There are the aforementioned above ground crypts, but there are also these bizzare things that look like the shelves you see in a morgue. The poorer people are put into these and over time, the bodies slowly disintegrate/cremate (at least that’s what the tour guide says) and within…2 years? they’ve essentially turned to use and it’s all shoved in the back (and onto the floor) for the next body to go in. I vaguely recall something about putting the ashes in garbage bags and those going in the back too, but I’m not too sure.

I’m also not sure how common that still is. The graveyard we visited hadn’t been used in quite some time.

Funny you should mention that. Years ago, I found a website about Marble Cemetery in New York City. (I found this through the extremely interesting Forgotten New York website, BTW.) The cemetery has underground vaults, and in its FAQ section, it says this:

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.


Here, for instance, plots aren’t really sold but rather “leased”, for various durations. I don’t remember how long are these “lease” but there are several available duration (so, you can buy the plot for say, 37 years and a half) , say 10 years, 30 years, 50 years and “perpetual”. Actually, pertual means 99 years. In large cities (in Paris subburbs, for instance), “pepetual” aren’t available at all, since they need the land to reuse. In rural areas, at the contrary, “perpetual” tends to often be actually perpetual. Historical graves also are left alone (there are many of them in the Paris “Pere Lachaise” cemetery, for instance). For poor people without relatives who were buried at state’s expense, the grave is only kept for 5 years, IIRC.
What they do when the “lease” expire? They post a note at the cemetery, stating that plot X lease is going to end by date Y. If a relative pays for it, the lease is renewed. In the numerous cases where nobody shows up (not that many people have caring relatives 99 years after their death) , the remains are dug up and buried in a common grave, and the plot reused.

Just a link from New Jersey to say, “Yep, they get forgotten sometimes.”

My details may be off, but this became a hot issue a few years ago when they were doing expansion for the NJ Turnpike. Some workers stumbled onto a few graves at the site, and it shut down work for better part of of a few months until they could sort out the mess. Here’s another link about the same story.

. . . and it was all done without the use of an otherworldly vortex.

Those vortexes may be damned useful at rush hour on the Turnpike, though. :dubious: