Part of every cemetery’s design process is the layout and identification of graves sites. To comply with Pennsylvania law the cemetery must:
- Precisely locate every gravesite,
- When an interment occurs, dig the grave in that precise location, and
- After the burial, establish a system to find that grave in perpetuity.
Some people think grave markers or headstones serve this purpose, but that is not usually the case. Many cemeteries do not use grave markers (flat to the ground natural stone or wood markers are optional at Penn Forest); so another system must be developed.
This starts with the landscape architect’s interpretation of the topography and other features of the landscape. From there, burial sections are mapped out. In the phase 1 burial area at Penn Forest (about a 3-acre tract) our architects laid out four sections: Woods A, Woods B, Woods C and Meadow, with select cremation sites within those sections.
(pictured above left to right: Wooded Burial Area A and Wooded Burial Area B)
After the sections were mapped, gravesites were created on paper and a numbering system for them was established. Then a surveyor put wooden stakes in the ground to exactly mark key locations on the grave layout grid.
The entire area is laid out with gravesites, but about half of the area is designated for reforestation, and burials will not take place there for perhaps fifty years or so until after new trees have grown up. In other non-reforestation areas where we are selling lots, there are existing trees, and we cannot sell lots under or near those trees, so that further reduces our inventory of lots available for sale. Of course, eventually all trees will die and need to be removed, and then those gravesites, which are already mapped, will become available for sale (we are currently working to add an interactive “Available Lots” map feature on our website, where website visitors can pick out sites they want to buy and put 7-day holds on them. This will include a satellite-mapping feature with the capability to zoom in on any available gravesite).
The surveyor’s wood stakes are only temporary, so on November 29th and 30th Pete and I replaced them with numbered cast aluminum lot pins in the Meadow, the A, B, and C woods sections and in the selected cremation areas. I have to say that we really picked swell weather for this activity. These were the only days in that week that it snowed, we had gale force winds, and it rained in buckets. But wearing bright yellow rain suits and armed with string lines, spikes, tape measures, spades, hot coffee, peanut butter crackers and determined hearts (and some vague remembrances of our 10th grade geometry) we persevered. In those two days we placed over 100 lot pins in the ground. With these pins in place we will be able to either show an individual the precise location of the lot they will be buying, locate the exact place in which an interment needs to be made or find a loved-one’s grave.
Before these pins were placed, we had to have a surveyor come to locate individual gravesites. However, with the pins in the ground, we can now precisely mark each grave to within an inch or so, using only a string line and tape measure. And if something should happen to any of the pins In the future, everything is backed up on our master plan maps.
Here is what we do now to open a grave:
- A cemetery worker finds the location on the master section map and determines the distances between the four pins needed to locate the site on the ground. (Penn Forest’s basic grid is 16’ x 32’ which includes 16 individual 4’ x 8’ gravesites.)
- Then this information is taken onto the grounds, and using the required four lot pins, the worker measures the precise distance between these pins—two horizontal and two vertical—to find the selected site and puts four wood stakes in the ground to mark the corners of the gravesite.
- Then a second cemetery worker independently double-checks the work of the first worker, so that when the excavator operator is ready to dig, there can be no mistake about where the grave boundaries are.
When you visit the cemetery during the winter months, you will also notice some taller stakes in the ground with pink flags on them. These ‘winter stakes’ are placed at select lot pin locations so they can easily be found in snowy weather and from those pins graves can be located.
This precise process means our lot owners and their families can be sure Penn Forest will meet the goals we set in the first paragraph of this post and comply with the requirements of Pennsylvania cemetery law. They can feel confident that their or their loved one’s remains will be buried in the site they selected, and that Penn Forest will always be able to locate that grave in the future.
We are happy to have reached this milestone and look forward to showing you around the cemetery soon!
This post provided by Jeff Hodes of Cemetery Management Solutions, LLC.