By Daniel Applegate
President, Arlington Memorial Gardens
April 15 is epical to American’s today because it is known as “tax day,” the deadline to file, and often pay, tax obligations to the federal, state and local governments, respectively. In fact, it’s taken on the patina of one of the most dreaded days of the year.
But, to earlier generations of Americans, April 15 held significance and was remembered for a more somber reason: it is the date of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. In fact, to this day, American calendars still carry the date as a day of special observance – with particular emphasis this year, the 150th anniversary of that dark and long since mythological event in our collective history.
There is no denying the fact that there have been shifts in our culture related to funeral rituals. Funerals are not necessarily funerals; they’ve become “life celebrations.” Memorial services are often “personalized” events frequently led by “celebrants” rather than priests, ministers or rabbis. Cremation, merely a blip on the radar 50 years ago, is now widely accepted as the preferred final wish. There’s no question that things have changed. But, if so, what has wrought those changes?
We shouldn’t be surprised: time moves on and cultures change and evolve. But, like so many other societal changes of the past 50 years or so, the “baby boomers” are leading the charge for change. In the 1960’s, the average age was right around 25. Those are the people now leaving us but they were among the first generation en masse to expect a college education. They grew up watching TV (albeit black and white), shrieked at the Beatles, grew long hair, joined cults and smoked pot. They marched in favor of civil rights and against war but always to the beat of a different drum – and that’s how they’re leaving us: in their own style and in their own way. Except, that is, for one facet: like everyone else, they want to be remembered.
Cemeteries, like most other institutions in America, have transitioned away from their traditional past in recent years – responding to the pressures that society has imposed. These often large green spaces that were once almost always reverentially peaceful and quiet are now full of activities. For example, Arlington sponsors Easter Egg Hunts, summer concerts, fall festivals, a walking club and other activities and events that bring people to the grounds for numerous reasons other than death. Yet, at its core, Arlington endures as a place of memories. The grounds are active with visitors every day – here to do one thing and one thing only: remember. For those people, the cemetery represents something of an umbilical cord for their memories – a place that nurtures those memories.
As another milestone anniversary date of Lincoln’s assassination passes into history, and as we approach Mother’s Day and the mother of all days of remembrance – Memorial Day, we need to remind ourselves that cemeteries are not some macabre place to avoid, but a place for us to remember and celebrate the lives of those who have borne us, raised us, loved us, taught us and influenced us.
Daniel Applegate became part of the Arlington Memorial Gardens organization
in 2001 and has worked in the cemetery industry since 1981, including
serving as Secretary/Treasurer and then as President of the Ohio state
cemetery association. He was appointed by Ohio Governor George
Voinovich and served two terms on the Ohio Cemetery Dispute Resolution
Commission, Ohio's cemetery oversight agency. He is a graduate of The
Ohio State University holding a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political