Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Cemetery Nursery

     The word nursery usually conjures an image in the mind of either a row of cradles on the opposite side of a large glass window in a hospital or a small room furnished with a crib and a mobile in a home.  Most individuals would never think of a cemetery, but many cemeteries in America have a special section set aside for the burial of babies and toddlers.  Pinelawn Memorial Gardens in New York refers to their section as Babyland.
     Infant mortality has declined in the modern era, lowering by 90%.  At the turn of the last century, 100 babies out of every 1,000 born died.  Anyone who has visited a cemetery with older burials knows just based on headstones that infants did not fair well in the past with families many times losing several children.  That is generally one reason why families would give birth to so many children because the chances were high that a couple would never see their teens.
     The ways that we as humans have memorialized and buried infants are varied, but recorded history that dates back several hundred centuries attests to the truth that we hold little ones dear.  For example, there is this Neolithic baby that was placed with care in the fetal position and adorned with bracelets made from beads of bone and colored stones in Çatalhöyük, Turkey:
“Neolithic Baby Burial [Archeology],” in Children and Youth in History, Item #213, (accessed January 18, 2014). Annotated by Susan Douglass
Infant headstones are generally smaller in size than those for adults and in many cases are adorned with lambs and/or angels.  Some of the neatest epitaphs I have seen are on the markers of children.  One unfortunate realization I have come to through years of trekking cemeteries is that children’s names in the past were not given as much importance as they are today.  History and genealogy are lost through the word’s of say a headstone reading “The Smith’s Baby.”  Less room is needed for infant burials and their plots are placed very close together, which strikes me as somewhat comforting.

I generally like to think that these children were so special that God just couldn’t wait to get them to heaven.  The reality is more tragic and in paying respects at the headstones of these little ones, that reality is stark.  Today, I visited a cemetery and saw a headstone in the distance that caught my eye and I ventured forward for a better look.  It was this one featuring a baby angel:

As a taphophile, I survey headstones as I walk by looking for interesting epitaphs, designs and situations.  On my way to the baby angel headstone, I started noticing that nearly all the markers had only one date.  I must have been a sight as I paused for a moment in the middle of this area and spun around looking in all directions as it slowly dawned on me that I was standing in the middle of a cemetery nursery.
The tragic tale of twins lost:
Some families may not be able to put out the money for the expense of a headstone, which may be why so many infant burials have a simple placard from the funeral home to a child’s final resting place.  If someone is having a financial hardship, there are organizations that will help.  The Connor Kirby Infant Memorial Foundation is one such group.

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