Sunday, March 2, 2014

Why Being Unique is Not Always Your Best Bet

Seven-foot SpongeBob grave marker (
This week's Cemetery Traveler blog was guest-written by my friend Lisa Vaeth. I noticed a comment she made on Facebook in February and was intrigued by her perspective on this unusual situation. I invited her to share it with my readers.

Why Being Unique is Not Always Your Best Bet
by Lisa K. Vaeth

Spring Grove Cemetery in Ohio was the subject of much discussion last fall.  A young woman tragically died and her family erected SpongeBob SquarePants headstones.  Now, they were going to have to come down, just one day after being installed. Comments on social media and news websites across the country showcased opinions on both sides: those who believe that since the cemetery initially signed off on the design, they should leave them as is, and those who are horrified that these giant granite cartoon characters are located next to their own family’s stones.

An employee of the cemetery had originally approved the design; however, it turned out they did not have the authority to do so. Spring Grove has agreed to pay for the refabrication after discovering many community members were offended by the  larger-than-life headstones. You will notice in the photo that there are two markers – one was installed for the deceased’s twin, who is still alive.

Seven-foot tall monuments in Cincinnati's Spring Grove Cemetery (Ref.)

Keep in mind – these monuments are 7 feet tall! Although we all like to believe in our right to self-expression, one should take into consideration that others were buried there long before her.   They no longer have a voice; therefore, the cemetery administrators must be that voice. If these monuments were allowed to stay here, just try to imagine the three-ring-circus that the cemetery would become!   People will travel from everywhere to have their photos taken next to them. In most cases, this is not to honor the deceased.  It’s basically to make a mockery of the stone – and for those with a deep affinity for SpongeBob, it becomes a tourist attraction. news photo

How about the stones that are next to these? Would you want people trudging all over your Mom or Dad’s graves just to be able to see this? Cemeteries are meant for quiet reflection. They should not be treated as party venues. When you give a family this kind of leeway it infringes upon the others buried beforehand.

In this country there are definitely cemeteries that allow for unique self-expression and families who “design” these types of stones should look for one that would not only allow it, but welcome it. Unfortunately, this cemetery was not the right fit.

Then there is the real issue of long term maintenance. What happens when and if they get knocked over, break, etc. in 150 years? Many people don’t realize that the headstones are the responsibility of the family, not the cemetery. So, unless you have young relatives with a great deal of extra money lying around to fix their predecessor’s headstones, you may wish to consider a simpler monument that fits in with the cemetery.

Contrary to what you may believe, having a monument stand out in a cemetery is NOT a good thing. The attention it attracts is generally negative, makes it a target for vandalism and does not give the deceased the respect they deserve. In this case, a small cartoon character on the stone would have honored the person’s admiration just as easily.  Everyone grieves in different ways and wants to honor their loved ones in a dignified manner, however, it is important to think long-term and also about how the impact of your decision will affect others.

Refabricated headstones for deceased Kimberly Walker and twin sister Kara (Ref.)

The stones have since been refabricated and are more in scale with the surrounding stones.  Hopefully this will satisfy the remaining family members who have had loved ones buried there for decades, as well as the recently interred. 


Author Bio:

Lisa Vaeth has overseen 28 Jewish cemeteries in Greater Hartford, Connecticut, for well over a decade.  These cemeteries were abandoned by synagogues that folded and civic organizations that no longer exist.  The Association of Jewish Cemeteries of Greater Hartford stepped in 30 years ago to ensure these sacred burial grounds are properly maintained to show our deep respect to those community members who came before us.  We are funded by Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford’s annual campaign and through funding from the Jewish Community Foundation of Greater Hartford.  She can be reached at