POTSDAM — More people turning to cremation when they die is taking a financial toll on Bayside Cemetery in Potsdam.
“Cremations have grown since World War II. I’m told by professionals at crematories that most urns go home without any plans to bury them. That’s fine for America, but that’s not fine for a community resource like a cemetery. They’re not typically money for cemeteries that cover their costs,” Bayside Cemetery Association President John Omohundro said.
“Burial practices are changing fast. It’s ruining our ability to keep the cemetery open,” he said.
As urns stay with families or a person’s ashes are scattered, burial plots at Bayside Cemetery remain vacant.
“We used to have twice as many casket burials,” Mr. Omohundro said.
Bayside Cemetery was established in 1865 and is on the National Register of Historic Places for its architectural and historical significance. It has 42 acres of developed burial grounds that are open to visitors during the day, and has served as a park-like setting to commune with nature and the memories of those who have died.
“Maybe about 30 acres are filled,” he said.
In keeping up with the times, the cemetery now includes the Pines Urn Garden, which was built and partially landscaped last summer. It’s the only landscaped urn garden in St. Lawrence County and features 150 sites for one or two cremation urns with raised stone site markers. The site markers remain attractive since they don’t grow over with grass over time.
“An urn garden is less expensive than a casket burial. Even if the ashes are scattered in the Atlantic, they can still buy a plot,” Mr. Omohundro said.
Memorial pillars are also available to mount plaques memorializing those whose remains are not at Bayside.
“What we need to do is attract people back to memorialize their dead who are cremated,” he said.
The cemetery’s board also plans a new “green” or “natural” burial ground in a currently undeveloped section of the cemetery, which will connect by a pathway to the Pines Urn Garden.
Green or natural burial is an interment in a manner that does not inhibit decomposition and allows the body to be naturally recycled. The body is prepared without chemical preservatives and may be buried in a biodegradable coffin, casket or shroud. This type of grave does not use a burial vault or outer burial container.
“Some people buy wicker. It can be glorious and attractive, but it has to be decomposable,” Mr. Omohundro said.
Bayside Cemetery has an endowment, but that only covers about 40 percent of the annual expenses such as maintenance and grounds work.
“In the ‘70s it paid 90 percent of our operating cost. Now it’s at least three times that big and it only pays 40 percent. We spend about $70,000 a year running the cemetery. In a good year we take in about $70,000. In a good year we break even,” Mr. Omohundro said.
Community donations cover much of the difference, and the board has launched its fall 2020 donor appeal. This year’s community donations will also go toward completion of the Pines Urn Garden. They also welcome donations of time to help the cemetery grounds.
Donations can be made by sending a check to Bayside Cemetery, P.O. Box 491, Potsdam, NY 13676, or click on the “Donate” button at the cemetery’s website, baysidepotsdam.org.
The Bayside Cemetery Association is a 501(c)(13) organization managed and operated by 15 volunteer trustees and a small staff, and contributions are tax-deductible as allowed by the IRS.