(Advance warning: this is an article written by Jerome - a pedant writing for pedants)
All readers of this blog will be familiar with the burial plot at United Cemeteries where CTR was buried, and where, in its center, is a pyramid monument erected in 1919-1920. The idea originally was to provide burial plots for Bethel workers and Pilgrims and their families.When the site was first mooted, the total number of graves given was more than 275. The 1919 convention report on page 7, comments that: “the Watch Tower Society burial lots in Rosemont United Cemeteries...contain ample grave spaces for all the members of the Bethel family, and the Pilgrims and their wives – in all more than 275 adults graves.”
Perhaps the key word for this large number is lots (plural). There is more than one lot owned by the Watch Tower Society on the site, although most attention naturally focuses on the lot with the pyramid at its center.
However, if you examine modern cemetery records, the total number of graves surrounding the pyramid monument is only 128. They comprise four sections: T-33, 34, 46 and 47, with 48 grave spaces in each.
This article details some history of the site to explain the discrepancy.
Initially, when the Society owned the whole cemetery, any area assigned for Bible Student burials did not matter too much because it could likely be adjusted as necessary. But once they sold off the bulk of the cemetery lands it was necessary to specify which parts were to be retained for their own use.
Much of the land was sold off to the North Side Catholic Cemetery around 1917, which already owned adjoining property. The North Side Catholic Cemetery became part of the Catholic Cemeteries Association in 1952, and this body sold a large swathe of land to the Masonic Fund Society for the County of Allegheny in 1994. Credulous polemicists who see the grave of CTR and the pyramid with the Masonic building in the background should note this progression of sale which has nothing whatsoever to do with the Watchtower Society, ancient or modern. But for our purposes, when these transfers took place it was necessary to specify which bits of land were being held back and never belonged to either Catholics or Masons.
It appears there were three parcels of land retained by the Watch Tower Society. One small tract is a bit of a mystery and has never been used for burials, but the other two are grave sites today. These were mentioned when the pyramid monument was installed and the event marked with a front page article in The New Era Enterprise, published St Paul, Minnesota, Tuesday, February 10, 1920, and entitled: “The Pyramid Monument on the Bethel Burial Lots.”
The article mentioned that “the Society has the entire control of this plot of ground. It was not included in the sale of the farm and cemetery property.” Also “the Bethel lot has space for 192 graves, and in another lot just across the upper roadway the Society has a lot of 64 grave spaces.”
This would total 256 spaces – just a little under the original 275 figure – but is an accurate statement of intent for these sites. The upper site is quite near the obelisk for William Morris Wright, one of the original trustees of the original cemetery company back in 1905. (You can read about Wright and see a photograph of his memorial on this blog if you scroll back to June 5 of this year).
That the main Bethel site with its pyramid was intended for 192 burials is clearly shown by the pyramid itself. On each of its four sides there is an open book and marked spaces for 48 names. Although somewhat worn, on a day when the sun shines in the right direction, you can see these numbers clearly. They are divided up into lots, A, B, C, etc. (up to H) and each lot has six numbers, allowing for six graves per lot. That is 48 numbers per side – making the grand total of 192 for all four sides. The plan was to inscribe the names in the appropriate spaces as plots were used. In reality, all the names that do exist on the pyramid (there are nine in total) were of people who died before the pyramid was completed.
So why do modern cemetery records only note 128 grave spaces?
The original plan for the cemetery was abandoned almost before it had started. Once the pyramid was erected, with the exception of CTR’s sister, Margaretta Land, who died in 1934, no other interments took place until the 1940s. When burials restarted, the ground plans were redrawn. Modern cemetery records show the total number of plots was reduced by increasing the size of graves. Current records show each lot to now have only 4 plots, rather than 6. So A has 4, B has 4, and so on. The size of the plots has been increased to eight feet by four feet. This was wise, because the site is on a hill, and not only a hill but a slightly curved hill, and it became difficult over time to keep exact track of locations. Even with the larger sizes for plots, some graves have reportedly been disturbed when new ones have been dug.
This reduces each section to 32 graves and the total number of spaces to 128.
There is one a further reduction. Four grave spaces (Lot 33, H4: Lot 34, E3; Lot 46, D2; and Lot 47, A1) can never be used because there is a rather large pyramid monument on top of them, complete with a five foot depth of concrete foundation, courtesy of J Adam Bohnet’s labors in 1919.
So the total number of grave spaces is down to 124. I have it on good authority that there is just one remaining grave space unsold, where doubt as to what might be beneath makes sale unwise; but apart from that, the remaining 123 have been sold, although not all have been used.As to how the site has been used over the last one hundred years, that will be dealt with in future articles.