7 News Special Report: "Who Will Care For The Dead?"

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"It's a vicious cycle," said Connie Palmer, secretary-treasurer of the Rensselaer Falls Cemetery.

"It's people's attitudes about burials and death," said Art Hastings, president of the Ogdensburgh Cemetery Board of Trustees.

("Ogdensburgh" is the original spelling of the city of Ogdensburg.)

"The cemeteries will fall into even worse shape, I think," said Rosemary Ross, who tends the family grave at Ogdensburgh Cemetery.

Visit many cemeteries in the north country, and you'll see age taking its toll. 

Tipped stones, leaning monuments, moss-covered dates and names - are our ancestors sinking into obscurity?

In the old part of St. Mary's Cemetery in Ogdensburg, there's no doubt they are.

"The bodies are in plywood caskets and as you see, the ground has given way and the elements of nature have taken over," said Scott Boyer, business manager of St. Mary's parish.

St. Mary's has a lot of company. 

Connie and Lynn Palmer look after the cemetery in Rensselaer Falls.

"We've got about 50 some stones, I think, that are tilting and need a new foundation under them, which we don't have the money for," said Lynn.

Many cemeteries have a lot of money, but it's tied up in investments which can't be touched.

The interest generates just a fraction of what it used to.

"Any money we have invested or is sitting in accounts, we're not getting much interest on it, only about 1 percent to 1.25 percent and that's not enough to generate extra money for us," said Connie.
At the Ogdensburgh Cemetery, which is so old that it bears the original spelling of the city of Ogdensburg, investments once helped pay a superintendent and two other workers. 

That would be a luxury today.

So, the many fallen stones are accepted as a fact of life, or, in this case, death. 

"This year we'll spend $28,000 to $30,000 just to maintain the grounds and that will take up everything that that investment throws off," said Hastings.

It's also a lack of use that has many cemeteries on life support. 

Fewer burials means fewer fees and less money from lots.

"A lot of cremations. There's more and more of it going on all the time," said Hastings. 

The dire financial condition of cemeteries leaves it up to families, in many cases, to keep gravesites maintained. 

But for how long?

"I think we are a dying breed. I don't think the next generation will feel compelled to come and take care of the graves," said Ross.

But do cemeteries really have to be in a death spiral? 

Some have found a winning formula in a life and death struggle. 

We look for solutions in Part 2.

You can see John Moore's special series "Who Will Care For The Dead?" on Tuesday and Wednesday at 6, 10 and 11 p.m.

Friday, October 24, 2014
, Watertown, NY

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