Readers, we hope, will forgive us for writing about death, funerals, and cemeteries. Let us assure them that we have no morbid interest; we are not avid readers of certain Sunday papers whose function is to dwell in the graveyards elaborately reporting exhumations, inquests, opened coffins, and desecrated tombs.
We are, however, very much interested in the big-business commercial aspect of cemeteries and funerals. The dictum of Capitalism is that the worker should not only not live above his means, as if this were possible, but should not die beyond his means. The funeral should, of course, be up to standard. The final resting place of the average worker, apart from those who are cremated, is the Municipal Cemetery. Hunks of marble, rotten sculpture, decaying flowers, praying parsons looking for a few shillings from the relatives; a few hurried meaningless words and the proletarian funeral is all over.
Our sudden interest in this sordid matter was reawakened by the recent death of Mr. Errol Flynn, a film actor. Mr. Flynn, a wealthy individual, was not buried in a Municipal Cemetery. His place of burial was Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Los Angeles. California. It is impossible for a visitor to Los Angeles not to know Forest Lawn Memorial Park. Large hoardings (floodlit at night) show the green lawns round the waterfall in the rose-strewn gardens, an idyllic spot. These hoardings, rather similar in size and character to our familiar Guinness stout signs, tell us largely that burial at Forest Lawn Memorial Park is good for you. The slickness of the advertising makes you wish to die in order to take advantage of it.
The Daily Mail 119.10.59) gave us some details of Mr. Flynn’s last resting place. We learned that the bill for the funeral was about £1,200. Also that the Company owning the cemetery had invested more than 100 million dollars (about £35 million) in it. There is a Hall of the Crucifixion seating 1,400 people, used also for Symphony concerts as well as for other sacred money-making occasions. High on the hillside stands the Little Church of the Flowers, a copy of Stoke Poges church where Gray wrote his Elegy in a Country Churchyard. To the East lies the Wee Kirk among the Heather, with real heather imported from Scotland, mark you. On the hill crest is the Church of the Recessional, an exact reproduction of Rottingdean, Sussex, Saxon Church. Throughout the cemetery piped stereo music is played. Mortuaries, courts of freedom, gardens of peace, crematoria, columbarium, all add to the variety.
Do not think the practical aspect is neglected, for in the vast, administrative block of buildings, to the strains of “Sheep may safely graze,” visiting families are urged “Buy your grave on the never-never plan.” “Choose your casket now.” Balanced comment on this state of affairs is impossible.
When three years ago the shareholders closed a Nottingham cemetery because it was no longer making a profit, there was a public outcry. The dead could not be buried unless it was profitable. We were not surprised. Apart from public health considerations, cemeteries are run on the same basis as any other business—no profit—no production or service.
The workers should not worry too much about the high cost of dying and respectable burial, but concentrate on doing a little real living instead. Socialist ideas open up the vista of a new world, and provide a new healthy outlook. Until Socialist ideas are accepted and acted upon, the human intellect will accept as normal the depraved morality of this sick society.