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Local News

November 8, 2013

Walnut Grove’s new monuments hold ashes

DANVERS — Responding to a growing trend toward cremation, Walnut Grove Cemetery, one of the oldest park-like cemeteries in town, has installed a columbarium garden to hold loved ones’ ashes.

The columbarium is a rarity for a cemetery on the North Shore, and the first of its kind in Danvers, according to Walnut Grove’s trustees.

A columbarium is an above-ground monument that contains individual vaults to hold urns with cremated remains. The new garden at Walnut Grove has three monuments set in front of a garden. Each stone monument contains 32 niches, for a total of 96. Each niche can accommodate two urns.

With cremation rates on the rise both nationally and in the Bay State, the cemetery’s trustees, who are all volunteers, see the columbarium garden as a way to generate revenue and help fund its operations, keeping the cemetery viable for future generations. It would also allow someone to make burial arrangements in advance and keep the cost of their funerals down.

The cemetery has made other investments in recent years, including hot topping its roads and hiring a company to create an online grave locator for its website, trustees said.

The monuments were built in response to the fact that more people are choosing cremation over burial. In 2011, more than 42 percent of U.S. families chose cremation, and that is expected to increase to nearly 50 percent by 2016, according to a 2012 report by the Cremation Association of North America.

That’s up from just 26 percent in 2000, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Walnut Grove had 29 full burials last year, and 28 cremation burials, in which ashes are buried in a grave.

Dick Wallace, vice president of Walnut Grove,  said he knows of only two other columbaria on the North Shore, one in Lynn and one in Salem, at St. Mary Cemetery. St. Joseph Cemetery in Haverhill also has columbaria, according to the website of the Catholic Cemetery Association.

Linwood Cemetery in Haverhill is installing a large outdoor columbarium wall with 1,100 niches. It has an indoor space with 50 niches.

Walnut Grove is a nondenominational cemetery that sits along Sylvan Street, across the street from Mill Pond. It features 22 scenic acres with tree-lined roads, meandering brooks and arched stone bridges. Established in 1843, it was modeled after Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, the nation’s first rural cemetery, which was consecrated in 1831.

The rural cemetery movement was a trend away from burying people in disparate family graveyards, churchyards or in small urban lots. Some of those first buried in Walnut Grove were disinterred and moved there, trustees said. There are more than 100 Revolutionary War heroes buried at Walnut Grove, as well as the town’s only Civil War Medal of Honor recipient.

In recent years, some land along Ash Street was sold to a developer for a condominium project, with the money going to help the cemetery’s finances.

However, the columbarium garden was not built because of a space crunch, said Edward “Bud” Holden, president of the trustees. In fact, the cemetery has room for another 5,000 or so grave sites.

Responding to the times, in 1997, the cemetery built its own crematorium. It handles the arrangements for three funeral homes. In 2010, the facility handled 181 cremations, and this year, the cemetery projects it will see 216, Holden said. That’s a jump of 19 percent in four years.

Cremations are accepted now, not only among aging Baby Boomers, but the elderly, Holden said. Being interred in a columbarium can be a less expensive option than a burial, which can cost upwards of $6,500, including the cost of the plot, gravestone and costs to open and close a grave. A niche in Walnut Grove’s columbarium costs $2,500, and each niche holds two urns. The price also includes the inscription on the granite slab that covers the urn.

Staff writer Ethan Forman can be reached at 978-338-2673, by email at or on Twitter at @DanverSalemNews.

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