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The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History (Creating the North American Landscape) Paperback – May 9, 1995

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

This study of American cemeteries over the past 200 years uses four central examples to demonstrate the evolution of cemetery construction. Beginning with a centrally located burial ground (New Haven, 1796), the book examines the development of the rural cemetery movement (Mount Auburn, 1831), the beginnings of formal landscaping (Spring Grove, 1845), and the creation of modern, uniform memorial parks (Forest Lawn, 1913). Although not the central focus of the study, accompanying changes in American funeral practices and attitudes toward death are also discussed. This book serves as an American counterpart to Philippe Aries's landmark European study The Hour of Our Death ( LJ 2/1/81). Studies of death and burial customs are becoming more common in the field of social history; this title is essential for libraries that collect in this area.
- Linda Smith, Mobil Corp. Lib., Fairfax, Va.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"Four generations of David Charles Sloane's family have designed, landscaped, and managed cemeteries, so when he tells that story in The Last Great Necessity he does so with a professional's equanimity and expertise. In his exploration of the evolving design, economics, and social role of the American cemetery, Sloane handily demonstrates the cemetery's vital connection to popular culture, one he believes to be at least as strong as its more obvious tie to religious custom." -- Voice Literary Supplement

"An important contribution to an understanding of how Americans perceived death and to the growing commercialization of burial practices and customs. The more than fifty illustrations and tables provide dramatic evidence of a changing cultural form." -- Historian

"The most comprehensive history of American cemeteries yet published... Sloane's most original contribution is his analysis of the management side of cemetery life, showing how economic changes and institutions affected religious and aesthetic ideals in the cemetery." -- Journal of American History


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Product Details

  • Series: Creating the North American Landscape
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press (May 9, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801851289
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801851285
  • Product Dimensions: 9.9 x 7 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #888,781 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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30 of 31 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 4, 1997
Format: Hardcover
FINALLY! After years of unscholarly, pun filled "studies" (eg. "Ripley's Believe it or Not Book of Graveyards") and having to read between the lines of books about English cemeteries, Sloane has put together an intellectual, insightful study of American cemeteries. In the past decade or so, American cemeteries have received good press and a few decent books. Until Sloane, however, most authors allowed themselves to be seduced and manipulated by the emotional art and landscape of America's rural cemeteries, thus misinterpreting later cemeteries of differing styles and making value judgements about the monuments and the people they commemorate.

While I'm not quite in agreement with Sloane's psychological assessment of Victorian society, as an until-recently-disgruntled American Cemeterian, I hereby proclain this book to be canonical, required reading for any cemetery buff who wants to get beyond bad research and worn out jokes.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By David Petry on October 23, 2000
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
After reading a few score of cemetery-related histories, and being someone that checks every index of every history book for cemeteries, death, funerals, and graveyards, Sloan was a revelation. Most cemetery books drill down into a single cemetery or a single region's cemeteries, and ultimately give us no tools for understanding other cemeteries. Sloan provides a roadmap that can be used in any cemetery. You can walk the grounds and identify when sections were opened, which stones of what type were used when, and so forth. But he does not simply throw out a hundred chronological tables. He weaves everything into a cogent narrative. Along the way the book throws light on politics, law, culture, religion, and the powerful influence of public opinion on our individual choices.
There are weaknesses, but they are minor compared to the scholarship poured into this book. Sloan focuses to some extent on New York State, but this merely means most of his examples are from there. Very little coverage of the west, except Forest Lawn. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more on western cemeteries. I also felt that the cemetery types he identifies are accurate and instructive, but in reality we tend to see hybrids of these. They act for most cemeteries as strong influences rather than as a mold.
This is well worth the purchase, however, for cemeterians, historians, and those that just enjoy good nonfiction.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By audrey pierce TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 6, 2001
Format: Paperback
A comprehensive discussion of the history of cemetery design and management rather than graves, this resource is organized by historic periods and traces the shift from cemetery churchyards to memorial gardens within a social context. Concerned primarily with large eastern cemeteries. About 50 illustrations, a nice bibliographic essay which discusses sources, and a very complete index.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is without any doubt the best book written on cemeteries in the English language. Anyone with even a remote interest in the way that culture shapes the spaces of death should read this informative, accessible and well-illustrated text. Cemetery studies needs more work of this high quality.
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By ssnlp on August 4, 2015
Format: Paperback
A seemingly unbiased and sober survey of the evolution of sepulchral space in post-colonial America. It began by narrating the way in which pioneers were buried where they died, and ended with a discussion of elaborate masoleums and vast, managed cemeteries heavily relying on mechanization and skilled labor.
Along the way the reader discovers the evolution of the cemetery, beginning with the churchyard or graveyard and the potter's fields. The author then skillfully brings the reader into the industrial America where rural cemeteries first offered a more permanent home for the dead. After witnessing the creation of the garden cemeteries, you will time-travel to a time when Americans seeked greater simplicity and created the Park-lawn cemeteries.
Last but not least, you will visit the sections and modern art work of the Memorial Park Cemetery. A beautiful book!
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