There’s an old joke about cemeteries and fences. It goes:
Why are there fences around a graveyard?
Because people are dying to get in!
Granted, it’s a bad joke. But unfortunately, live people sometimes breach cemetery fences for evil purposes, especially around Halloween. These vandals demonstrate how important a good fence is to a cemetery.
Purpose of cemetery fencing
Cemetery fencing serves both practical and aesthetic purposes. It defines the boundaries of a formal cemetery or a family plot. It keeps animals out, protecting graves and headstones from cattle and wild animals. Also, as a sign of respect to loved ones buried there, it should be attractive.
If you visit historic cemeteries, you can learn a lot about history. Markings on gravestones are fascinating, such as who belonged to the Masons and who was a Woodmen of the World member. But the fences surrounding the cemetery also tell stories.
You might encounter an old Texas ceremony with dry-stack stone walls, built without mortar. Some started out with humble barbed wire fences, which have been replaced by wooden pickets or beautiful cast iron.
Wrought iron and cast iron are two popular cemetery fence materials. Wrought iron, also called charcoal or puddled iron, is what blacksmiths use. Since wrought iron is nearly pure iron, it resists corrosion and seldom breaks. Blacksmiths enjoy working with wrought iron because it’s soft and malleable, lending itself to intricate artwork.
Cast iron has a higher carbon content, making it harder and more brittle. It’s good for pouring into molds, but not for working by hand. Mild steel and zinc are two other materials you might find in American cemeteries.
People responsible for repairing cemeteries are sometimes tempted to mix new materials with old. Not only is this historically inappropriate, but mixing certain metals causes galvanic reactions. It’s better to retain the existing ironwork at old cemeteries, if at all possible, even if it’s in poor condition.
Cemetery fencing and aesthetics
Fencing is one of the elements that makes historic cemeteries such treasures. Many old cemeteries have ceremonial entrances, such as overhead metal arches with the cemetery name. You’ll also find especially beautiful fences surrounding the graves of some of the wealthier occupants.
If you’re responsible for the care of a cemetery and need some advice on the fencing, please give your friends at Buzz a call. And to everybody else, happy Halloween!