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The Removal of the Cemeteries

     It is now about a year since the proposal to remove the cemeteries to a further distance from the city was submitted to the vote of the people. That proposal was made by a large commission of intelligent business and scientific gentlemen. It was ascertained by the former that the value of property is greatly reduced by proximity to cemeteries. People may ideally enjoy the prospect of a future heavenly existence, but very few care to live within sight of the entrance. It may be good to visit the place of mourning, but to live there is a totally different affair. The central feature of the funeral cortege is not the beauty of the casket, the number of the carriages, the grandeur of the music, or even the solemnity of the religious ritual. Everybody knows that behind these shams are the mortal remains of a human being—killed, it may be, by some loathsome and contagious disease—and, at the best, a mass of decomposing matter, which, if not already offensive, must surely become so in a few short hours. The objection to living near a cemetery is no mere sentiment. Five thousand such bodies are interred there every year, and sometimes more. Half a million pounds of putridity are annually boxed up and covered with a few feet of earth. The scientist knows that all the evils of this decomposition are but disguised by stone vaults and costly cerements. The germs of disease grow and are diffused in spite of them. They rise to the surface from the deepest grave to poison both the earth and air. They descend to contaminate the springs of water; years do not destroy them. Putrefaction is actually prolonged indefinitely, and there is continued danger to the living whilst the process lasts.

     Physicians are as yet only beginning to estimate the importance of the putrefactive germ. They know full well the dangers of the putrefactive changes which begin in the body almost before life becomes extinct. Many an anatomist, many a surgeon, many a physician, has died from a mere scratch made accidentally in the performance of his duty. But the nature of these deadly poisons has only been revealed of late. Diseases, the cause of which were formerly utterly unknown, are now believed to depend on the existence of specially endowed and living atoms. Plague, cholera, malignant pustule, smallpox, scarlet fever, malaria, and even consumption, owe their propagation to a living germ. We cannot see these germs with the naked eye. We cannot always recognize their form even by the strongest microscope. Their history is now only under the observation of the learned, but we are able to test their powers and watch their effects. We know that the soil taken from many feet above the carcass of a cow which died of cattle plague remains still deadly after an interval of two years, and that the worms which fed upon that carcass are still capable of propagating the disease. Who dares, then, to state that the germs of disease do not rise from the graves of men in impalpable mists to fatten on new victims? Science and common sense combine to denounce the burial of the dead amongst the living. And it must be obvious to every unprejudiced person that one of two things is imminent. Either the cemeteries must be removed to a greater distance from the city or the system of disposing of our dead must be radically changed. The subject cannot be left in doubt, and we shall do our best to advocate the truth.

San Francisco News Letter and California Advertiser
May 28, 181?