“Perpetual Care” at Fall River’s Oak Grove Cemetery

01 Mar

Above: Entrance to Oak Grove Cemetery from Prospect Ave. On Saturday, August 6th, 1892 the bodies of Andrew & Abby Borden were placed inside the structure to the left where a second autopsy was performed and their heads decapitated. The heads were taken by Dr. Dolan to his home where he boiled the flesh off them in his kitchen. Lizzie and Emma were not informed.

Both Lizzie Borden and her sister Emma left monies for “perpetual care” of their father’s family plot in their Wills. In fact, is was the #1 item in Lizzie’s itemized bequests:

“1. To the City of Fall River the sum of five hundred dollars, the income derived there from to be used for the perpetual care of my father’s lot in the Oak Grove Cemetery in said Fall River.”

Emma Borden’s second bequest in her Will states:

“SECOND: I give and bequeath to the Treasurer of the City of Fall River, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the sum of One Thousand Dollars ($1,000), the same to be held by said City of Fall River, IN TRUST, the income thereof to be used and applied for the perpetual care and improvement of the family burial lot, and the monuments and stones thereon, in Oak Grove Cemetery, which was owned by my father, Andrew J. Borden, at the time of his death.”

Emma signed her Will on November 20, 1920 (and a Codicil to that Will on June 22, 1922). Lizzie signed her Will January 30, 1926.

Being curious of just what “perpetual care” meant in the 21st Century relative to the Borden plot, I contacted Tom Eaton, Director of Cemeteries with the Fall River Department of Recreational Facilities, Cemeteries and Trees.

Oak Grove Cemetery encompasses over 100 acres of land which was donated to the City of Fall River in the 1840’s. There are several cemeteries in Fall River, but only two are maintained by the City: Oak Grove and North Burial Ground on North Main Street. Many remains and tombstones were removed from the latter cemetery to Oak Grove in the past two centuries, including that of the tragic Sarah Cornell.

(Some other interesting and Borden case-related graves can be found at Find A Grave.)

Back to “perpetual care”:

Operations and Maintenance of Oak Grove Cemetery is primarily funded by “perpetual care” monies, although the City of Fall River does contribute some budgetary funding. “Perpetual care” is mandatory (in Lizzie’s day it was not) for anyone now buried in Oak Grove. For example, if a person purchased a two plot burial site, it would cost $1,000, of which $500 would go into the perpetual care fund. This is a pooled fund from all perpetual care revenue, so the $500 assessment is not exclusive or designated for a specific plot, but rather placed in the fund for general use of operations and maintenance of the entire Cemetery.

The O&M costs primarily covered by “perpetual care” monies include salaries and administrative overhead as well as for weeding and other maintenance activities on the burial plot itself. This includes cemetery maintenance needs such as care of the roads, pathways, fencing, locks, utility costs for the office, the cutting and caring of trees, painting, mowing, debris clean up, etc.

As would be expected, time, nature and vandalism have taken a toll on Oak Grove. The perpetual care fund is insufficient to do more than minimal maintenance, let alone planting of new and replacement trees. The “Friends of Oak Grove Cemetery” is an excellent blog site with beautiful photos of Oak Grove and provides information on how locals and others can help with maintenance and tree planting. (Mary Ann Wordell, president of the Fall River Street Tree Planting Program and a resident of the Highlands donated a tree to be planted in Oak Grove in the spring in memory of her family.)

The $500 and $1,000 that Lizzie and Emma set forth in their Wills for perpetual care has long been depleted according to Tom Eaton. Any maintenance done to the Andrew Borden plot now is from the pooled fund.

In a way, the phrase “Perpetual care” for grave sites and family plots spread over 100 acres seems an oxymoron given the current funding constraints. But in Lizzie & Emma’s time maybe people took it literally – thinking whatever they bequeathed guaranteed maintenance into perpetuity.

The Andrew Jackson Borden family plot is the most visited and photographed of all the grave sites in the Cemetery. It is fortunate that occasionally a visitor will trim the grass around the headstones, clean off the stones, weed the walkways and so forth. While there may be a shortage of “perpetual care” funds for a higher standard of maintenance throughout the Cemetery,  continuation of “perpetual visitors” to the Borden family historic grave site seems guaranteed ….and here it comes… guessed it…..into perpetuity. 😉

Here is a map of the layout of Oak Grove Cemetery.


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