Old burial customs determine how couples are positioned

Cemetery plot layout with men buried on the south. Depending on which way headstonesface, husbands may be buried on the right or left of wives. (Dan Morris / Staff)

Dr. Scribblerbury has received intriguing responses to a June 29 item about most husbands being buried on the right side of their wives in the East Petersburg Mennonite Cemetery.

(No one has yet pointed out that many men have ample reasons to look for any way to get on the right side of their wives.)

Bart Delp, of Delp Monument Co. in Blue Ball, says he has spent time in many cemeteries over the years and has "seen it all."

However, there are standards.

Most cemeteries bury husbands on the south side of a burial plot, with their wives on the north.

The other key factor, Delp notes, is that headstones can face east or west. The direction they face makes a big difference.

"That determines whether the man is on the right or left," he explains.

In the East Petersburg Cemetery, headstones face west, which means most husbands will be buried to the right of their wives in front of the stones. (See example in accompanying illustration.)

But in most cemeteries, headstones face east, which puts husbands to the left of their wives.

"To make matters even more confusing," Delp adds, "many cemeteries have stones facing both ways. And then there's Brunner-ville United Methodist, which buries the man on the right regardless of which way the stone faces."

This situation can make the life of a memorial dealer confusing, he says. Stones can wind up with names engraved in the wrong position.

Still, men and women usually are buried as shown in the example on the right of the illustration. Why?

Delp says he has met many cemetery caretakers who claim couples are buried that way so that at the rapture, when they rise out of the ground, they will be standing as they were when married.

That is, while the husband lies to the left of his wife, their heads are close to the headstones. So they would rise in reverse &tstr; the husband to the right side of his wife.

"Take this," Delp says, "for what it's worth."

Buried with feet facing east

It's worth a lot, according to Sam Stoltzfus, of Gordonville, who says the headstones and feet of all those buried in Gordonville's Amish cemetery face east.

"When the Lord comes the second time," he explains, "he'll come from the East."

So the dead will rise correctly in greeting.

The husband lies on the left, but would rise on the right. That's opposite from East Petersburg Mennonite.

Buried in 'choirs' in old Lititz

Here's another way to bury people.

Marian Shatto, of Lititz, says that the old section of Lititz Moravian Cemetery followed the 18th century Moravian practice of burying people by "choirs."

This choir has nothing to do with music. It indicates marital status and gender.

All of the single brothers are buried in one choir.

All of the married brothers are in another.

All of the single sisters have their choir, and all of the married sisters are in a fourth.

Typical family plots fill the cemetery's newer section.

"But if you choose to be buried in the old section," Shatto explains, "you will be buried according to the choir."

Who would choose to be buried that way today?

"People who have grown up in the church," says Shatto. "I've left instructions to be buried in the old section. It's a wonderful connection to the history of the congregation."

Contact The Scribbler: jbrubaker@lnpnews.com .