Cemetery Shortage in Honolulu in the Early 1900s

In 1902, the Board of Health wanted to close the unsanitary cemeteries in Honolulu. The graves were dug too shallow and sometimes unmarked. Digging for a new grave would sometimes inadvertently uncover two coffins in one spot. The overcrowded cemeteries had poor or no drainage. However, the people were against closing cemeteries, and Honolulu was running out of space for burials.

In a 1903 letter, C.H. Tracy, the city’s inspector of cemeteries, urges the city to either close or regulate the cemeteries to stop the “insanitary and dangerous practices” and describes the mishandling of some of the graves:

“I find that in this time thirty-seven coffins have been disturbed, some actually chopped in two and part of the remains reburied beneath the new one. Some of the cemeteries are so low that when graves are dug to six feet, the coffin will be entirely submerged in water.”

Because of the letter, Dr. Mays, Mr. Robinson, and Attorney General Andrews were put into a committee to investigate the cemeteries.

On September 1905, Lucius Eugene Pinkham, the President of the territorial Board of Health, met with 19 cemetery owners to discuss the sanitary conditions and said 19 cemeteries is too many. But, instead of tackling the broader issues, the owners emotionally defended their cemeteries and criticized the others. H.T. Moore criticized the Kawaiahao Cemetery, and Governor Cleghorn shot back Moore’s cemetery was unacceptable for graves. The meeting ended without a consensus.

In June 1908, after eight to ten years of closure threats, the Board of Health finally ordered the Catholic Waikiki Cemetery, Makiki Government Cemetery, and a part of the King Street Catholic Cemetery to stop adding new burials after three months. The board also approved the Waialae cemetery site at the east of the Diamond Head crater and a buddhist cemetery in Moiliili that will be maintained by the Honpa Hongwanji.

This saga goes on at least to 1912, when the city closed another cemetery and found itself running short on graves again.

Sources from Chronicling America
“Exhaustive Report by Officer Tracy on City Cemeteries”
Evening bulletin., October 02, 1902, Page 3, Image 3

“Voice of People Prevails to Keep Cemeteries Open”
Evening bulletin., December 18, 1902, Page SIX, Image 6

“Cemeteries Badly Kept: Crowded and Too Shallow Are Graves” & “City Burials”
The Hawaiian gazette., August 21, 1903, Page 5, Image 5

“Cemeteries Once More: A Committee Will Investigate Them”
The Hawaiian gazette., December 11, 1903, Page 8, Image 8

“Report on Cemeteries”
Evening bulletin., March 10, 1904, 3:30 O’CLOCK EDITION, Page TWO, Image 2

“Owners of Cemeteries Indulge in Red Hot Discussion: Pinkham for Municipal Control”
Evening bulletin., September 27, 1905, 3:30 O’CLOCK EDITION, Page 3, Image 3

“Board of Health’s Proposed Cemetery Laws”
Evening bulletin., October 10, 1905, 3:30 O’CLOCK EDITION, Image 5

“Cemetery Situation Taken Up By Civics”
Evening bulletin., January 10, 1908, 3:30 O’CLOCK EDITION, Image 1

“City Cemeteries Should Be Closed: This Is ‘Recommendation of Civic Feds.’ Report”
Evening bulletin., February 08, 1908, 3:30 O’CLOCK EDITION, Image 1, 3

“Will Close Up the Insanitary Cemeteries”
The Hawaiian gazette., June 09, 1908, Page 2, Image 2

“Honolulu Soon to be Short of Burial Ground: Board of Health Once More Face to Face with Its Old Problem”
The Hawaiian gazette., March 22, 1912, Page 8, Image 8


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