Work at a Cemetery

Photo: Eva Larsson

Work in burial grounds has traditionally been burdensome and shouldered by domestic migrant workers, both women and men. Even today, work outdoors and in the crematoriums is hard. Many of the old jobs remain and new ones have been added over 100 years.

Skanstull’s Gravediggers

In the early 1800s, pay was 16 skilling banko (about 50 öre or half 1 krona) per buried coffin. Supervisors checked that graves were dug deep enough. On top of the wage, each worker was given a daily ration of 4 jungfrur (‘virgins’) of brännvin (33 cl), a quarter mug of beer (65 cl) and a quarter mug of weaker malt beverage.

Park Work is still largely seasonal. Up until the 1980s, seasonal workers were known as “summer birds”. Work was with hand tools: spades, digging bars, shears, lawn mowers and water carried by buckets. Later, sprinklers and modern machines made labour easier.

Crematorium Staff and technical personnel run the complicated systems. They bring in the coffins, prepare the ashes and fill the urns or cloth bags.

Sextons help undertakers and families at the chapel. They oversee the interment of urns and spread ashes anonymously in the Memorial Grove. Administration takes care of information, ordering ceremonies, grave purchases, archives, economy and IT.

Civil celebrants, priests, organists and musicians are hired either through funeral homes or privately. Pallbearers are still an honorary appointment and consist of close friends or relatives. Professional pallbearer teams, often working together for years, serve funerals of varied beliefs.

Representatives for funeral homes facilitate everything from funeral planning to burials. Funeral homes were established in Swedish towns in the 1920s. Florists work backstage, creating floral displays and decorating coffins and urns.

Florists’ shops and stalls were included in the architects’ original plans.

Service Building

The first service building for work staff was designed by Gunnar Asplund’s practice. It was built in 1923—24 and in wood like the Woodland Chapel. It had lockers and washing facilities for men and women, a utility room for burial apparel, a canteen, equipment storage, boiler room and attic space for drying seeds. Later additions — the smithy shed, carpenter’s shop, garage, storeroom and tool shed — have been pulled down.

In 1998 the building was remodelled as the World Heritage Visitors Centre.

The Woodland Cemetery 100 years

Skogskyrkogården, The Woodland Cemetery, celebrates its 100th anniversary with a new outdoor exhibition. September 19—November 1, 2020. Free admission.

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