By Melanie Byer Edited by Belton White April 22, 2009
Unmarked granite headstones ready for bronze name-plates lay stacked near the groundskeepers' equipment building at Elmwood Cemetery & Gardens. Backhoes used for digging graves sit nearby, and storage areas hold brooms, weed trimmers and rakes. The cemetery, founded in 1854, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and keeping its 100 acres clean is not easy. But it's a job Frank Toye, the superintendent, says is far from depressing for him and six other groundskeepers.
The Carolina Reporter talked to Toye about his duties, and his answers have been edited for space and clarity.
Q. How long have you been a groundskeeper, and what does your job involve?
A. I've been here for two years, and my job involves making sure the grounds are kept up, that we prepare for all the funerals, make any necessary changes, provide whatever help I can to the office staff. I help the grounds crew with whatever they need to do, and basically I'm here every day working with my guys.
Q. Why did you want this job?
A. I lived in Florida for 20 years, and I just wanted a change. I love coming here every day. It's very peaceful. I love the trees and the flowers, and I love to see the fresh grass when it's cut.
Q. What did you think about your job when you started?
A. It was a little mind-boggling at first because the area is so big, but it became smaller and smaller every day. When I first came in here and started riding around, I'd ride down one area and find out that I was in the wrong area. And I'd have to back up and go down another way until I learned my way around because there are so many different cutoffs in the main road here. We have people getting lost all the time.
Q. How would you describe your job to a new friend?
A. It's very difficult to describe this job to anybody because nobody really knows what goes on in a cemetery. They just picture that you cut the grass, and they really don't know all the details that go into keeping a cemetery clean - details in making sure a funeral is set up properly and certain areas are cut on a daily basis.
Q. Is it ever depressing working for a cemetery?
A. No, not at all. It just isn't. It may be depressing to some people who believe in ghosts, but I have no problem with it. I love it here.
Q. How important is your job?
A. I think that anybody who has a job has to think it's important. Otherwise, they wouldn't like what they are doing. I come here every day with a different view of what I want to do for that day, what I want to accomplish for that week. So it's a challenge every day.
Q. What do you do during and after funerals?
A. I try to keep my distance from the family when they're here. And when they're gone, that's when I bring my guys up to do what we have to do. And that way you don't get involved in their sorrows. I think it's better that way for everybody, not just for me, but my guys who are doing their job.
Q. What advice would you give to somebody who wants to work for a cemetery?
A. Don't believe in ghosts. I guess some people do believe in ghosts when they come into a cemetery. I never did, so it's hard for me to understand. I don't know why, but it doesn't bother me. I come in here at 7 o'clock in the morning when it's dark, and I love it. It's peaceful, it's quiet. This is my family, all of these people.