By Eric Jankiewicz
Ed Horn is concerned with the living and the dead.
As a memorial counselor at Saint Michael’s Cemetery, Horn deals with the living, who in turn are trying to deal with their dead and how best to honor them. But Horn pushes people who come to the cemetery to think of the patch of land as a living relationship between themselves and the memory of their loved ones.
“I refuse to have Saint Michael’s be a warehouse of the past,” Horn said. “We’re not one of those cemeteries whose sole job is to incarcerate a body in the ground. The real purpose of a cemetery is for the living not the dead.”
The annual Scott Joplin Concert is an illustration of this connection between clients and the cemetery. Held in May, the concert is a place for people to come, inspired by food and live music, to the Astoria graveyard and commemorate the cemetery’s residents. And although dancing on the plots of the dead is frowned upon, hundreds of spectators join in the celebration of life and death.
“It’s very important for families to be involved in the process,” Horn said. “We are our ancestry.”
Horn was born in Brooklyn and served in the Marine Corps. during the ‘60s. He was lucky enough to not be sent to Vietnam because his tour ended in 1968, just when the war was peaking. But Horn would see his fair share of death – even if they weren’t casualties of war – when he joined Saint Michael’s Cemetery in 1999.
And Horn’s advocacy doesn’t stop at the black gates of Saint Michael’s. He is also a member of the The International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association, a group that advocates on behalf of families. The aim of the group is to influence the government and prevent predatory practices, something that, Horn said, unfortunately happens often to families who are their most vulnerable.
Horn also stresses working with families to provide the best experience for clients. And once the ceremony of burial is complete, Horn maintains contact with the many families that have buried people at the cemetery. And the cemetery’s 9/11 memorial is one of the clearest examples of Horn’s continued relationship with the borough and all of the families that have been to the cemetery. Horn and other staff members hold a memorial service every September, a few days before 9/11. And hanging in Horn’s room is a small chip of steel that came from one of the towers destroyed in the World Trade Center attacks.
“Everyday at St. Michaels we encounter families that need aid and guidance. They are at a time of loss and they need to be in situations that aren’t stressful,” Horn said. “They rely upon us and trust is a major factor.”