Answer Man: Why do we see so many cedar trees in cemeteries?

News-DemocratSeptember 16, 2013 

Q. What's the story behind all the cedar trees in so many cemeteries in our part of the world? Could it be they were mentioned more than 100 times in the Bible and they were vital to shipbuilders in the past?

-- Bud Ridings, of Greenville

A. Germans love to sing that in heaven there is no beer. Well, considering the popularity of cedar trees in cemeteries, perhaps there aren't any moths, either.

And it's not just in the United States. We reportedly brought the custom of using cedars and related trees from the Old World. The English often planted yews while other Europeans used similar trees like the Norwegian spruce. It's so common that cedars are sometimes referred to as "the graveyard tree."

It's not hard to see why. Let's say you bought a blanket to place on your parents' graves for Christmas. Do you really want to visit a cemetery on a raw, gray December day and see nothing but bare trees devoid of foliage? How depressing.

By staying green all year, cedars and other evergreens make cemeteries feel warmer and more inviting. Along with palm trees in warmer climes, they promote a sense of eternal life, rebirth and hope. For example, although not a true cedar, the red cedar, native to North America, is often called "the tree of life."

It's been that way for millennia. Sometimes confused with cedars, the cypress tree has been associated with mourning since ancient Greece. According to myth, Cyparissus was a Greek boy who accidentally killed his pet stag while it was sleeping in the woods. He was so overwhelmed with grief that the gods turned him into a cypress tree so he could mourn forever.

As you've already alluded to, no other tree is so highly praised throughout the Bible. Often regarded as a symbol of prosperity because of its long life and towering stature, the cedar was used extensively in the palaces built by David and Solomon and the first and second temples.

But its popularity extends far beyond Jewish-Christian culture. Because of its resistance to rot and its fragrant aroma, it was a favorite of cultures throughout Asia for coffins, funeral pyres, ships and buildings. It is the dominant feature on the Lebanese flag and is the national tree of Pakistan, where the name for the Deodar cedar means "timber of the gods" in Sanskrit.

So it may have been especially the cedar that inspired Brad Consenza, an Ohio township trustee, to once say, "The old trees represent a peaceful place where you put your loved ones to rest. Without trees, cemeteries look like parking lots for gravestones."

Q. I have been told that we should save the caps from plastic milk jugs, so they could be turned over to some charity. Is this true or is somebody milking me for a few laughs?

-- G. Schoening, of Millstadt

A. Sorry, but milk caps are not a liquid asset that can be traded for medical care or any other benefit. As one Internet wag once said, about the only benefit they provide is keeping liquids from spilling out of their containers.

That hasn't stopped the hoaxes. Since the 1970s, the National Kidney Foundation has had to tell people that there are no programs involving caps, box tops or any other premium that can be traded for dialysis time. Davita, which offers dialysis services in the metro-east, says it knows of no legitimate program, either.

Last year Roosevelt School in Belleville collected them for a bench made from recycled plastic but that campaign is over and the bench is in use outside the school. Aveda's Pure Natur Salon in Fairview Heights also accepts them but they merely take them to a recycling center.

So, you'd best stick with programs that really pay off -- like the aluminum tab-top collection for the Ronald McDonald House. In the restaurant's most recent tab-top pandemonium campaign, the Millstadt School Junior Beta Club won the organization category by collecting 600 pounds -- which is about 720,000 tabs. Troop 210 of the Girl Scouts of Southern Illinois was second with 317 pounds.

Of course, you can take tabs anytime to your nearest McDonald's restaurant.

Today's trivia

Which of Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers was shot in 3-D -- although by the time it was released, most theaters showed it in conventional 2-D?

Answer to Sunday's trivia: Jimmy and Tommy were a big-band era sensation as the fabulous Dorsey brothers, but for a decade India-born Arnold Dorsey went nowhere as a nightclub singer. Then, in 1965, Gordon Mills, his manager, suggested he take a more distinctive stage name, so he became Englebert Humperdinck. Two years later, his "Release Me" hit No. 1 in the United Kingdom, keeping the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane" from the top spot. Now 77, fans still pack theaters to see him -- although in Germany he reportedly is known only as Englebert because the family of 19th century opera composer Englebert Humperdinck, from whom he took the name, don't want him to use its family moniker.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 239-2465.

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