LINWOOD, N.J. - Night Life was so loved by legions of Atlantic City's barroom faithful that when he was laid to rest nearly 40 years ago, a five-hour procession of mourners filed past his white-satin-lined coffin. There were 20 limousines behind the hearse that carried Night Life to an elaborate granite stone that still marks his grave.
Not bad for a dog.
And even though they have long gone to their own graves, a legacy has been left behind by the owners of more than 3,800 assorted animals that are buried - some rather opulently - in a hidden glade off Shore Road.
FTC Touching sentiments about loyalty and love, both given and received, have been permanently carved in granite and marble on the hundreds of headstones that dot the weed-choked and wooded 4-acre animal graveyard.
Preserving the Clara-Glen Pet Cemetery, believed to be one of the oldest in the nation, has fallen into the hands of the Linwood Historical Society.
But weeding, mowing and improving the site since it was deeded to the small group of volunteers in 1987 has proved to be a daunting task, according to Denise Slotoroff, who chairs a committee recently created by the historical society to clean up the site.
Over the last 10 years, many of the gravestones have become completely covered by weeds and grass. Some of the more elaborate monuments appear to have been damaged by storms or neglect. And in other parts of the site, the stones look as though they are sinking into the soft earth.
"Just the way the graves have been placed makes it a landscaping challenge," Slotoroff said. "What we need is to be able to set up some kind of a permanent maintenance schedule so the cemetery can be properly taken care of."
The historical society estimated that it would cost about $3,000 a year to pay a landscaper to do the work. Fencing and lighting would cost even more, Slotoroff said.
"At a time when we have problems like illiteracy and hungry children in the world, it's a little difficult to get people interested in donating to a cause like fixing up a pet cemetery," Slotoroff said. "But to the people who buried their pets here, this was a sacred place. As a historical society, we respect that."
The group is looking for volunteers to help it create a permanent maintenance schedule for the site. A local landscaping company, Miller Lawn Care, has agreed to help the group - and any volunteers it can rally - conduct the first cleanup of the cemetery in a few weeks, Slotoroff said.
Pet owners no longer may bring their animals to the cemetery for burial. The only animals that now may be interred there are police dogs, Slotoroff said.
But in its heyday, the cemetery was the center of a thriving animal funeral business.
It was started in 1918 by Clara and Glen White, devout animal lovers who once housed 45 dogs, a menagerie of cats, and more than 300 rabbits in an adjacent wood-frame farmhouse that is now privately owned.
After the Whites began burying their deceased pets in the backyard, many of their friends asked permission to bring their ,, dead pets to the site for a proper burial, too.
The Whites sold the property to Alex and Agnes Miller in 1943, and the younger couple began operating a pet interment service. For a $60 fee, the Millers would embalm the animal, measure it for a custom-made casket, shampoo and clean the pet, and then place it in the lined casket with a feather pillow and a blanket.
The couple would photograph the animal for the owner before closing the casket and put flowers on the coffin before it was lowered into a 4-foot-deep grave.
A ceremony would be held for the pet owners who requested it, Slotoroff said.
Some of the owners would spend much more than the $60 to see that Fifi, Snoody, Rex or Duke would be immortalized in stone. Many had granite headstones erected with photographs of their pets embedded in the marker, and some missed their departed canine and feline friends so much that they apparently paid untold sums to stoneworkers to have lengthy tributes to the animals carved on the grave markers.
Pub Date: 3/14/97