This is part three of the history of the pet cemetery in Aspen Hill, Maryland, now known as Aspin Hill Memorial Park.
In 1961, S. Alfred Nash, a local embalmer, purchased Aspin Hill Cemetery for Pet Animals. Dr. Ruebush continued to own the land, but the business of burying dogs, cats, birds, horses, and other animals would be carried out by Nash and his wife, Martha.
Before purchasing the cemetery business, S. Alfred Nash had been an embalmer at a funeral home in Washington, D.C. for many years. In that capacity, he was occasionally asked to embalm animals. The other embalmers at the funeral home turned their noses up at the work, and so it became a specialty for Nash. After retiring some time in the late 1950s, he started a pet funeral service, which he ran for a few years. Then, in 1961, Aspin Hill Cemetery for Pet Animals came up for sale, and he jumped at the opportunity. 1
The P. T. Barnum of Pet Cemeteries
By all accounts, S. Alfred Nash was a colorful character. He loved to give tours of the cemetery to reporters, pointing out notable monuments and the grave sites of famous pets and their owners. Nash was once quoted as saying, “I can bury an elephant if you want it,” a statement that reminded me a bit of P. T. Barnum. He would happily point out to visitors where J. Edgar Hoover’s dogs were buried or where to find the grave of Rags, a World War I hero dog. 2
Nash is likely the source of the rumor that Petey, the pit bull with the circle around his eye from the “Our Gang” movies was buried at the cemetery. I have come to this conclusion because I could find no mention of Petey being buried at Aspin Hill prior to 1965 — four years after Nash bought the cemetery, and long after the alleged burial. Nash may have seen the grave of General Grant of R.K.O. and decided that since RKO was a movie studio, that the dog pictured on the gravestone must have been a dog actor. From there, he made the illogical leap that the dog was Petey. He’s not. I don’t think it was Nash’s intent to deceive, but the showman in him may have liked the idea of it.
Another thing I believe he liked to do, when talking to reporters, was wax philosophically about the kind of people who give their pets a funeral and burial. In one article, he is quoted as saying, “The law says that you have to bury humans, but you bury a dog because you want to.” Based on his thirty or so years of working in the human funeral industry, Nash observed that he saw more genuine sorrow in a funeral for a pet than in most human funerals.
In 1965, a movie came out based on Evelyn Waugh novel’s The Loved One, a searing commentary on the cemetery industry in Los Angeles. A portion of the movie’s plot takes place in a pet cemetery. In 1969, a Washington Post reporter asked Nash for his take on it. Unaware that Waugh was a man, Nash remarked, “Personally, I didn’t read the book or see the movie, but some undertakin’ friends of mine told me it weren’t worth my time. She was just some silly damn foreigner who came over here to cause trouble. She didn’t know what the hell she was talking about.” 3 Despite Mr. Nash’s non-review — he didn’t even see the movie — I watched it recently and found it hilarious. Liberace’s portrayal of a smarmy funeral counselor/salesman alone makes it worth seeing.
By 1973, there were 35,000 pets buried there and 10 humans. With the help of gravedigger James Thompson, who came to work for Nash around 1967, they buried any where from 200 to 300 pets a year. Some came with elaborate funerals. 4 In the first year that Nash owned the business, he witnessed a funeral procession of several cars and dozens of mourners for a turtle. In some cases, pet owners would ask Mr. Nash to say a few words over a grave site during a burial. In others, the bereaved might bring their own clergy to officiate using the burial rites of their denomination. 5
Mr. Nash was said to have kept hundreds of pets on the eight-acre cemetery grounds — dogs, goats, ducks, peacocks, and at least one Shetland pony. In 1974, he died and was buried at the cemetery with his pets at Aspin Hill. 6 His wife, Martha said, “Mr. Nash wanted to be buried where everything that’s buried is loved.” 7
When Martha Nash died in 1991, Mr. Nash’s remains were exhumed and buried with his wife in a cemetery in Virginia where his family resides.
This is part 3 of the history of Aspin Hill. See all 4 parts at:
- Burdick, Ray. “Owner of Animal Cemetery: He Finds Pet Mourners More Sincere,” The Sentinel, September 2, 1965.
- Tucci, Frank. “S. A. Nash Says He Can Bury an Elephant,” The Washington Post, Times Herald, May 4, 1969. page 312.
- Tucci, ibid.
- Goldstein, Lee. “Where Pets Are Buried Like People,” Montgomery Journal, September 20, 1973. page B1.
- Ahlers, Mike. “Fuzzy Companions Rest in Peace at Aspin Hill,” Montgomery Journal, December 28, 1979.
- Mullin, Sue. “A Different Kind of Cemetery,” Washington Star, November 2, 1977.
- “Aspin Hill: Final Gesture of Love to a Pet,” Montgomery Journal, April 11, 1979. page B6.