This is part three of the history of the pet cemetery in Aspen Hill, Maryland, now known as Aspin Hill Memorial Park.
NOTE: This article was updated on October 18, 2018 with new information about the location of Mr. Nash’s grave. Read on!
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
Looking for Mr. Nash’s Grave
Having read that S. Alfred Nash was buried at Aspin Hill, I went in search of his grave in April of 2018. I had noticed that many of the gravestones featured the surname of the pet’s owner across the top. I went looking for one that said, “NASH.” I found only one such gravestone, which was for pets named Flapjack and Cueball. However, I could find no sign of the grave of S. Alfred Nash nearby.
A plot about 15 feet away from Flapjack and Cueball was situated in a choice spot under a large flowering cherry tree. A couple of empty beer bottles, some fallen limbs, a broken St. Francis of Assisi statue, and a rusted dog figurine had accumulated in the low corner of the plot. In the center was the remnant of a shrub that was nearly dead itself. Something about this area made me want to check it further.
There were a couple of metal grave markers flush with the surface of the ground. One of them was read “Cuejack 1960-1976 A Friend to All.” Since the name Cuejack was a combination of the names Cueball and Flapjack, I thought, “I’m on to something.” (I also thought, better Cuejack than Flapball.) About a foot away, I saw what I thought was another marker poking out of the ground. I scraped the dirt away from it with my hands. The marker had the image of a bulldog on it, representing a pet that lived from 1968-1973. Its name was Nashional Bo. Not National Bo like the beer, National Bohemian (“From the Land of Pleasant Living”), but NASHional Bo. I was sure I was in the right place, but where was Mr. Nash’s grave? I idly picked up a piece of trash, an old sign that read “Section 2,” and flipped it over. The metal plate on the opposite side read, “Nash Court.”
Encouraged that I was in the right place, I took a sturdy stick and gently probed the earth. Next to Nashional Bo’s marker, I felt something hard under a half-inch of dirt. It turned out to be a marker that read: “S. Alfred Nash 1909-1974.” I had found Mr. Nash! I felt slightly giddy that I had rescued his marker and his memory.
My only worry now is that unless the plot is maintained, Mr. Nash’s grave marker could sink into the ground — and obscurity — once again. I visit the cemetery regularly, and I always check to see that the marker is still visible. We are heading into a spell of regular rain these days, and I’m afraid because the marker is below the level of the rest of the plot, it will get covered up with dirt.
Aspin Hill Memorial Park is owned by the Montgomery County Humane Society. They are maintaining the cemetery with regular mowing, but not much else. I believe that they are doing the best they can with the funding they have. I also think it would be nice if some of the historically significant graves, such as Mr. Nash’s, could get some extra attention.
Earlier this week, I met for the first time with the staff of Montgomery County Humane Society, which owns Aspin Hill Memorial Park. We walked together around the cemetery, sharing information. I learned that S. Alfred Nash’s cremated remains were moved after his wife died. The owners of Aspin Hill at that time (PETA) would not allow her to be buried there with him.
I called Mount Comfort Cemetery in Alexandria, Virginia where Martha Nash was buried in 1991. They confirmed that Mr. Nash’s remains were interred in the same site with her in 1992.
I don’t know why the family left his marker behind at Aspin Hill, but I’m glad it is there. It’s an interesting artifact that might be used in an exhibit about the history of the cemetery.
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.