From Europe Viewed Through American Spectacles by Charles C. Fulton. Text written in 1873.
The whole arrangement for burying the dead, and furnishing coffins, carriages, and all the requisites for funerals, are in the hands of an incorporated company, no one else having the right to interfere with the business. In fact, it is, like the tobacco business, a source of large revenue to the government. The monopoly is granted to this incorporated company under the title Entreprise des Pompes Funèbres , whose principal office is at 10 Rue Alibert, whilst it has branch offices in each in the arrondissements into which the city is divided. The officers of this company take charge of the body, and prepare for the funeral upon just such a scale and at such expense as the family may desire. Their schedule of prices is such as to suit the purses of all parties, and they are required to bury the very poor gratuitously.
A “first class funeral” is set down on a schedule as costing seven thousand one hundred and eighty-one francs (about one thousand five hundred dollars), the cost of each item of expense being enumerated. There are other nine classes, the lowest costing eighteen francs and seventy-five centimes, including the religious ceremonies.
There are however no limits to the cost of first class funerals, as it depends altogether upon the means of the family and its desire for funeral pomp. The horses, hearses, carriages and drivers are all of a different character for each of these ten classes, the difference being in the age and spirit of horses, the good looks of the drivers, the quality of their clothing, the harness of the horses, the ancient or the modern built of the carriages, etc. The hearse is graded from a splendid structure down to a hand-cart, and the extremely poor are merely furnished with a hand-barrow to enable the friends to carry the body on their shoulders to the grave. The quality of the grave-clothes, of the coffin and everything else, is graded to the price, as they may be ordered form class No. 1 to class No. 2.
Besides getting the dead poor buried without cost, the government receives from the company thirty-three and a third per cent of the produce of funeral ornaments, and fifteen per cent on that of all other articles furnished. The revenue from these sources is quite large, and, as the cemeteries are also the property of the city government, the dead, as well the living, contribute their quota to beautifying Paris. The dead are allowed to occupy the ground for only five years, when their bones are carted off, probably for agricultural purposes, and the space they occupied is given to some new claimant for the privilege of the soil. There are three kinds of graves in the cemeteries, even for those who pay for the right of sepulchure. Some people purchase the perpetual right for their friends to occupy the soil, but it is generally conceded for five years or more, subject to renewal. If not renewed, the bones are taken up, and the ground is prepared to lease to some new-comer. In the common graves, or, as they are called, fosses communes, the poor are gratuitously buried four and a half feet deep in coffins placed close to, but not on top of, each other. This economizes space, as well as saves labor in their removal when the five years have expired.
Among the items of city receipts last year in Paris are the following: Dues on burials, 696,000 francs ($120,000); Sale of lands in cemeteries, 1,546,000 francs ($225,000). We do not, however, find any return for the sale of human bones, which is probably a perquisite of the grave-digger.