Life / Health > Death
Cemetery, Mausoleum, Grave, Tomb, Burial, Crematorium
Lesleigh Coyer, 25, of Saginaw, Michigan,
lies down in front of the grave of her brother, Ryan Coyer,
who served with the U.S. Army in both Iraq and Afghanistan,
at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia March 11, 2013.
Coyer died of complications
from an injury sustained in
Boston Globe > Big Picture > 2013 year in pictures: Part I
This Is How I Want to Be Dead
JULY 7, 2017
Cemetery at Bunhill Fields, Finsbury, London, 1866.
Heritage Image Partnership Ltd/Alamy
Death in the city:
the grisly secrets of dealing with
Victorian London's dead
In this abridged extract from his new book Dirty Old London,
Lee Jackson investigates a much-overlooked aspect
of the city’s notorious 19th-century filth problem: the human
UK > Holywell Cemetery,
off a busy road in the heart of Oxford
USA > Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn
UK / USA
UK > Cemeteries - London's Magnificent Seven
UK > Medieval hospital cemetery for poor
found under Cambridge
UK > Scotland > Glasgow necropolis
at the grave of
at the grave of his wife, Donna Lou Rayhons,
an Alzheimer’s patient who died last year.
Daniel Acker/Bloomberg, via Getty Images
Sex, Dementia and a Husband on Trial at Age 78
APRIL 13, 2015
dead live on, online UK 5 September 2012
Quick Response codes
can be scanned by smartphones
to open up online biographies
of the person who has died
Twenty-two bodies slated for burial on Hart Island were kept
sometimes for years, before being laid to rest.
Some of the deceased had families
who were searching for them
For Unclaimed Dead, Grim Delays Before the Final Stop
By ALEXANDRA GARCIA, JOHN WOO,
ALON SICHERMAN, MICAH DICKBAUER and SHANE O’NEILL
Oct. 27, 2016 | 2:02
This Is Hart Island
NYT May. 15, 2016
This Is Hart Island
An uninhabited strip of land
off the coast of the Bronx in
Long Island Sound
has been the final resting place
for New York City's unclaimed
dead since 1869.
By JOHN WOO, ALEXANDRA GARCIA,
ALON SICHERMAN and MICAH DICKBAUER
NYT May. 15, 2016 |
common grave USA
mass grave USA
USA > New York’s Potter’s Field on Hart Island
Hart Island, home to New York City's pauper graves USA
Here on a grassy expanse
toward the south end of Hart Island,
off the Bronx,
the trenches are 10 feet deep
and as long as a football field.
They fill up steadily with the dead
— the homeless, poor, stillborn
and other unclaimed bodies —
delivered by truck and ferry
from all over New York City,
for unceremonious interment.
His crews follow a grim arithmetic:
up to 1,500 bodies buried a year,
organized into 70-foot-long plots that,
with caskets stacked three-high
in rows of six,
can hold about 150 adults each,
or 1,000 infants,
who are buried in trenches
separate from the adults.
On this 101-acre island,
the number of burials since 1869
now approaches one million.
- NYT, 2013
Oct. 27, 2016
100000004401809/this-is-hart-island.html - May 15, 2016
African slave burial ground
ashes to ashes
“Funeral.” Nov. 21, 1990.
Real-Life South African Liberation Stories: Santu Mofokeng
Jul. 13, 2016
burial service USA
burial sector UK
home burial USA
indigent burials USA
funeral service > graveside
SA > lie in state
lie in repose
lay to rest
be laid to
Rest In Peace RIP
Rest In Peace RIP
resting place USA
on a catafalque
Texas Prisoner Burials
in a Punitive System
The New York Times
By MANNY FERNANDEZ
Tex. — Kenneth Wayne Davis died at 54 as not so much a man but a number: Inmate
Mr. Davis was charged, convicted, sentenced and incarcerated for capital murder
by the State of Texas after taking someone’s life on Nov. 19, 1977. But when he
died in November 2011, Texas seemed his only friend. His family failed to claim
his body, so the state paid for his burial.
On a cold morning in this East Texas town, a group of inmates bowed their heads
as a prison chaplain led a prayer for Mr. Davis, his silver-handled black metal
coffin resting on wooden planks above the grave the prisoners had dug for him.
Wearing sunglasses, work boots and dirt-smeared white uniforms, they might have
resembled painters were they not so solemn, holding their caps and gloves in
their folded hands.
They were Mr. Davis’s gravediggers but also his mourners. No one who knew Mr.
Davis bothered to attend his funeral, so it was left up to Damon Gibson, serving
14 years for theft, and the rest of the prison crew to stand in silence over the
grave of a man they had never met. Then Mr. Gibson and the others put their
gloves on and lowered the coffin into the ground using long straps, providing
him eternal rest in the one place in Texas where murderers and other convicts
whose bodies are unclaimed can be interred, remembered and, if but for a few
On this day, Mr. Davis’s funeral was one of seven at the Captain Joe Byrd
Cemetery, the largest prison graveyard in the country, 22 acres where thousands
of inmates who were executed or died while incarcerated are buried. All of them
went unclaimed by their relatives after they died, but the cemetery is not a
ramshackle potter’s field. It is a quiet green oasis on a wide hill near the
campus of Sam Houston State University, with rows of small crosses and
headstones, at the center of which stand a decorative brick well and a
white-painted altar bearing a cross. The last years of these inmates’ lives were
spent under armed guard behind bars and barbed wire, but there is no fence along
Bowers Boulevard here, and no one keeps watch.
Walking along the hill beneath the pine trees, stepping between the rows of
hundreds of identical white crosses and tablet headstones, you think of
Arlington National Cemetery. But if Arlington is for heroes, the Byrd cemetery
is for villains.
The concrete cross marking the grave of Duane Howk lists his name, inmate number
and date of death in June 2010 but says nothing of the offense for which he was
serving a life sentence, aggravated sexual assault of a child. The serial killer
Kenneth Allen McDuff, executed in 1998 for strangling a 22-year-old pregnant
mother of two with a rope, had gained notoriety for being the only inmate in
United States history who was freed from death row and returned years later
after killing again, but he lies beneath a nameless cross reading 999055.
The state’s prison agency, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, has been
the steward of the cemetery since the first inmates were buried there in the
mid-1800s, maintaining and operating it in recent decades as carefully and
respectfully as any religious institution might.
An inmate crew from the nearby Walls Unit prison cleans the grounds, mows the
grass and trims trees four days per week. The inmates dig the graves with a
backhoe and shovels, serve as pallbearers and chisel the names on the headstones
by hand using metal stencils and black paint. The cemetery was named for an
assistant warden at the Walls Unit who helped clean and restore the graveyard in
the 1960s, and even today, the warden or one of his deputies attends every
“It’s important, because they’re people still,” said the warden, James Jones.
“Of course they committed a crime and they have to do their time, and
unfortunately they end up dying while they’re in prison, but they’re still human
In a state known for being tough on criminals, where officials recently
eliminated last-meal requests on death row, the Byrd cemetery has been a
little-known counterpoint to the mythology of the Texas penal system. One mile
from the Walls Unit, which houses the state’s execution chamber, about 100
inmates are buried each year in ceremonies for which the state spends
considerable time and money. Each burial costs Texas about $2,000. Often, as in
Mr. Davis’s case, none of the deceased’s relatives attend, and the only people
present are prison officials and the inmate workers.
Though all of those buried here were unclaimed by relatives, many family members
fail to claim the bodies because they cannot afford burial expenses and want the
prison agency to pay the costs instead. The same relatives who declined to claim
the body will then travel to Huntsville to attend the state-paid services at the
“I think everyone assumes if you’re in a prison cemetery you’re somehow the
worst of the worst,” said Franklin T. Wilson, an assistant professor of
criminology at Indiana State University who is writing a book about the
cemetery. “But it’s more of a reflection of your socioeconomic status. This is
more of a case of if you’re buried there, you’re poor.”
Prison officials have verified 2,100 inmates who are buried at the cemetery, but
they say there may be additional graves. Professor Wilson recently photographed
every headstone and estimated that there were more than 3,000 graves.
In some ways, the cemetery and the funerals held there lack precision and
formality. Coffins are transported from the altar at the center of the cemetery
to the gravesite on a trailer hitched to the back of a green John Deere tractor.
Names and words are misspelled on a few headstones and markers. Relatives have
brought portable stereos to play music during the funerals, blaring rap songs
and AC/DC’s “Hell’s Bells.” Most days, after the inmate crew has returned to the
prison, the cemetery is a deserted, lonesome place. Of the thousands of graves,
only a handful have flowers on them.
“You’ve got guys here who died in prison and were buried out here, and they
could have made a difference someplace, even if it was only in a small community
somewhere,” said Jim Willett, director of the nearby Texas Prison Museum and a
retired Walls Unit warden who attended nearly 200 graveside services. “These
guys didn’t just mess up their lives. There’s their family and other families
that got messed up because of some screwup that they did, and then they wind up
On the day of Mr. Davis’s interment, three burials had family members present,
and four did not. Vandals had entered the cemetery and set a large brush pile on
fire, filling the morning air with smoke. Neither Mr. Gibson nor the inmate
workers knew any of the men they were burying. “It has made me a better person,”
said Mr. Gibson, 38, a father of two from Houston. “It has made me reflect on
the things I’ve done. I don’t want this to be me.”
Two of the seven inmates who were buried, including Mr. Davis, were serving life
sentences for murder, and the others had been imprisoned for drunken driving,
theft, assault, sexual assault of a child or burglary when they died. Mr. Davis
spent nearly 34 of his 54 years behind bars. In the ground in Huntsville, he was
finally free of his prison uniform. The funeral home that handles inmates’
burials put him in dark pants, a white shirt and a tie.
Texas Prisoner Burials Are a Gentle Touch in a Punitive System,
The costly business of dying
Prices are rising
because of increased regulation,
the industry says.
But in the
hard-sell funeral game,
the truth is less savoury
Monday 28 March 2011
his article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 14.02 BST on Monday 28 March
It was last modified at 14.29 BST
on Monday 28 March 2011.
In Germany, Radio Galaxy recently ran a morbid competition:
win, and receive a cheque to cover your funeral costs. The €3,000 (£2,578) prize
money would actually be applied to funeral insurance, not funeral costs directly
– which is probably a good thing, since it's at the low end of the scale when it
comes to paying for a German funeral. The average cost comes in between €2,000
For those who have never had the displeasure of planning a funeral, the shock at
the price tag can be significant. In the last six years, funeral costs in the UK
have risen by 50%. The US National Funeral Directors Association says a funeral
costs, on average, about $8,000 (£5,000). There are a lot of funerals that go
into quintuple digits; a coffin alone can cost upwards of $10,000 (£6,200), with
a myriad of padding and hidden costs thrown in. Refrigeration. Embalming.
Casketing. Preparation of the body. Viewing. Compensation for religious
officiants. Flowers. Vaults. Grave liners. Gaskets and seals. Grave markers.
Opening the grave. Closing the grave. Opening the vault. Closing the vault. The
grave, or cremation. Transport. Administrative fees. Facility rental.
Funeral directors suggest this is the result of increased regulation, causing
higher consumer costs as funeral homes pass on their operating expenses. The
truth is much less savory.
In 1963, Jessica Mitford published The American Way of Death, an exposé of US
funeral practices. Funeral directors were outraged by the book, which covered
the seamy side of the industry with attentive detail. She covered exploitative
sales techniques used by funeral directors, such as the meticulous arrangement
of coffins to exploit the most from consumers. Funeral directors, Mitford
informed readers, would manipulate low-income clients by arranging coffins of
mediocre quality at a roughly affordable price, with a few nicer specimens.
Shocked by the cost, consumers would ask to see less expensive options, and
would be shown to an array of cardboard boxes. "Oh, OK," they would say, taking
the expensive coffin. Because you'd be ashamed to bury a family member in a
cardboard box, wouldn't you?
Mitford didn't stop there, pointing out that funeral directors would look up
benefits due to survivors and carefully pitch the price of the funeral, leaving
survivors penniless after covering the expenses while assuring them that they
were getting a special deal. Mitford also noted the push towards open casket
funerals and other associated expenses, and warned British readers that far from
being a series of curious practices across the pond, the American funeral
industry was working on exporting itself to Britain. Funeral trends tend to
cross from the US to Britain, and those trends can add significantly to the
price at the same time that people come to expect them, and feel like a funeral
is incomplete without them.
Mitford's exposé resulted in radical reforms for the funeral industry in the US,
perhaps most exemplified by the Federal Trade Commission's funeral rule, which
specifically bars many of the practices detailed in her book, which elevated
consumer awareness about the pitfalls of pre-need funeral sales, a growth area
in the worldwide funeral industry.
The industry surrounding death, they say, is structured to provide support and
assistance to people in their time of need so they feel less isolated and alone,
so they can focus on the details of the memorial and grieving rather than having
to handle administrative errata. It's a selfless service, providing care to the
But of course, it's also a for-profit enterprise. Workers do not do this out of
the goodness of their hearts, and the industry is heavily dominated by a handful
of very large corporations interested in bottom lines with vertical monopolies
to make sure they get it – a problem that hasn't gone away in the wake of
Mitford's exposé, as indicated by comments filed by the Funeral Consumer's
Alliance in 1997. You may go through a home, cemetery or crematorium, florist
and so forth, all owned by the same company, all billing at rates that company
likes, with little recourse for you unless you want to care for your own dead,
which a lot of people do not or cannot do, depending on regional laws.
As funeral costs continue to rise, poor communities are hit the hardest. Funeral
homes claim to provide funerals to everyone who needs them at prices they can
afford, but "afford" is a nebulous term, and what people can literally bear may
not necessarily be what they can "afford". Life insurance settlements and
pensions are quickly eaten through by funeral costs, and people end up in the
same position they were in before the funeral. In many communities, deaths,
particularly of young people, are followed by community fundraisers to cover
funeral costs – because their families would be bankrupted by the expense.
People want to do the right thing by the people they lose, want to care for
their dead, want them to go out in style, and of course they are going to be
susceptible to suggestion; sure, you could use that cheap casket. If you wanted.
I'm sure it would be fine for your mother. She wasn't picky about her
The costly business
of dying, G, 28.3.2011,
Indigent Burials Are on the Rise
October 11, 2009
The New York Times
By KATIE ZEZIMA
Coroners and medical examiners across the country are
reporting spikes in the number of unclaimed bodies and indigent burials, with
states, counties and private funeral homes having to foot the bill when families
The increase comes as governments short on cash are cutting other social service
programs, with some municipalities dipping into emergency and reserve funds to
help cover the costs of burials or cremations.
Oregon, for example, has seen a 50 percent increase in the number of unclaimed
bodies over the past few years, the majority left by families who say they
cannot afford services. “There are more people in our cooler for a longer period
of time,” said Dr. Karen Gunson, the state’s medical examiner. “It’s not that
we’re not finding families, but that the families are having a harder time
coming up with funds to cover burial or cremation costs.”
About a dozen states now subsidize the burial or cremation of unclaimed bodies,
including Illinois, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Most of the
state programs provide disposition services to people on Medicaid, a cost that
has grown along with Medicaid rolls.
Financing in Oregon comes from fees paid to register the deaths with the state.
The state legislature in June voted to raise the filing fee for death
certificates to $20 from $7, to help offset the increased costs of state
cremations, which cost $450.
“I’ve been here for 24 years, and I can’t remember something like this happening
before,” Dr. Gunson said.
Already in 2009, Wisconsin has paid for 15 percent more cremations than it did
last year, as the number of Medicaid recipients grew by more than 95,000 people
since the end of January, said Stephanie Smiley, a spokeswoman for the Wisconsin
Department of Health Services.
In Illinois, Gov. Pat Quinn tried to end the state’s indigent burial program
this year, shifting the financing to counties and funeral homes, but the state
eventually found $12 million to continue the program when funeral directors
The majority of burials and cremations, however, are handled on the city,
county, town or township level, an added economic stress as many places face
down wide budget gaps.
Boone County, Mo., hit its $3,000 burial budget cap last month, and took $1,500
out of a reserve fund to cover the rest of the year. While the sum is relatively
low, it comes as the county is facing a $2 million budget shortfall, tax
collections are down 5 percent and the number of residents needing help is
expected to grow.
“We’ve had a significant increase in unemployment, wages are dropping,
industrial manufacturing jobs go away and companies scaled back or even closed
their doors,” said Skip Elkin, the county commissioner. “But we feel an
obligation to help families who don’t have any assets.”
The medical examiner of Wayne County, Mich., Dr. Carl Schmidt, bought a
refrigerated truck after the morgue ran out of space. The truck, which holds 35
bodies, is currently full, Dr. Schmidt said. “We’ll buy another truck if we have
to,” he said.
Many places are turning to cremation, which averages a third to half the price
of a burial. However, they will accommodate families’ requests for burial.
Clyde Gibbs, the chief medical examiner in Chapel Hill, N.C., said the office
typically averaged 25 to 30 unclaimed bodies each year. At the end of the 2008
fiscal year there were at least 60, Dr. Gibbs said. The office cremates about
three-quarters of the remains, and scatters the ashes at sea every few years.
In Tennessee, medical examiner and coroners’ offices donate unclaimed remains to
the Forensic Anthropological Research Center, known as the “Body Farm,” where
students study decomposition at the University of Tennessee. The facility had to
briefly halt donations because it had received so many this year, said its
spokesman, Jay Mayfield.
The increase in indigent burials and cremations is also taking a toll on funeral
homes, which are losing money as more people choose cremation over burial. In
2003, 29.5 percent of remains were cremated; by 2008 the number had grown to 36
percent, according to the Cremation Association of North America, and it is
expected to soar to 46 percent by 2015, according to the association’s
projection of current trends.
Don Catchen, owner of Don Catchen & Son Funeral Homes in Elsmere, Ky., who
handles cremations of the poor in Kenton County, said the $831 county
reimbursement for cremations was “just enough to cover the cost of what I do — I
donate my time.”
In Florida, where counties switched to cremation a few years ago to save on
costs, Prudencio Vallejo, general manager of the Unclaimed Bodies Unit of the
Hillsborough County Medical Examiner’s Office, said cremations were $425,
compared with $1,500 for a burial. They have risen about 10 percent this year,
Mr. Vallejo said.
“Most people, the first thing that they say is ‘We wouldn’t be coming to you if
we could afford to do it ourselves,’ ” he said.
Broward County, Fla., paid for the cremation of Renata Richardson’s daughter,
Jazmyn Rose, who was born stillborn on Sept. 25, 2008. Ms. Richardson, 26, lost
her job at an advertising agency in July and could not afford to pay.
The county spent about $1,000 on a cremation and pink urn, engraved with the
baby’s birth and death date, and a Bible passage. It now sits in the bassinette
where she was to sleep.
“I was strapped for cash, I was in mourning, and I didn’t know what they were
going to do with her,” Ms. Richardson, of Davie, Fla., said. “I was honored that
they went that far to help me.”
Indigent Burials Are
on the Rise, NYT, 11.10.2009,
In a Private Service,
Last Goodbyes for Jackson
September 4, 2009
The New York Times
By RANDAL C. ARCHIBOLD
GLENDALE, Calif. — More than two months after he died, and following a steady
trickle of gossip over how and where he would be laid to rest, family members
and friends gathered Thursday night for a private entombment of Michael Jackson
at a highly guarded mausoleum in a Los Angeles suburb.
With closed streets, nervous guards and restricted airspace over the grounds,
the proceedings were taking on the feel of a presidential visit at the cemetery,
Forest Lawn Glendale, where guests began arriving for an evening service.
Only a smattering of fans of Mr. Jackson, one the biggest-selling entertainers
of all time, gathered at blockaded streets around the cemetery, with one group
unfurling a large white banner that read in part “Gone too Soon.”
Members of the news media — 460 people from the around the world received
credentials — far outnumbered the fans, and they greeted every car turning into
the gated grounds with a bouquet of camera flashes and quizzical looks. Was that
Elizabeth Taylor? Joe Jackson?
The police had the streets and airspace around Forest Lawn virtually locked
down, in keeping with the family’s wishes that the service be invitation only.
A memorial service attended by several thousand fans, family members and friends
had already been held for Mr. Jackson, 50, who died June 25. The memorial, on
July 7 at the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, took place in the arena
where he had been rehearsing for a series of London concerts expected to revive
But the family never announced burial plans, and news station helicopters lost
track of the hearse carrying his gleaming gold coffin after it left the arena.
Representatives of Mr. Jackson inquired about a burial at the Neverland Ranch he
lived in for several years until after his acquittal on child molesting charges
in 2005, but that proposal would entail months of red tape, local and state
A couple of weeks ago, his family announced he would be entombed at Forest Lawn
Glendale, joining Walt Disney, Clark Gable, Carole Lombard, W. C. Fields and
many other famed Hollywood figures.
The cemetery, about eight miles north of downtown Los Angeles, covers 300
verdant acres and includes the statue-studded, castle-like Great Mausoleum that
was chosen as Mr. Jackson’s final resting place.
The cemetery prides itself on a high level of security, with guards shooing away
loiterers and restricting mausoleum visits largely to people authorized by the
family of the deceased.
Mark Masek, who maintains cemeteryguide.com, which tracks entertainers’ graves,
said that a couple of weeks ago guards stopped him from taking pictures outside
the mausoleum and forced him to delete the images.
“They are not kidding,” he said, predicting fans would have trouble finding and
documenting Mr. Jackson’s crypt.
“If they wanted to restrict access and keep people out, they could not have
picked a better place,” he said.
William Martin, a spokesman for the cemetery, declined to discuss security
arrangements for Mr. Jackson’s crypt or what steps might be taken to keep out
“We are very cognizant of what may happen in the near future, and we are taking
the necessary steps,” he said.
The Glendale police have said the family will pay for the costs of security for
the event. The police asked for and received a restriction on the airspace to
safeguard helicopter patrols, a police spokesman said.
A judge Wednesday approved Mr. Jackson’s estate paying the costs, with the total
described in court papers as “extraordinary,” but the actual amount blacked out.
A Glendale police spokesman, Tom Lorenz, said police costs would be no more than
The family bought a bloc of 12 spaces in the mausoleum as a single unit.
“Mrs. Jackson and her family wish to honor her son by a funeral that seeks to
offer solace to his multitude of fans and by which the family also may be
comforted,” Burt Levitch, a lawyer for the singer’s mother, Katherine Jackson,
wrote in a court declaration.
The investigation into Mr. Jackson’s death continues. The coroner has ruled he
died from a mix of the anesthetic propofol and another sedative, injected by
Mr. Jackson’s personal physician, Dr. Conrad Murray, has told investigators he
gave Mr. Jackson a mix of drugs, including propofol, to help him sleep, but it
is unclear whether he will face criminal charges. Dr. Murray’s lawyer has said
he did not cause Mr. Jackson’s death.
In a Private Service,
Last Goodbyes for Jackson, NYT, 4.0.2009,
Discarded Burial Vaults
Found at Ill. Cemetery
July 31, 2009
Filed at 9:54 a.m. ET
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The New York Times
ALSIP, Ill. (AP) -- Authorities say they've found discarded burial vaults in
a heavily wooded part of a historic black Chicago-area cemetery where workers
allegedly dug up bodies and dumped them in a scheme to resell plots.
Cook County Sheriff's office spokesman Steve Patterson says about 10 to 12
cement vaults were found in the same area where hundreds of remains were
discovered this month.
Patterson said Friday that officials didn't know how many bodies were buried in
the vaults at the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, but he says it looks as if
cemetery workers were purposely trying to hide them.
Four workers were charged in the alleged scheme at the cemetery where civil
rights-era lynching victim Emmett Till is buried.
Discarded Burial Vaults
Found at Ill. Cemetery, NYT, 31.7.2009,
Offer an Intimate Alternative
July 21, 2009
The New York Times
By KATIE ZEZIMA
PETERBOROUGH, N.H. — When Nathaniel Roe, 92, died at his 18th-century
farmhouse here the morning of June 6, his family did not call a funeral home to
handle the arrangements.
Instead, Mr. Roe’s children, like a growing number of people nationwide, decided
to care for their father in death as they had in the last months of his life.
They washed Mr. Roe’s body, dressed him in his favorite Harrods tweed jacket and
red Brooks Brothers tie and laid him on a bed so family members could privately
say their last goodbyes.
The next day, Mr. Roe was placed in a pine coffin made by his son, along with a
tuft of wool from the sheep he once kept. He was buried on his farm in a grove
off a walking path he traversed each day.
“It just seemed like the natural, loving way to do things,” said Jennifer
Roe-Ward, Mr. Roe’s granddaughter. “It let him have his dignity.”
Advocates say the number of home funerals, where everything from caring for the
dead to the visiting hours to the building of the coffin is done at home, has
soared in the last five years, putting the funerals “where home births were 30
years ago,” according to Chuck Lakin, a home funeral proponent and coffin
builder in Waterville, Me.
The cost savings can be substantial, all the more important in an economic
downturn. The average American funeral costs about $6,000 for the services of a
funeral home, in addition to the costs of cremation or burial. A home funeral
can be as inexpensive as the cost of pine for a coffin (for a backyard burial)
or a few hundred dollars for cremation or several hundred dollars for cemetery
The Roes spent $250.
More people are inquiring about the lower-cost options, said Joshua Slocum,
director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit watchdog group. “Home
funerals aren’t for everybody, but if there’s not enough money to pay the
mortgage, there certainly isn’t enough money to pay for a funeral,” Mr. Slocum
Baby boomers who are handling arrangements for the first time are particularly
looking for a more intimate experience.
“It’s organic and informal, and it’s on our terms,” said Nancy Manahan of
Minneapolis, who helped care for her sister-in-law, Diane Manahan, after she
died of cancer in 2001, and was a co-author of a book, “Living Consciously,
Dying Gracefully,” about the experience. “It’s not having strangers intruding
into the privacy of the family. It’s not outsourcing the dying process to
While only a tiny portion of the nation’s dead are cared for at home, the number
is growing. There are at least 45 organizations or individuals nationwide that
help families with the process, compared with only two in 2002, Mr. Slocum said.
The cost of a death midwife, as some of the coaches call themselves, varies from
about $200 for an initial consultation to $3,000 if the midwife needs to travel.
In Connecticut, Indiana, Louisiana, Michigan, Nebraska and New York, laws
require that a funeral director handle human remains at some point in the
process. In the 44 other states and the District of Columbia, loved ones can be
responsible for the body themselves.
Families are typically required to obtain the death certificate and a burial
transit permit so the body can be moved from a hospital to a cemetery, or, more
typically, a crematory.
But even in states where a funeral director is required, home funerals are far
“I think with our economy being the way that it currently is, and it’s getting
worse, that many people who may not have chosen to do these types of things may
be forced to because of the finances,” said Verlene McLemore, of Detroit, who
held a home funeral for her son, Dean, in 2007. She spent about $1,300 for a
funeral director’s services.
Some families, like the Roes, choose burial on private land, with a town permit.
In most states, those rules are an issue of local control. “Can Grandma be
buried in the backyard? Yes, for the most part if the backyard is rural or
semirural,” said Mr. Slocum.
(Some members of Michael Jackson’s family have spoken of making Neverland Ranch
near Santa Barbara the singer’s final resting place, but officials say no one
has submitted an application to the California Cemetery and Funeral Bureau,
which would have to approve the home burial.)
Recently, some states, with the backing of the funeral industry, have considered
restricting the practice of home funerals. Oregon legislators last month passed
a bill that would require death midwives to be licensed, something no state
Many death midwives are like Jerrigrace Lyons, who was asked to participate in
the home funeral of a close friend, a 54-year-old woman who died unexpectedly in
1994. Ms. Lyons was initially frightened at the prospect of handling the body,
but she participated anyway.
The experience was life changing, she said, and inspired her to help others plan
home funerals. She opened Final Passages in Sebastopol, Calif., in 1995 and said
she had helped more than 300 families with funerals. Weekend workshops for those
interested in home funerals have a waiting list.
Ms. Lyons educates the bereaved about the realities of after-death care: placing
dry ice underneath the body to keep it cool, tying the jaw shut so it does not
Mr. Lakin, a woodworker, makes coffins specifically for home funerals. Ranging
in price from $480 to $1,200, they double as bookcases, entertainment centers
and coffee tables until they need to be used.
He became interested in home funerals after his father died 30 years ago and he
felt there was a “disconnect” during the funeral process. Mr. Lakin is now a
resource for funeral directors in central Maine and a local hospice.
His coffins are sold to people like Ginny Landry, 77, who wants a home funeral
one day but is content to use her coffin to showcase the quilts she makes. It
once stood in her bedroom, but her husband, Rudolph, made her move it to a guest
room because he pictured her in the coffin every time he laid eyes on it.
“It’s very comforting to me, knowing I have it there so my children won’t have
to make a decision as to where I’m going to go,” Ms. Landry said.
During her battle with cancer, Diane Manahan also requested a home funeral, and
the family did not know then how much it would help them with their grief.
“There’s something about touching, watching, sitting with a body that lets you
know the person is no longer there,” Nancy Manahan said. “We didn’t even realize
how emotionally meaningful those rituals are, doing it ourselves, until we did
Home Burials Offer an
Intimate Alternative, NYT, 21.7.2009,
A Funeral Museum at Death’s Door
March 9, 2009
The New York Times
By DIRK JOHNSON
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — A week or so ago, Duane Marsh noticed an elderly couple
from Iowa standing hesitantly at the door of the Museum of Funeral Customs, a
shrine here to embalming tools, coffins and other artifacts of the rites of
“This is his idea, not mine,” Mr. Marsh recalled the woman saying, as she
pointed at her husband. “I’m not sure I want to go in.”
Mr. Marsh, the executive director of the Illinois Funeral Directors Association,
which operates the museum, was able to convince the woman that it was really not
such a ghoulish place, and then led the couple on a tour.
A stone’s throw from Lincoln’s tomb, this unusual cultural repository is an
unmistakable reminder that everyone’s days are numbered. Now it seems the same
might be true of the museum itself.
Unable to attract enough visitors — the Iowa woman is apparently not the only
one who gets the creeps about this place — the museum is struggling to stay
alive. The curator position has been eliminated, and the museum’s hours have
been cut to appointments only.
These have been difficult days in Springfield, the Illinois capital, as the
economy has nose-dived and many people have lost their jobs. Not even funeral
parlors are immune, Mr. Marsh said, as survivors sometimes choose thriftier ways
to pay respects.
The association of funeral directors has had other problems, too. A trust it
once managed — focused on “pre-need” funeral planning — declined sharply in
value, prompting a handful of civil lawsuits alleging financial mismanagement.
Although the museum used no money from the trust, Mr. Marsh said, the
association’s budget took a hit.
But the museum’s problems are more basic: Since its founding in 1999, it has
failed to become a destination. In recent years, the museum has attracted about
8,000 customers annually; tickets for adults are $4 and those for children are
$2. It has not been nearly enough to cover expenses.
“The original idea was that we’d get enough spillover from people visiting the
Lincoln sites,” Mr. Marsh said. “But for whatever reason, that just hasn’t
happened. When a business isn’t paying its way, as everyone knows, you have
Smack in the center of Illinois, surrounded by corn and soybean fields, this
city is mostly known for colorful politicians (prosecutors have used the word
corrupt) and tourism ventures that almost invariably make some tie to Honest
The funeral museum has a replica of the coffin that carried Lincoln from
Washington to Springfield in 1865. It also features embalming equipment, a
horse-drawn hearse from the 1920s, a long black Cadillac that carried the dead
in the 1970s and black mourning clothes worn in the Victorian era. The museum
explores the differences among religions and cultures in marking death, pointing
out that slaves held funerals deep into the night because many plantation owners
refused to give them a break from work during the day.
Plenty of people in Springfield say they would lament the passing of the funeral
museum. Sarah Vaughn, an assistant manager at the Feed Store, a restaurant
across from the Old State Capitol, said that it had been several years since she
had visited the museum, but that she would never forget it.
“It’s really quite a cool place,” Ms. Vaughn said. “I know that sounds macabre
to say. But it’s very interesting. I remember learning about Native American
burials when I went there. It’ll be sad for Springfield if it closes.”
Mr. Marsh, a second-generation mortician who lived in a funeral home until he
was 6, said the museum helped “demystify” notions about what happens to the body
after death. He recalled some difficult moments when he worked as a funeral
director, especially the times he had to prepare the body of a child. “I
remember one time I got so tearful,” he said, “that I just had to get up and
walk away for a while.”
But he said a wake can be a heartening experience, too, a chance for people to
tell stories and laugh and share their fondness for a lost loved one. “I’m
telling you,” he said, “there were times when you couldn’t tell if it was a
funeral or a wedding.”
A gift shop at the funeral museum includes key chains and paper weights that
look like little coffins, and books on funeral customs like “Do It Yourself
Tombstone.” There are coffin-shaped chocolates and even T-shirts emblazoned with
the words “Everybody’s Gotta Go Sometime.”
Mr. Marsh said he was working on a plan to keep the museum from closing, but he
would not disclose details. He said a decision would be made soon.
“This is valuable history,” he said. “Can we save the museum? I’m determined to
find a way to make it work.”
A Funeral Museum at
Death’s Door, NYT, 9.3.2009,
Awaiting a Burial,
This Time an Actual One
October 9, 2008
The New York Times
By ALAN FEUER
In section 37 of the Cemetery of the Resurrection, a Roman Catholic graveyard
on the southern shore of Staten Island, there is an empty grave. Its epitaph is
touching: “We love you beyond the moon.” Its dates suggest a much-too-early
passing: June 6, 1949, to May 26, 1999.
The headstone shows an angel with its wings outspread and its left hand reaching
toward an image of the man who, presumably, will soon be buried there. According
to the carving, he is Bill Cutolo: “cherished husband, dad and poppy.”
Of course, for a time, William Cutolo Sr. was something else, the authorities
say: the underboss of the Colombo crime family. Known on the streets as Wild
Bill, he was a violent hit man and labor racketeer who, on a midspring day nine
years ago, suddenly and mysteriously disappeared..
Then, on Monday, following a tip from an informant, federal agents found his
body — wrapped in a tarp and wearing Italian loafers — beneath the grass outside
a Long Island flooring company. After nearly a decade, the body, as they say,
had been produced. The question is: What next?
Funerals are difficult even under ideal circumstances, and those confronting the
Cutolos are anything but ideal. There is the nagging fact that a service was
already held several years ago, attended by the family, though without the body
present. Complicating matters is that Mr. Cutolo’s wife and son are now guests
of the federal witness protection program and move about only under high
“I remember I attended the Mass at a church,” said James LaRossa, Mr. Cutolo’s
former lawyer. “I don’t remember which church, and I guess it was a funeral.
Whatever you want to call it, it was a strange situation.”
James M. Margolin, a spokesman for the New York office of the F.B.I., said that
Mr. Cutolo’s family had been notified of the discovery on Tuesday night,
immediately after the Suffolk County medical examiner identified the remains.
Citing security reasons, Mr. Margolin declined to name which members of the
family had been called. He also said the bureau, even if it learned of any
funeral arrangements, would remain “discreet” — again for security reasons, he
During his life, Mr. Cutolo was a dapper, powerful man known for dressing up as
Santa Claus at the annual Christmas party he often sponsored for the National
Leukemia Research Association. He had professional interests in restaurants,
nightclubs and local extortion rackets, and was a leading gunman in the
so-called Colombo Family War, which erupted in the early 1990s when Victor J.
Orena, the family’s acting boss, sought to depose the reigning Persico regime.
Mr. Cutolo disappeared on May 26, 1999, and, at a federal trial last year, his
wife, Penelope, testified that he was on his way to meet Alphonse (Allie Boy)
Persico, then the boss of the Colombo family. Mr. Persico was convicted of Mr.
Cutolo’s murder last December, though the prosecution argued at the trial that
the body had been dumped at sea, a theory flatly contradicted by the discovery
of his remains outside the All County Flooring Supply store in Farmingdale, N.Y.
Mr. Persico’s lawyer, Sarita Kedia, said she planned to ask for a new trial,
given the contradiction. In the meantime, federal agents continue to excavate
the area around the store for two other bodies: those of Richard Greaves, a
gangster who disappeared in 1995; and Carmine Gargano, a student at Pace
University who disappeared in 1994.
The cemetery where Mr. Cutolo’s headstone lies is, coincidentally or not, the
final resting place of another famed gangster, Anthony Spero, a onetime acting
boss of the Bonanno family, who was buried there on Saturday, following his
death at 79. The cemetery manager, when reached by phone on Wednesday afternoon,
refused to discuss any arrangements the Cutolo family had, or had not, made.
It was much the same when a call was placed to a prominent Staten Island funeral
home, where a man who picked up the phone said he could not “confirm anything
yet” in regard to Mr. Cutolo’s funeral.
Ann Farmer contributed reporting.
Awaiting a Burial, This
Time an Actual One, NYT, 9.10.2008,
Holds Dead of MySpace
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 12:48 p.m. ET
The New York Times
deep in cyberspace, where reality blurs into fiction and the living greet the
dead, there are ghosts.
They live in a virtual graveyard without tombstones or flowers. They drift among
the shadows of the people they used to be, and the pieces they left behind.
Allison Bauer left rainbows: Reds, yellows and blues, festooned across her
MySpace profile in a collage of color. Before her corpse was pulled from the
depths of an Oregon gorge on May 9, where police say she leapt to her death, she
unwittingly wrote her own epitaph.
''I love color, Pure Color in rainbow form, And I love My friends,'' the
20-year-old wrote under ''Interests'' on her profile. ''And I love to Love, I
care about everyone so much you have no idea.''
Now her page fills a plot on www.MyDeathSpace.com, a Web site that archives the
pages of deceased MySpace members.
Behold a community spawned from twin American obsessions: Memorializing the dead
and peering into strangers' lives. Anyone with Internet access can submit a
death to the site, which currently lists nearly 2,700 deaths and receives more
than 100,000 hits per day.
The tales are mostly those of the very young who died prematurely. Here, death
roams cyberspace in all its spectral forms: senseless and indiscriminate,
sometimes premeditated, often brutally graphic. It's also a place where the
living -- those who knew the deceased and those who didn't -- discuss this world
and the next.
There's a boy, 16, who passed out in the shower and drowned. There's a
20-year-old whose body was discovered burned to death on a hiking trail; and
woman, 21, who overdosed on drugs and was found dead in a portable toilet,
Their fates have been sealed, but their spirits remain very much alive -- frozen
in time, for all the world to see.
Scrolling down a dead person's MySpace profile wall is like journeying into the
past. The pages were abandoned hastily, without warning. Most telling is the
date of each person's last log-in.
For 16-year-old Stephanie Wagner, it was Sept. 29, 2006 -- a month before she
was strangled and stabbed on Halloween night. Her frivolous teenage profile
pales against the terrible facts of her murder.
''This site does kind of let you look into the heart of darkness,'' says Bob
Thompson, professor of television and popular culture at Syracuse University.
''We see those kinds of things that we try not to think about, which is how we
are all dancing on the edge -- how quickly mortality can come in and claim us.''
The human bits scattered carelessly across each profile form a vivid clip of
life in motion. It's a final resting place for the various ''selves'' people
project online: the ironic self, the joyful self, the bitter self, the
''I do not fear what the future holds for me,'' Navy Hospitalman Geovani
Padilla-Aleman, 20, blogged months before he was killed in Iraq. ''I will stand
and fight. I am not afraid to die.''
Weeks before she stood in the path of a commuter train, Cheryl Lynn Duca
pondered mortality in a poem: ''over my life i've watched people die in front of
me. wondering why this happens.''
Many families of the deceased leave the profiles up as memorials. Each profile
''wall'' -- a feature MySpace members typically use to post messages to each
other -- becomes a conduit for one-way communications with the departed. Days
are marked by post-mortem birthday wishes or life updates.
''I made that B in Statistics. and I certainly missed you sittin next to me
during the final,'' a friend wrote to Casey Hastings, 19, a cheerleader who was
killed in a traffic accident.
Some profiles are used as digital billboards to publicize a little-known
atrocity. One profile is dedicated to a 3-year-old murder victim.
MyDeathSpace grew out of one person's morbid curiosity in December 2005, when
two teenage daughters were slain by their father. Mike Patterson, 26, a
paralegal from San Francisco, tracked down their MySpace pages one day when he
was bored. His voyeurism grew into a live journal that later became
''I'd come across these stories where teens would be ending up dead or killing
themselves, or killing others,'' he says. ''And more often than not, when I
looked them up on MySpace, they had profiles.''
Permission to use the profiles is not requested from MySpace, which is not
affiliated with the site and did not respond to requests for comment on it.
MySpace said in a statement it handles deceased members' pages on a
''case-by-case basis'' and does not ''allow anyone to assume control of a
deceased user's profile.'' Profiles can be deleted if that's requested by family
MyDeathSpace matter-of-factly catalogs each death in headline format: ''Belford
Ramirez (19) died after being stabbed in the neck outside of a Burger King.''
Click on the link and you'll find a detailed description of the fatal attack --
an element usually pulled from a news article or blog -- his photograph, and a
link to his MySpace profile.
The site even charts death geographically on a digital ''death map'' of the
continental U.S., using black skulls to signify victims.
In a digital twist on vigilante justice, MyDeathSpace also posts the profiles of
homicide victims alongside those of their alleged killers, whose faces loom on
the screen like wanted posters.
A 23-year-old accused of pushing a homeless woman into a river appears as a
muscular young man in a sleeveless gray shirt, staring coldly into the camera. A
16-year-old girl charged in the shooting death of a 9-year-old shows up striking
a sexy bikini-clad pose in her MySpace photo.
Patterson says the alleged killers generate the most discussion threads on the
site. ''If they're accused, we'll put accused,'' he says. ''We're not gonna
label somebody a murderer who isn't one.''
But some death submissions slip through the cracks.
There was the case of Christine Hutchinson, a woman from Pittsburgh who was
accused of hiding her miscarried fetus in her freezer. She happened to bear the
same name as a high school student from Philadelphia -- and the latter's MySpace
profile was mistakenly attached to the creepy news story on MyDeathSpace.
Ugly names began filling her inbox: Baby killer, they called her. Murderer. Then
''They were telling me they hope I die and get stuffed in a freezer, rot in
jail, stuff like that,'' says the misidentified Hutchinson.
Patterson removed her profile when he was notified of the case of mistaken
identity hours later.
But the damage was done. Hutchinson's face was already out there. She has no
plans to sue Patterson, but says she rarely leaves her house alone now, afraid
of being attacked.
''It's got legal liability written all over it, this type of a Web site,'' says
Internet lawyer John Dozier. Patterson says he has a team to slog through the
entries, but he did not elaborate on the process used to verify deaths.
He also refused to disclose profit figures. Ads pop up as you move through the
site, and there are fees for certain extras, such as creating personal image
galleries in the site's discussion forums.
In those, paying tribute to the deceased sometimes falls by the wayside, as
self-described ''death hags'' swap whodunit theories, speculate on how victims'
families might feel and muse about the mechanics of violence.
''I've never shot a shotgun before, so I don't understand the physics of it,''
writes a user named ''wickedly--curious'' about a teenage murder-suicide.
''Anyone with any insight tell me if it would be possible for 2 people to shoot
each other in the heads at the same time?''
MyDeathSpace veers into the dark underbelly of memorializing, says Lisa Takeuchi
Cullen, author of ''Remember Me: A Lively Tour of the New American Way of
''Some people rejoice in steamy details,'' Cullen says. ''The unpleasant thing
is that it's not fictional, it's not like watching CSI. These aren't concocted
by some scriptwriters in Hollywood who wanted to get a thrill of seeing
prostitutes get murdered on the strip.''
For some users, death is just a starting point for discussions of their own
''I just enjoy talking with other members,'' Brittany Oliver, 18, of Tucson,
Ariz., writes in an e-mail. ''I occasionally still read about the deaths, but
more so, I enjoy chatting with fellow MDSers about life.''
A subset of newspaper readers who turn first to the obituary page has long
existed, explains Thompson, but sites like MyDeathSpace allow such people to
interact with each other.
The Internet hosts a garden of other morbid online families. On
www.FindADeath.com, users can pore over the latest celebrities who've met their
Maker. The mortality-conscious can calculate when they might die -- based on age
and body fat -- thanks to www.deathclock.com.
As the traditionally private rites of death and grieving go public, what do
families of the dead on sites like MyDeathSpace think?
Army Cpl. Matthew Creed was killed in Baghdad Oct. 22. His MySpace profile keeps
watch without him, counting down the time -- days, hours, minutes -- until he
would've returned home.
His father, Rick, visits the page from time to time, but he was unaware that it
had been archived on MyDeathSpace.
''What MyDeathSpace is doing seems respectful, though at this time I'm not sure
what I think about it,'' he wrote in an e-mail. What's most important, he
believes, is that the link between his son and this world be preserved.
''We all say, you're never gone as long as you're remembered,'' Creed says.
''And he's still remembered by everybody.''
Virtual Graveyard Holds Dead of MySpace, NYT, 29.7.2007,
Cemeteries Seek Breathing Clientele
May 25, 2007
By PATRICIA LEIGH BROWN
The New York Times
PHILADELPHIA — The dinner was first-class, with butlers serving hors
d’oeuvres and the strains of “Blue Danube” tastefully muffling the festive din.
This nine-course re-creation of the last supper aboard an ill-fated ocean liner
was the culmination of Titanic Day at Laurel Hill Cemetery, one of a growing
number of historic cemeteries to rebrand themselves as destination necropolises
for weekend tourists.
Historic cemeteries, desperate for money to pay for badly needed restorations,
are reaching out to the public in ever more unusual ways, with dog parades,
bird-watching lectures, Sunday jazz concerts, brunches with star chefs,
Halloween parties in the crematory and even a nudie calendar.
Laurel Hill, the resting place of six Titanic victims, promotes itself as an
“underground museum.” The sold-out Titanic dinner, including a tour of
mausoleums, joined the “Dead White Republicans” tour (“the city’s power brokers,
in all their glory and in all their shame”), the “Birding Among the Buried”
tour, and “Sinners, Scandals and Suicides,” including a visit to the grave of “a
South Philly gangster who got whacked when he tried to infiltrate the Schuylkill
County numbers racket.”
As Americans choose cremation in record numbers, Victorian cemeteries like
Laurel Hill and Green-Wood in Brooklyn are repositioning themselves for the
afterlife: their own. Repositories of architectural and sculptural treasures,
like Tiffany windows and weeping marble maidens atop tombs, the cemeteries face
dwindling endowments, years of vandalism and neglect, shrinking space for new
arrivals and a society that, until recently, collectively distanced itself from
their meandering byways.
Although their individual circumstances vary — Green-Wood in Brooklyn, a newly
crowned National Historic Landmark, has space for two more years of in-ground
burial, while Laurel Hill is virtually full — what they share is a daunting
number of tombs in need of repair. Woodlawn, in the Bronx, the final home of
Whitneys, a Woolworth, Jay Gould and jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Lionel
Hampton, has 95,000 grave sites.
Only 9,000 have endowments, said Susan Olsen, the executive director of the
Friends of Woodlawn. “You’re a conservator,” Ms. Olsen said. “You can’t have
someone up there with a bottle of Windex cleaning a Tiffany window.”
The new cemetery tourism — a subterranean version of the History Channel — is
also a means of developing brand loyalty in the wake of what Joseph Dispenza,
president of the historic Forest Lawn in Buffalo, calls a “diminishing customer
Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland, Calif., a columbarium designed by Julia Morgan,
architect of San Simeon, recently started “Jazz at the Chimes” concerts to reach
culture enthusiasts who might be potential customers.
Some cemeteries are betting on infotainment. At Heritage Day last weekend at the
200-year-old Congressional Cemetery in Washington, a 70-piece marching band
serenaded the grave of John Philip Sousa, and dog owners held a parade for dogs
dressed as historical cemetery personages, including a Union soldier.
A decade ago, prostitutes and packs of wild dogs populated the city’s oldest
burial ground, which has monuments designed by Benjamin Henry Latrobe, designer
of the Capitol. Then the preservation association began courting dog owners.
Today, the 33-acre cemetery serves as a historical dog park where dogs run in
Elysian fields, free to commune with the headstones. Owners pay $125 a year for
the privilege, plus $40 a dog — bringing in $80,000 so far. In many ways, it is
a throwback to the days of old, when then-rural cemeteries like Green-Wood and
Mount Auburn in Cambridge, Mass. (1831), rivaled Niagara Falls as romantic
tourist destinations. These “gardens of graves” were settings for Sunday picnics
and a precursor to Central Park and other great public spaces.
Like many vintage cemeteries, Laurel Hill languished for years in a struggling
urban neighborhood, as potential customers drifted to the suburbs. Though the
cemetery has a $17 million endowment, most of that is earmarked for specific
family tombs and falls woefully short of what is needed for maintenance. “After
170 years, people lose track” of their loved ones, said Ross L. Mitchell, the
And with only 1 percent of its 78 acres available for new burial, cemetery
officials are trying to think of creative ways to mine its distinctive
personality. The Titanic tour was the brainchild of J. Joseph Edgette, a
professor at nearby Widener University who is tracking the graves of Titanic
victims and plans to document all 2,200. “We’re rebranding ourselves as a
heritage tourism destination,” Mr. Mitchell said.
For Jason Crabtree, a 33-year-old software writer, and his wife, Melissa, 29,
this storied rural resting place, established in 1836, offered “a cross-section
of humanity you don’t usually see,” said Mr. Crabtree, explaining the couple’s
predilection for weekend cemetery visits.
At a daffodil brunch in April at the Oakwood Cemetery in Troy, N.Y., omelet
chefs whisked eggs amid Siena marble walls and soaring Tiffany windows, in the
Gardner Earl Memorial Chapel and Crematorium. The 1848 cemetery has burial space
for the next 200 years and an annual operating deficit of more than $100,000,
according to Theresa Page, president of the board of trustees.
Its preservation issues are dire: volunteers have been clearing brush that made
about 10,000 graves invisible. The grave site of Samuel Wilson, the man behind
“Uncle Sam,” America’s national symbol, has been inaccessible for years, since
125-year-old water pipes burst beneath the roads. The cemetery has asked
Congress for $1.7 million for reconstruction.
To raise its profile and money, Oakwood will stage a Renaissance fair this
summer, with jousting matches among knights in shining armor. It was inspired by
a medieval-style wedding there, for which the groom made his own armor.
“We want them to think, ‘Wow, I think I’d like to spend my eternity here,’ ” Ms.
Page said of efforts to lure visitors. “It’s a way of saying, ‘We would love you
to stay with us permanently.’ ”
Certain cemeteries, like Père-Lachaise in Paris, Arlington National Cemetery in
Washington and St. Louis Cemetery No. 1 in New Orleans, have always had
celebrity cachet. But the past decade has seen a deliberate marketing of
cultural status. At the 175-year-old Mount Auburn, it has meant lectures on the
warbler migration by the Massachusetts Audubon Society; at Spring Grove in
Cincinnati, tourists in electric trams ride past the grave of Salmon P. Chase,
the founder of the Internal Revenue Service (they usually boo).
Forest Lawn in Buffalo spent $1.2 million to erect the Blue Sky mausoleum, a
spare design by Frank Lloyd Wright, with 24 crypts from $125,000 to $300,000.
Each crypt-owner will receive a Steuben glass sculpture of their eternal
home-in-waiting. “It’s about exclusivity,” Mr. Dispenza of Forest Lawn said.
“It’s about being one of the 24.”
Gary Laderman, a professor of religion at Emory University and the author of
“Rest in Peace: A Cultural History of Death and the Funeral Home in the 20th
Century” (Oxford University Press, 2003), says there is “a sense in which, like
sex, death sells.” But he also sees cemetery tourism as a chance for civic
engagement. The mobility of society and the growth of the death care industry
have served to isolate these historically significant places from the
mainstream, Mr. Laderman said.
That attitude may be shifting. Laurel Hill, for example, was awarded a $97,000
grant to provide grief counseling for inner-city children grappling with the
effects of gun violence.
Of course, some think that cemeteries are sacred spaces, and that Halloween
flashlight tours and historical re-enactors jumping out from behind tombs
crosses the line in taste.
A 2005 fund-raising calendar for Oakwood Cemetery in Troy — inspired by the
movie “Calendar Girls” and featuring socialites who appeared to be naked — was a
tad too risqué to repeat, some thought. After objections, Green-Wood scuttled
plans to show horror films.
“The cemetery doesn’t have an obligation to entertain,” said Thomas Lynch, a
funeral director and writer in Michigan.
Preservationists say desperate times require desperate measures. And “Birding
Among the Buried” brings people in, if only for a look.
“The people who built Laurel Hill wanted these monuments to be seen,” said Mr.
Mitchell of Laurel Hill. “If we do nothing, isn’t that the ultimate disrespect?”
Breathing Clientele, NYT, 25.5.2007,
Hawaii Projects Run Into Graves
May 23, 2007
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Filed at 4:27 p.m. ET
The New York Times
HONOLULU (AP) -- With Hawaii undergoing a building boom, big corporations
such as Wal-Mart and Whole Foods Market are running into an obstacle almost as
formidable as the environmentalists and the protectors of the islands' laid-back
charm: the dead.
Construction projects keep unearthing graves 100 years old or more, leading to
legal battles, costly delays and redesigns, reburials, and hurt feelings among
some Native Hawaiians, who say the dead should be allowed to rest in peace.
''What if they built a Wal-Mart at Arlington? How would people feel?'' Native
Hawaiian activist William Aila asked. ''Those individuals were buried there with
the thought that they would be undisturbed for the rest of the eternity.''
From remote sand dunes on Maui to bustling Waikiki, hundreds of sets of Hawaiian
remains, or ''iwi,'' are discovered every year. The graves -- unmarked and
undocumented -- are considered sacred to the native people.
Companies say they are being culturally sensitive and abiding by state law while
exercising their right to build on land they own.
Hawaii has a stringent state law protecting graves. The 1990 law prohibits
removing, destroying or altering any burial sites except as permitted by the
state and local burial councils. If a construction project encounters bones, the
work must stop in the immediate area and authorities must be notified.
The latest dispute involves Texas-based Whole Foods, the nation's largest
natural-foods grocer. Whole Foods has marketed itself as a socially responsible
company that uses ''sustainable and ethical business practices.'' Among other
things, it refuses for humane reasons to sell live lobsters and crabs.
At least 50 sets of bones have been unearthed in urban Honolulu where Hawaii's
first Whole Foods is being built along with an apartment house and small shops.
Construction on a small section of the Whole Foods venture has been prohibited
since last summer, and mall developer General Growth Properties Inc. faces
additional costs because of lawsuits and could be forced to redesign the $150
Dwight Yoshimura, General Growth's senior vice president, said ''every letter of
the law'' has been followed. The Chicago-based company said many of the remains
were discovered during an archaeological survey that it voluntarily commissioned
at its own expense, even though it had already obtained all necessary building
''We went ahead and tried to do the right thing,'' Yoshimura said.
The company wants the remains moved to three locations at the site. Some Native
Hawaiians want the bones put back where they were.
The Oahu Island Burial Council decided last year that the first 11 sets of
remains should be reburied elsewhere on the property. The fate of the 40 or so
other sets of bones, which were discovered separately in recent months, will be
determined by the State Historical Preservation Division.
Melanie Chinen, administrator of the division, said that when a dispute involves
large concentrations of bones, the agency's preference is to leave them in place
and require the project to be redesigned. The division has been involved in the
reburial of about 3,000 sets of remains since 1991.
A Whole Foods spokeswoman did not return calls for comment.
The dispute follows an emotional confrontation on Wal-Mart's 10-acre property
less than a half-mile away, where 64 sets of remains were found. After three
years, they sit locked up in a trailer under a parking ramp, awaiting reburial.
The remains, some believed to belong to victims of an 1853 smallpox epidemic,
were unearthed during construction of a Sam's Club and Wal-Mart superstore. The
superstore opened in 2004, with protesters waving signs accusing the world's
largest retailer of destroying graves.
Paulette Kaleikini, a descendant of the deceased at both the Wal-Mart and Whole
Foods sites, said: ''Why should they be removed to accommodate development? They
were there first. If these burials were of Western people, would they move
Aila, a member of an organization whose Hawaiian name translates to Group Caring
for the Ancestors of Hawaii, said Wal-Mart could have redesigned the store and
chose not to, which was a ''demonstration of disrespect.''
Wal-Mart spokeswoman Tiffany Moffatt said the company ''took the necessary steps
and incurred the necessary costs'' to ''ensure the remains were treated in
accordance with state law in a culturally sensitive and appropriate manner.''
Among other things, construction was suspended briefly in some spots, and
Wal-Mart hired a consultant to work with the descendants. The company also faced
legal battles, including a lawsuit to prevent the remains from being moved. A
judge rejected the request.
After the bones were discovered during construction, Wal-Mart stopped work and
brought in archaeologists, as required under law. The remains are in storage
because they are evidence in the state's case against the archaeologists, who
are challenging a $210,000 fine over allegations of desecration and failure to
immediately notify authorities.
A hearing in the case against the archaeologists is set for next month. Wal-Mart
said it is not involved in the case and is awaiting state approval to rebury the
Hawaii's building boom is transforming Honolulu's skyline and turning barren,
ink-black lava fields on the Big Island into luxury neighborhoods. Construction
spending is projected to reach nearly $7 billion this year, the eighth straight
year of growth.
Some developers have redesigned their projects to preserve native graves.
The Ritz-Carlton Hotel on Maui, where 1,000 graves dating to the year 850 were
unearthed during excavation in the late 1980s, was completely redesigned at a
cost of millions and moved inland. The remains were preserved in a spot now
registered as a state historic place, with signs informing visitors about its
More recently, Fifield Cos. agreed to relocate the parking garage and make other
changes in a $300 million Waikiki condo project now under construction.
Hawaii Projects Run Into
Graves, NYT, 23.5.2007,
Star Trek's Scotty beamed up
in final space voyage
Sun Apr 29, 2007
By Steve Shoup
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, New Mexico (Reuters) - Actor James
Doohan, who played the starship Enterprise's chief engineer Scotty on "Star
Trek," finally made it to space on Saturday as a rocket with some of his ashes
was launched in New Mexico.
Remains of the Canadian-born actor, who died two years ago at the age of 85,
hurtled to the edge of space aboard a telephone pole-size rocket that blasted
off from a desert launching grounds near Truth or Consequences.
Doohan inspired the legendary catch phrase "Beam me up, Scotty" -- even though
it was never actually uttered on the popular television show.
Hundreds of spectators clapped, cheered and cried as his ashes roared aloft
along with the remains of some 200 other people, including astronaut Gordon
Cooper, who first went into space in 1963. Cooper died in 2004 at age 77.
"It was great, it was fun and we want to go again," said Doohan's widow, Wende
Doohan, who pressed the launch button with Cooper's widow, Susan Cooper.
The flight was arranged by Houston-based company Space Services Inc. The company
charges $495 to send a portion of a person's ashes into suborbital space.
The firm had originally planned to blast Doohan's remains into space two years
ago. But the flight was delayed by tests, then by a misfire during a practice
launch last year.
During a 15-minute flight, the rocket separated into two parts and returned to
Earth on parachutes with the capsules holding the remains. The maximum height
reached was 384,000 feet or 72 miles.
Capsules containing the ashes are retrieved, mounted on plaques and given back
In 1997, the company blasted the remains of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry
Crystal Warren saw the remains of her space enthusiast brother-in-law take
flight. "He's going home. He's there now. He has wanted to be up there forever,"
The brief flight by the Spaceloft XL rocket was the first commercial launch from
Spaceport America, the world's first commercial spaceport, a $225 million
project developed with support from the New Mexico state government.
British tycoon Richard Branson said last year he would use the site as a base
for his space tours firm, Virgin Galactic, which plans to blast tourists into
space by the end of the decade.
Star Trek's Scotty
beamed up in final space voyage, R, 29.4.2007,
Is a Town of 2.2 Square
Most of It 6 Feet Deep
December 9, 2006
The New York Times
By CAROL POGASH
COLMA, Calif., Dec. 3 — Years ago this tiny
city’s 18-hole golf course was sliced in half. Last spring the nine-hole course
became a shorter nine. Next to feel the squeeze was the pet cemetery, which
sacrificed half its two acres.
Where did all the land go? To feed the major local growth industry: human burial
Such is Colma, Calif., land of the dead for three-quarters of a century, and
becoming more so all the time.
“We have 1,500 aboveground residents,” Mayor Helen Fisicaro said, “and 1.5
Colma was founded as a necropolis by cemetery operators in 1924, to protect
graveyards from capricious acts of government. The businesses of many of those
operators had been disrupted a decade earlier when the city of San Francisco, 10
miles to the north, evicted all but a couple of the 26 cemeteries there, along
with the thousands of bodies they held. The city’s politicians had argued that
cemeteries spread disease, but the true reason for the eviction was the rising
value of real estate, said San Francisco’s archivist emeritus, Gladys Hansen.
For the first few decades, Colma’s residents were mainly gravediggers, flower
growers and monument makers. But by the 1980s, other types of people and
businesses were settling in next to the dead. Today the little city has many
thriving businesses, including car dealerships, two Home Depots, shopping
centers and a game room.
Still, 73 percent of Colma’s 2.2 square miles is zoned for cemeteries — or
“memorial parks,” as the operators call them. There are 17 such parks, including
those that cater to Italians, Jews, Greek Orthodox, Japanese and Serbs.
Colma, where the two major property owners are a land holding company and the
Roman Catholic Church, is in a sense a place where an evolution has come full
“Most Americans used to live near a graveyard in the 18th century,” said David
C. Sloane, author of “The Last Great Necessity: Cemeteries in American History.”
“That changed in the 19th century, when big cemeteries were on the edge of the
cities and became destinations,” the precursors to civic parks. But by the 20th
century, Dr. Sloane said, an aversion to dealing with death had made cemeteries
places that people “went out of their way not to go to.”
Given that environment, clusters of cemeteries in outlying areas may seem only
natural. Still, though one occasionally finds several cemeteries grouped
together these days, 17 in “a single place is very, very unusual,” Dr. Sloane
Here, hearses far outnumber hot rods. Colma’s museum has a cemetery room, of
course. Instead of the metal signs that customarily mark boundaries between
towns, new ones made of somber granite have been ordered by town officials.
Everyone knows that it is against the law to cross a funeral procession. Wedding
parties spill out of stretch limousines to be photographed at Cypress Lawn
Memorial Park’s duck pond, and weddings themselves are held at the cemetery’s
small chapel, next to its crematorium.
Colma’s motto is “It’s Great to Be Alive in Colma!” And residents say they are
comfortable being alive among the mausoleums, the marble obelisks and the
tombstones. They express appreciation for the tranquillity of their hometown,
where a serene, occasionally whimsical attitude toward death prevails.
Having grown up with death, Owen Malloy says that “it doesn’t creep me out.” Mr.
Malloy’s family owns the only bar in town, a mourners’ gathering place two or
three times a week, and he fondly recalls playing hide-and-seek among the
tombstones of various graveyards and sipping his first beer, at age 12, among
marble angels and Ionic columns. He marvels at the view from the deck of his
home, which overlooks Holy Cross Cemetery.
Living alongside the cemeteries “doesn’t matter” to Ashley Hurtubise, 16. “It’s
just another part of town,” she said.
City Councilwoman Joanne del Rosario does not give her underground neighbors a
second thought. “I’m more afraid of the living,” she said, “than I am of the
In the way New Jersey students know that Thomas Edison’s laboratory is in West
Orange, the people of Colma know that Wyatt Earp’s ashes are buried at Hills of
Eternity, a Jewish cemetery (he wasn’t; his wife was), and that Joe DiMaggio is
at Holy Cross Cemetery, where visitors often lean bats against his gravestone.
Everybody knows that Tina Turner’s dog is wrapped in her fur coat at Pet’s Rest
Cemetery, the final stop for 13,000 dogs, cats, rabbits, goldfish and cheetahs.
Even after last summer’s downsizing, plots remain, though they are so expensive
($550 to $850 and up, depending on the size of the pet) that some families opt
for cremation or for stacking their dead pets vertically. Pet’s Rest draws so
many mourners that, says the owner, Phillip C’de Baca, some form carpools and
occasionally fall in love and marry.
Dr. Sloane, an associate professor at the University of Southern California,
says there is a growing demand for space at American cemeteries that is fueled
in large part by immigrant families who insist on elaborate burials as a way to
help establish their identity in a community. In Colma, so little undeveloped
property remains that an acre sells for more than $2 million.
The cemeteries have two choices, said Steve Doukas, general manager of Greek
Orthodox Memorial Park: build taller mausoleums or buy more land. Either way,
added costs are naturally passed along.
“As expensive as it is to live in the Bay Area,” Mr. Doukas said, “it’s also
expensive to be buried here.”
Cypress Lawn offers burial plots that cost as much as $20,000, or $250,000 for a
family plot, said Ken Varner, its president.
And what does a cemetery ultimately provide for that kind of money? “Memory
management,” Mr. Varner said.
“Cemeteries,” he said, “are really for the living.”
Colma, Calif., Is a Town of 2.2 Square Miles, Most of It 6 Feet Deep,
Headstones Too Go Global,
and One City Pays
October 25, 2006
The New York Times
By KATIE ZEZIMA
BARRE, Vt. — This city of 9,000 bills itself
as the “granite capital of the world,” its economic foundation built early in
the last century with the light gray rock from nearby quarries.
But the title is starting to ring hollow. Granite manufacturers here, nearly all
of which specialize in making headstones and memorials, find themselves battling
to compete in a rapidly changing market, hurt not only by a rise in cremations
but also by the lower prices of their foreign competitors.
“We have to find a way to compete,” said Charles Chatot, president of North
Barre Granite. “This is Barre gray granite. It’s the top gray granite in the
For decades, the granite industry made Barre, near Montpelier, a boomtown and
Vermont’s biggest melting pot, drawing immigrants from Italy, Ireland, Poland
and Canada. During their heyday, in the early-to-mid-20th century, the
manufacturers here employed about 3,000 people.
Today the number is only 1,500, said John P. Castaldo, executive director of the
Barre Granite Association, and most of those are in sales or administration.
Roughly 300 actually make headstones and memorials, working with heavy
machinery, and those who still hand-carve granite are no more than six or so.
The biggest problem during the last decade has been imported headstones, mostly
from China and India, which cost about half as much as those made in Barre
“The labor costs in China are significantly lower than they are here, and it’s
taking its toll on the American manufacturers,” said Pennie Sabel, president of
the International Cemetery and Funeral Association, a trade group.
Barre’s manufacturers describe the quality of the imported stones as poor and
say it shows, but to the typical customer the only difference is price. Further,
Chinese companies are also producing black granite headstones, which are
becoming more popular than gray ones.
Amid the tough times, there is one kind of granite business here for which the
times are flush. Cochran’s Inc., for instance, is a headstone broker that works
directly with Chinese headstone manufacturers. Peter Burke, a Cochran manager,
said the ability to get intricately carved specialty headstones from the Chinese
had doubled the company’s profit margin on such stones, which, like others, are
transported directly from China to a Barre warehouse where the lettering and
finishing work are done.
“If we weren’t doing this,” Mr. Burke said, “we wouldn’t be doing so good right
now. Everyone’s saying, ‘China’s bad, it’s hurting us.’ It’s not.”
Imports aside, there is another factor putting pressure on Barre: while people
joke that the monument business will never have a lack of customers, the
popularity of cremations has certainly cut into the number of them.
“It hurts,” Ms. Sabel said. “People have a concept that if you cremate a body
you don’t need a memorial,” although manufacturers here have recently started
making headstones that open in the back, allowing families to place urns inside
on a shelf.
Limited space at cemeteries, as well as rules they adopt to maintain their
appearance, is also weakening manufacturers’ bottom line, since it means fewer
chances to make large, elaborate headstones and mausoleums.
“Cemetery lots are smaller,” said Louis P. Monti Jr., a monument dealer from
Marlborough, Mass., who attended a trade show here in August. “They want to make
things as small and easy to maintain as possible.”
Elgio Zorzi, 87, who started working in quarries as a teenager, who later
founded Adams Granite in Montpelier and who retired in 1985, no longer
recognizes the industry, both for its mechanization and for its international
reach. Nor did he ever think he would see what has become a commonplace: a vast
departure of the city’s young men for occupations elsewhere, often with a stop
first for college.
“They’re all going to Burlington and not coming back,” Mr. Zorzi said of
teenagers flocking to the University of Vermont.
This is not the only place reeling from foreign granite competition. Elberton,
Ga., is the South’s counterpart to Barre, with deep granite quarries that yield
gray stone and a rich tradition of headstone manufacturing.
“What’s hurting us is the Chinese and the Indians,” said Tom Robinson, president
of the Elberton Granite Association, which represents about 150 headstone and
memorial plants. “We can’t really put a number on it, but there’s no question
we’ve lost jobs because we don’t have the volume of sales we used to have.”
“I think we’re battling back with a focus on selling Elberton products, fast
delivery and good quality while doing business with people you know,” Mr.
Robinson said. “There are no surprises here.”
Like Elberton, Barre is trying to reposition itself. The industry is fighting
back by pointing to its reputation and educating consumers about the difference
between the cheaper imports and Barre’s granite and craftsmanship.
“You can almost smell the roses on this headstone,” Richard Tousignant, a
salesman at Adams Granite, said of one local product. “This is the best
craftsmanship in the world. It’s worth it. Would you want your grandparents’
monument to be something made in China?”
Headstones Too Go Global, and One City Pays the Price, NYT, 25.10.2006,
New creations personalize cremation
12:55 AM ET
By Wendy Koch
As more funerals are followed by cremation,
the plain brass urn to hold ashes is being replaced by sculptures, picture
frames, pendants, wind chimes, sundials and even teddy bears.
Ashes of a police officer can now be kept
close in a .44-caliber Magnum silver-bullet keychain. Those of a biker can be
cherished in an urn that looks like a born-to-ride motorcycle gas tank.
"Cremation gives people many more options to grieve," says Armand Chevrette, a
board member of the Cremation Association of North America.
Ashes can be shot into space, compressed into "diamonds" for jewelry or mixed
with concrete into balls that are placed in the ocean to create a coral reef.
A container for ashes is "the last gift people buy their loved one," says Susan
Frazer of In the Light Urns, a Three Rivers, Calif., company selling such
products. "They want to make sure it's the right thing." Her biggest seller: a
$30 cobalt blue necklace pendant. It comes with a funnel to put the ashes inside
and glue to seal the pendant.
Frazer's firm, which has seen monthly sales increase from $5,000 in 2001 to
$30,000 today, has received requests for custom urns that reflect the deceased
person's occupation or interest, including urns shaped like a fiddle, a clown
and even a 1955 Chevy Impala.
Eternal Image in Farmington Hills, Mich., signed a licensing agreement in June
with Major League Baseball to reproduce the names and logos of all 30 major
league teams on a line of urns and caskets next year
Alexandra Lachini, owner of Hold Me Urns in Redding, Calif., says she began
making teddy bears after her father died in 1998 and his ashes were stored in an
"ugly plastic urn" in a closet. Each bear has a small compartment for a
plastic-lined velvet bag of ashes. Sometimes they are made with fabric from
clothing that was worn by the loved one. They cost about $80.
Karen Dalton, a nurse in Laureldale, Pa., bought her sister a teddy bear for
Mother's Day to remind her of her son, also a nurse, who died of a drug
overdose. The bear is made from his lab coat and Harley-Davidson jacket. "She
keeps it on her bed all the time," Dalton says.
Frazer got into the urn business after her 14-year-old son, Ryan, died while
swimming in 1995. "It was absolutely devastating," she says. She has three teddy
bears inscribed with his name and dates of birth and death.
"Cremation of pets is also extremely popular," Frazer says. She says people want
to carry mementos of their pets with them, even to their own graves.
Lisa Ernst, a probation officer in Limerick, Pa., bought a four-sided
picture-frame urn after four family pets were killed in a fire in August. "We
all needed some closure," she says. Her two sons miss their dogs and cats and
"always want to look at the pictures," she says.
The cremation industry expects further growth. A 2005 survey by polling firm
Wirthlin Worldwide found that 46% of Americans plan to be cremated, up from 39%
in 1995 and 31% in 1990.
Some religions oppose cremation, including Islam and Orthodox Judaism. The Roman
Catholic Church dropped its objection in 1963.
Sheryl Gafka, a massage therapist in Algonquin, Ill., says her father, suffering
from a terminal illness, wants his ashes to be buried in Yellowstone National
Park. This month, she bought a biodegradable urn in the shape of a heart. She
says, "He's the only person in my life who has truly touched my heart."
creations personalize cremation, UT, 20.10.2006,
Death in the family
The Cribbs have been undertakers for 125
Mira Katbamna went to meet them
Saturday September 9, 2006
It is the end of the line in every sense.
Among the large buildings with beautiful walled gardens across the road from
Beckton station in London is Thomas Cribb and Sons, which was founded in 1881.
Inside the high-ceilinged reception, only the boxes of tissues left discreetly
on the tables and a black-and-white photograph of a horse-drawn hearse gives
away the nature of the family business.
Becoming a funeral director is not an obvious
upbeat career choice, but employees at this funeral parlour seem cheerful, not
least the assured and polite great-great-great granddaughter of its founder. "To
me it's completely normal, I've grown up with it," says Sarah Harris, 26,
smartly dressed in a black skirt, white shirt and chic black ribbon belt. "It's
a 24-hour service, so when my father and mother used to come home from the
office they'd divert the phones and me or my sisters would have to pick it up."
The siblings would have to take the information down, finding out what the
bereaved family wanted. "That's how it started," she adds. Yet, Harris never
imagined she would have a career in her family's funeral parlour. "But when I
worked here after A-levels I realised I really enjoyed it," she says. "And
there's not too many jobs you can do where you are making a difference to people
when they really need you."
Harris organises the funerals, sorting out everything from collecting the body
from the hospital to booking the priest. It takes a special kind of person to do
her job. "Confident is not quite the word, but you do almost have to be a
figurehead - people need that, they need someone that they can literally lean
on," she says. "They also deal with grief so very differently, and you just have
to adapt the minute they walk in the door. And when so many people are at war
with their family, there's always going to be friction."
The work can be emotionally taxing, especially when a child has died. "You feel
so helpless," says Harris. "You'd do anything for the parents, but it can never
be enough. But it's your job not to get upset - you simply have to be there for
Harris's outlet is being a member of the Territorial Army. "I joined the TA
because it's the only hobby where you don't have time to worry about all the
things you have to do," she says.
Just as we are speaking, a middle-aged man and woman walk into reception, and
Harris goes to meet them. They are obviously upset, but she takes it in her
stride, settling them down on the sofa, offering them a cup of tea and then
coming back with a book to start making the arrangements.
With Harris busy, it is left to her 78-year-old grandfather to give me a tour of
the family business. Behind the reception area, Stan Cribb leads me past the
freezer where they keep the bodies, through the coffin display room and into the
coffin workshop, where one of the carpenters is working on a tiny coffin for a
Cribb has seen the East End and the funeral business change dramatically since
he first started working with the firm's horses just before the second world
war. Then every family went to the same funeral director, with whom they had
become well acquainted.
Today, the Cribbs are experts on the burial rites of numerous religions,
organise repatriations and are to open a branch in Ghana. And his son (Harris's
dad), John Cribb has an MA from Reading University in death and society.
"Someone once said to me that at least I would never be out of business," Stan
Cribb says, "but with that attitude you'd be out of business in no time. Whoever
it is, you treat their funeral like your first. It's all about dignity. It's the
last thing you can do for them."
Fashions change and can come full circle, even in death. Demand has led to the
revival of horse-drawn hearses. Thomas Cribb and Sons has responded and now has
a stable of 14 horses that go all over the country.
A walk into the mortuary reminds me why working at an undertaker's may not
appeal to all. The embalmer has a body laid out on her table. Being very
squeamish, I was dreading seeing a dead body - but this is totally removed from
the gore and high drama of CSI.
The embalmer is working on the body of an elderly black man, and Stan Cribb
looks at me nervously to see if I am OK. But it does not feel like being in the
presence of death. If anything, it feels like he is not there at all and I begin
to realise that the really hard part of this job is dealing with the people who
are left behind.
In fact, despite his calmness around dead bodies, Cribb says that he has never
done the embalming himself. "Obviously I've seen it done, many times. I can tell
you if it's a good embalming or not, and what needs to be done, but I've never
wanted to do it and I've never wanted the family to do it. There's a place for
everybody and everything."
By now we have toured the garage containing a magnificent fleet of vintage
vehicles, and walked through the gardens. The horses, Stan Cribb's pride and
joy, are stabled in Essex.
Back at reception, his granddaughter is in the office, sorting out the schedule
for the cars so that they arrive on time - not too early and never too late. I
ask her whether dealing with death every day has made her more aware of her own
"I was thinking about this the other day, and I suppose it has," says Harris.
"I'm not worried about myself - but knowing what it's like when you lose someone
you love scares the life out of me."
As for Stan Cribb, he is certainly not going to get a pre-paid plan. "I'm not
going to pay for it, they can pay for it," he says. "I think I'll have the
horses. My first wife was buried, but I prefer cremation. And I shall go from
the old office in Rathbone Street."
in the family, G, 9.9.2006,
For a Price,
Final Resting Places
Tut Could Appreciate
April 17, 2006
The New York Times
By GUY TREBAY
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ed Peck is in no hurry
to get there, but when the time comes for him to go to eternity, he wants his
last earthly stop to be consistent with his social station.
So Mr. Peck, a real estate developer who made his fortune in Florida
condominiums in the 1970's, not long ago joined a small but growing number of
Americans who have erected that most pharaonic of monuments to life-in-death,
the private family mausoleum.
A Greek-pillared neo-Classical style structure of white granite, Mr. Peck's
mausoleum has a granite patio, a meditation room, doors of hand-cast bronze and
a chandelier. The family name is carved and gilded above a lintel that in the
original sales model carried the legend "Your Name."
Developed just over two years ago to accommodate a growing demand for mausoleums
like the one Mr. Peck bought, which including its lot has a retail cost of
$400,000, the Private Estate Section at the century-old Daytona Memorial Park
here has 15 lake-view lots. Six have been sold.
"The mausoleum says, 'I'm really significant in this world, I think I'm really
significant to my family,' and this is one way to communicate that to the
community," said Nancy Lohman, an owner along with her husband, Lowell, of this
and several dozen other Florida cemeteries and funeral homes.
Mr. Peck, 87, an Atlanta native with a sonorous voice and a laconic manner,
framed a similar thought more modestly. "It began to occur to me that I did not
want to be in the ground covered with weeds and whatnot and totally forgotten,"
he said. "I don't like the idea of dirt being dumped on me."
Six feet up and not six feet under is increasingly the direction in which people
want their remains stored when they die, representatives of the funeral industry
say. In addition to custom single-family mausoleums, community mausoleums for
both coffins and cremated remains are also gaining popularity; in classical or
contemporary styles, these often have room to hold hundreds of niches for
coffins or urns.
The Cold Spring Granite Company, among the country's largest makers of cemetery
monuments, sold 2,000 private mausoleums last year, up from about 65 during a
good year in the 1980's. Prices range from $250,000 to "well into the millions,"
said Michael T. Baklarz, a vice president of the company.
The development is perhaps logically to be expected of those at the leading edge
of the baby boom generation, which forms the bulk of the market. The progression
seems natural for the folks who gave the world blocklong, gas-hogging sport
utility vehicles and lot-hogging 40,000-square-foot suburban homes.
"It's in keeping with the McMansion mentality of boomers," said Thomas Lynch, an
author and funeral director in Michigan. "Real estate is an extension of
The market for the custom structures is greatest on the coasts, although
exclusive estate sections have recently been set aside for private mausoleums at
cemeteries in Atlanta, Cleveland and Minneapolis.
Some mausoleums echo the temple of the goddess Fortuna Virilis in Rome. Some are
hefty, rusticated stone barns. Some have more square footage than a good-size
Manhattan studio apartment, their interiors fitted out with hand-knotted
carpets, upholstered benches and nooks for the display of memorabilia. In late
2004, a Southern California family ordered a mausoleum with room for 12 coffins,
20 cremation niches and a patterned marble vestibule.
Commonplace in the 19th century, when both newly prosperous immigrants and
robber barons vied to stake claims on American soil by investing in the only
real estate that is "permanently valuable," as Mark Twain famously remarked, the
mausoleum seemed to have lost favor in recent years.
More people were choosing to be cremated — industry experts say that more than a
quarter of the 2.3 million people who died in 2004 were cremated — and some
opted for new forms of interment like the "green burials" that flickered onto
the cultural radar after a character from the HBO series "Six Feet Under" was
buried unembalmed and without a coffin, in an unmarked grave protected by a
Yet the brief buzz about eco-burial, executives from America's nearly $15
billion funeral industry say, may obscure the larger reality that, as in
seemingly every other facet of contemporary life, the taste for personalization
has touched the funeral industry in time to provide an otherwise static business
with an opportunity for growth.
"Nobody wants a cookie-cutter burial anymore," said Robert M. Fells, the
external operating officer of the International Cemetery and Funeral
Association, the industry's leading trade group. At the group's annual
convention in March in Las Vegas, the resurgent interest in building private
mausoleums was striking, Mr. Fells said.
"The private family mausoleum used to be considered a high-ticket, upscale item
that only the wealthy could afford," Mr. Fells said, and there is no reason to
amend that impression given that $250,000 is the average base price to build a
private family tomb. "The pendulum is swinging back to people being willing to
spend money for things that are meaningful to them," he said.
The need to create "new concepts in the death care industry," said Christine
Toson Hentges, vice president of a company that owns three cemeteries in
Wisconsin, has helped increase the appeal of private estate sections.
"We've reversed the traditional way of selling," Ms. Hentges added.
Traditionally, funeral directors or cemetery owners began their post-mortem
pitch to families by quoting the most affordable options. "But now we're going
top-down and starting with private buildings," she said, "because there is this
influx of people who are financially successful and who are thinking about these
issues and how to have a structure that tells the story of their lives."
At the historic Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, a spokesman said that there had
been no marked increase in private mausoleums lately, but last year the cemetery
completed a five-story, $16 million crypt mausoleum for 2,500, replete with
skylights and waterfalls.
"All of this is recent," said Herbert B. Klapper, president of Cedar Park
Cemetery, a 300-acre site in Paramus, N.J., that offers burials in mausoleums
where crypt space is priced the way urban real estate often is, by neighborhood
and floor. (From the ground or "prayer" level, crypt prices ascend to the
"heart" level and then to "eye" and are reduced again for the harder-to-reach
berths at a tier called "touch.")
Yet the most grandiose niche in Paramus is humble compared with the granite
extravaganza erected at Daytona Memorial Park to house the mortal remains of L.
Gale Lemerand, a Florida philanthropist who founded a residential insulation
company that he sold in 1995 for an estimated $150 million.
Two $4,000 Medjool date palms shade Mr. Lemerand's red granite mausoleum, which
cost $650,000 and has ample space, as the cemetery co-owner Lowell Lohman
explained, to accommodate Mr. Lemerand, 71, along with his family.
A granite balustrade flanks the doorway and from it one can stand and gaze
across a palm-fringed lake, where two swans named Ed and Hilda glide, adding to
the pastoral landscape an almost inevitable touch of Evelyn Waugh. On the far
shore is Ed Peck's family tomb.
"People who are going to be buried here can well afford it, so money is
obviously not an issue," Mr. Peck said on an afternoon of blustery winds that
propelled an armada of fleecy postcard clouds across the Florida sky. "It's a
very pleasant place to be. As pleasant as it could be, considering."
For a Price, Final Resting
Places That Even Tut Could Appreciate,
Hundreds Express Grief and Faith
Miners Are Buried
January 9, 2006
The New York Times
By GARY GATELY
BUCKHANNON, W.Va., Jan. 8 - West Virginians
began burying their fallen miners on Sunday, mourning their losses but
celebrating the lives and legacies of men who prided themselves on making a
living by harvesting coal from deep within the earth.
In the mountain hamlets surrounding the Sago Mine, hundreds of mourners turned
out for the funerals of 6 of the 12 men who died there last week. But the grief,
sympathy and prayers extended well beyond the funerals, most of them private
services from which reporters were banned.
White ribbons and bows adorned utility poles in Buckhannon, and dozens of
roadside signs conveyed the somber mood. "Healing hurts," one sign said outside
a doughnut shop here. One just north of town read, "God just got 12 new angels."
At the service for Jesse L. Jones, a 44-year-old miner from Pickens, the Rev.
Donald Butcher, pastor of Sand Run Baptist Church, spoke the names of each of
the 12 men killed at the mine and spoke of their way of making a living and
making a life.
"You see, coal miners are a different breed of men; they don't have any fear,"
Mr. Butcher said to about 200 mourners at a funeral chapel just north of the
mine. Miners, he said, give us electricity for lights as well as powerful
lessons on working tirelessly, no matter the circumstances.
"God gives us people who are heroes, and we don't even realize it," he said. "We
got lots of coal miners here with us today. America is great because of this
profession and because of men like Jesse, who put their lives on the line."
The pastor spoke of one of Mr. Jones's grandfathers, who was killed in a mine
explosion, and of members of his own family, one of whom lost his sight and
others who lost their fingers mining.
The other miners buried Sunday were Alva Martin Bennett, 51; Jerry Groves, 56;
David Lewis, 28; Martin Toler, 51; and Jack Weaver, 52.
At Sago Baptist Church, where inaccurate first reports of the survival of 12
miners brought euphoria that later turned to grief, the Rev. Wease Day stood in
front of a huge picture of the Last Supper during regular Sunday morning
services and tried to make sense of it all.
Wearing a blue tie with the face of Jesus on it, Mr. Day told the congregation,
"The other night when we received what we all believed to be good news, we all
shouted and rejoiced, but you know when the other news came it broke our hearts
But, he said, God would never forsake his people and was with them throughout
the heartbreaking ordeal even if they could not understand or answer the
"Many times people think, 'Well, it was God's fault,' " Mr. Day said, "but God
has a master plan, and everything comes together in that master plan. He was in
control every minute.
"We were in this building the other night and it came to mind that the spirit
was so great here and it was so great outside and God had just covered these old
hilltops with his holy spirit, his holy power."
After the service, the church bells rang 12 times, echoing through the
mountains. Just down the road near the entrance to the Sago Mine, 12 black
ribbons hung from a fence.
Even as the towns mourned their dead, people kept praying for the recovery of
the sole survivor of the mine disaster, Randal McCloy Jr., 26. Doctors at West
Virginia University Hospitals, where Mr. McCloy is being treated, said that he
remained in critical condition Sunday night but that his heart, lung and muscle
functions had improved.
Mr. McCloy was breathing on his own, and doctors had stopped sedating him.
At First United Methodist Church, the pastor, the Rev. Mark Flynn, told
congregants that he had been with the families of the miners almost nonstop for
"I went to Sago to minister to those families, and they ministered to me," Mr.
Flynn said. "I was touched by the strength, the love and the wisdom. In those
dark days and nights at the Sago Baptist Church, I saw some light. I saw light
in the faith and love of the family members with whom I talked.
"Their faith was not just a vague notion that somehow everything would turn out
as they wished. These people believe that they and their loved ones were in the
hands of God, no matter what happened in that mine."
Hundreds Express Grief and Faith as 6 Miners Are Buried,
Where Death Comes in Winter,
and Burial in the Spring
May 1, 2005
The New York Times
By DONNA LIQUORI
GREENFIELD CENTER, N.Y. - Spencer Mangino, a
4-year-old, was buried on April 23 in a cemetery in this rural upstate
community, nearly a month after he died.
The delay was "like the absolute worst day of your life is prolonged," said his
mother, Marcy Mangino.
It is not unusual for families here to wait weeks, even months, to bury loved
ones who die during the region's long winters, which freeze the earth solid. But
now, with the ground yielding to daffodils and tulips, burials have begun again
at the small, mostly rural cemeteries across the northern half of New York State
that close in wintertime and do not reopen until the spring thaw.
"Our whole house - everybody is a disaster," Mrs. Mangino said a few days after
her son was buried in Greenfield Cemetery, in Saratoga County, where graves date
to the mid-1800's. "It brought it all back fresh. It was horrible."
The ritual of spring burials in parts of upstate New York and other northern
areas began long before the first grave was dug in Greenfield Cemetery. The
bodies of people who die in the winter are stored in cemetery vaults and at
funeral homes until it is warm enough to dig into the earth.
Randy McCullough, a spokesman for the New York State Funeral Directors
Association, estimated that 1,000 burials were delayed this winter. That means
that family members and friends who attended funerals during the colder months
are now gathering to grieve once again.
The long delays would all but end under a plan state lawmakers are considering
that would require year-round burials. There would be provisions for
exceptionally bad weather, but cemeteries that fail to comply would face fines
"You can't just close down because your cemetery caretaker goes to Florida for
six months," said Assemblywoman RoAnn M. Destito, a Democrat from Rome, a
sponsor of the bill. "I think we need to move this system into the 21st
The proposal has divided funeral directors, who must deal with a backlog of
burials in the spring, and cemetery caretakers, who say it would be too
expensive for many small cemeteries to buy the more powerful equipment needed to
cut through the frozen earth.
If the legislation becomes law, New York would become the third state, after
Minnesota and Wisconsin, to require winter burials, according to the National
Conference of State Legislatures.
The funeral directors, who are pushing the legislation, say the practice is
outdated, extends the grieving process for the family and is costly for families
to have to return for spring burials.
Joseph Dispenza, the president of the New York State Association of Cemeteries,
said he questioned the motives of the funeral directors. "This is yet another
opportunity through legislation to mandate a fee on the family to line the
pockets of the for-profit mortuaries," Mr. Dispenza said.
Families would have to pay for the extra costs needed to dig through the frozen
ground, he said. But Mr. McCullough said costs may actually decrease because
funeral directors' services would not be required for another day to oversee the
Mr. Dispenza said, however, that the costs of new equipment and remaining open
during the winter could be too steep for some smaller cemeteries and might force
them to close permanently.
"How does a cemetery control nature?" asked Mr. Dispenza. "How does a cemetery
change the hand of God - the nature of the hand of God?"
Mr. Dispenza said upstate communities had long accepted the practice of
cemeteries closing for the winter, and that he did not realize that some people
had objections until the legislation was announced at a news conference held by
funeral directors' association. Dr. Rudy Nydegger, a clinical psychologist in
Schenectady who has worked with hospice patients and their families, has
assessed the grief associated with spring burials in his work.
"The acuteness of those feelings probably won't last as long or be quite as
disruptive as it might have been at the time of the death," Dr. Nydegger said.
"Not that it's easier. There's been some partial grieving going on in the
Mark Phillips, a Saratoga funeral director who is member of the board of the
funeral directors' association, handled Spencer Mangino's funeral, held on April
4. The child died of mitochondrial disease, a genetic degenerative illness, on
Mr. Phillips said he kept the boy's body at the funeral home until his burial
because his mother strongly objected to its being placed in the vault at another
cemetery, where he had stored 20 bodies for the winter.
"I hate to say it's an inconvenience, but it's an infringement on their mourning
process," Mr. Phillips said, referring to the practice of closing cemeteries. A
representative of Greenfield Cemetery, where the boy was buried, did not return
a phone call seeking comment.
Webster Union Cemetery, 10 miles east of Rochester, usually closes for February
and March. "We try to do them as much as we can until the weather gets bad,"
said Tom Anderson, the cemetery superintendent.
For the most part, Mr. Anderson said, people understand that winter burials may
not be possible. They are warned when they purchase their plots, he said.
If the proposal to mandate winter burials becomes law, Mr. Anderson said, the
cemetery, a nonprofit organization, will adapt. A stronger backhoe will be
needed and additional workers will be hired. But for now, the weather determines
the cemetery's season.
At Graceland Cemetery in Albany, where year-round burials are conducted, a
century-old granite receiving vault houses bodies that will be taken to smaller
cemeteries. There are 60 marble slots in the vault; eight of those held coffins
with bodies awaiting burial on Friday. Several of them had been there since
January. Graceland's caretaker, Bob Curtis Jr., said he used a "frost dome," a
tin structure that is heated by propane, to soften the earth in the winter.
Mr. Curtis, who also takes care of two other cemeteries, including one that does
not do winter burials, said he thought the legislation would help grieving
"They get over it easier doing it once," he said.
Death Comes in Winter, and Burial in the Spring,
May 1, 2005,
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