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Vocapedia > Life / Health > Death


Cremation, Crematorium, Aquamation,

Graveyard, Cemetery, Mausoleum, Grave, Tomb, Burial





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 Afghanistan.


Photograph: Kevin Lamarque



Boston Globe > Big Picture > 2013 year in pictures: Part I


















Illustration: JooHee Yoon


This Is How I Want to Be Dead


JULY 7, 2017



















Perched on a steep hillside peering down at central London,

a Victorian graveyard, Highgate Cemetery,

provides clues to long ago lives and is still in use today.



A City of the Dead That Inspires the Living


Feb. 18, 2022



















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 corpse


Thursday 22 January 2015






































cemetery        UK










UK > London > Highgate Cemetery        USA










UK > Holywell Cemetery,

off a busy road in the heart of Oxford










cemetery        USA


cemetery-long-island-pinelawn-lockes-pinelawn - July 25, 2022









































nonprofit cemetery        USA


cemetery-long-island-pinelawn-lockes-pinelawn - July 25, 2022








Pinelawn Memorial Park        USA


The stretch where Pinelawn Road turns

into Wellwood Avenue on New York’s Long Island

is known to locals as Cemetery Row.


For 3 1/2 miles,

the four-lane road is lined

with sweeping, manicured lawns

with separate entrances to eight cemeteries

set back from the street.


Comprising 2,300 acres,

almost three times as much land

as New York City’s Central Park,

it’s the largest contiguous area

devoted to burials in the United States.


cemetery-long-island-pinelawn-lockes-pinelawn - July 25, 2022








Willard Psychiatric Center cemetery    1869-1995

Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, USA










USA > Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn        UK / USA












Fort Snelling National Cemetery in Minneapolis        USA










UK > Medieval hospital cemetery for poor

found under Cambridge University        UK










black cemeteries        USA










cemetery for enslaved people        USA










necropolis        USA










UK > Scotland > Glasgow necropolis


















How to Find the Hidden Graves of Enslaved People in Louisiana    NYT    28 July 2021





How to Find the Hidden Graves of Enslaved People in Louisiana | NYT        Video        28 July 2021


Thousands of enslaved people

are buried in Louisiana’s industrial corridor,

but their locations have remained a mystery — until now.


Using historical maps and aerial photos,

we can locate these possible graves.



















graveyard        UK










graveyard        USA










gravesite        USA










grave        UK










grave        USA


How to Find the Hidden Graves of Enslaved People in Louisiana

NYT    Video    28 July 2021




























at the grave of N        USA












unmarked grave        UK










mass grave        USA










desecration        USA


















be desecrated























gravedigger        UK










grave digger        USA


















Henry Rayhons

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
















Interactive gravestones:

how the 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










headstone        UK












headstone        USA



















African slave burial ground        USA

















mausoleum        USA










crypt        USA


















aquamation        USA


Scientifically speaking,

the process is called alkaline hydrolysis.


According to Bio-Response Solutions,

an Indiana-based company

that specializes in aquamation services,

the body undergoes

the same process it would

as if it were buried in the ground.


Water, alkaline chemicals and heat

are used to accelerate

the decomposition process

that takes place in nature.


The body is loaded

into a stainless-steel vessel

and filled with a mix of 95% water

and 5% alkali.


The mix heated

to 200-300 degrees Fahrenheit

and gently circulates for 6-8 hours.


By comparison,

traditional cremation uses temperatures

as high as 1,600 degrees Fahrenheit

and takes approximately two hours.


Only the bones are left

at the end of both aquamation and cremation,

according to

the Cremation Association of North America.


From there,

the bones are broken down further

into a fine powder or dust

and placed in an urn.

One of the biggest benefits of aquamation

is its minimal impact on the environment.


The process doesn't use any fossil fuels

and is 90% more energy efficient

than standard cremation,

Bio-Response Solutions says.




















cremation        UK












cremation        USA












crematorium, crematoria        UK














be cremated








funeral pyre        USA










ashes    USA










ashes to ashes








urn        USA





















“Funeral.” Nov. 21, 1990.



Santu Mofokeng/Steidl


Real-Life South African Liberation Stories:

Santu Mofokeng


Jul. 13, 2016

















bury        USA
















bury the dead        USA










be buried    (passive)        UK










be interred    (passive)        UK










be interred        USA










burial        USA














burial service        USA










burial sector        UK










home burial        USA










indigent burials        USA


















funeral service > graveside ceremony        USA

















lie, lay, lain        UK






SA > lie in state        UK






lie in repose















lay to rest        USA






be laid to rest















go to rest        USA






Rest In Peace    RIP        UK








Rest In Peace    RIP        USA






resting place        USA






send-off        UK






on a catafalque































entomb        USA










entombment        USA










sovereign’s piper > play a lament        UK












Corpus of news articles


Life / Health > Death


Graveyard, Cemetery, Mausoleum,


Grave, Tomb, Burial, Crematorium




Texas Prisoner Burials

Are a Gentle Touch

in a Punitive System


January 4, 2012

The New York Times



HUNTSVILLE, Tex. — Kenneth Wayne Davis died at 54 as not so much a man but a number: Inmate No. 327320.

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 moments, honored.

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 burial.

“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 beings.”

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 cemetery.

“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 like this.”

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
14.02 BST
his article was published on guardian.co.uk
at 14.02 BST on Monday 28 March 2011.
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 and €5,000.

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. Honorariums.

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 bereaved ...

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 surroundings, right?

The costly business of dying, G, 28.3.2011,






Indigent Burials Are on the Rise


October 11, 2009

The New York Times



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 cannot.

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 balked.

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


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 his career.

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 officials said.

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 unwanted visitors.

“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 $150,000.

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 somebody.

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
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,






Home Burials

Offer an Intimate Alternative


July 21, 2009
The New York Times


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 costs.

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 said.

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 professionals.”

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 less expensive.

“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 currently does.

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 open.

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 it.”

    Home Burials Offer an Intimate Alternative, NYT, 21.7.2009,






Springfield Journal

A Funeral Museum at Death’s Door


March 9, 2009
The New York Times


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 death.

“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 trouble.”

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 Abe.

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


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 security.

“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 explained.

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,






Virtual Graveyard

Holds Dead of MySpace


July 29, 2007
Filed at 12:48 p.m. ET
The New York Times


Somewhere 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, authorities say.

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 courageous self.

''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 MyDeathSpace.

''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 members.

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 death threats.

''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 Death.''

''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 lives.

''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
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 base.”

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 executive director.

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?”

    Cemeteries Seek Breathing Clientele, NYT, 25.5.2007,






Hawaii Projects Run Into Graves


May 23, 2007
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 million project.

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 permits.

''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 them?''

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 remains.

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 cultural significance.

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
1:48AM EDT
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 to relatives.

In 1997, the company blasted the remains of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry into space.

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," said Warren.

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,






Colma, Calif.,

Is a Town of 2.2 Square Miles,

Most of It 6 Feet Deep


December 9, 2006
The New York Times


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 grounds.

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 million underground.”

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 circle.

“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 said.

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 dead.”

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,
    NYT, 9.12.2006,






Barre Journal

Headstones Too Go Global,

and One City Pays the Price


October 25, 2006
The New York Times


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 world.”

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 (pronounced BEAR-ee).

“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,






New creations personalize cremation


Updated 10/20/2006
12:55 AM ET
USA Today
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."

    New creations personalize cremation, UT, 20.10.2006,






Death in the family

The Cribbs have been undertakers for 125 years.

Mira Katbamna went to meet them


Saturday September 9, 2006
Mira Katbamna


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 the family."

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 premature baby.

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 mortality.

"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."

    Death in the family, G, 9.9.2006,






For a Price,

Final Resting Places

That Even Tut Could Appreciate


April 17, 2006
The New York Times


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 personhood."

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 nature preserve.

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,
    NYT, 17.4.2006,






Hundreds Express Grief and Faith

as 6 Miners Are Buried


January 9, 2006

The New York Times



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 as well."

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 unanswerable questions.

"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 three days.

"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



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 of $250.

"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 century."

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 spring burial.

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 interim."

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 March 30.

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 families.

"They get over it easier doing it once," he said.

Where Death Comes in Winter, and Burial in the Spring,
May 1, 2005,










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