Friday, June 19, 2015

Modern Death

You’ve probably heard the cliques’: what goes around comes around; everything old is new again …  While these sayings may have more than a bit of truth about them, it “ain’t necessarily so” in the funeral industry where non-traditional is catching on.

Baby Boomers are the catalyst to this change, thanks to “thinking outside the box” and wanting a service that is unique to their lives. Themed funerals are starting to take off, and services are becoming memorial events.


In Texas, one funeral home director decided to offers some options to the traditional funeral home. Funeral Director Jeff Freidman operates Distinctive Life Funeral Home, (yes, a traditional funeral home) in Plano, but he has also set up a storefront in Richardson Texas where you can shop for grandma’s casket in a nicely lit, comfortable showroom with real music playing. Distinctive Life also has several vans equipped with a selection of urns, many unique and creative (A floating urn anyone?) along with a computer on which you can view and select the casket you’d like without leaving home.

At Adams Funeral Home in Los Angeles, mourners simply pull up to a bank teller-like window and push a button. A curtain raises, music plays and you have a few minutes to say your good-byes to the deceased.

Wade Funeral Home in St Louis has become known for their themed viewing rooms, offering a familiar setting like “Big Momma’s Kitchen” where family and friends can gather in a homey 1950s style kitchen as a platter of fresh fried chicken waits on the stove.

Hodges Funeral Home in Naples Memorial Gardens offers family and friends the opportunity to sit and reminisce over a glass of wine in their wine bar providing a more relaxed and calm way to mourn and remember. Amid comfortable chairs, high top tables, and racks of wine, this modern wine cellar provides a more laid-back, tranquil vibe than your average funeral home viewing room.

The Neptune Society, the largest cremation-only provider in the U.S., takes cremated remains and mixes them with cement before placing them in a mold. Once the mold is formed, the shaped piece is then taken down to the world’s first underwater “cemetery”, actually a cremation memorial park, and placed on the Atlantis Memorial Reef with a memorial plaque.  There, the molds become a permanent part of the ever-changing man-made reef.

You can even light up the sky when the Celebrate Life Program mixes your ashes with phosphorous to create a private fireworks display for family and friends.One things for sure, Boomers do not intend to go “quietly into that good night” – at least not without some serious shake up of the traditional, and a touch of individualized flair on the way out.
~ Joy

Friday, June 5, 2015

Death Under Glass

Death at Home
The Victorians were obsessed with death – in a nice way. There was a code of etiquette for both the living, and the deceased. The reasons for their "undying" interest were numerous; death was an every-day occurrence, it happened at home, and mourning was a way of life - a mourning period could last over two years.  A few of the main death fears held by Victorians included being buried alive, being dug up by body snatchers, and the horrible decay that the body went through.

Fisk's Patent
Almond Dunbar Fisk patented a product in 1848 to alley all three fears with his “air-tight coffin of cast or raised metal.” With a Fisk Iron Coffin, the deceased was visible for viewing (and making sure they didn’t move.) The remains would be well preserved, continuing to look exactly as they did when they died, and iron coffins were almost impossible to break into.

The Fisk Metallic Burial Case was shown at the New York State Agricultural Society Fair in 1849, along with the American Institute Exhibition in New York City later that year. Orders were taken and production began.

The coffin was form fitting, resembling an Egyptian sarcophagus with the face and feet higher than the body. A small glass window was fit above the face for viewing.

Robbing the Grave
There were several benefits to using an iron coffin including the smell of decay was trapped in the iron case much better than a wooden coffin. Resurrectionists were not able to “bash and grab,” (Bust open a wooden coffin and pull the deceased out by their neck for the purpose of selling bodies to anatomy schools.) and they looked secure.

John C. Calhoun
But security was not cheap; the price of a Fisk coffin was between $50 and $100. (A wooden casket cost $2.) Former U.S. Vice-President and Secretary of State John C. Calhoun was buried in a Fisk coffin in April 1850, and after that, demand grew.

But Almond Fisk was not doing well; he had become ill while fighting a fire that destroyed his foundry in 1849 and had never recovered. In October of 1850, Fisk died. His investors, John G. Forbes and Horace White continued on with the company.

An 1851 ad for the Fisk’s Metallic Burial Case touted how “they preserve the forms we love, in something more like a pulseless slumber than a dread decay, they have the appearance of rich and heavy folds of drapery, thrown over the form, adapted to the shape, and realizing the line of “Thanatopsis.”

Soon after Crane, Breed and Company of Cincinnati obtained a license to produce Fisk coffins and several modified versions were introduced to the public. W.M. Raymond and Company of New York also produced several different versions of Fisk’s original iron coffin.

The form fitting shape gave way to sleeker, more box-like shape with a window over the face and another over the hands of the deceased. The size of the windows increased and soon the top was all glass except for a dividing bar across the middle.

Vladimir Lenin
Glass coffins became very popular in the late 1800s in Germany, especially when used for royalty and revered leaders. Vladimir Lenin is one of the most famous leaders who lies in state in a glass coffin in Red Square in Moscow. Others who rest eternally in a glass casket include Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, China's Mao Zedong, Vietnam's Ho Chi Minh, and North Korea's founding leader, Kim Il Sung.

Casket with Glass Cover
While all-glass coffins are favored for viewing, they are not usable as a burial case because they are too fragile to have earth heaped on top of them and maintain their form.

Today, glass caskets are still available, although not in the form you might expect. A glass casket is now a glass top that is placed over the deceased to deter mourners from touching the corpse. This also helps deter mourners from clipping hair, or pieces of clothing from the deceased to keep or sell as a memento.

Fisk Coffin at Berry Funeral Home
To view one of these “insightful” coffins, visit the Berry Funeral Home in Knoxville, Tennessee; Herr Funeral Home in Collinsville, Illinois; and the Pink Palace Museum in Memphis, Tennessee.

~ Joy

Friday, May 29, 2015

Traveling Along the Historic National Road

The 824 mile long Historic National Road begins in Cumberland, Maryland and ends in Vandalia, Illinois encompassing the states of Maryland, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.

Over time, the road took on several names: Cumberland Road, National Pike,The Road That Built the Nation,” but in many communities it has simply been called Main Street, eventually earning the appropriate nickname "The Main Street of America." 

The National Road was the first federally funded road in U.S. history, and in many states is known today as Route 40. The road was built between 1811 and 1834 so that pioneers would have a good trail to follow through the Appalachians in order to reach the western settlements.

In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson authorized the building of a national byway that would connect Cumberland, Maryland to the Ohio River. It took five years before the first 10 miles of roadway were built, but by 1818 the road reached to Wheeling, West Virginia.
Settlers weren’t the only ones using the road, mail coaches, drovers and stagecoaches found it to be an easy way to connect with the frontier towns out west.

By 1825, the road had become famous and was being lauded in song, stories and legend. Small settlements began to pop up along the route, then communities and small towns were established as many pioneers decided to settle down at some spot along the way.

Inns, taverns, and stores selling staples and supplies were built, and these “pike town” began to thrive. Conestoga wagons traveled the National Road loaded with coffee and sugar for "out west," returning with produce and grain grown on the newly settled frontier. Life was prosperous along the National Road for many years - until the 1860s.

It was during that time that the railroads began to change the way people traveled the country, and enthusiasm for traveling on the National Road began to wane.

Building The Road
But, in 1885, the first automobile and the first bicycle were invented, and interest in road travel was renewed again.

The National Road became US 40 in 1926 when a national road system went into effect, but by the 1960s construction was completed on Interstate 70, and Route 40, with its meandering roadways, was left in the dust.

Today you can still travel the National Road and explore over 200 years of history. Old motels, classic diners, and century-old inns still line the byway. Each state highlights special sections along the route, but be sure to keep an eye out for cemeteries, too. Here are just a few to check out along the Historical National Road:

Key Monument 1898 and Today
Maryland is home to 170 miles of the National Road, traveling through urban Baltimore and across acres of rolling countryside. Mount Olivet Cemetery, located in Fredrick, has been called Maryland’s “Cemetery Beautiful” and is home to the burial monument for Francis Scott Key, author of the Star Spangled Banner.

Braddock's Grave
The Keystone State offers two great stops for tombstone tourists as soon as you cross the state line. Fort Necessity near Farmington is the site where the opening battle of the French and Indian War was fought. Check out the interpretive center here and get a feel for what life was like in the 18th century. Then it’s on to Braddock’s grave, a lone monument placed at the site of his demise "In remembrance of Major General Edward Braddock", who led the campaign to oust the French from American soil.

West Virginia
Mount Wood Cemetery
Overlooking the Ohio River is Mount Wood Cemetery, a Hebrew and Jewish Orthodox cemetery in Wheeling. Funerary art abounds on this rolling hill, from stones and monuments of the Victorian-era, to those more modern mid-twentieth century markers.

Camp Chase
The Buckeye State has numerous stops along the old National Road; for cemetery buffs, take time to visit Columbus, the state's capital, and tour the Old Governor’s Mansion and the Ohio Statehouse before heading to an old neighborhood known as “The Hilltop” for a poignant visit to Camp Chase Confederate Cemetery.

The Hoosier State boasts a beautiful lawn-style cemetery on this route: Crown Hill Cemetery, in Indianapolis, is a “Who’s Who” of famous and infamous residents: Indiana governors, senators, congressmen, and military officers are buried here along with U.S. President Benjamin Harrison, poet James Whitcomb Riley, and notorious bank robber, John Dillinger.

Franciscan Monastery Museum
The Land of Lincoln is the ending point of the National Road. Visit the Franciscan Monastery Museum in Teutopolis, the only one of its kind in the Midwest, and roam through over 30 rooms of artifacts relating to the Franciscans and early Illinois pioneers. St. Francis of Assisi Parish is home to the cemetery and mausoleum where the first Franciscan pastor is buried.

If you take to the road this summer, try a back route and see what adventures await …

~ Joy

Friday, May 22, 2015

Memorial Day Weekend and a Hearse Cruise

It is Memorial Day weekend – a time when we remember those who died fighting for our country. Maybe you have a trip planned to a local cemetery for a Memorial Day service, or to, as my grandmother called it, “decorate the graves.”

Spirit of Vincennes Rendezvous
Of course this is the “first weekend of summer” giving us a chance to get out and go to a festival, a wine tasting, or a battle. But here is an option that I’d love to see, if only it were closer …

If you are of “a certain age,” you will remember those Friday and Saturday nights during your high school years when you cruised the local hot-spots in town. For those of us in the cemetery world, cruising is still popular, only this time it’s in a hearse!

This Memorial Day weekend, the Second Annual Northern Michigan Hearse Cruise will take place. Starting off from Gaylord, Michigan around 9 a.m., the cruise will travel to Mancelona and stop for two hours to visit with locals and allow folks to see the cars, then it’s on to Kalkaska for another two hour visit before ending at Traverse City Saturday evening.

Those taking part in this cruise include funeral directors, cemetery personnel and those who just love the vehicle. Drivers come from across the U.S. to spend some time with like-minded people who appreciate the hearse and its history. What another cool way to spend the weekend.

Whatever you do, have a safe and happy Memorial Day weekend!

~ Joy

Friday, May 15, 2015

Putting Lyme Disease in the Limelight

We are well into the spring and in my region of the country the ticks seem to be more numerous this year. While most people consider those creepy crawly blood-suckers to be a nuisance, they can actually be devastatingly worse – spreading Lyme disease, a complex, chronic illness that many times is not properly diagnosed.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness Month; the perfect time to share information about this under-reported and poorly recognized disease that can disable causing arthritis, Bell’s palsy, radiculoneuropathy, meningitis, encephalitis, and in rare cases, cardiac arrest.

Deer Tick
Lyme disease was first noticed in the U.S. in 1975 when children in Lyme, Connecticut started showing signs of what doctors’ thought was rheumatoid arthritis. Researchers identified the spiral-shaped bacteria in 1982 and realized that it was spread by the bite of the blacklegged deer tick. (Lyme disease is not transmitted from person to person.)

Bulls-eye Rash
Symptoms flare up about a month after the initial bite and include inflammation around the tick bite that may itch, or not; the telltale bulls-eye rash is not always present. In fact, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, only three out of 10 people will exhibit the bulls-eye pattern. Flu-like symptoms are usually reported – headache, low-grade fever, muscle aches and fatigue.

Unfortunately, Lyme disease can mimic several other illnesses like multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, so misdiagnosis often occurs. Lyme disease affects the heart, joints, nervous system and skin. If not treated, the symptoms will flair up again within the next six months. One in 10 people develop abnormalities of the heart but the majority do recover. About 10% of patients experience neurological problems.

The third stage of Lyme disease can occur from five months to five years after the bite and usually affects large joints like the knees and hips. Death can occur from Lyme disease. This chart from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) shows the number of deaths that have occurred in the U.S. from Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF), another tick-borne disease, from 2002 through 2007.

Lyme disease has been recorded in all 50 states in the U.S., but is most prevalent in the northeastern part of the country. This map indicates the number of reported cases from 1990 to 2013. 

The worst areas affected include New York with over 100,000 cases reported within the past 23 years; Pennsylvania has had almost 77,000 cases; Connecticut reported almost 62,0000 cases, and New Jersey has had over 59,000 cases. The Midwest is also being affected, especially in Wisconsin with almost 29,000 cases, and Minnesota with just over 19,000 cases reported.

The top 15 states battling Lyme disease are shown on this 2013 diagram. Lyme disease is not just a rural problem, anywhere there is tall grass or woodsy areas; think your local park, walking trails or nature preserves, ticks can reside. Urban areas are not “safe” zones.

Lyme disease is on the rise in Canada, largely because public awareness, diagnosis and treatment have not been adequate. The first Canadian case of Lyme disease was recorded in 1977 when a southwestern Ontario girl was diagnosed with the disease, but Canadian officials have been slow to release the actual numbers of those suffering from the disease.

Lyme disease has been reported in over 80 other countries including Europe, Japan, China and Australia.

The best way to avoid getting Lyme disease is prevention.

• Wear light colored clothing so that you can see ticks
• Use an insect repellent that contains DEET
• Do a full body check after coming in from outside on yourself, your children and your pets

If you’ve been outside all day, head to the shower within two hours of coming inside and check for ticks. Something to keep in mind when you wander the cemeteries this summer.

Next Saturday night, May 23, at 10 p.m. Eastern time,  Niagara Falls will turn green for 15 minutes as a way to put Lyme Disease in the ”limelight” and help raise awareness about this illness.
~ Joy