Thursday, December 12, 2013

Throwback Thursday: Gorham Bronze Urns

A 1991 ad for Gorham Bronze Urns: "The Reassuring Choice."
#tbt  #throwbackthursday

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Cincinnati Cremation Company

One of the earliest cities in America to adopt cremation was Cincinnati. This was largely due to the support of some prominent citizens of the city, one of which was Benn Pittman, noted stenographer and creator of the American shorthand system. Jane Pittman, Benn's wife, who died in 1878, was one of the first individuals cremated in the LeMoyne Crematory in Washington, Pennsylvania, and was the first female to be cremated in the U.S.
Construction on the Cincinnati Crematory began in 1885, but due to a lack of funds, the crematory was not completed until 1887, and the first cremation took place in June of that year. Though the necessary facility for cremation was in place in 1887, the building was not ready for dedication until 1888.

The Cincinnati Crematory as it appeared after construction.

The original Chapel of the Cincinnati Crematory
The cremation chambers in the basement of the Cincinnati Crematory

The earliest section of columbarium niches in the chapel
of the Cincinnati Crematory.
The chapel of the Cincinnati Crematory after all sections
of the original columbarium had been completed.
In 1941, the Cincinnati Cremation Company renamed their facility to Hillside Chapel. During this time, two large rooms with sections of niches were added at the front of the building and a new office and chapel were erected on the west end of the existing building.

The Hillside Chapel of the Cincinnati Cremation Company
as it appeared after the 1941 addition.
The new (1941) chapel in Hillside Chapel
The Chapel of Light columbarium, part of the 1941 addition
to the Hillside Chapel of the Cincinnati Cremation Co.
To make more niches available for inurnment, the Hillside Chapel added on to the north portion of the building and added the Haven of Rest Columbarium in 1963.

The Haven of Rest Columbarium, completed in 1963.
The complex of the Hillside Chapel as it appears today.
The Hillside Chapel of the Cincinnati Cremation Company is the third-oldest operating crematory in the country.

(Photos are courtesy of the Cincinnati Cremation Co., and the author's collection.)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Do you Tweet?

Follow Mr. Cremation on Twitter! @MrCremation

The Indianapolis Crematory

One of the earliest funeral directing companies in the US to support cremation and to build the necessary facilities to offer its service was the firm of Flanner & Buchanan in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 1905, the firm completed a cremation chamber in the basement of their funeral home at 320 North Illinois Street. Their firm was active in the promotion of cremation as a viable means of preparation for final disposition and took a major role in educating other funeral directors about cremation and acceptance of the rite. Owners Charles Buchanan and Frank Bates Flanner were both early members of the Cremation Association of America, and Mr. Buchanan represented the company at the Association's first meeting in 1913.

An exterior view of the Flanner & Buchanan Funeral Home
at 420 North Illinois Street in Indianapolis

The chapel in the funeral home of Flanner & Buchanan
The cremation apparatus in the funeral home's basement.
Frank Bates Flanner
(from the John Crerar Library, Chicago)
The company operated at this location until the firm built a new facility at 25 West Fall Creek Blvd. Cremation facilites were continued at this location and a columbarium was constructed for perpetual care and memorialization of cremated remains.
The "Shrine of Light" - the Indianapolis Crematory's
family comfort area.
The Flanner & Buchanan Columbarium

(Photos from the Cincinnati Cremation Company collection in the care of the author)

Purely Personal

"What urn would a 'loyal cremationist' choose for his own remains?"
I don't know that I have ever been asked that question. In all the years I have studied cremation and its history, the vast styles of urns and the various expressions of them I have come in contact with have been too numerous to even catalog.
Originally, for my own remains, I had chosen an urn I frequently sell at our funeral home, had it engraved, and had a friend attach a finial - the symbol of the sacred flame commonly placed on the urns of the historic cremationists. This "Omega" was "my urn" - and the company who supplies it knows it holds that distinction for me.
Along my journey, I have been fortunate to meet a number of creators of cremation urns - but only a small handful have been able to impress me with their designs. The question was asked of me by one such creator: Steve Izzi, former craftsman of Gorham Bronze urns in the 70s and 80s, and now owner of Creative Bronze in Rhode Island. 

But how could I narrow down such a thing, especially when I have spent the majority of my life on a quest of studying the urn and its form? With the opportunity to do so, I began contemplating the idea of an urn made just for me. So I gave Steve a few ideas: It would have to look historic. Handles. A pedestal. A flame finial. I would like it to have features from two of my favorite urn companies: Gorham and Meierjohan-Wengler. Most importantly it would have to fit in the niche I have chosen for myself.
Immediately, Steve began to demonstrate why his company is called "Creative Bronze" - and began the quest of creating this personal urn just for me. For the body of the urn, he took a similar shape as the Meierjohan-Wengler "Atlas" - and made unique, slight modifications. The lid is a smaller version of the one that covers the Meierjohan-Wengler "Delphos." The signature Gorham flame finial graces the top - polished to match the handles:

The result, as you will agree, is a masterpiece in permanent memorialization. It embodies the ideal of everything I have ever appreciated in an urn and everything I have stood for in cremation. This is the urn that will someday contain my cremated remains - inurned at rest. And because I feel every urn should have a unique name, I call it the "Patroclus" - in honor of the legendary Greek hero.

Friday, December 06, 2013

America's First Modern Cremation

The LeMoyne Crematory
Washington, Pennsylvania

(Engler Cremation Collection)
It is appropriate to note that 137 years ago today America's first modern cremation took place in the LeMoyne Crematory in Washington, Pennsylvania.
From meager beginnings, the cremation movement has grown to reach its present status: according to the statistics* of the Cremation Association of North America, for the first time in history over 1 million cremations were performed in the U.S. in 2011. Additionally, projections* show that, by 2017, 49% of Americans who die will be cremated.

*Statistics and Projections are from the 2013 Annual Statistics Report of the Cremation Association of North America as published in the Cremationist of North America, Volume 49, Issue 4.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

CANA Centennial Feature: Simplification: The Cremation Movement Since the 1960s

(As published in the Cremationist of North America, Volume 49, Issue 4)
As we trace the history of cremation in America for this series of articles, it becomes clear that cremation now is not what cremation was in its early years. As time has evolved, so have the attitudes of the general public. This is evident in all aspects and all areas of the human life – including burial practices: change is imminent and forthcoming.

The period from the 1960s to the current day has been characterized by remarkably fast and furious change. The cremation movement has exploded with growth, especially when compared to the statistics of the previous periods discussed. An entire book could be written on the sociological impact of this change and growth, and an equal amount could be written on the effect that these rapid changes in the cremation movement have had on the funeral and cemetery professions. A quick read of any current funeral or cremation trade journal will reveal the modern cremation movement and its impact on the funeral profession. Perhaps, even more appropriately, carefully examine the statistics compiled by CANA and printed in the pages of this edition of the Cremationist.

In an attempt to avoid beating the proverbial “dead horse” and to refrain from expressing personal opinions on this change, I will stick to the facts of the history that promoted, accommodated and weathered this change. I encourage you to search your own experiences and draw your own conclusions specific to the area where your firm operates.

Cremation’s transformation began to in the 1960s. Urged by many factors, this change was decidedly due to a movement of simplicity. It was in 1963 that Jessica Mitford wrote her satirical expose “The American Way of Death” – lambasting the funeral and memorialization professions. Many think it was only the funeral directors who were under attack by her opinion – but all aspects of the allied funeral and memorial professions were at risk – and none were excluded from her sarcasm.

Propelled by the excitement that her book spawned, memorial societies who advocated simple direct cremation began doing business in states and cities where cremation had become popular, and these were easy avenues for those preferring minimal services.

By the late 1970s the memorial idea began to lose hold on cremation, and as it did, the Cremation Association did everything possible to maintain the integrity of what they viewed was the right course: the permanent memorialization of cremated remains.

National ad campaigns were begun, and, to harbor the news and advocacy of the association, The National Cremation Magazine began publication in 1965. This periodical is still in print, though its name changed to The Cremationist of North America in the 1970s.
The simplification process that cremation underwent was underscored by the general public’s idea of death care practices. However, this movement not only affected the memorialization side of cremation – all areas of practice and procedure were affected. Cremation chambers that had previously been constructed on-site were instead manufactured to ship to different locations. The first modern cremation chambers were constructed in the basements and wings of chapels across the country by incinerator companies – but in the new cremation movement, companies such as ALL Crematory and Industrial Equipment and Engineering simplified the purchase and installation of cremation equipment.

The industrialization of the architecture of the crematory became common as well. As families distanced themselves from the process of cremation, cremation chambers were moved from chapels to garages and metal buildings.
During the transformation, the scattering of cremated remains became more and more popular. Crematories installed “cremulators” and processors to reduce the consistency of the cremated remains in order to facilitate scattering. Did scattering encourage processing or, as was the fear of Lawrence Moore in the Memorial Idea period, did processing encourage scattering? The answer is unknown – however it is clear that the two went hand-in-hand during this time.
With the focus of cremation changing from disposition and memorialization to cost-conscious simplicity, the cremation urn industry changed as well. While a majority of urns sold during the memorial idea were constructed of fine cast bronze, as the trend turned toward simplicity, spun bronze, aluminum and wood became popular options.
One entrepreneur really made waves in the urn industry when he created an urn out of a material never before used for the purpose. Urn-vault maker Neil MacKenzie who worked making MacKenzie Vaults, a company his dad began, went to visit a friend who happened to be remodeling the bathroom in his home. Neil particularly noticed the countertop in the bathroom – it had the look and feel of marble, but his friend informed him that it was made of “cultured marble” – a composite stone that greatly reduced the cost of the counter top.
The year was 1969, the same year the US was introduced to Sesame Street and the Brady Bunch – and the same year that Neil Armstrong walked on the moon – it was also destined to become the same year that a breakthrough in the cremation urn manufacturing process would change the industry. After experimenting with the process, finishing touches were put on the urn design and the urn became the standard in cultured marble design.

The first urn, called the “Gothic” is still being produced as the “MacKenzie Classic” and is a trademarked shape that many try to duplicate. MacKenzie manufactures nine additional designs in all capacities and is one of the few urn manufacturers in the U.S. that began operation in the last century that remains – and is one of fewer still that is family owned and operated and strictly makes its products in the U.S.
Through all the changes that the cremation profession has faced over the years, a constant underlying support for the cremationist’s ability to succeed amidst the risks inherent in the world of business has remained with membership in the Cremation Association of North America. Since its inception, our association has maintained cremation as its theme, and no other professional association has the roots, track record, or knowledge that CANA does. All of this has been earned by experience and by maintaining the ability to adapt to the needs and desires of the families served by our members.

What does the future hold for cremationists? That is entirely dependent on the attitude of the cremationist. Trace the journey of our profession over the 137 years since America’s first modern cremation, and you will see how CANA has guided the profession for more than a century since its formation in 1913. You will quickly realize that our true potential lies ahead. May we never lose sight of the ever present necessity of our organization, and may we never fail to put families and their needs and desires ahead of our own.

What Happens When We Die?

(As published in The Dead Beat, 2013, issue 4)

What happens when we die? There probably is no other question that has perplexed the human race as this one has. We know death happens – and those of us in the profession of caring for the dead and the living that survive them, have heard countless philosophies, ideas, doctrines, poems, stories – all that relate the experience that death brings.

There is a strange paradox that death brings – the realization that living means dying. Death is inevitable. Imminent. No person survives life. Death is one of the absolutes.

So what happens when we die? Those of us who experience death intimately and regularly know the regimen that comes when someone dies. We have made our lives about the care that is necessary to make a peaceful passage of the mortal remains of someone who has lived and loved. We know that when death happens a certain something happens to the body – planned or unplanned, natural or unnatural.  We understand that the body is to inhumed, inurned, entombed, interred – and we understand the purpose of having a service to remember those who have experienced life around us.

But what of the soul? What of that life force that animates the flesh? Various faiths and cultures have taught us their ideas of the immortality of the soul: we have been taught that the spirit lives on – and each has an explanation as to how, where and why this happens. Heaven. Valhalla. Elysium. Purgatory. Universe. Hades. Underworld. Call it what you will, these are the utmost explanations of the spirit’s continuous existence.

But what happens when we die? Is death truly the end? I have always been encouraged by something that Gandalf said in the epic Lord of the Rings movie: “End? Oh no. The journey doesn’t end here. Death is only a path – one that we all must take. The grey rain curtain of this life rolls back, and all turns to silver glass – and then you see it: white shores – and beyond – a far green country under a swift sunrise.”

We plead for some tangible existence of proof that life continues after death. Tonight when you lay down to go to sleep, perhaps you will recall reading this column and will be reminded of the effect, good or bad, that it had on you. In that way, the things I have written live on, even though they’ve been written in the past. How much more, then, do our loved ones live on in us? In the ways they experience and touch our lives. In the ways our lives have been part of theirs. The people I have known and loved in this life will always be part of me because my life has been experienced with them.

Perhaps, then, our focus doesn’t only need to be on what may or may not happen when we die and leave this life. Perhaps our focus should be on the living and experience that life brings – and we can be more virtuous in the way our lives touch the lives of others.

What happens when we die? The answer can only be found in dying. So until then… LET’S LIVE!