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.

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