I enjoy and am humbled at the opportunities I get to travel and share the story of cremation’s history with deathcare professionals across the country. In August, I had the privilege to attend the 99th convention of the Cremation Association of North America to promote the upcoming History of Cremation Exhibit at the National Museum of Funeral History. While in New York for the convention I took the time to visit America’s oldest operating crematory just outside the city in Middle Village. Fresh Pond Crematory was built in 1885, the result of the work of the earliest cremation society in the country which was first established in 1874. The massive and beautiful facility is steeped in the history and guidance of the early cremation movement in the country. The columbarium, also one of the first in the country, with its labyrinthine alcoves and rooms contains 16,000 niches which hold more than 40,000 cremated remains.
As I walked through the building viewing the thousands of unique urns displayed in glass-fronted niches, I imagined the story that was being told; the thousands upon thousands of lives that are now memory, manifested in the engravings on the sacred urns throughout the building. I regarded the beauty of each urn and the memorial identity it was for the person who rested within.
Then, in October I had the opportunity to visit New York for the second time in as many months where I spoke to the New York Metropolitan Cemetery Association. While I was in the vicinity, I took an Uber from Yonkers to the Metropolitan Museum of Art – if you have never been to this magnificent jewel of the City, take the time to visit – it is both breathtaking and overwhelming. For my visit, I had a mission: the Greek and Roman Antiquities that are housed in the south wing of the Met.
The Met contains one of the largest collections of Greek Vases in the world. If you have never viewed one of these wonders of the ancient world, their characteristic orange and black scenes are unmistakable. These works of art are one of the most reliable views modern historians have into the ancient Greek stories and legends, as well as the society and culture of those who shared those stories and legends at the time of their creation beginning in the 8th Century BCE. The massive collection of the Met also contains a handful of ancient Roman glass urns and cinerary chests.
When I returned to my hotel that evening and when I headed back to Houston the following afternoon, I couldn’t help but reflect on the correlation and similarity of both of my visits to New York City. Even more so, I couldn’t help but notice the relationship that the subject of both of my visits exhibited: portals – stepping stones into the past. The significance of the stories that have been told on the sides of the urns, in the niches at Fresh Pond and on the ancient vases at the Met were all the same: this is history, and, as evidenced by the countless visitors in the Met’s galleries, history is us.
And to think, we wouldn’t have any of it if nobody cared about history…
That’s my perspective…