Skip to comments.Burials Are Out, So Cemetery Hopes It Can Cash In
Posted on 08/08/2007 9:34:42 AM PDT by Incorrigible
River View Cemetery, Portland, Ore. (Photo by Jamie Francis)
PORTLAND, Ore. If you wanted to be crass about it, you might explain River View Cemetery's dilemma this way: People just aren't dying to get in there anymore.
They're still dying, of course. But more and more, particularly on the West Coast, consumers are choosing cremation over burial.
That slow, steady change in the market in the works for several decades has cemeteries scrambling for new ways to turn a profit or ensure they can pay for future maintenance.
In River View's case, the cemetery's board of trustees wants to turn 120 acres of vacant graveyard land into houses, apartments or perhaps an annex to Lewis & Clark College. They note that at the current rate, it would take 400 years to use up all the potential grave sites at one of the city's premier historic burial grounds.
"This is a very traditional business,'' says David Noble, the cemetery's executive director. "But it's like anything else: Markets change and you adjust.''
Forty years ago, fewer than 5 percent of Americans who died opted for cremation. In 1987, it was 15 percent. This year, more than 32 percent of U.S. deaths will end in cremation, and the experts at the Cremation Association of North America expect the national total to pass 50 percent within 25 years.
Perhaps it's the "Six Feet Under'' factor more people are thinking about how they want to go. It certainly helps that several religions, most notably the Roman Catholic Church, have decided in the past few decades that cremation is an acceptable alternative.
"You can talk about sex and all that stuff, but really death used to be the taboo topic,'' says Bob Fells, external chief operating officer for the International Cemetery and Funeral Association.
That's changed, Fells says, as baby boomers have begun to bury their parents.
"They're giving Mom and Dad what they want: traditional funerals and memorials,'' he says. "But as they do, they're becoming well-educated consumers about this, and they're thinking, 'Well, maybe I want something different.'''
Cremations are generally cheaper, starting at about $1,500 compared with the $6,000 or so you'll shell out for a basic burial. Many people also consider them more environmentally friendly. And they provide a dead person's loved ones more flexibility about how and when to memorialize.
The procedure can be boiled down to this stark reality: four hours at 1,600 degrees.
It is even more popular in Oregon than it is nationwide. Sixty-five percent of Oregonians who die will choose cremation this year.
"On the West Coast, we're more transient, so it makes sense. You don't want to make arrangements at a place and then have to change to somewhere else if you move,'' says Ty Cochrane, general manager of Belcrest Memorial Park in Salem, Ore., and a board member of the Cemetery Association of Oregon. "Plus, we're more outdoorsy.''
The rise in cremations has affected every aspect of the "death industry.'' Some funeral homes now sell urns alongside coffins and rent out space for business meetings, reunions and even weddings. For those who opt for cremation, many mortuaries will organize the same types of events they offer people who choose burials a viewing of the body beforehand.
Cemeteries have an even tougher sell to make. Most now offer some version of a "cremation garden,'' where urns can be buried or ashes legally scattered. Despite the freedom with which many people scatter their loved ones on bodies of water or in state and federal parks, there are actually strict laws about where cremains can be placed.
Cemeteries lucky enough to have spare land and even some without are looking at other uses for their real estate or other options for customers.
River View has adjusted. The cemetery now offers sites for burying urns, a "Wall of Remembrance'' where families can memorialize people whose ashes are scattered, and bronze- and glass-fronted "inurnment niches'' in its mausoleum.
Despite those modern touches, River View has been around a while.
A group of prominent Portlanders founded the cemetery in 1882 as a nonprofit on more than 220 acres of rolling green hills. The list of longtime inhabitants reads like a Portland street map Ladd, Terwilliger, Pittock, Corbett and Failing, among others. The basic architectural style tends toward the kind of grandiose gothic display that boomers and their children avoid: large granite obelisks and above-ground crypts, broad gray tombstones mottled with black by the years.
As a final resting place, this would be hard to beat. Beyond the birds, the only sound in the cemetery on one recent sunny morning was the soft panting of a neighbor out for his morning jog and the steady whick-whick-whick of sprinklers. In the few spots that weren't shaded by large firs and oaks, the tree line opened up to offer stellar views of Mount St. Helens and Mount Hood.
Plenty of prime spots are still available. And that's the problem.
Noble estimates that the cemetery association sells 225 graves a year. He expects that to be halved by 2021.
The cemetery now uses about 37 acres with expansion plans for 62 more acres, according to papers filed with the city. That leaves 120 acres, some of it down hard-to-reach slopes, that will probably never be needed.
Making a profit isn't an issue here. But maintaining the cemetery takes time and money. Right now, the cemetery's endowment sits at several million dollars. The financial reality is that upkeep costs will probably stay steady even as the number of burials each year drops.
The cemetery's board of trustees wants to let a developer find another use for all or part of that extra land.
Some neighbors have balked, arguing that turning any of the cemetery's property over to developers would dramatically change the feel of their quiet community.
Cemetery leaders and their lawyer say the myriad land use laws enacted since the graveyard was created a time when there were no restrictions on how the property could be used have cost them between $17 million and $24 million.
That's a lot more money than you can make burying people, especially as fewer and fewer people opt to wind up underground.
(Anna Griffin is a staff writer for The Orgonian of Portland, Ore. She can be contacted at annagriffin(at)news.oregonian.com.)
Not for commercial use. For educational and discussion purposes only.
By the time I'm 100, maybe I can be beamed into space.
After I leave this mortal husk, burn it and put my ashes to good use ... under a rose bed sounds good to me.
you wont feel a thing...
This is a shame. I have discovered so much of my family history through actual cemetery burials and records, and nothing compares to the feeling I got when I discovered the burial place of my great-great-great-great-grandfather and then stood on the spot where he rested.
Cremations... out of sight, out of mind, and out of the history books. Then again with the trivialization of family in today’s society, who cares, I guess....
Soon, almost all of the graves will be dug up and disposed of, along with any teaching of American history other than to denigrate and debase our ancestors as brutal thieves, and concomitantly, all of the values of Western civilization, replacing them with the multi cultural equality and "diversity is strength" nonsense, as your descendants acquire and accept the gay lifestyle and abort most of their babies.
Decadent: ‘fallen from a higher plane or ideal”
My great grandparents are buried somewhere in the cemetery in Jennings Oklahoma. They both died of the flu within days of each other leaving my grandmother, who was 12 at the time and the eldest, alone with several siblings. There are no markers and the records telling where they are were burned up in fire years ago.
If I were to pass on any time within the near future, I would want to be buried in that little country cemetery, with their names mentioned on my headstone.
Plant me in the family cemetary - Arlington.
And it’s free.
“Cremations... out of sight, out of mind, and out of the history books. “
It doesn’t have to be. Cremation urns can be buried with headstone markers or placed in crypts. Whether a family chooses to do that is apart from the cremation itself. A family could also choose a standard burial, but still not put up a marker.
The people who will be cremated are less likely to have large families, or indeed any families. There will be few, or any, who will remember them after they die. People with traditional values will continue to have larger families, provided this country does not slip into some type of leftist authoritarian regime and mandate abortions as China does. The meek, that is, those who fear God, may yet inherit the earth as the proud secular humanists leave a minimal genetic imprint on the future.
My wife wished to be cremated and so it was. What she did’nt know was that I decided after doing some research that I would have some of her ashes scattered in a place she loved very much and the rest mixed into ceramic glazes for stoneware pottery. The pieces came out really beauitful with irredescent blues and pinks predominating. Everyone got to pick out a piece. Ceramics are forever.
And increasingly, this is not unique, it seems.
When my father passed on, my mother and I went to the cemetery and went through all the normal ritual of locating a plot, casket, etc. The guy at the cemetery gave us a book of caskets so we could pick one out. One was $15000.00. I told him “For that price it must come with a stereo and air conditioner”. The burial plot was $2000. I asked how much the cheapest one was. He said “$700.00 but it’s way on the other side of the cemetary”. These guys are rip off artists. The whole funeral cost us $5000.00. They will play on your emotions.
Slowly decaying isn’t much better, if you’re conscious of what’s going on.
I visited the cemetary in Raton NM where my wifes great
grandparents are buried - a durable stone helps the generations to come piece the family tree together.
The poor side of the cemetary has traditional NM style burials with wrought iron crosses, a hand lettered sign,
and some toys. Somehow this seems more genuine than an
I tell the kids that they have to have my ashes made into a couple of REALLY UGLY VASES, so that they'll be stuck with some ugly piece that they can't throw away.
I do tell them that; but what I'm really going to have done:
When you get your 21-gun salute, the soldiers hand the next-of-kin the empty shell casings. I'm gonna have my son put some ashes in each of them and have them sealed with a soldered lid--for my kids. (They can toss the rest of the ashes.) I keep trying to get my daddy to agree to do this too.
Seriously, doesn't that sound like a cool idea????
I suspect a scandal brewing of increased unexplained deaths in Portland.
My grandmother always said land is for the living. she was very insistent on cremation. And it doesn’t have to be out of sight out of mind. With the urn you can keep them in your household, although personally I found that a little creepy. We scattered grandma’s ashes on her favorite mountain peak, which is directly in my line of sight when I go home everyday, and any other time I can see that mountain range.
Catechism of the Catholic Church.
2301 Autopsies can be morally permitted for legal inquests or scientific research. The free gift of organs after death is legitimate and can be meritorious.
The Church permits cremation, provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.
Dang uncatechized catechism writers!
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