Friday, February 6, 2009


I did a story for Friday's newspaper about a couple who build and sell coffins.


They do it as a testimony.

Ken and Jane Daberkow, who own Underground Furniture in Madison, Nebraska, said "People need to know that this is not their final resting place. They need to know where their final resting place is, and this can be a tool for us to talk to them about it."

I thought that was a pretty cool thing.

But I found out some other really interesting -- albeit morbid -- things about funeral preparation and burial during the course of my interview with them last week.

In particular, I learned about the growing popularity of natural burial preserves or eco-cemeteries.

They are quite literally a place where a body is wrapped in a shroud, placed in the ground, covered with dirt.

Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust.

Some people call these natural preserves a “tree-hugger-hippie heaven.”

But natural burial preserves are popping up in several places across the country.

The goal of an eco-cemetery is to return the body of a deceased person to the earth in a manner that doesn’t inhibit decomposition the way traditional burial does. The bodies are not embalmed. Instead, they are wrapped in a shroud. There is no burial vault or casket (a coffin may be used if it is made of biodegradable material.)

Living memorials – native trees, shrubs or flowers on or near the grave – are used instead of grave markers. Irrigation, pesticides and herbicides are not applied.

The United Kingdom opened its first “green cemetery” in 1993 and more than 200 exist today. (Obviously, this is nothing new -- further evidence that I live under a rock. Pardon the pun.) Currently, there are 13 natural burial preserves in the United States and several more are under development.

Check out this video put together about Greensprings Eco Cemetery south of Cuyuga Lake, N.Y.

Now, please realize that the video is biased toward green burial, but I wanted to share it because I was fascinated by their explanation on how the graves are found by loved ones who want to visit.

Personally, I’m conflicted.

One side of me is comforted by the idea of returning to dust. But another part of me believes I’d want to cling to the body that clothed my soul while I walked the earth.

What do you think?


pseudosu said...

Hey Kat--
the name of this post caught my eye because the working title of my wip was "Dirt Nap".
Anyway, interesting. Personally, I like the idea. It would be between this and cremation for me. Once I'm done with this bod, (I'm planning on really using it up) I'll be moving out permanently and, let's face it, won't give a rat's _ _ _ what happens to it at that point.

Kate Karyus Quinn said...

I must be living under a rock too, because I have never heard of that either. It sounds pretty cool to me though, and saves money on buying a coffin. Yes, I do plan on taking my cheapness into the afterlife with me;)

Mark Harris said...

Hi, Kat,
I'd love to read your story about the coffin makers. Do you have a link to it?

I profiled a coffin maker in Iowa in my book on green burial, Grave Matters ( I'm biased, of course, but I find the dust to dust approach to burial pretty sensible and affirming.

I understand the desire to cling to a body, as you put it. But once I learned what happens in the embalming room (which I spell out in all its glory in chapter one), I became a lot less enamored by the idea!

Thank, Kat --
Mark Harris

Kat Harris said...

Sure, Mark. (Always nice to meet another Harris!)

The story can be found online at

I'll place a link inside the blog, too, just in case this doesn't work.