Sunday, August 1, 2010

Pave that Cemetery!

One of the most curious things I've seen as The Cemetery Traveler was in Virginia, near Chincoteague Island (you know, that place with the miniature horses...uh, yeah). It was a small, rural (well, everything's rural here) place called Redman Cemetery with sort of a concrete landing strip up the center into which tombstones were vertically embedded! I really have no idea why this exists, it's just very strange. I mean, why did they ...? Anyone care to comment?

While there are in fact three small public cemeteries here in Chincoteague, what really catches your attention as you drive around are the private family cemeteries, such as this one. There may be a single grave, or a dozen, and usually date back a hundred years or more. Makes you wonder about current laws enabling you to bury the deceased on your own family property. For that matter, it isn't exactly legal to just go and bury someone in a bona fide cemetery! There's a bit of red tape involved, as you may imagine. So I did a bit of web-sleuthing.

It turns out that people routinely use the phrase "It turns out" to give the impression they've done quite a lot of research, when in fact they've done very little. In my case, after 10 minutes of Googling, I came up with a marvelous document called "Death Outside the Box" (link to this document at end of blog), published by the Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Virginia Blue Ridge. In answer to my question about Burial On Family-Owned Property, it is allowed in Virginia, but laws do vary from state to state:

"Private property burial is okay provided it does not conflict with public health laws....Guidelines are burial should be 150 feet from a water source such as a well and 2 feet deep to deter animals."

While a Death Certificate is a must, caskets are not. Neither is a cemetery vault (concrete burial box used to house the casket, which prevents the grave site from sinking as the casket disintegrates). If you did elect to use a vault so as not to have your lawn pocked with sunken graves, according to Death Outside the Box Virginians are allowed to bury the vault upside down with no cover so that the casket or shrouded body is exposed to the earth and decomposes easily (!). For burial at sea, you would need to get a permit from the Chief Medical Examiner (a practice that I assume does not apply to pirates).

Click to view the document "Death Outside the Box." 
Visit "Island". for an interesting collection of private family-owned Chincoteague graveyards.