cover image Is the Cemetery Dead?

Is the Cemetery Dead?

David Charles Sloane. Univ. of Chicago, $27.50 (288p) ISBN 978-0-226-53944-7

Urban planning professor Sloane (The Last Great Necessity), who teaches at the Sol Price School of Public Policy at USC, provides a fascinating glimpse of new and evolving mourning rituals in American culture. As the son of cemetery managers, Sloan brings personal experience and knowledge to an otherwise academic history of burial methods, mourning, and memorials. He considers the paradox of people clinging to long-held traditions while readily adapting to new ways of caring for the dead in a time when institutional affiliation has declined. Gaining popularity is an environmentally friendly natural burial, in which the deceased is not embalmed but buried with minimal cover, sans marker, in a woodland setting. Sloan also notes trends of public mourning and political memorials, such as Cleve Jones’s AIDS Memorial Quilt and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Loved ones sometimes opt for tattoos, decal T-shirts, ghost bikes, or shrines incorporating personal items of the deceased. In the digital age, mourning has migrated to websites such as GriefNet and Facebook memorial pages. Sprinkling in anecdotes from his childhood, his wife’s sudden death, and work in the cemetery industry, Sloane concludes that cemeteries may not be dead—they are simply evolving to meet the modern ways that people mourn and memorialize. This is a great overview of mourning rituals in modern American culture. (Apr.)