I recently received a free come-on issue of The Week. I already read The New Yorker and The Economist, plus a couple of monthlies. And I do feel obligated to keep my oar in the water of haute-culture by
voraciously consuming casually browsing People when I’m at my sister Trish’s. So I won’t be subscribing to The Week, although it was interesting enough and was just the sort of rag I grabbed off the US Airways free-mag rack when I was a frequent flyer back in the day.
The most interesting article – an extract from her new book, Making an Exit - was one by Sarah Murray, on the fantasy caskets that are popular in Ghana. Airplanes, coke bottles, elephant, fish, flashy cars, keys, bananas. Let your imagination run wild, and get your concept into the able hands of a skilled Ghanaian casket-craftsman.
In the U.S., of course, you can get coffins with the official logo and color scheme of your favorite major league sports team, and over the years I’ve heard of more than one person buried in his Cadillac or astride his Harley. (Ah, there are no helmet laws in heaven.) And when my sibs and I were in the market, as it were, for a coffin when my mother died ten years ago, we found that you can get a very nice shiny emerald green one with a big shamrock on the inside, or glam up a regular, plain old coffin with lighthouses, golf clubs, baskets of flowers corner pieces.
Although we didn’t do quite what my mother had wanted – the cheapest coffin on offer; which her parish priest reminded us when we went to the rectory to plan her funeral – we didn’t go crazy, either. Bypassing the lower end possibilities, which would have been perfectly fitting had my mother died in the shootout at the OK Corral, and was going to be buried on Boot Hill, we got a very nice one in the lower end of the middle range, with a sort of art-deco design that reminded us of Chicago, where my mother was from.
If we could have gotten a fantasy coffin for my mother, I think we’d have gone with a book. Something by Jane Austen. Sense and Sensibility, maybe. A book would have worked for my father, too – it’s no accident that those two spawned five complete bookworms – but I think my father would have preferred something with more of a sportive motif. Maybe a baseball glove.
The more I think about it, the more I’m down with the idea of fantasy coffins.
There’s something oddly comforting about knowing that you’ll go to your eternal – well, a couple of hundred years, anyway – rest in something that’s personal to you. (And could there be anything more personal than your barque on the River Styx?) Which is why I, while opting for the quicker and cleaner ashes to ashes route offered by cremation, like the idea of having my ashes strewn in a few places hither and yon. My ultimate bucket list includes somewhere-in-the-west-of-Ireland; Fenway Park (I promise: just a teensy-weensy particle on the warning track); and the cemetery where my parents et many al. in my family are buried.
If I were going the fantasy coffin route, I guess I’d have to go with a book, myself. (I know: BOR-ING. Guess I’m just singularly lacking in imagination, but I really can’t see wanting to be buried in a replica Coke bottle. Maybe a replica carton of Cherry Garcia fro-yo. On second thought, some anthropologist/archeologist in 2525 might exhume me and think I was a Dead-Head. No way!)
Murray, before leaving Ghana, ordered herself up a coffin that’s a replica of the Empire State Building, which she keeps in her NYC home.
That’s a nice idea, although I would have chosen the Chrysler Building, instead.
It does get me thinking building-wise, however. For my mother, either the Wrigley Building or the Statue of Liberty. For my father, maybe Worcester City Hall.
In addition to talking about the fantasy coffins of Ghana, Murray also mentioned the growing market for doublewide coffins in the US:
Rising obesity has prompted the arrival of new supersize coffins. In Indiana, one company has made a business "serving the oversize needs of the funeral industry." With coffins named Harvest, Heartland, and Homestead, the Goliath Casket company offers a variety of sizes — ranging in width from 29 inches to a massive 52 inches (the standard is 24 inches).
Quite naturally, I had to pay a visit to Goliath, which has quite a winning little “about us” tale:
Back in the 70’s and 80’s oversize caskets were hard to get and poorly made.
Special size caskets were made by hand, and without much regard to quality or integrity.
In 1985, Keith's father [Keith is the current proprietor], Forrest Davis, (Pee Wee) quit his job as a welder in a casket factory and said, ‘Boys, I’m gonna go home and build oversize caskets that you would be proud to put your mother in.’
Say what you will, but I’ve seen worse tag-lines that “oversize caskets that you would be proud to put your mother in.”
Are there that many individuals in Lynn, Indiana, burying obese mothers?
Fortunately, my mother didn’t need an oversize casket. Plain vanilla 24” did her just fine.
Fittingly, Goliath began its life in “an old converted hog barn”. Its initial offerings were limited, but now you can get them in a number of different styles, with bespoke ones available. (The site features a nifty bright orange one for University of Tennessee die-hards. Dead-hards?)
Goliath caskets range up to 52” wide, and up to 8 feet long.
I wouldn’t want to be a pallbearer on that one.
But I guess it’s good to know that, if you do die obese, you don’t have to be crammed into a tiny-little casket.
Bring out your dead in comfort and style.
Here’s a question: do these mega-caskets fit in a standard hearse, or do you have to go with a stretch limo?
Nothing’s ever easy, is it?