• Coffin Making: Now with Barcodes and Touch Screens

    Bringing the Coffin Industry Back From the Dead
    How barcodes and touch screens are resuscitating a casket factory
    Ben Austen, The Atlantic (December 2010)

    Modern, industrial casket making is a manufacturing business like any other, but for the fact that most people never think about modern, industrial casket making. The above article in The Atlantic does an excellent job of capturing how American casket making has become a largely automated industry, similar to the auto business.

    This article is also about changes to the American labor force but in a decidedly niche business. It turns out that the American casket industry is suffering from many of the same problems faced by manufacturers all across the country. You can read about many of those death and dead body industries in the Death + the Economy section.

    Out of curiosity, I went to YouTube to look for casket/coffin making videos and found the following vintage 1970s film. The YouTube video is actually instructive because it shows how the casket industry used to manufacture caskets before the introduction of the automation technologies.

    Bringing the Coffin Industry Back From the Dead How barcodes and touch screens are resuscitating a casket factory Ben Austen, The Atlantic (December 2010) Modern,…

  • Prepare for Death and Follow Me…into Outer Space

    Death In Space
    Mary Roach, Boing Boing (September 02, 2010)

    Wherever living humans go, the possibility of dead human bodies follows. It is the fullest expression of mortality’s inherent fragility.

    So, when humans finally travel into space for extended periods of time without the luxury of a quickish return to Earth, dead body contingencies need to be thought through.This is especially true for any eventual trips to Mars, which may or may not involve establishing colonies.

    Here’s the rub: NASA does not appear to have plans on what to do if an astronaut dies during a mission. Or the plans, if they exist, are not available to the public. I came across some news articles on this apparent planning gap, and it appears that NASA planners haven’t really taken seriously the possibility of an astronaut’s death during an extended voyage or what to do with a dead body during a mission.

    This is not a minor point. Returning the dead body and its remnants to next of kin is standard procedure for US governmental operations; NASA space missions are no different. Yet during long or arduous expeditions dead bodies are often left behind, if for any reason, bringing the corpse back is too difficult and/or actually endangers fellow team members. Climbers who die on Mt. Everest are routinely left behind where they fall, not out of malice but out of necessity.

    Enter into all of this, then, Mary Roach. Many of you will know Roach from her books Stiff, Spook, and Boink. She has also just written a new book entitled Packing for Mars, on exploring the red planet. Earlier this month, she wrote a short piece for Boing Boing about death in space and what might be done with a dead body. Oddly, Mary Roach’s work has popped up in a few different places the last few weeks.

    Here is the lead from Mary Roach’s essay for Boing Boing:

    The U.S. has plans for a manned visit to Mars by the mid-2030s. The ESA and Russia have sketched out a similar joint mission, and it is claimed that China’s space program has the same objective. Apart from their destination, all these plans share something in common: extraordinary danger for the explorers. What happens if someone dies out there, months away from Earth?

    Roach discusses a plan developed by the Swedish environmentalist/burial innovator Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak and collaborator Peter Mäsak. Many readers of Stiff will remember Susanne Wiigh-Mäsak and her innovation called Promession. In a nutshell, the proposed system would reduce the dead body’s size and volume, thereby making it simpler to transport back to Earth. The full proposal (which is being developed with NASA) should be read to fully glean how this system would work.

    What Wiigh-Mäsak and NASA are proposing is fine…but leaving the body in space would still be simpler. Indeed, the main reason to keep a body on hand after death would be for a postmortem examination to determine the Cause of Death and to see if the other astronauts were at risk for some previously unknown pathogen. That said, if an autopsy is not possible because of weaker gravitational pull and/or after a successful postmortem exam takes place, then the body is best given a respectful burial in space. I would rather see NASA develop plans for final disposition in space than a spaceship’s crew trying to make room for a dead colleague.

    Besides, I have a hunch that any person who dies in space will probably want to stay in the ether.

    Per usual, science fiction has already offered up one example of what a proper burial in outer space could resemble (see the vid at top).

    Death In Space Mary Roach, Boing Boing (September 02, 2010) Wherever living humans go, the possibility of dead human bodies follows. It is the fullest…

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    Seems like funerals or memorial services are either getting simpler or more complex these days. Green burials and simple home rituals are gaining momentum, but…

  • Home Funerals (clap clap clap) Deep in the Heart of Texas

    Meeting Offers Information on Home Funerals Jeffrey Weiss, The Dallas Morning News (April 12, 2010) When the Death Reference Desk formally launched in the summer…

  • Three Feet of Snow Does Not Stop Funeral Directors

    Funeral Directors’ Challenge: Death Waits for No Snowstorm William Wan, The Washington Post (February 12, 2010) This is a classic news article about two kinds…

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    While specific rites and rituals vary across cultures and time, anyone who has been to a few memorial services or even seen them on TV…

  • Dead Man Walking….Into His Own Funeral

    Dead wrong: Man attends own funeral after mix-up over body’s ID On the holiday known as the Day of the Dead, a Brazilian bricklayer walked…

  • Chimpanzee Funeral?

    Behind the Lens: The Grieving Chimps Jeremy Berlin, National Geographic Blog Central (October 29, 2009) Fast on the heels of debatably mourning magpies, I offer…

  • Poe’s Funeral Draws Hundreds

    Edgar Allan Poe Finally Getting Proper Funeral Ben Nuckols, Associated Press (October 6, 2009) The late Edgar Allan Poe had a memorial service Sunday, October…