cremation Death + the Economy Death Ethics

Death and the Economy: Unclaimed Corpses Accumulate at the LA County Morgue

More bodies go unclaimed as families can’t afford funeral costs
Molly Hennessy-Fiske, Los Angeles Times (July 21, 2009)

This LA Times article (sent to me by my friend Karyn) is a sad and predictable explanation of how the American economic recession is affecting the poor. In a nutshell, next of kin do not have the available funds to collect either a dead body and/or the postmortem cremated remains.

In yesterday’s Death Ref commentary on the New York Times home burial article, I mentioned that unclaimed bodies in county morgues are a much better gauge of economic stress than people choosing to bury a deceased loved one at home. The LA Times piece explains this point in much more detail than the short article I posted on Ohio county morgues dealing with the same situation.

Albert Gaskin, LA cemetery caretaker, examines cremated remains of unclaimed bodies

Inevitably, the unclaimed cremated remains accumulate and over time cemeteries, crematoriums, and funeral homes become inadvertent store houses for the remains. It is worth noting that this photo (taken by Anne Cusack and which I grabbed from the LA Times article) shows Evergreen Cemetery caretaker Albert Gaskin sorting through massive shelves of unclaimed cremated remains.

Those boxes are all unclaimed, cremated bodies.

And given enough time, many institutions that store the remains change owners, close down, and/or simply disappear. Unless there is a mass burial at some point, those unclaimed human remains sit on the shelves and in the worst case scenarios are forgotten about and then re-discovered.

Death Ref co-founder Kim found a remarkable photography series by David Maisel and it explores one of these lost-then-rediscovered sites. It is a collection of photos of unclaimed created remains, stored in copper canisters, at a (now) shut down Oregon psychiatric hospital. Maisel calls the images the Library of Dust.

Library of Dust, indeed.

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