Life and Death – in Density

Most taphophiles are probably aware that one day, should human population continue unhindered or slowed, the places we love to haunt will be no more.

Already, modern cemeteries have reduced, in many areas, the human element to merely a notation on a flat ground marker for ease of mowing; even having regulations regarding how much can be written on such impersonal and almost invisible markers.  These small markers don’t have much longevity; they sink rapidly; the ground overgrows them except in the most populous and maintained urban cemeteries. Many more people are opting for cremation, and as an environmentally-aware person, I cannot disagree with this process, and indeed will choose the same. But we will mourn the day when these luscious time capsules, such as Highgate in London, and Staglieno in Italy, are no more. It’s hard to imagine that they will be gone one day – but they will. We will need the land.

I find little interest in sterile modern ‘memorial’ cemeteries. They are not welcoming, they have no soul. At best they are ‘pretty’ grounds; more often, they are cold and impersonal, like Arlington National – a place where any alien looking on might think it was a memorial celebrating merely the sheer number of dead that could be made to go and die in war. Forest Lawn in Los Angeles is another example, although some of the older intent and charm may still be found in the oldest sections – Forest Lawn is a perfect representation of what the funeral industry has become: a profit machine. A quote from their page:

“My first glimpse of Forest Lawn Cemetery showed it to be a little country cemetery, of ten acres developed, forty-five undeveloped; with no buildings, no improvements, with the exception of a grove of olive trees and a few scattering headstones. Such a picture most of you have seen many times. Forest Lawn’s other assets were a total of 1400 interments, and yearly gross sales of $28,000.

Today, twelve years after we took charge, Forest Lawn Cemetery is Forest Lawn Memorial Park—Park it is, because the visitor rarely recognizes that he is entering into a so-called “cemetery”. Forest Lawn now comprises over 200 acres, with a total of 28,464 interments, sales amounting to more than one million dollars per year, and total assets aggregating ten million dollars. It averages 300 interments per month, and 81 weddings per month. Our payroll of yesterday showed an organization of 406 employees, including an Architectural Department of 12 Architects and an Engineering force of like number.”

Highgate and the many other lovely old cemeteries would tolerate no such convenience for it’s caretakers; it is complex, crowded, and monuments were built to commemorate the deceased…not for the convenience of the groundskeepers (ie, the profit margin of the corporate owners). We think society in those days might have been offended at the very notion.

But we digress. Following are some images that portray the very density and population issues I began this post with, and why it becomes obvious that one day, burial will be a thing of the past, if not outright banned. China, for one example, already heavily penalizes, financially, for full burials – which are very few now. Cremation and no permanent memorial place is the wave of the future, and even the green burial movement will not slow that trend down.

Kyoto, Japan

Cemetery at Asyut, Nile valley, Egypt

Washington Jewish Cemetery at Bay Parkway, Brooklyn, New York City

American war cemetery in France

St. Raphael’s Catholic Cemetery, Cheung Sha Wan, Sham Shu Po

Chung Yeung Festival(重陽節): Massive Graves at St. Raphael's Catholic Cemetery (天主教聖辣法厄爾墳場)

La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires

The Valley of Peace cemetery in Najaf, Iraq

Cemeteries are unsustainable at the human population rate that the world currently allows.  Already, in many countries, economics and population density lead to the poorest taking up residence in cemeteries; a painful, poignant political statement.

Serbia: Living In A Tomb

Manila: Alive amongst the dead

As many as 10,000 people live in the North Cemetery in Manila, which covers 54 hectares and is the oldest cemetery in the Philippines, dating from the 19th century. It is probably the most well documented.


Manila: the luxury of a crypt


The Tomb for a Living Corpse in Philippines (6)

Life in the Cemetery (19 pics)

Cairo, Egypt: City of the dead

Cairo, City of the Dead   It is estimated that between 50,000 and 2 million people live in this cemetery. Since most tombs are built as rooms, they are easily converted to living spaces. Electricity is even brought in to some.