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More Hoosiers Choosing Cremation, Some Resist The Change

The number of cremations are rising in the U.S. and Indiana, but some more rural areas are trying to figure out how to deal with the increase.

  • cremation vases

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/Indiana Public Media News

    Hoosiers can choose from a variety of ways vases to hold their loved ones after cremation.

  • Incinerators

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/Indiana Public Media News

    Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Services has three incinerators--two for humans and one for pets (far right).

  • Buttons

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    Photo: Gretchen Frazee/Indiana Public Media News

    Several buttons on the incinerator keep track of temperature and other settings to make sure the machine is running properly. If too many emissions are being released, a warning signal sounds.

  • paoli crematory

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    Photo: Indiana Public Media News

    Signs are posted in front of the building in Paoli that is being renovated to become the county's first crematory.

Flanner and Buchanan Funeral Center can accommodate just about any after-death request from green burials to pet cremations.

The group built the first crematory in the state more than a hundred years ago. They have since moved locations to downtown Indianapolis and upgraded their facilities to include large, square, metal incinerators that are loud but are also state of the art.

“It’s the motors, the fans, the filters all of that is running,” Funeral Director for Flanner and Buchanan Shannon Knotts says. “I had a cremation started this morning and what you’re hearing is it cooling down.”

She says the demand for cremation services is growing in the state. Nearly one in four Hoosiers chose to be cremated in 2009, the year with the most recent statistics.

Knotts says some families are even starting to ask if they can watch the cremation.

“Some families just want to be here and see what’s going on,” she says. “Others want to participate, want to close the door or want to start the retort by pressing the button, and we allow them to be as involved as they want to be.”

Rural Communities Resist Rise In Cremations

Most of Indiana is not so quick to pick up on the national trend. The statewide cremation numbers are still lower than the national average and for people in some rural communities, cremation is taboo. Take Paoli for instance. It is a small town in Southern Indiana with fewer than 4,000 residents where the sight and sound of a horse and buggy trotting down the street behind a pick-up truck is not a rare event.

Erica Livingston has worked as a funeral director for several years. At the funeral home, more people have being requesting cremation services, but the nearest crematory is about 30 minutes away. So Livingston decided to open the county’s first one. She says since she announced her plans, many people around the city have spoken up about their own last wishes.

“They’ll come in here and beat on the door and say, I want to be cremated,” she says.

But the plans have not been well-received by some nearby residents. Philo Rhynehart, whose house is just across the street from the future crematory says he is concerned about his property value and the crematory’s mercury emissions.

“All of us along here along South Gospel Street are concerned about the safety of it,” he says. “There are small children across the creek. This is all family area up here. Contamination is definitely a factor as far as I’m concerned. Plus the only opening that could admit bodies is on the street. Anybody driving by is going to be subject to seeing cadavers being hauled in there.”

Studies have shown that the mercury emissions from crematories are minuscule.

Regulations and Traditions

Most cities have zoning codes that treat crematories like businesses, so they are not allowed to be built in residential areas. But Paoli is so small, it does not have zoning codes. Livingston points out  there are other regulations in place to keep the impacts low.

“I just got a crematory license, a federal ID number, and then for the state of Indiana I just had to do a crematory authority registration paper.”

In Paoli there are signs in the neighborhood where the crematory is being built.  In big black and white bold letters they proclaim no crematory.

The same type of thing happened to Flanner and Buchanan about five years ago.  When the company announced it was moving its crematory to Downtown Indianapolis residents complained and didn’t want it in their neighborhood.

Anya Royce is a professor of Anthropology at Indiana University. She says part of the problem may be people are not used to the idea of death.

“I think here people are so sheltered from the notion, and I think we think we are going to live forever and I don’t know anybody that has managed to do that yet, so I think when someone dies, it is always a shock, a loss,” she says.

Royce says for some people having a body is part of the grieving process, so they tend to hold on tightly to their traditions.

Gretchen Frazee

Gretchen Frazee is a reporter/producer for WFIU and WTIU news. Prior to her current role, Frazee worked as the associate online content coordinator for WFIU/WTIU. She graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studied multimedia journalism and anthropology. You can follow her on Twitter @gretchenfrazee.

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