Need for space, cremations fueled plans for mausoleum

  • By Suzanne Elliott
    For the Observer-Reporter
May 4, 2014
Paul Shiring, superintendent of Washington Cemetery, with shovel in hand, is ready for the groundbreaking for the cemetery’s new mausoleum. The groundbreaking will take place Wednesday. - Jim McNutt/Observer-Reporter Order a Print

Ground will be broken Wednesday morning for a $1.5 million community mausoleum at Washington Cemetery.

It’s a much-needed addition to the 245-acre site, said Paul Shiring, superintendent of the North Franklin Township cemetery, Washington County’s largest.

“Our most recent mausoleum was constructed in 1998 and sold out in 2008,” Shiring said, referring to Garden Mausoleum I, which has 456 crypts.

The cemetery, off Park Avenue, has two other mausoleums: Serenity Mausoleum, which was built in 1988, and Community Mausoleum, built in 1920.

The new one, designed by McCleskey Mausoleum Construction Co. of Buford, Ga., will have 756 crypts, including 128 “niches,” an industry term for the final resting place of those who opt for cremation.

Space in the new mausoleum is already 10 percent sold, which is common before a new mausoleum can be built, he said.

Appearance-wise, Garden Mausoleum II will be similar to Garden I, also designed by McCleskey. The Georgia firm also will be the project’s general contractor, Shiring said.

Demand and growth in cremation, he said, are driving the nonprofit, nonsectarian cemetery’s decision to invest more than $1 million in Garden II, which is expected to be completed next spring. (Washington Cemetery has had an on-site crematorium since 1985.)

“Cremation has impacted the whole industry,” Shiring said. “That is why we included as many (niches) as we did.”

Tim Warco, funeral director at Warco-Falvo Funeral Home Inc. in Washington, said he has noticed a marked increase in cremations. He said cost is a factor in some cases, but adds that people can have their loved ones cremated and still have a traditional funeral service.

Figures from the Cremation Association of North America, a Wheeling, Ill., trade organization, support Shiring’s statement. And burial is more expensive.

The cost of an adult funeral in 2012, including a vault, was $8,343, according to the National Funeral Directors Association, a Brookfield, Wis., industry association. A cremation, including a memorial service, cost $1,600, and an urn can be purchased for as little as $100.

According to CANA, the 2012 U.S. cremation rate was 43.2 percent. The percentage of cremations did not reach double digits until the 1980s. That rate is expected to jump to 48.8 percent by 2017, a trend being driven by “eco-friendly” funerals, according to the organization. Also, the Catholic Church has become more lenient toward having cremated remains at funeral services.

For now, three white poles mark the site of the new mausoleum, which will be next to Garden Mausoleum I and a stone’s throw from the cemetery’s popular duck pond. When completed, the building will feature seven levels, including one below ground called the Westminster Crypt, an industry term that refers to London’s Westminster Abbey and its below-ground crypts.

Underground crypts tend to be more popular with families who wish to be buried together, Shiring said.

The cemetery opened March 3, 1853, as Washington Cemetery Co. It now exceeds 47,000 internments and entombments and includes a section for veterans from all wars, including a Civil War section.

It also is home to the Washington County Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Glacier Memorial, a boulder reportedly carried by the Great Continental Glacier from Canada to Ithaca, N.Y. And it is the final resting place of Sarah Foster Hannah, founder of Washington Cemetery and president of The Washington Female Seminary.

The first person buried there was John Morgan Hayes, a child, on Nov. 1, 1853. James and Margaret Wilson, the first settlers of Washington, are there as is Hugh P. Boon, a Civil War veteran and Medal of Honor recipient.

Joseph “Jock” Yablonski, his wife, Margaret, and their daughter, Charlotte, are buried there too. Yablonski, a labor leader for the United Mine Workers in the 1950s and ‘60s, was murdered in December 1969, along with his wife and daughter, by hit men hired by his United Mine Workers rival, Tony Boyle.

Washington Cemetery averages 220 interments and/or entombments and 150 cremations each year. It also features seven miles of roads, four miles of waterlines, and has more than 100 acres of land in reserve for expansion.

Wednesday’s groundbreaking will include local officials and business leaders. Washington Mayor Brenda Davis will be the keynote speaker.

Warco, also the county coroner, will attend Wednesday’s ceremony as well. He said construction of a large facility, such as Garden Mausoleum II, marks an important event for Washington Cemetery.

“(The groundbreaking) will definitely be a special moment,” said Warco, whose grandfather is entombed in Serenity Mausoleum. “It is always a special place for my grandmother.

He said that as a funeral director, it is gratifying to have more options for families.

“On a personal level and as a local funeral home director, I can look back on this and say I was around,” Warco said.



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