New York State Funeral Directors Association

A recent article reported Australia is running out of cemetery space and one organization was contemplating the creation of catacombs to ensure there’s room to lay their beloved to rest.

I’ve read many stories about places – especially that tiny island called England – facing similar issues.

So with folks in the U.S. suggesting as horrid an idea as composting people as a pre-emptive way to avoid a burial crisis, I thought a new set of catacombs might be an alternative worth exploring.

According to some sources, the most famous and extensive catacombs around the planet are in France.

They were apparently built in the late 1700s to address cemetery overpopulation – and there’s some 6 million buried underground there!

That’s a lot of #Unliving people, and with the fact that the entire country of France is a bit smaller than Texas, it seems to me there’s plenty of room underground in the continental United States.

Establishing a series of catacombs wouldn’t mark a “first” in the U.S., because some catacombs already exist.

Catacombs of an ancient, pre-Columbian people were discovered beneath a 700-plus year-old village in Arizona in the early 1990s, and some reports say there are several catacombs in New York City.

These include one beneath Green-Wood Cemetery, one with 30 vaults each owned by a family.

According to a cemetery historian there, these burial places were built to enable those seeking to be interred, above-ground style, without the expense of building an individual tomb.

There are also below-ground burial places beneath some New York City churches, including those beneath Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and possibly beneath a few other church buildings in the Big Apple.

None of them are public places to visit and most of the resources I found about them include words like “creepy” and “scariest.”

That’s not the kind of catacombs I envision creating in the U.S.

I picture something like the Douaumont Ossuary in France.Duaumont Ossuary of France by Maurice on Flickr link to image here: http://ow.ly/WFTI30bovco

It’s a sacred place holding the remains of some 130,000 French and German soldiers killed during the WWI Battle of Verdun, a 300-day clash that left as many as 300,000 soldiers missing, according to the Ossuary’s website.

This memorial site, built on the battleground, has detailed marble floors, gentle lighting and stained glass windows, among other features I can only see in photos.

This memorial looks like a place of respect and dignity, as it should, and we wouldn’t have much difficulty building something similar in the U.S.

I see many benefits of the idea. For one, it would be a great accomplishment for the environmentalists among us.

The temperature in most underground environments is in the mid-50s, Fahrenheit that is, so it wouldn’t require the use of much fossil fuel for heat or air-conditioning.

An underground location eliminates the need for calling in the tree-cutting service after tornadoes and hurricanes.

Guards during opening hours and solid, locked doors would also eliminate the need for repairs after vandalism that continually challenges our above-ground cemeteries.

I like visiting the cemeteries we have now – but an underground site would make it easier by eliminating the incessant nagging of mosquitoes and the loud buzzing that accompanies bees and wasps and forces my wonderful wife to go running for her life.

Being underground, it would also eliminate the additional work of mowing and weed-whacking around those gravestones that many natural burial proponents shun.

It would allow people to be interred in tombs or in niches for those who prefer cremation. And maintenance and upkeep wouldn’t entail much more than sweeping and dusting.

And it would make for wonderful funerals.

People wouldn’t have to bundle up against the snow and rainfall like they do at above-ground cemeteries – even though most that I know wouldn’t complain about this kind of thing anyways.

There’s quite a bit of surface area in the U.S. and, with a bit of planning and fundraising, I think a new catacomb facility would be a great addition underground.

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EdsPhotoEdward Munger Jr.
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association