Our own Triss Stein and I both attended last Sunday’s event, held as a joint fundraiser and writers workshop by the Woodlawn cemetery’s Conservancy and MWA’s New York Chapter. Here’s a tidbit from the NYT article by James Barron:
The question was about the shotgun shells. Had anybody actually used shells that were made that way, or were they just keepsakes?
“Actually used,” Ernie Kassoff said from behind a lectern.
Mr. Kassoff said the shotgun shells had been made with ashes from a body that had been cremated.
Tell that to an audience of mystery writers, as Mr. Kassoff did on Sunday, and possible plot points whirl. “I thought, ‘What could I do with that?’ “ said Triss Stein, who has written two mysteries set in Brooklyn, where she lives. “It’s so weird, and that’s what writers want.”
I’m pretty sure that with her name and the word Brooklyn, anyone will be able to find her fine series, including the latest, set largely in Woodlawn’s sister cemetery in Brooklyn, Green-Wood, and also featuring abundant Tiffany glass.
Sunday was purely gorgeous, sunny and in the low 60s with an autumnal nip in the air. The art and monuments on the site were inspiring. I kept losing my tour group as I stopped for photos. I will not inflict every one of those pictures on you (yet) and may be saving some for another purpose–more on that later, I hope. But here I present some goodies from the day that I think writers will really appreciate. One of our three sections of presentations was given by Mitch Rose, CEO and President of The Woodlawn Cemetery. He delivered the Interment and Entombment section with lots of backstage, operational information, talking us through a gold mine of info in our folders! Pardon all the blurs in my cell phone photos, my under-caffeinated hands were shaking.
Within this handsome and colorful folder reside bunches of brochures and site information, also copies of relevant forms and laws used, so handy for nosy writers!
L to R: Packet of plot information, forms, and interment orders–better focused items from this below/ also an Authorization for Cremation and Disposition/ even a set of the New York State Crematory Regulations!
Below is an order for interment (burial). You can see it has all the information about who and where and when, not to mention the status of payment. Cemeteries look bad suing people, so all fees and costs must be paid in advance or at “time of need.” Without a death certificate and one of these, nothing happens.
Order for Interment
But sometimes, after an interment, there needs to be a reversal or a do-over. Thus, the disinterment permit below. Disinterment or exhumation happens more often than most people imagine, we were told. Families get new plots, relocate, there are actually many reasons people want to and do move the already-buried.
And that’s where this next one comes in. If family members are in dispute about which wife is being buried on Dad’s right side, or who has the right to relocate Aunt Edna, unless there are specific legal documents to the contrary (and most people just don’t bother or want to think about it), later on, the legal priority of those claims will be established through lineage. This chart explains the order of who gets to make the calls.
A chart of lineage showing the legal priority of descendants.
That’s just a taste of the nuts-and-bolts info we got, and we had 2 other sections in the morning, including Cremation with Ernie, who’s mentioned in the NYT article linked above. He had a slide show with pictures of the equipment and its operation, and had tons of slightly ghoulish and fascinating information to share about the history and popularity of the practice. Did you know that about 42% of people are cremated now? They think it will be over half in another decade.
In our third section, we also all got to tour highlights of the grounds with Susan Olsen, Woodlawn’s Director of Historical Services, who did the lion’s share of organizing this event (thanks to her volunteers as well!). She spear-headed it because of her own love for crime writing and desire to see authors get the information right. One of the places we viewed is the famous Harbeck mausoleum, incredible inside and out for its architectural grandeur and Tiffany windows. Since my images are still in my memory card, I borrowed this magnificent photo of it at night from the Woodlawn Cemetery’s website. It’s part of a collection by Gavin Ashworth, and you can browse much more of the history with gorgeous images through a brand-new book, Sylvan Cemetery: Architecture, Art and Landscape at Woodlawn, released concurrently with an exhibit of even more images and materials at Columbia University through November 1, 2014.
After the three “stations,” we had a picnic box lunch before beginning the afternoon with author panels in the Woolworth Chapel. The first panel featured bestselling authors Linda Fairstein and Heather Graham discussing their personal and literary connections to cemeteries, as well as their research methods. Then there was a slideshow of international funerary art by novelist and travel writer Hilary Davidson, who joined Lyndsay Faye and the legendary (but perfectly real) Lawrence Block for the final panel discussion of the afternoon.
L to R: Lawrence Block, Heather Graham, me (grinning like a plum fool–wouldn’t you?), Lyndsay Faye, Hilary Davidson, and Linda Fairstein.
Closing out the afternoon, we got goody bags (see examples in front of the authors), with this essential writer’s tool.
Woodlawn Mug- mine’s already broken in.
Heather Graham also gifted us all with books–how cool! This one’s set in Salem, Massachusetts, with a distinctly post-mortem vibe.
And last, here’s a little event souvenir I put together for attendees to get signed, because who knows when these leading lights shall be assembled again, or at least, who knows when else we could ever get people to sign their own gravestones? : )
I think a great day was had by all, and I hope to have more images and info to come, but right now… I seriously need more coffee, dark, dark, dark as the grave.