Florida, St. Petersburg Lead National Cremation Trend

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Why the increased interest in cremation? Several reasons, experts say: convenience, creativity, cost, comfort. Florida leads these trends nationally with 55 percent of deaths were cremated and 70 percent in St. Petersburg. It is a tidal-wave movement within the memorial industry.

Our daughter can go there, can put her hand on the marker. If you scatter all the ashes somewhere, it's almost like you didn't exist.

When Jana Kivland of South Tampa was widowed four years ago, she had husband Gerry's body cremated, as they planned. Then she faced the question: What to do with his ashes?

"We had some of the ashes scattered in the Gulf of Mexico, off Sand Key," Mrs. Kivland said, "and then I flew back to Seattle, where we had lived for 20 years, and had more ashes scattered there," off Marrowstone Island, a place the couple had loved.

But that still left most of her husband's cremains. "I went to cemeteries around Pinellas County, trying to like the idea of having a stone in a cemetery with a marker, but I just couldn't warm up to it," she said.

Then she saw a newspaper story about plans to turn the former First Baptist Church sanctuary in downtown St. Petersburg into a columbarium called the City Peace Garden. Urns containing cremated remains will be placed in niches in the walls of a gated garden or inside the sanctuary, a city historic landmark built in 1924.

"It was just what I was looking for," said Mrs. Kivland, 66. "We both loved gardens, and my husband loved working in the garden, and that's where his ashes will be placed" – in a niche in the garden with a fountain, labyrinth and beautiful landscaping.

Jana Kivland's choices – cremation and placement of the ashes in a columbarium – are in line with a growing national trend. Currently 39 percent of deaths in the U.S. result in cremation, a number that is expected to rise to 57 percent by 2025, according to the Cremation Association of North America.

Why the increased interest in cremation? Several reasons, experts say:

  •      Convenience. Cremation allows families to schedule a memorial service at a convenient time and location – for example, "when everyone is together for the holidays, or on a special day such as a birthday or anniversary," says Bill McQueen, president of Anderson-McQueen Family Tribute Centers in St. Petersburg and president of the Cremation Association of North America.

In today's mobile society there may be few ties to a home town or a traditional family burial plot, and with families widely dispersed, there may be no one left to tend a grave. In a popular retirement area like the West Coast of Florida, McQueen said, "people lived most of their working life somewhere else. When they die, they want to have an event to celebrate the life, but the significance of burying the body in a certain place isn't a paramount part of the decision any more."

  • Creativity. Cremation and placement in an urn allows families "to memorialize the individual in a lot more unique ways, such as the City Peace Garden," an architecturally significant historic landmark, McQueen said, or in beautifully landscaped cremation gardens that are popular in some locations, with rocks, trees, butterfly gardens, elaborate flowers and shrubs and water features. Cremation also allows families to divide the ashes among several locations that were meaningful: divided among relatives, buried or scattered at a favorite vacation spot or near the grave of parents or other loved ones.
  • Cost, typically lower than traditional casket burial in a cemetery. Depending on the level of services selected, cremation will average between $1,500 and $6,500 locally, McQueen said. A traditional burial service, including casket and vault but excluding the cemetery plot, is in the range of $9,000, he said.
  • Comfort. So widely accepted is the idea of cremation and placement in a columbarium that the University of Florida is creating a columbarium on its Gainesville campus. Other institutions of higher learning, including Notre Dame, the University of Virginia, and the U.S. Naval Academy, offer columbariums for their alumni.

Last year in Florida, 55 percent of deaths were cremated, almost twice the rate of the Midwest and rest of the Southeast. In St. Petersburg, cremation demand is even higher than national statistics indicate. Seventy percent of deaths here result in cremation. "It's a tidal-wave movement within our industry," said McQueen, who reported that 82 percent of his customers who make their funeral plans in advance choose cremation.

"What we're seeing is that cremation is a very acceptable form of dealing with the death of a loved one," said Sheree Graves, executive director of Cathedral Columbaria Inc., which operates the City Peace Garden. "Our families say they like the idea of making their plans now, of knowing that they will be placed in a unique location that is meaningful to them and easy for their loved ones to visit. It's all about convenience, cost and comfort."

The City Peace Garden will be the largest all-faiths columbarium in the Tampa Bay area exclusively devoted to cremation memorials. It is currently under construction at 120 Fourth St. N in downtown St. Petersburg, oppo¬site the city's Wil¬liams Park and next door to St. Peter's Epis¬co¬pal Cathe¬dral, which owns the colum¬bar¬ium prop¬erty and is the chari¬ta¬ble recipi¬ent of its pro¬ceeds. Two-thirds of the historic Baptist Sanctuary was demolished to create the open space for the Peace Garden. The front third of the sanctuary, with its signature columns and steps, is undergoing renovation.

There will be 2,000 glass-fronted niches inside the restored sanctuary; outside, the landscaped garden will initially accommodate another 1,000 bronze-fronted niches.

"People are thrilled that we've found a way to preserve the beautiful facade of the Baptist Sanctuary," Graves said. "The cathedral, next door to us, just received city landmark status. The Princess Martha Hotel south of us is already a landmark, as is the Open-Air Post Office just across the street and the Snell Arcade next to it. In the space of two blocks we have a tremendous collection of historically significant buildings, all of them open, thriving, operating. It's a preservationist's dream and a real asset to the city."

Architecturally significant structures that play a role in their city's history are often locations for columbariums. The 1898 neoclassical Columbarium of San Francisco, near Golden Gate Park, is the resting place of many of the city's elite, and offers tours to show off its stained glass and the unique urns some families have chosen. In Seattle, the Evergreen-Washelli columbarium, built in the 1920s, holds the remains of the city's founding families and welcomes the public to its juried annual art shows. Julia Morgan, the architect of the Hearst Castle in California, designed the 1928 Moorish-Gothic Chapel of the Chimes in Los Angeles, where book-shaped urns give the columbarium rooms the appearance of a library. The chapel is the setting for winter and summer music festivals.

Jana Kivland looks forward to the day – late this year or early in 2011 – when her husband's ashes can be placed in an urn and installed in their niche at the City Peace Garden. "It's important to me that there be a plaque, a marker with Gerry's name, to show he existed," she said. "Our daughter can go there, can put her hand on the marker. If you scatter all the ashes somewhere, it's almost like you didn't exist."


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