Highs and Lows

The American Way of Death versus the Danish Way of Death, Blueprint on the Diamant coffin designed by Jacob Jensen, ‘a cut and polished gem that [the company] hopes will lay to rest the traditional, kitsch, grotesquery of the faux-brass and silk casket’. Despite the rhetoric and the impeccably tasteful origins, the Diamant is simply another form of what Jessica Mitford was railing against over a decade ago, only presented from a far more ascetic angle. It’s still not hard to find funerary tat (‘Astral products are available in multiple colors and a wide variety of price ranges and can be easily personalized, helping to make the funeral service more meaningful.’), but the Jensen approach is simply to add noise to the signal.

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Mitford noted back in her revised 1998 edition that: ‘The method hit upon by the casket makers to solve this knotty problem of [demand for cheaper products] is essentially the method used by furniture manufacturers (whose direct descendants they are): that is, to make the cheaper lines so hideous that only customers who can afford the barest minimum will buy them.’ (page 71) When it came to revise her book, the 520 casket manufacturers that existed in 1963, at the time of the original edition, only around 100 remained in 1998.

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That number is probably lower today, although the big three Mitford cites – Batesville, Aurora and the York Group – all seem to be still around. Indeed, they hold a grisly fascination for the living (and also for those of us who don’t come from an ‘open casket culture’). But browse we must. Prices are very hard to come by, with extras lists that would shame most auto makers. Batesville’s ‘MemorySafe® drawer can be used to display your cherished keepsakes during the visitation, or to secure private mementos and farewell messages’ while Aurora goes for the image-conscious funeral director with the FamilyTouch Selection Center (‘Today, we can have nearly everything just the way we want it. From sandwiches and coffee to shoes and automobiles, we’re accustomed to “having it our way.” So why not funeral products?’).

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There’s nothing inherently wrong with the Jensen offering, though it is rather a case of tilting at windmills. For every casket maker that offers gleaming beauty and optimum protection, there are now equal numbers of Eco coffins, nice, ugly, disposable objects that are designed to biodegrade calmly and quietly. This kind of thing was barely in extant during the writing of Jessica Mitford’s last revision, and has since gone on to upset funeral directors around the world. Nordic birch ply isn’t cardboard, but it is certainly tasteful. The statement funeral will probably never disappear.

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An incredibly detailed post chronicling the interior of the Hindenburg at Airships.net. Most of the furnishings would not look out of place in a contemporary office or hotel – all lightweight tubular metal construction and drilled aluminium, including ‘a small grand piano that weighed only 162 kg (356 lbs). The frame, rim, fallboard, and top lid were made of duralumin, and the legs, back bracing, and lhttp://www.airships.net/yre were made of hollow duralumin tubing.’ We never need much of an excuse to wheel out our Zeppelin fragment, supposedly found in the English countryside during the First World War. Or so family lore has it. It’s possibly from the Zeppelin L32, ‘shot down by Frederick Sowrey RFC, aged 23, and crashed near Snails Farm, South Green, Great Burstead, Near Billericay‘.

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‘By 3 o’clock that night, not only had the local people rushed to see the wreckage but cars full of Londoners started to arrive to view the wreckage of twisted and broken aluminium struts. Access to the area was limited by a narrow country lane and by 8 o’clock it was reported that the lane was blocked with “motor cars, motor-cycles, bicycles, traps, tradesmen’s carts, and pedestrians, all jammed together”. By far the most popular transport was bicycles with hundreds laying abandoned on the fields. Souvenir hunting was prevented by a cordon of soldiers armed with fixed bayonets, and police, but this did not deter the souvenir hunters who scoured nearby potato and mangold fields looking for debris. Even lemonade sellers set up their stalls in an attempt to profit on the spectacle.’ Or perhaps the L31: Decisions at Potters Bar.

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