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A Peculiar Business….

I am in group four, which is focused on the burial practices of African Americans in the late 19th and early 20th century.  I am currently trying to figure out how much a tombstone from this time period would cost; however so far I can only speculate. But the information is interesting in a way. I don’t think I ever considered death as  business before right now.  So!  I thought I could share some interesting figures with you about today’s tombstone costs and funeral costs.

First of all, the average cost of a traditional funeral from 2010 is between $9,500 – $10,000! Holy Crap! That could buy someone a new car! And this number does not include the cost of the cemetery. I had never thought about having to buy a cemetery plot before. That number just floored me for some reason, but I don’t think many people ask themselves this particular question often, so I believe my surprise is justified. I understand that funerals today may be more elaborate, that prices have inflated significantly, but I think it goes to show (more than anything else) that there is a profit to be made from the dead. And whether it is right or wrong, I’m sure people have been profiting from it for a while now. And I can’t imagine how this affected African American Communities.

Another interesting tidbit, the funeral business (funeral home business) arose after the civil war when it became more socially acceptable to have the bodies of loved ones embalmed and preserved. So right around the time period that we are exploring, this death business was forming. This could also have an affect on how African American Citizens could bury their dead.

Tombstones! The larger, better quality materials, stranger the shape, and taller- the more expensive. The cheapest option today appears to be just a slab of slate stone that is 12″ by 8″ with whatever you want engraved on it: $95. I designed one for our class (to see how expensive the lettering would be) and I think the cost mainly comes from the materials and size. I’m going to explore around the area a bit to see if I can find some headstone places that would be willing to answer some of my questions about rising (or maybe falling) costs of these markers over time.

In some ways all of these costs and figures frustrate me. I feel like death – a natural, inescapable, human experience – shouldn’t come with price tag.

Megan

I found this website's advertisements very morbid.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. February 15, 2011 at 11:21 pm

    Referring to death coming with a price tag, I think that you are making a very excellent point. However I also think that cemeteries and similar types of memorialization come with this baggage that is what some people want and are willing to pay for in order to preserve and/or honor the memory of the deceased. I do not want to come across as disagreeing because I actually feel the same way – cemeteries and the ideas behind cemeteries are nice and thoughtful, but I personally do not memorialize in such a way that will cause a spending of this exponential amount of money to manufacture a grand headstone or reserve a huge plot of land for an entire family line but this is just my personal opinion. I have not had a lot of experience with this particular process of death, but I would probably be all for a nice ceremony or cremation and spreading ashes of the deceased in a sentimental place. Then again, that probably comes with a price too. Oh well. The point is that I think it is important to recognize and accept everyone’s different ways of memorialization. But now I am left with a question: I agree that the fact that death comes with a price tag is frustrating, but what other ways would we REMEMBER without them? We have talked a lot about the importance of recovering the history and stories from past lives involved in the legacy of Texas slavery. Without the preservation of these cemeteries, how will that affect the preservation of our history? I’m not really sure if I’m really looking for an answer for this one, but if anyone has any suggestions I would love to hear them because I am genuinely interested in hearing some ideas/comments.

  2. February 15, 2011 at 11:24 pm

    Typo: There is supposed to be “because” after the word “baggage”.

  3. February 15, 2011 at 11:32 pm

    Wow! Awesome research, Megan. I think this is a great idea. But you’re right. It’s insane how expensive funerals today are and, with that, how impersonal they can be. I don’t know much about the burial practices of African Americans (or whites, for that matter) in the past, but I imagine they were much more personal. That website makes it all so cold and commercialized.

  4. February 22, 2011 at 12:01 am

    Something to consider – many people in our own country can’t afford a proper burial and consequently have to have burial much like those of African Americans from centuries ago; with strange and eclectic headstones and shallow graves. I was chatting with a worker from physical plant from Kurth, Josefina, the other day – she was collecting money for a member of her church who couldn’t afford a burial for her family member because she had to pay for chemo treatments. The woman who passed had a simple cross as a marker with her name – no information about her more than that and her birthday.

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