Aired: June 18, 2011

Grave Matters

The Victorians photographed their dead before burial.  Abraham Lincoln’s death might have popularized embalming.  Some people today have their ashes made into diamonds. Bernard Means (Virginia Commonwealth University) studies how and why we bury our dead – and how that’s changed over the last few centuries.  Plus: a trip to some orphan graveyards – forgotten places where we’ve buried our dead. Also featured: They’re called Lost Communities – the places on the map that have lost their original industry or way of life.  Sometimes they’re still struggling to survive; other times they no longer exist at all.  Terri Fisher (Virginia Tech) has visited the general stores, schools, train depots, and post offices of towns along Virginia’s back road and interviewed longtime residents and brought those places back to life in her new book, Lost Communities of Virginia.


3 Comments on “Grave Matters”

  1. Ian D Henry

    I think that Bernard Means said words to the effect of “cemeteries require you to cover the coffin with a concrete liner to prevent decay”. I was surpised, because it is false to say that anything will prevent decay once the body is buried. It might take longer when it is embalmed, but it will decay! The concrete liner is to stop the grave collapsing when the mowers drive over it. I was also surprised that green burial was sort of skipped over. The various affiliates of the Funeral Consumers Alliance such as the Funeral Information Society of the Piedmont in Charlottesville and the Funeral Consumers Alliance of the Virginia Blue Ridge in Blacksburg are trying to promote knowledge of these matters.

  2. klibby


    Thank you for your comments, and for listening to our show.

    I don’t have enough knowledge of burial practices to comment on the concrete liner. But with regard to skipping over the topic of green burial, unfortunately, we had to cut some of the interview for time. There are so many fascinating aspects of burial practices, and not enough time to cover them all. Perhaps we can dig deeper in a future show!

    Take care,
    Kelley Libby

  3. Bernard K Means


    Concrete liners, as you noted, do protect the integrity of a grave which could collapse if a wooden coffin is used. What I was referring to were cases where states or local jurisdictions require concrete vaults supposedly to protect the surrounding soil from the decayed remains.

    I’d have loved to talk more about green burials but time precluded. People are constantly innovative about ways to handle the remains of their loved ones. See for an interesting practice.

    Dr. Means

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