• PETERSBURG – Members of the Upper Township Board of Education said last week that they are still seeking to restore some of their voting rights on the Ocean City school board.

    Three Upper Township school board members serve on the Ocean City school board. They are permitted to vote on issues affecting Upper Township students, but since 2010 they have not had a say in the election of the Ocean City Board of Education president, vice president or solicitor.

  • Ocean City High School senior Devon Grisbaum did something on Saturday that only one other runner in Cape-Atlantic League history has done - she won the NJSIAA Meet of Champions.

    Grisbaum ran the Homdel Park course in 18 minutes, 19.26 seconds to finish a little more than 2.5 seconds ahead of Mainland freshman Alyssa Aldridge. Grisbaum had finished third and Aldridge fourth in the State Group 3 Meet a week earlier and have run one-two all season.

  • Ocean City named third smartest small town by Forbes

    According to a new list by Forbes, Ocean City – and the rest of Cape May County – was named one of America's smartest cities. The metropolitan statistical area was ranked third on the list of small towns by contributors Joel Kotkin and Mark Schill.

  • Claire Lowe / Ocean City High School and Intermediate School students work together on posters that depict the negative effects of smoking to celebrate the Great American Smokeout Thursday, Nov. 20.

    OCEAN CITY — To celebrate the American Cancer Society’s annual Great American Smokeout, Ocean City High School’s REBEL and SADD clubs presented to over 80 students in Renee Bendig’s health classes on Thursday, Nov. 20 on the negative effects of tobacco use.

    Latching on to the city and school district’s Did You Know? campaign, members of SADD, which stands for Students Against Destructive Decisions, and REBEL, formerly SCAT or Student Coalition Against Tobacco, traveled to the Ocean City Intermediate School to encourage their younger cohorts to stay away from smoking.

  • Ocean City holiday events calendar 2014

    Horse and carriage rides and photos with Santa

    Noon-3 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 22 through Dec. 21 will be horse and carriage rides in front of City Hall, Ninth Street and Asbury Avenue, and photos with Santa at the Music Pier, Boardwalk and Moorlyn Terrace.

  • St. Peter's United Methodist Church was one of several Ocean City historic properties awarded $1.3 million in Sandy Relief grants

    OCEAN CITY — Several historic Ocean City properties were named recipients of Hurricane Sandy Disaster Relief Grants Wednesday, Nov. 19, with awards totaling over $1.3 million.

    Recipients include St. Peter's United Methodist Church at $145,229; First Presbyterian Church at $151,000; and My Shore House at $335,879, as well as the city-owned Ocean City Transportation Center at $501,000; US Life Saving Station 30 at $143,031; and City Hall at $230,000.

  • OCEAN CITY — The city is hosting a public meeting to discuss phase II of the northend road improvement project 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 25 at St. Francis Cabrini Church in Culliney Hall, 114 Atlantic Ave. in Ocean City.

Act Naturally > The rise of the eco-friendly burial

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The rise of the eco-friendly burial The rise of the eco-friendly burial

This ‘back-to-the-earth movement’ does away with embalming and even coffins

Until the early 20th century, the majority of Americans died at home, in their beds, in the company of their families. After death, the family anointed the body, sat by it for a period of mourning, then carried it to a final resting place, which sometimes was literally the “family plot.” The container of choice usually was a rough-hewn wooden box, and the dear departed left this world most naturally, with little preparation beyond washing and dressing and a little sprucing up. Oftentimes families even dispensed with the coffin, and put their loved ones in the ground wrapped only in a burial cloth.

Things began to change during the Civil War, when embalming made it possible for soldiers killed in battle to be preserved in all kinds of weather until they could be transported back home. Undertakers hung out their shingles, and the process of dying and being laid to rest slipped behind closed doors. By the 20th century, the transition from life to death – once a normal part of the human experience – was shrouded in secrecy, and left to the “professionals:” doctors, nurses, morticians and funeral directors.

Now the ultimate “back-to-the-earth” movement is bringing back the natural funeral – without concrete vaults and marble mausoleums, without embalming, without expensive bronze and mahogany caskets, and sometimes with no box at all.

A Green Burial Expo will be held Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Steelmantown Cemetery, 101 Steelmantown Road, adjacent to Belleplain State Forest in Woodbine. The only cemetery in New Jersey certified by the nonprofit Green Burial Council, Steelmantown is one of only a dozen or so wholly “green” burial grounds in the country (more and more cemeteries are adding green sections; they’re then known as “hybrids”).

The 10-acre cemetery, a dedicated burial site since the 1700s, “is more about life than death,” says owner Ed Bixby, who acquired the property in 2007. “People who choose this kind of burial are making a final statement about life.”

That statement may be about simplicity, and eschewing some of the costs associated with conventional funerals; it may be about conservation and environmental responsibility; it often is about both, along with the desire to be buried in a truly natural setting, including on winding woodland paths.

The Green Burial Council describes the process as “a new means of protecting natural areas (and) caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact,” including the elimination of the carcinogenic formaldehyde used in embalming.

Bixby says Steelmantown Cemetery became “certifiable by default” – in 300 years, it was simply never modernized. In 1840, the Steelman family donated the land to Upper Township. A schoolhouse and a church were built there; along with members of the community, orphans were often buried in the churchyard. In 1957, the township sold the property to a funeral director. Over time, the congregation disbanded, and the historic cemetery fell into disrepair.

Bixby, a descendant of the Steelmans, visited several years ago, and “I was not pleased,” he says. “Trash had been dumped there. I took ownership to clean it up and preserve it and give people there dignity. I rebuilt a chapel that had been burned in the 1960s, and built a resource center.” He also marked a series of meandering eco-trails that link the cemetery to the state forest. There are now about 350 gravesites dating back to the 1700s. Plots purchased today are deed-restricted, so they will wait indefinitely for the occupant (according to Bixby, traditional cemetery gravesites can be resold if they’re not used within 30 years).

The green burial itself differs markedly from the conventional practice, in which, as Bixby says, mourners have become “spectators.” Active participation in this rite – the act of physically escorting of a loved one through this final passage – can be uniquely comforting to the mourners, he says. Family members and friends can carry the body or box to a hand-dug grave, lower it themselves into the ground, and shovel in the dirt. Stones and markers are welcome, as long as they’re indigenous to the mid-Atlantic region (granite and natural fieldstone are the usual choices); ditto for plants, which also must be native to the area. Most of those interred are buried in shrouds, not coffins.

Bob Fertig, owner of Fertig Funeral Home in Mullica Hill, is doing more and more green burials, and has chosen it for himself when the time comes.

“Many people don’t even realize this is an option,” says Fertig. “You’d be surprised to know how many people think that, even with cremation, you have to be embalmed.”

Fertig’s wife and partner Denise has described the green burial as “intrinsically simple, not commercialized, not product-driven. It’s the way it used to be – and it’s nostalgic.”

Fertig agrees. “There is a healing quality to this kind of burial,” he says. “It can be a beautiful experience.”

It can also be a money-saver. The cheapest plot at Steelmantown is $1,200, and funerals usually run from $3,000 to $3,500. According to the National Funeral Directors Association, the average funeral cost in 2006 was around $6,500, a figure that doesn’t include the burial fees, including plot and headstone. Though estimates vary, when all is said and done, according to the experts, the typical funeral can cost around $9,000.

A friend of mine lost her husband some years ago, and paid top dollar for what she called “a nice send-off.” It gave her a measure of comfort and made her feel she had paid her respects in the best way possible, and that’s an honorable thing.

As for me, I plan to tell my child to plant me in the old-fashioned way, maybe even without a box, so I can help continue the cycle of life underground. It’s the ultimate in recycling.

The rise of the eco-friendly burial

The rise of the eco-friendly burial


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