• One resident said it sounded like a long, loud growl - another thought they'd acquired a ghost

    People in Cape May and Atlantic counties are reporting what some believe have been an earthquake, though others believe it may have been more akin to a sonic boom.

    Some have placed the time at about noon, while others say it was closer to 2 p.m.

    Ralph Walter, West Cape May, said he was fishing on Cape May Point Beach when he heard a rumble. “It was dark on the Delaware beach side, and at first I thought it was thunder,” he said. “But if it was thunder, it was weirdest thunder I've ever heard. It was more like a growl that went on for about four seconds.”

    Walter said he didn't catch anything today, but found some seaglass.

    In North Cape May and Cape May Court House, Becky Sargent and Jean MacCoy said they heard the rumble, though the ground didn’t shake.

  • The NJSIAA released the pairings Wednesday for the boys and girls soccer state tournaments, which are set to begin early next week. Most high school soccer teams from Cape May County will participate.

    In boys soccer, Ocean City is the No. 1 seed in South Jersey Group III. The defending sectional champions will host No. 16 Timber Creek in an opening-round game.

    Middle Township has earned the No. 4 seed in South Jersey Group II. The Panthers will host No. 13 Cedar Creek in their first playoff game. Also in Group II, Lower Cape May is the No. 16 seed and will go to top-seeded Sterling in the first round.

  • Ocean City High School field hockey team, ranked No. 2 in South Jersey and No. 3 in the state, lost to Eastern, the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, 6-1, Tuesday afternoon in Voorhees. Raider junior Maria Farnan scored the game's first goal with an assist from sophomore Alexis Paone to give Ocean City (18-1) a 1-0 lead.

    Cory Terry’s team begins its quest for a third straight state championship on Thursday at Trish LeFever Field when it hosts Mainland. The Mustangs defeated Winslow, 9-0, on Monday in the first round of NJSIAA Group 3. OCHS, the No. 2 seeded team, had a bye in the first round. Thursday’s game is a rematch of last season’s South Jersey final.

  • Superintendent says students, faculty were in safe viewing area when explosion occurred

    photos by Eugene Caffrey / The Antares rocket carrying a private, unmanned spacecraft to the International Space Station exploded shortly after liftoff on Tuesday, Oct. 28 from Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.

    OCEAN CITY — The Antares rocket carrying a private, unmanned spacecraft to the International Space Station exploded shortly after liftoff on Tuesday, Oct. 28 from Wallops Flight Facility on Wallops Island, Va.

    The rocket was carrying Orbital Sciences’ Cygnus spacecraft and 5,000 pounds of food, water and student science experiments, including one created by six Ocean City High School students.

  • Seats up for grabs on local school board, U.S. House and Senate

    From left are Joseph S. Clark Jr., Cecilia Gallelli-Keyes, Michael Allan James and Dale F. Braun Jr., the local candidates for the three open seats on the Ocean City Board of Education.

    OCEAN CITY — Four candidates are hoping to fill the three open seats on the Ocean City Board of Education in the Nov. 4 general election.

  • Halloween Parade marches down Asbury Thursday

    OCEAN CITY — Festive and fun, the Halloween Parade is one of Ocean City’s most beloved traditions. The 67th annual event will roll down Asbury Avenue on Thursday, Oct. 30 as darkness descends.

    The parade features string bands, local high school musicians - including the Red Raider marching band - decorated floats, modern and antique fire trucks, and hundreds of costumed children.

  • Gov. Chris Christie holds a press conference to announce the activation of a statewide Ebola preparedness plan at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack Wednesday, Oct. 22. Administration officials, state agencies and departments will work in a coordinated manner to ensure the health and safety of New Jersey residents is protected and to execute on decisions in an efficient and effective manner. (Governor's Office/Tim Larsen)

    Gov. Chris Christie signed Executive Order 164 on Oct. 22, creating the Ebola Virus Disease Joint Response Team to implement the state’s Ebola preparedness plan. The plan covers airport travel, public transportation, schools and universities, and hospitals.

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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