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Headstones, cremation, mushroom spore suits: Tidbits on how to be laid to rest

Cemeteries are "a living place,” said Calvary Cemetery supervisor Tim Sailstad. “It certainly is a place of prayer, but it’s a place where families connect. A cemetery is forever.” In honor of honoring the dead, here are some facts about being laid to rest. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com1 / 2
Rows of tombstones stand in Calvary Cemetery in Duluth. Calvary only allows granite tombstones because they're easier to maintain, said supervisor Tim Sailstad. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com2 / 2

Walking into a cemetery, there are gravestones in the shape of benches. A cross is drawn on a monument in what looks like lipstick. One has baby blue yarn wrapped around it.

There's broken glass on a mausoleum, and one gravestone reads "Meet me in a better land."

Also in the cemetery, a man walks his dog, a jogger gallops through, a woman trails behind two children on bikes. "It's a living place," said Calvary Cemetery supervisor Tim Sailstad. "It certainly is a place of prayer, but it's a place where families connect. A cemetery is forever."

In honor of honoring the dead, here are some tidbits about being laid to rest.


• Lighter color granite is the best for any tombstone, said Ryan Zentgraf, groundskeeper at Park Hill Cemetery. Granite markers are actually requirements at Calvary, Sailstad said. The reason: other materials don't hold up as well, especially unfinished marble. "Dirt and grime get into the pores, and it actually doesn't come out," Zentgraf said. Granite is more easily maintained and more readable after a couple of years.

• Flat markers will eventually sink. Over time, the grass will encroach on them, but it's fairly easy to raise them or trim around them, Sailstad added.

• Gravestones are owned by the families, who are financially responsible for maintenance — if the marker falls over or needs to be updated. "Generally, the cemeteries are the ones that do the work," Sailstad said.

• It costs more to purchase a cemetery plot in the upright monuments section of a cemetery compared to a flat-marker section, Zentgraf said. Upright monuments call for more maintenance and trimming around, whereas a lawn-level marker can simply be mowed, Sailstad said.

• Thanks to technology, more people are adding personal touches to headstones, Sailstad said. It may be as simple as a flower or a verse or a reference to a hobby.


• It takes three hours to complete a cremation at an average of 1,500 to 1,600 degrees, Zentgraf said.

• More people are choosing cremation. He said he sees about 30 to 40 cremations a month, and it's mostly a financial decision. 

• There are above-ground mausoleums for urns called a columbarium. In each is a niche, or a space for an urn.

• Urns can also be buried.

• Another option to scattering ashes is a biodegradable urn. "You place the urn wherever you want it to be, and when it gets wet, it dissolves," said Matt Johnsrud, funeral director at Affordable Cremation and Burial.

• Unlike cremation which uses high temperatures, alkaline hydrolysis is becoming a new option, Johnsrud said. "The body is placed into a solution of alkaline and is dissolved instead of incinerated."


• Local writer/historian Heidi Bakk-Hansen said an intriguing option for herself is a mushroom spore suit. Bodies are placed in a fabric that's imbued with mushroom spores. "The mushrooms basically devour your body," Johnsrud said.

• Another option Bakk-Hansen shared was turning remains into a coral reef or a tree. A biodegradable pod encapsulates ashes, is buried and a seedling is planted above it. After some time, the pod breaks down and one's remains turn into nutrients for the tree.

• Also up and coming is a process that combines marine-grade concrete with cremains and forms a home for coral and fish in an artificial reef.

Johnsrud said he'd like to be buried in a casket with flowers and bike parts on top. "I've always liked it when people put flowers on the casket," he said.

Zentgraf will go for cremation. He's not sure where he'd like to be buried, but there will be some sort of gravestone. "It's important that everyone gets a marker," he said.

However one is laid to rest, Zentgraf said death doesn't bother him like it used to. He attributes that to gaining perspective on the job. When we pass, we're doing what's happened naturally for so many others before us. "We're all headed there, there's no way to escape it yet."


• Columbarium: a structure of vaults lined with recesses for urns; contains niches

• Cremains: ashes of a cremated human body

• Crypt: a chamber in a mausoleum that holds caskets

• Footstone: memorial stone at foot of grave

• Headstone: memorial stone at head of grave

• Marker: a metal or stone marker placed on a grave to identify the person buried there

• Mausoleum: an above-ground tomb, usually a stone building

• Monument: an upright gravestone

• Niche: a square recess in a wall, can hold urns; can be found in columbariums

Melinda Lavine

Lavine is a features and health reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. 

(218) 723-5346