Trend toward cremations could help save Portland’s Evergreen Cemetery

This architect drawing depicts how a proposed columbarium, which will have 300 niches for cremation remains, would look when constructed at Portland's Evergreen Cemetery.
This architect drawing depicts how a proposed columbarium, which will have 300 niches for cremation remains, would look when constructed at Portland's Evergreen Cemetery. Buy Photo
Posted April 07, 2014, at 2:27 p.m.
Last modified April 08, 2014, at 5:16 p.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — For every traditional burial in a coffin, the cremated remains of two people can be interred. That’s an important factor in future planning for graveyards such as Portland’s historic Evergreen Cemetery, where a proposed expansion aims to keep it from reaching capacity after 160 years of burials.

Portland Cemetery Superintendent Joe Dumais said he expects the demand for burials at Evergreen to increase in the coming years as Maine’s population ages, but he also said the increasing number of people choosing cremation will help offset the space crunch that might have otherwise confronted the cemetery’s overseers this year.

As part of the expansion project, the cemetery is adding a semicircular columbarium with 300 niches, which can hold as many as 600 cremated remains.

“We’re over 50 percent cremations now, and we know as a nation we’re trending toward cremations,” Dumais said of the current interments. “In some cemeteries it’s as high as 60 percent or more.”

David Morgan, president of Brooklawn Memorial Park in Portland, said people “choose cremations for lots of reasons.” He said some people prefer cremation because of religious reasons, while for others it’s an environmental concern.

Still others, he said, pick cremation because it’s less expensive than a traditional burial in a coffin.

“[Burials] are getting more and more expensive, so that’s been an issue for families,” said Christopher Crawford, owner of Conroy-Tully Crawford Funeral Homes & Cremation Services, which has facilities in Portland and South Portland.

Including memorial services in both cases, the average cost of a traditional burial is greater than $6,500, while cremation hovers around $1,600, according to a CNBC report last year.

“The cremation rates in this state are projected to go over 70 percent, which is a pretty astounding number,” Morgan said. “The traditional burial rates are projected to pretty much stay the same. That bump — that ‘Baby Boom’ bump — will for the most part be taken up by cremations.”

That figure would be more than double the U.S. average of 34 percent as recently as 2007, according to the Cremation Association of North America, and even outpaces the organization’s high-end nationwide estimate of nearly 56 percent by 2025.

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