We are seeing a fundamental shift in how we approach death and what comes after. Compared to just a few decades ago, vastly more Americans are foregoing the old-fashioned burial and turning to the alternative of cremation. This is what brought me here to Rosehill, and now my tour with Jim Koslovski, president of the Rosehill and Rosedale Cemetery, is about to go deeper into his world to see how cemeteries are dealing with America’s after-death revolution.
As I follow him deeper inside the columbarium, we pass through the Rose Room. Urns here are not hidden in niches behind glass, but instead are on display in the open air. I prefer it this way. The glass cases remind me of the razors at the drug store—the ones you can only access by notifying a salesperson with a key. Deeper still, at the very rear of the room, lies a set of stained glass doors. Koslovski slides them open to reveal a hidden set of spy-movie doors, these made of metal. They are solid for a reason: Behind them lies the crematorium itself.
The doors open, and we stroll onto what looks like the floor of a factory, but one dedicated to a certain kind of deconstruction.
Back in 1980, less than 5 percent of Americans were cremated when they died. That figure now stands at about 50 percent, according to the National Cremation Association of North America. Changing cultural and religious standards are at play here, for sure. But if you want to see one event that accelerated the change, look no further than the Great Recession.
“We saw a big uptick in cremation when there was the economic downturn in 2008, when people were losing their jobs. Cremation is a less expensive alternative,” Koslovski says.
“Less expensive alternative” may be putting it lightly. Rosehill charges just $180 to cremate a body, although the urn, flowers, and service are extra. A grave, by contrast, can cost $2,500, plus an additional $1,500 to open the ground with a backhoe.
Rosehill, located about a half-hour from Manhattan, now cremates about 25 bodies per day and has been expanding its facility to meet the growing demand. It already had three cremation machines, but bought an additional unit in 2013, another in 2016, and expects to have a sixth up and running by the end of the year.