Recently, by way of my dear friend Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris, PhD, Esq. III, MBA, MSM, MSW ARNP, Total Badass, I was introduced to a very nice lady working on a story about a mausoleum in the far reaches of our United States that had developed a little problem of leaking dark fluid from parts unknown. Her marching orders were this:
“What are other mausoleums doing to prevent leakage or seepage? Talk with any local cemetery or funeral homes which offer this service and found [sic] out how they are designed, how long the shelf life of a crypt is, what maintenance is required – both daily and yearly – to assure occupants are sealed in tightly.”
So I took the liberty of responding. In the interest of being lazy, here is my response to her:
The “shelf life of a crypt” made me smile. A mausoleum, and the crypts that it holds, are made of concrete and are just like any other building out there. Honestly, there isn’t much difference between a mausoleum and a modern mixed-use apartment development; they are made mostly from concrete, tile, marble and wood, and have the same maintenance requirements. Cleaning, painting, drainage repairs, landscaping, electrical, etc. The residents of the mausoleum cause far less wear and tear than an apartment denizen, though.
Crypts are simply a cuboid space made from concrete that is open on one end. There are drain holes in the bottom corners and vents in top corners. The drains and vents are there for ventilation and draining leaks. Leaks need not be gory effluent streaming from the casket, and the gases not necessarily the miasma of decomposition. Once a casket is placed in the crypt, the space is sealed with an “inner shutter,” which is usually sheet metal. It is sealed with common glue or caulking. After this is completed, the “outer shutter” is placed on the crypt. This is usually marble or granite – whatever facing the mausoleum has to make it pretty.
As much as I would love to give you a great story, there is virtually zero maintenance on the crypts themselves. Even more disappointing, in all my years of managing cemeteries and mausoleums, I have never seen a crypt or casket “explode,” nor have I heard a credible firsthand account of this happening. That isn’t to say that it has never happened – I’m just saying that the space, design, physics and engineering don’t pan out for an explosion scenario. If the drain plugs and vent holes weren’t opened up before placement of a casket, it may be possible that the seal would crack/leak, or shift one or both of the shutters. I would imagine that it would be way less dramatic than the macabre “explosion” that people speak of.
To speak to the safety and security of the crypt occupants, there are several factors that make disturbing a crypt difficult. Getting the two shutters off isn’t a quick process, and most modern mausoleums have some form of security after hours. During open hours, it would be decidedly risky to try to take on the endeavor. Once you got past the shutters, you would need the equipment (lift) to get the casket out (unless it was first level). Furthermore, it would be a largely fruitless endeavor. Most people aren’t entombed with anything of great value beyond sentimental objects, so your big “payoff” would be the deceased in whatever state of decay that they were in.
It would be a lot of risk for almost assuredly zero reward.
I know that this doesn’t make for a magical story, but sometimes the reality of cemetery management is just incredibly dull. Big excitement is when you have irrigation problems. *shrug*
And there you have it – (nearly) everything you need to know about the design and maintenance of a mausoleum and the crypts inside. I find it so amazing that people find these things interesting. It may just be that after all of these years, none of it seems particularly compelling to me, but please, dear readers – all seven of you – send me your questions on these items that have been rolling around in your heads. I really need to know what’s interesting and what’s not, because it seems I have no earthly idea these days. Just go to the contact page and send over a little missive. Oh, and if you haven’t liked the Facebook page yet… get there. It’s another place where you can feel free to ask questions.