Town considers temporary mausoleum for winter deaths
BRECKENRIDGE – Mourners might no longer have to stand around in freezing weather if a proposal to build a mausoleum in Breckenridge’s Valley Brook Cemetery is approved in the budget process this fall.
The strongest recommendation in the Cemetery Preservation Master Plan is to scale back on winter plowing to decrease damage sometimes caused by heavy equipment as it maneuvers around fences and headstones. The use of a mausoleum – a four-vault facility would cost about $40,000 – as a temporary vault could help solve that problem, while still allowing funerals to take place, Breckenridge Town Clerk Mary Jean Loufek told town council members last week. Final burial could take place after the ground thaws.
“Winter burials are tough,” she said. “Sometimes we’ve had to hand shovel because we don’t want backhoes hurting anything underneath the snow.”
Historians, iron workers and Loufek, who is in charge of the town’s cemetery, have spent the past few years restoring headstones and fences, some of which were destroyed in a violent windstorm six years ago. While doing so, they also have drafted a plan to maintain the historic cemetery, including rules regarding memorials and plants.
Rules regarding cemeteries and mausoleums in Colorado are drafted by the individual cemetery owners, including municipalities, said Steve Lang, funeral director of Hennigan and Olinger-Woods funeral homes in Idaho Springs and Golden. The town of Breckenridge owns Valley Brook Cemetery.
Burying bodies in vaults or mausoleums pre-dates Christianity, said Justin Stephens, owner of the Rocky Mountain Funeral Home in Breckenridge. In the earliest Christian cathedrals, people were buried in vaults in the church – the higher your station in life, the higher your spot on the wall.
In Norway, Stephens said, people are buried for 150 years, at which point their bones – if any remain – are exhumed and placed in a mass grave so the initial grave site can be used for someone else.
Today, most mausoleums aren’t intended for temporary use but are designed so the body can decompose naturally. Facilities set up for temporary use would require sealing the casket, Lang said. Sealed caskets are generally more expensive than other caskets but can run as little as $1,450, Stephens said.
“Where I’m from, in the Midwest, there are cemeteries that do this,” Lang said. “But it’s not that difficult to dig a grave. It’s less expensive to put a grave heater on the ground and fill it with kerosene or coals to thaw the ground.”
A possible drawback to sealing the casket before it is buried is that fluctuating temperatures, such as those commonly experienced in the High Country, could wrinkle the casket’s lid.
Lang said he believes temporary mausoleums don’t provide enough closure for the family.
“It’s one more loose end the family has to deal with,” Lang said. “It’s a temporary fix, and that weighs on the family.”
Stephens said he likes the idea of incorporating a mausoleum into Valley Brook’s operations.
“I think it’s going to be really wonderful,” he said. “It will prevent unnecessary damage in the historic section of the cemetery. It could also provide a slightly nicer funeral in the winter because you don’t have to shovel out graves and stand there in the cold. You just go inside the cemetery gate, have a committal service and do the interment in the spring.”
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