In outer space = yes. In Fenway Park = no.
It was hardly the perfect crime. On a Saturday afternoon in October, Roger Kaiser attended the Metropolitan Opera’s performance of “Guillaume Tell” in New York. At intermission, the 52-year-old Texas jeweler approached the orchestra, reached inside his black bag and sprinkled a couple handfuls of white powder into two separate areas of the pit.
Someone spotted him. Concerned this might be an act of terrorism, the police arrived and carted the white powder off for testing. Instruments and cases lay strewn around the orchestra pit as the Met called off the remainder of the matinee and the evening performance as well. Patrons became irate and demanded refunds before they obeyed police demands to evacuate Lincoln Center.
But no one was more apologetic than Kaiser, who merely intended to scatter the ashes of his mentor and friend?—?an opera buff who recently lost a battle with cancer. Ultimately?—?appreciating that his intentions were innocent and his apology sincere?—?the NYPD chose not to press charges against Kaiser.
Kaiser is far from the first person who wanted to memorialize a loved one in a popular public space. In 2007, Disneyland closed the Pirates of the Caribbean ride for 45 minutes after security cameras caught a woman dumping white silt into the ride’s water. She later claimed the substance was baby powder. Fans routinely attempt to sneak ashes into their favorite college football stadiums, professional football stadiums and ballparks, often destroying the grass and soil of those fields in the process.
2.5 million Americans die every year. In 2015, 48.6% of those people had decided they wanted to be cremated. The Cremation Association projects that that figure will rise to 54.3% by 2020. It’s worth noting that cremation’s recent surge in popularity comes at a fortuitous time: Per the BBC, a 2013 survey indicates that “nearly half of England’s cemeteries could run out of space within the next 20 years.” As the worldwide population continues to increase, the basic principles of graveyard supply and demand may force others into similarly unconventional areas of the death care industry.
What IS cremation, anyway?
Simple. It’s the process by which a dead body is reduced to its basic elements and dried bone fragments through incineration. The procedure takes place inside a cremation chamber, which gets cranked up to super-hot temperatures (between 1,400°-1,800° Fahrenheit).
After the process is complete, the family receives between four and six pounds of carbon ash. Next of kin can store or scatter this ash as they see fit. (In a particularly circular turn of events, the inventor of the Pringles container requested that after his death, a portion of his remains be buried inside a Pringles can.)
Most states require a 24–48 hour waiting period between the time of death and the time of cremation?—?but this statute can be waived in the case of a public health concern.
If you’re curious, watch the process for yourself here:
People’s newfound appreciation for cremation can be attributed to any number of motivations?—?not least among them, the low price tag. As of 2012, the average cost of a funeral was about $7,000 dollars. (That’s up from just $700 in 1960.) For around $1,600, you can get a cremation and a basic memorial service to boot.
Catholic church’s recent pivot on the issue has also made cremation more alluring for some. For centuries, the church banned cremation for theological reasons. In 1963, the church began to ease its restrictions on the process, provided it was “not done for reasons at odds with Christian doctrine.” In October, the Catholic Church once again updated its stance, noting that cremation is now acceptable, provided the ashes of the deceased are not scattered, but “buried in cemeteries or other sacred spaces.”
Then there’s the fact that cremation allows for a great deal more creativity than a traditional burial?—?at least for those with deeper pockets. For a mere $1,300 dollars, Celestis?—?an affiliate of Space Services, a Houston-based aerospace company?—?will launch your loved one’s remains into space to experience a zero gravity environment, before returning them safely to Earth. $12,500 will afford you the opportunity to send those same ashes to the moon or into deep space. Sea Services, a company promising “complete maritime funeral options” offers families the opportunity to charter a private vessel to scatter ashes in one of their many selected locations. If you’re unable to accompany the vessel, the company will scatter the ashes on your behalf and provide you with documentation for a lesser fee of $195.
There are rules in place regulating how and when you can spread your loved one’s ashes, but as both Roger Kaiser and the NYPD discovered, people don’t always adhere to those rules. Scattering laws vary by state?—?but here are a few overarching guidelines.
1. You cannot commingle cremated remains, unless with the specific request of the deceased
2. You can bury or store cremated remains in a niche or columbarium
3. You can have them added to an existing grave, i.e. somewhere a spouse or family has already been buried
4. You can scatter cremated remains in a designated place, like a memorial garden
5. You can scatter remains on private or public lands as long as you have permission
Additional regulations include that you have to throw the container that carried the ashes in the garbage. Some state agencies require a permit for water scatterings, and you have to be at least three nautical miles from land and comply with the Clean Water Act.
People wishing to memorialize their loved ones with flowers or wreaths must use materials that are “readily decomposable in a marine environment.” You also have to notify the EPA in writing within 30 days of the scattering.
The “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to scattering ashes
The Vermont-based death care company, Cremation Solutions, says on its website that when it comes to figuring out scattering laws, “Your own moral compass/judgment can be equally right within the reasons of common sense.” Unfortunately, when it comes to honoring and memorializing loved ones, common sense and good judgment are often nowhere to be found.
Just ask anyone who attended the October 29th performance of the Metropolitan Opera.