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Thanatopolis: A New Look and Feel for Final Resting Places

Artists will design personalized memorials

Other memorials are more conceptual. One stretches three pieces of fabric between trees, forming an abstract bird intended to symbolize the ability of mourners to free themselves from grief by recalling pleasant memories of the deceased.

Music for the soul

None of the temporary installations appears designed for the actual storage of remains — the kind of "memorial totems" that were one of two options for artists. I-Park plans to construct a new type of outdoor columbarium, or repository for cremated remains, possibly within a garden setting.

Other nontraditional memorial parks exist around the world, but none does as much individualizing of memorials as is being contemplated for Thanatopolis.

Comparable models circulated during a July symposium at I-Park, including Igualada Cemetery in Spain, created in the 1980s, which features a curving, sunken path carved into a hillside, with concrete burial chambers on the embankment. A similar hilltop design has been made for a cemetery in Urbino, Italy. The Oakland Columbarium in California, established in 1909, has always been exclusively for the interment of cremated remains.

The Lien Foundation, a philanthropy in Singapore, has sponsored an international competition to design personalized "Happy Coffins" for hospice residents. Ghana in West Africa has a long tradition of customizing coffins to reflect a person's characteristics or interests.

Thanatopolis is likely to incorporate music and performance in ways traditional cemeteries do not. In addition to memorial designs, there were competitions for musical compositions and mime performances.

Music reflects a personal interest of Crispino, the visionary behind Thanatopolis. When his close friend died in 1983, he defied tradition by playing a saxophone in the funeral home where the friend's body lay in a casket for viewing.

Kenneth J. Cooper is a writer in Boston.

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