’In the U.S., 18th and 19th century burials involved at most, a pine casket and a plot in a cemetery or on your land. But embalming techniques pioneered during the Civil War so thousands of soldiers could be brought home helped spawn the modern funeral industry. The death of Abraham Lincoln and the public viewings of his embalmed body as it was brought from Washington, D.C. to its final resting in Springfield, Illinois likely also contributed to the shift in how Americans conceive of death.
“The reports we get from that era is he [Lincoln] looked pretty doggone good for being dead after being assassinated with a bullet to the head,” Bill Hoy, an end of life expert at Baylor University, told Earther. “That confirmed that [embalming] is especially helpful for two things: One, when our dead’s death occurs a few days from home, and two, when an injury or disease process was such that dead just look horrible, and people thought ‘I don’t want that to be my last picture.’”
But while the growth of arterial embalming fluid gave loved ones more time to say goodbye and create a last memory, the processes also cuts bodies off from what some would argue is their final purpose, of giving life the Earth.
The modern green burial movement is a sort of course correction for the Western world. Acciavatti said that it’s always been much bigger in Europe compared to the U.S. “[i]n part because embalming was never really a thing there, but also because we’re so behind the curve in terms of green movements in the U.S.” But the U.S. is now catching up.
Ramsey Creek Preserve, the first modern green burial cemetery in the U.S., opened 20 years ago in South Carolina. Since then, roughly 150 green burial sites have opened their gates (if they even have them), allowing family and friends to bury loved ones in a more natural way. That generally means wrapping their body in a shroud, digging a grave that’s three feet deep—far enough down to not be detected by scavengers but not so far down as to be cut off from microbial decay—and keeping the grave unmarked.…’