Maybe it was the heat of August, but as I was out running one morning  last week I thought of cremation.  And when I think of cremation I am reminded of the San Francisco Columbarium that I visited several years ago.  As part of a post-graduate technical writing class I had taken, I had written a piece about cremation versus burial and had mentioned the San Francisco Columbarium in it.  I managed to shock my younger fellow students with the clever title of “The Tomb or The Torch?” 

San Francisco Columbarium

The San Francisco Landmarks website describes it this way:

Columbaria, first built by the classical Romans, are buildings which contain cremated remains. The word is derived from the Latin columbawhich means dovecote.

The San Francisco Columbarium, containing over five thousand niches, was designed by British architect Bernard J. Cahill and opened in 1898 in what was then the 167-acre Odd Fellows Cemetery. In 1910, San Francisco passed a law prohibiting cremations, and the crematory was demolished. Later all bodies in the cemetery were relocated outside the city. The Columbarium survived but from 1934 to 1979 it was abandoned to raccoons and birds, mushrooms and fungus.  The Neptune Society acquired the building in 1979 and over the years has performed a dazzling restoration.”

Inside the San Francisco Columbarium

It is an incredible place full of beauty and surprises around every curve.  The dome,  stained glass and marble floors presents a cross between a cathedral and a museum with a quiet sense of  reverence, mystery and art.  The rounded walls blend with the dome which is capped with stained glass.  The rotunda gives it a feeling of infinity, but  the small alcoves gives one a sense of intimacy.  The settings seem so much more personal than a mausoleum or a cemetery.  Each niche is like a compact memorial.  In some niches the urn is sealed inside with only the name and life dates on a plaque.  Others have a glass front with the urn and a few personal mementos visible –  passport,  picture,  locket,  teddy bear,  rosary,  lock of hair,  good luck charm – to reflect the life departed life of the ashes that now reside there forever. 

Check out the San Francisco Landmarks website and click on the photos there for a closer view of the ones I posted here. 

Cremation makes sense to me, but I just don’t know what I want done with my ashes.  The San Francisco Columbarium is too far away.  Composting would be practical but quite undignified.  I see no reason to have them kept around the house like some odd vase that nobody can find the right spot for but will feel obligated to keep.   To bury them seems to defeat the purpose of cremation.  So scattering seem the best solution.  But where?  I’ll have to be creative.