Funerals Matter

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The media is full of hype these days about the changing face of funeral service. While articles about green burials, home funerals or no funerals at all, proliferate, this is not the reality. Funerals matter and this book makes that case. A “must read” for anyone interested in a career as a funeral director. The author cites John F. Kennedy’s funeral, which –for those who remember or have seen the footage–spoke volumes about the need for ceremony. An article about this book appears in the March issue of American Funeral Director. Here’s a link to Amazon.

“I Know Everything About the Funeral Industry” said the novice.

This photo, and its blurb, sparked this blog post. These days, so many newcomers to the funeral industry have declared themselves “experts.” A troubling –and embarrassing development–to true, bonafide industry insiders. They will tell you that the traditional funeral is dead, if you will pardon the pun, and that “green” is the way to go. And some of the more extreme bloggers will even try to convince you that “death is cool” (Seriously!?) I am here to assure you that despite such postings, the traditional funeral –with its comforting rites and rituals–is alive and well.

New York City’s Preeminent Jewish Funeral Director

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The March issue of American Funeral Director contains my long and eagerly-awaited profile of Charles S. Salomon. He is a most interesting person whose career as a funeral director has been one that most people only dream about. In his 50 years as a funeral director, he’s handled the funerals of many prominent New Yorkers including Leonard Bernstein, Senators Frank Lautenberg and Jacob Javits, Marvin Hamlisch, Lee Strasberg, Jerry Ohrbach, Sol Hurok, General David Sarnoff, William Paley, restaurateur Peter Kriendler, the owner of Manhattan’s ’21’ and Edward I. Koch (my favorite funeral ever). Yet, what impressed me most was his humility and deep commitment to funeral service. He is the sort of director from which we all can learn and aspire to be like

Gracie Mansion Holiday Party

Tonight’s holiday party at Gracie Mansion was bittersweet, as it will be the last one hosted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg. At the party, Tony and I were chatting with the mayor and when I addressed him as Mayor Bloomberg (as I always do), he said, “Mike.” Me: Mike?” He: “Yes, Mike.” While I’m honored to finally be on a first name basis with New York City’s mayor, it’s only for a couple more weeks. For his last official holiday party, Mike (LOL!) extended invitations to not only the regulars, but also to journalists who had covered him during his years in office. Enjoyed making new media contacts. As always, the mayor was gracious, witty, and benevolent. No more so than when he dedicated a room in City Hall to legendary journalist and personality, Stan Brooks.

Green-Wood Cemetery’s 6th Annual Benefit

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One of my favorite events of the year is Green-Wood’s Annual Benefit. Here’s we are with Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz and his lovely wife, Jamie. Marty was this year’s co-honoree and a well-deserved honor it was for all the support he has given to Green-Wood.

Calvary Cemetery Profile

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My profile of historic Calvary Cemetery in Queens County, NY –where folklore has it that 3 million people are buried–is the cover story for June’s American Cemetery. As a funeral director, the figure of 3 million did not sound right. The NY Diocese was happy to provide me with the more appropriate –and still substantial –number of 1.8 million interments. I must tell you, I shot this magnificent monument over and over ….and over during the course of a year, until we got a cover-worthy image.

My Cemetery Travels

 

I took tour guide extraordinaire Marge Raymond’s trolley tour at Green-Wood Cemetery today. After the tour, Ruth Edebohls, another of Green-Wood’s tour guides, joined us, and we went exploring.  Despite having written a book about the place, Marge and Ruth showed me several sites I had never seen before. Green-Wood never ceases to amaze me.  There is always something new to see. Sometimes it’s an interesting element of a grand monument that escaped notice, or a small, almost hidden stone on which is inscribed something that moves the soul.

I was able to get some interesting new photos to share from this fun afternoon. And, as always, a visit to Green-Wood is a learning experience, especially in the company of two such amazing guides Thanks Marge and Ruth!

 

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The grave site of Leonard Bernstein is a perennial favorite of visitors. 

My Favorite Funeral

The funeral for Mayor Koch was a true celebration of his life! Each and every speaker shared memories –both personal and public–as well as anecdotes which made the entire audience laugh. Mayor Bloomberg, especially, was in top form regaling everyone with amusing quips and heartfelt praise. The signature moment came at the end of the service. As Mayor Koch’s casket was being shouldered out of Temple Emanu-El, the organist began to play New York, New York (if only Frank were there to sing it). In a moment both moving and celebratory, the entire crowd broke out in sustained applause. Here is that moment captured for history:

Cruisin’ Brooklyn With Doris Amen

 

While in Brooklyn to meet up with my friend Doris (a media favorite) and attend the wake of an industry friend, we made an impromptu stop at Green-Wood. “You want to take a walk before we go to the wake?” she asked. “Sure, I have sneakers in my car!” I responded, always up for a walk in G-W. “You don’t need those. I walk in heels,” she said. And, so we did. After which Doris drove us to the wake in her hearse. “I can double park that way,” she explained. We were quite the sight as we made our way in the Brooklyn traffic congestion, arriving at the funeral home as we did. After we paid our respects and talked with some colleagues, I was given a spirited tour of Red Hook (still in the hearse). I must say, Doris makes even going to a wake quite an event!