There Is a Single Public Funeral Pyre in America

But you have to be a resident of Saguache County, Colorado, to use it
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted May 23, 2022 12:58 PM CDT
He Decided to Be Cremated on Only Public Funeral Pyre in US
The pyre in Crestone.   (Wikimedia Commons/Rufrazier)

(Newser) – If the term "funeral pyre" conjures up images of traditional Hindu burnings in India, know that there's at least one public pyre that's closer to home. That fact comes to light in a New York Times piece on the death of Dr. Philip Incao, who chose to be cremated on the only public open-air funeral pyre in America. It opened in Crestone, Colo., more than a decade ago, and it's available only to the roughly 7,000 residents and landowners of Saguache County. Writing for the Times, Ruth Graham digs into what led Incao to this point, focusing on the 81-year-old's belief in reincarnation and lifelong study of the teachings of Rudolf Steiner, but her piece is just as much about the process, and where it fits—or doesn't—into the larger American death experience.

While cremation in general has become commonplace—more than half of Americans opt for it—it's "basically designed so that the American family doesn’t have to deal with the dying," Incao himself said in December. Not so in the case of the Crestone pyre, which has handled 70 or so cremations. As with others, Incao's body remained at home on ice after his February death from prostate cancer; the body was then wrapped in a shroud and transported to the site on a wooden stretcher that had been placed in his son's pickup truck. The stretcher was laid on a metal grate, and his body was topped with juniper branches. Incense burned as Incao's second wife and sons lit the pyre. His body would burn for hours; they would retrieve his ashes the next day—about three gallons' worth, per Atlas Obscura. (Read the full story for more on Incao's choice.)

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