The concept of burying coffins standing up (vertically rather than horizontally) is by no means a new one. This is an older idea and one brought up every so often, but it is about time I gave my own personal thoughts on the matter in a short post.
It should be noted that I am liberal in some regards, personally I see no issue with this burial method in terms of it being 'acceptable' or 'unusual' or anything of the sort. Rather, I do not see any practical advantage or merit and many impracticalities with it.
The main reason people have suggested this method is to save space, but in doing so it raises two very important questions. The main question is: are cemeteries running out of space? This question addresses the very need for this burial as it is the point. So this is the most important question with regards to upright burials, and yet it is rarely addressed. The second questions is: will this method save space? If this method does not save space, which is the point, then there is no point to it.
Neither question look at social acceptance, while this is very important it is not vital, these are the two key questions which both have to be answered and as such they are the focus of this post.
Lack of Space?
The first reason is that cemeteries are not running out of room, Rookwood, Waverley and Eastern Suburbs have all been operating since the late 1800s and they still have space left. The most 'worrying' estimates say Rookwood will run out of room in 2030-2050 (depending on who you talk to). However, these estimates do not accurately take into account the rising popularity of cremation, or so I have found so far. Cremation is more popular than burial and still growing.
So this 'need' for more burial space is a bit of a non-issue in many cases. Sure, we could do with more space and more options, but ultimately burial space is not running out and even if it does we have several viable alternatives such as cremation or simply building more cemeteries.
The second reason is that (even ignoring the first) this method does not save any space at all from what I gather. As far as I can tell this method would take more space in some ways. Basically it would involve the grave to be dug rather deep; by law in NSW a grave must have 900mm (2.9 feet) of soil between the top of the coffin and the surface of the ground. The smaller coffin size is 5 feet high (plus a little bit extra for the shape and wood), this means the grave would need to be about 2,400mm (8 feet) deep.
That is quite deep, but only about as deep as a triple depth grave. In other words this single grave needs to be dug about as deep as a standard triple depth grave. Assuming other coffins are buried along side, shoulder to shoulder, this method really is taking the same space as a triple depth grave and is more work.
Another forgotten issue is the body within the coffin, one does not tend to stand after death. To stand a coffin would mean most bodies would fall and slump. Hearing a "thump" as the deceased hits the side when the coffin is tilted up would not make the best of funerals. Maybe the tilting would not be this "dramatic", but it would take effort to upright a coffin. Plus the body would most likely need to be secured inside so as to not fall about too much, or slump downwards.
Really, this idea is all very fun but not practical as far as I can tell. No discussions about it have ever revealed it to be slightly possible, or even worth it. It is unnecessary as cemeteries have enough space, it is pointless as it takes the same space as a triple depth grave, and it requires more effort.
I think of this as another good example of how most do not understand the funeral industry, yet many have opinions about it. For example those from within the industry would know about triple depth graves, and that where those are not possible or practical this method would also be difficult.
Lets put it another way; the funeral companies are always looking for better profits (as costs are high but profits are low), more graves in cemeteries is a decent way to make money. Some cemeteries have gone so far as to remove or reduce roads to fit in more graves. If this method had any valid possibility of increasing grave numbers then the funeral industry would be the ones promoting it, and not politicians or non-industry people.
The funeral industry is only ever a mirror of society, what we as a collective want and think; to me this lack of promotion from within the industry indicates that society does not want this and that it is not worth pursuing. Admittedly the funeral industry might not always want changes, but in this case the industry has nothing to lose and something to gain. In other words upright coffins are not socially desirable or practically applicable.