Outside the Box

In keeping with the Halloween spirit, we bring you the tale of George Russell, who buries people in cardboard on his property. Welcome to his neighborhood.

"There's not a bone left of this horse," he muses.

Russell, through the church, sells individual plots for a suggested $300 donation and family plots for $3,000. But, he says, he's flexible. He has been known to give away sites, as he did with his friend Sollie Jackson. Jackson has no insurance, makes a meager living as a hospital cook, and says he can't afford a traditional funeral. As of July, the average cost of a funeral was $6,500, not including cemetery costs, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.

Everyone buried in the cemetery must be an Ethician, which involves a simple anointment of a frankincense-and-myrrh solution out of a glass lip-balm tube Russell always carries in his pocket. Russell first reads the person's soul, of course, to determine if the person is really the type who would abide by the Golden Rule.

The marble pyramid is only paces away…
Photographs by Daniel Kramer
The marble pyramid is only paces away…
…from where George Russell, shown with Jenny Zeitner and Mike Reagan…
Daniel Kramer
…from where George Russell, shown with Jenny Zeitner and Mike Reagan…

And, as in the case of the late Rick Gallagher, there are posthumous anointments that preclude a soul-reading. Russell looks at it this way: When you're dead, "you can't do any more evil…you can do some good because you can fertilize our trees."

This concept is the polar opposite of a traditional burial, which involves pumping a body full of preservatives, sticking it in an expensive, nonbiodegradable container and dropping it into a cement vault. That, Russell says, turns a loved one into a "toxic pickle."

And cremation's no better, because of all the fossil fuels required to burn the body, he says. No, the only way to be laid to rest is the green way, the natural way, which ensures the dignity of both the person and the planet.

It also protects the deceased's family from what Russell calls the funeral Mafia, who peddle brass-handled, velvet-lined caskets to turn misery into profit. Conversely, a decent cardboard casket runs about $80 and can be ordered online at cardboardcasket.com. Or you can wrap your loved one in a shawl.

Jackson has already staked out a beautiful, tall oak where he wants to be buried. He says green burials are no nonsense -- no $10,000 casket, no roomful of flowers, no $2 million church.

"That's just the way it was at the beginning of time," he says.

Russell's friend Terri Reed has purchased the first family plot. A Pennsylvania native, Reed fell in love with the East Texas piney woods more than ten years ago and bought a house in Waterwood. A hiker, horse-rider and mountain biker, Reed is outdoors with her boyfriend when she's not interviewing and deporting incarcerated aliens for the Department of Homeland Security.

"I think the burials lately…have gotten extremely commercialized, where you're kind of removed from the whole intimacy of a special loved one," says Reed, an anointed priestess in the Universal Ethician Church. "There's too many artificial barriers."

But now, Russell says, his cemetery is threatened by SHECO's power line. In one of his filings with the PUC, Russell writes: "Would SHECO or any other power company be allowed to desecrate the Vatican, the Mormon Tabernacle, the National Cathedral, Notre Dame or any other place of prayer and meditation?"

As Russell says, "It's a damn thankless job to get out there and kick butt against evil."

Carnal whores have over the centuries caused far less damage to civilization, ethics, and morals than have another class of whore--the POLITICAL WHORE!!!

-- Ethicius I, politicalwhores.org

On May 24, 1861, the day after Virginia seceded from the Union, Union Army Colonel Elmer Ellsworth was leading a volunteer squad of New York soldiers through the streets of Alexandria when he noticed a Confederate flag flying from the roof of an inn.

Ellsworth took four soldiers to the inn to remove the offensive banner. Ellsworth climbed the stairs to the roof, cut down the flag and was heading back down the stairs when the innkeeper put a hole in his chest with a shotgun.

Upon hearing the news, Ellsworth's friend and mentor Abraham Lincoln dispatched D.C. morticians to embalm Ellsworth's body for a state funeral, followed two weeks later by an open-casket funeral in Ellsworth's hometown of Mechanicsville, New York.

Seeing how well Ellsworth's body was preserved, Lincoln thought it would be a good idea to have embalmers follow the troops to give families a chance to honor and bury their fallen loved ones. These early military-friendly embalmers would go on to become some of the biggest and most respected names in the funeral home industry.

This was the birth of modern death, according to Thomas Van Beck, director of Houston's Commonwealth Institute of Funeral Service.

Embalming was used for years before the Civil War, but that's when it really took off, he says.

Coffins (body-shaped containers narrow at the head, wide at the body and narrow at the feet) and caskets (the rectangular boxes typically used in American burials) were around before then, too, but mostly for utilitarian, not spiritual, purposes. Locking and sealing caskets thwarted grave robbers, who sold corpses to medical schools, Van Beck says.

Incidentally, if you think bodies in coffins are protected from creepy-crawlies, you're mistaken. Phorid flies, also known as coffin flies, are a mortuary nuisance that can deposit eggs on a preburial corpse, insuring that hundreds of maggots will be sealed in tight once the casket is buried.

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