Draped Urn

The William Remy Cole Monument, Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Georgia

The monument in the photograph is of a draped urn.  This particular urn is a dramatic example of this symbol, cast in bronze and freestanding.  For the most part, the urns are found on top of columns and mausoleums, ornaments. 

The urn, of course, is a container used to hold the ashes or the cremated remains of the dead.  In this case, the urn is draped.  The drapery either represents a shroud representing death and sorrow, or can also be a motif that reperesents a veil that separates the earth and Heaven.  The urn was an almost ubiquitous 19th Century symbol found in nearly every American cemetery. 

The irony is that very few people were cremated during the 19th Century when the draped urn motif was at the heighth of its popularity.  For instance, during the eight years from 1876 until 1884, only 41 Americans were cremated.  Though the number of cremations in the United States slowly increased, by the 1950s only less 4% of our dead were cremated.  Cremation, though, has been increasing each decade: 1960–3.56%; 1970–4.59%; 1980–9.72%; 1990–17.13%; 2000–26.24%; 2010–35.93%.  Some are predicting that by 2025, almost half of our dead will be cremated.  Maybe the urn will re-emerge as a symbol for the 21st Century.

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