Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Red Lodge Mausoleum

Above-ground burials in mausoleums are the norm in Europe and in some places in the United States. In New Orleans, above-ground burials are required to prevent cemeteries from becoming bone gumbo during frequent flooding. While private mausoleums dot Montana cemeteries, above ground mass burials were never common practice. After 1900, inexpensive concrete construction made building large multiple crypt facilities economically feasible. At the same time, Progressive-era ideology was encouraging individuals to join together for community improvement. Thus, the communal mausoleum movement was born, placing above-ground entombment within financial reach of ordinary citizens. In 1921, the Consolidated Mausoleum Company advertised communal mausoleums in Montana newspapers. “The present high state of civilization demands,” read the ad, “a more humane and sanitary method of taking care of the dead, than found in earth burial.” This opportunity intrigued Red Lodge, and construction of a mass mausoleum engaged the community. More than two hundred people subscribed to the project, and construction of the mausoleum with more than two hundred crypts, or burial spaces, began along Montana Highway 78. Designed as a “time-defying” monument, its simple, but massive temple front, heavy bronze doors, and enormous Tuscan columns emphasize strength and permanence. The reinforced concrete walls are durable and moisture tight, fulfilling the requirements for the mausoleum to survive in perpetuity.

Courtesy Montana State Historic Preservation Office
Nationwide, hundreds of communities joined the movement, but the Red Lodge Communal Mausoleum, recently listed in the National Register of Historic Places, is one of only three identified in Montana. True to plan, the mausoleum housed Red Lodge citizens of all classes. Wealthy businessmen, immigrant coal miners, and their families, lie entombed together “within the walls of one building… imposing and everlasting.”

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