Casket Nomenclature: Component Parts of the Casket

After having finished the post on funeral terminology, the difference between caskets and coffins, I began thinking about the actual casket itself.  When it comes to caskets there are several major areas one can discuss: materials (exterior design), components, hardware and interior design.  This post only concerns itself with the component parts of the casket.  I am going to forewarn you: this is not going to be the most riveting post, BUT this is interesting in some respects, so please do continue reading.

So, I bet you’re picturing something like this:

Image Credit: Choice Caskets

While the above picture is not incorrect, in reality it’s something a little more like this:


The shell of a casket is composed of two parts: (1) the cap or lid and (2) the body of the casket.

(1) CAP

Cap or Lid

The cap, or lid, is the top most part of the casket shell; it includes the (a) ogee, (b) crown, (c) pie, and (d) header.

Ogee or Rim

(a) The ogee, or rim, is typically an “S” shaped molding and is part of the cap.  There are many rim shape variations, but the most common is the Roman style or “S” shaped molding.  Other common shapes are: flat, rising flat, oval, square, and concave.  The turned under edge or horizontal portion of the rim, which comes in contact with both the gasket (if the casket is a sealing casket) and body ledge flange (top body molding flange), is called the ogee flange.

Ogee Flange

Crown or swell

(b) The crown, or swell, is the upper most part of the cap, extending from rim to rim; everything above the ogee.  Crowns come in three variations: flat, semi-oval, and full oval.

Pie or fishtail

(c) The pie, or fishtail, is the wedge-shaped portion cap at each end of the crown.

Bridge, header or cap filler

(d) The bridge or header, sometimes also called the cap filler, is part of the cap that is seen in caskets that display a cut top.  It provides strength and rigidity at the point of the transverse cut.  The turned under edge or horizontal portion of the header is called the header flange.

Before moving on to the components of the body of the casket, you will find, highlighted in the picture below, the inside lid flange, which encompasses both the ogee flange and the header flange that were mentioned previously.

Inside lid flange: ogee flange + header flange

(2) BODY


 The body is the portion of the shell containing the (a) top body molding, (b) body panel, (c) base molding, and (d) casket bottom.

Top body molding, body ledge, top molding or top rail

(a) The top body molding, also referred to as the body ledge, top molding or top rail, is a molding along the uppermost edge of the body panels.  The red arrow points to the top body molding.  The top molding has four basic variations: quarter round, half round, square or oblong.  The horizontal portion or turned inward portion of the top body molding is the body ledge flange or top body molding flange. The red arrow is directed along the outer most portion of the body ledge flange.

Top body molding flange or body ledge flange

Body Panels: side panels + end panels

(b) The body panels compose the sides and ends of the casket shell.  The end panels* have five variations: vertical, flaring, urn, octagon, and elliptical. The side panels* have three variations: vertical, flaring, and urn.

Base molding or bottom rail

(c) The base molding, or bottom rail, is the molding long the lowermost edge of the body panels.  The variations available in  base molding are quarter round, semi-oval, log, plank, paneled plank,  and roman.

(d) The bottom on casket is self explanatory.  On metal caskets the bottoms are metal whereas bottoms on wood caskets can be made of ship-lapped planks or a sheet of plywood.


Corner shape refers to the way the end and side body panels meet.  There are two variations in corner shape: square and rounded.  Rounded corners are generally more expensive.  Below is a close-up of a casket with rounded corners followed by a close-up of a casket with square corners.

Rounded Corners; Image Credit: Casket Connection Co.

Square Corners; Image Credit: Geneva Manufacturing

Please ignore the corner piece, the customizable piece of decorative hardware, you see on each end.  Rather, focus on the manner in which the side and end panels are meeting–that is the “L” shaped manner definitive of square corners.


*A detailed description of end panel variations:

  1. Vertical – Caskets with vertical side and end panels are classified as Vertical Side Square caskets or State caskets.
  2. Flaring – Flaring is best described as an end that flares outward from bottom to top.  This is mostly seen in hard wood or cloth covered caskets.  
  3. Urn end – It is best described as a gentle “S” shape.  This is found in both metal and wood caskets that also have the urn side panels.  
  4. Octagon – This is found only in wood casket.  Each end has three pieces; they can be vertical or flaring.
  5. Elliptical – The end panels are rounded.  Do NOT confuse this with rounded corners.  Elliptical ends may be vertical or have a slight flare. 

*Side panel variations:

  1. Vertical – See description of vertical end panels.
  2. Flaring – See description of flaring end panels.
  3. Urn side – See description of urn end panels.


IMAGE CREDIT: All images used in this post with exception of those specified otherwise were found on Quizlet or StudyDroid.

All definitions and information were taken from my compendium for Funeral Practice I taught by Professor Michael Mathews at the University of Minnesota:

Mathews, M. (2003). Funeral Service Practice Part I: Services and ceremonies, casket construction and design, survivor benefits. University of Minnesota: Minneapolis.



Filed under Casket, Funeral Industry, Funeral Terminology

You Want a Physicist to Speak at Your Funeral.

I came across this the other day while on tumblr searching the tag “funeral.”  I found it to be rather poignant, not to mention a manner of looking at death that is quite similar to my own.  I shared this on practically every other forum available to me.  Thus, I thought I would also share it here.

Transcript for Planning Ahead Can Make a Difference in the End, Aaron Freeman, from NPR All Things Considered

You want a physicist to speak at your funeral.

You want the physicist to talk to your grieving family about the conservation of energy, so they will understand that your energy has not died. You want the physicist to remind your sobbing mother about the first law of thermodynamics; that no energy gets created in the universe, and none is destroyed. You want your mother to know that all your energy, every vibration, every Btu of heat, every wave of every particle that was her beloved child remains with her in this world. You want the physicist to tell your weeping father that amid energies of the cosmos, you gave as good as you got.

And at one point you’d hope that the physicist would step down from the pulpit and walk to your brokenhearted spouse there in the pew and tell him that all the photons that ever bounced off your face, all the particles whose paths were interrupted by your smile, by the touch of your hair, hundreds of trillions of particles, have raced off like children, their ways forever changed by you. And as your widow rocks in the arms of a loving family, may the physicist let her know that all the photons that bounced from you were gathered in the particle detectors that are her eyes, that those photons created within her constellations of electromagnetically charged neurons whose energy will go on forever.

And the physicist will remind the congregation of how much of all our energy is given off as heat. There may be a few fanning themselves with their programs as he says it. And he will tell them that the warmth that flowed through you in life is still here, still part of all that we are, even as we who mourn continue the heat of our own lives.

And you’ll want the physicist to explain to those who loved you that they need not have faith; indeed, they should not have faith. Let them know that they can measure, that scientists have measured precisely the conservation of energy and found it accurate, verifiable and consistent across space and time. You can hope your family will examine the evidence and satisfy themselves that the science is sound and that they’ll be comforted to know your energy’s still around. According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.


–Aaron Freeman

To listen to the soundbite, please follow the link at the top or click here.


Filed under Cultural Attitudes toward Death, Eulogy

Funeral Terminology: The Difference Between Coffins and Caskets

Before I continue on to the intended subject, I would like to mention that one of the mortuary archaeology blogs that I follow, Bones Don’t Lie, also has a similarly inspired series entitled Morbid Terminology.

So, is it a coffin or a casket?   This type of post is common among funeral blogs my google search tells me, which means there are apparently still plenty out there that are ignorant to the difference.  And you know, considering my overwhelming desire to blend in with my peers, I must do one of these types of posts myself– I mean what would a funeral terminology series be without rehashing the definitions of these two particular terms?  I will say though, that because I am no longer a student, I do not have free access to the wealth of primary or even secondary sources like I used to. So as much as I wanted to search some journals for some interesting articles, I simply could not.

     The Coffin and the Casket

Image Credit: Victoria Funerals

The terms casket and coffin are used interchangeably with such frequency that alluding to the difference elicits blank stares or the very familiar “Oh” from some people.   While I cannot attest to the validity of the statement across history, culture or continents, I can tell you that within the contemporary North American funeral industry there is a distinction between the terms casket and coffin.  With both serving the same general purpose, the significant distinction lies in the design.  

Technically, according to the Australian Museum, coffin is the general term for the receptacles in which human remains are buried.  A coffin, by definition with respect to the funeral industry, is a case or receptacle for human remains which is anthropoid in shape with six or eight sides.  Thus, coffins are tapered at the head and foot, which according to one of my professors, was why they were sometimes referred to as toe pinchers.

A casket, on the other hand, is defined, by the Federal Trade Commission in the Funeral Rule – 16 CFR Part 453, as  “a rigid container which is designed for the encasement of human remains and which is usually constructed of wood, metal, or like material, and ornamented and lined with fabric” (See this document, section Definitions).  Another definition for casket is as follows:

“A case or receptacle in which human remains are placed for protection, practical utility, and a suitable memory picture; any box or container of one or more parts in which a dead human body is placed prior to interment, entombment, or cremation which may or may not be permanently interred, entombed, or cremated with the human remains” *

Caskets do not taper at the head and foot and are typically rectangular in shape.  The other difference in design can been seen in the tops. Coffins typically have removable tops, whereas caskets typically have hinged tops.  Of course, this is not always the case as you can see in the pictures below, but it is worth noting.

Coffin with removable top; Image credit: Vampires R Us

Coffin with hinged top; Image Credit: The Friendly Funeralista

Typical casket, perfection half couch cut; Image credit: American Casket Store

In terms of contemporary trends, the coffin is still rather popular in Europe, while the casket is more popular in North America. Princess Diana was buried in a lead-lined coffin; it weighed 40 stone or approximately 560 pounds (Sweeney et al., 1997).

I will end this post with two entries on the etymology of casket and coffin from the Online Etymology Dictionary,* because I have always found etymology to be interesting. 

Casket: mid-15c., “small box for jewels, etc.,” possibly formed as a dim. of English cask, or from M.Fr. casset (see cassette). Meaning “coffin” is Amer.Eng., probably euphemistic, first attested 1849.

Coffin: early 14c., “chest or box for valuables,” from O.Fr. cofin “sarcophagus,” earlier “basket, coffer” (12c., Mod.Fr. coffin), from L. cophinus “basket, hamper” (cf. It. cafano, Sp. cuebano “basket”), from Gk. kophinos “a basket,” of uncertain origin. Funeral sense in English is 1520s; before that it was the literal Latin one and had also a meaning of “pie crust” (late 14c.). Meaning “vehicle regarded as unsafe” is from 1830s. Coffin nail “cigarette” is slang from 1880; nail in (one’s) coffin “thing that contributes to one’s death” is from 1792.


*I am unsure of the origin of this second definition for casket, but it is standard in the industry and appears in every funeral terminology text that I have seen. This leads me to believe it originated or was agreed upon by one of the national associations.

*The basic sources for the online etymology site are Weekley’s An Etymological Dictionary of Modern English, Klein’s A Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the English LanguageOxford English Dictionary (second edition), Barnhart Dictionary of Etymology, Holthausen’s Etymologisches Wörterbuch der Englischen Sprache, and Kipfer & Chapman’s Dictionary of American Slang.


Filed under Casket, Funeral Industry, Funeral Terminology

Prohibitions on Death: YOU SHALL NOT PASS.

Last updated Nov. 15, 2012

“It is forbidden to die in the Arctic town of Longyearbyen.  Should you have the misfortune to fall gravely ill, you can expect to be despatched by aeroplane or ship to another part of Norway to end your days.  And if you are terminally unlucky and succumb to misfortune or disease, no-one will bury you here.  The town’s small graveyard stopped accepting newcomers 70 years ago.” Duncan Bartlett, of the BBC News,  wrote in his article on this little Arctic town in July of 2008.

Longyearbyen is the largest settlement and administrative center of Svalbard with roughly 1,500 inhabitants (as of 2008) and is

Image Credit: Spitsbergen Travel

located on the Western coast of Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago.  This group of islands lies between Norway’s Northern coast and the North Pole. Thus, it should come as no surprise that Longyearbyen’s prohibition on death was a necessity, as it was discovered bodies were not decomposing.  Rather, these permafrost preserved remains were becoming a morbid curiosity.  Scientists even removed tissue from a man who died there and were able to extract intact traces of the influenza virus he died from during an epidemic in 1917 (Duncan 2008; Sumitra 2012).

But Longyearbyen is not the only town with a prohibition on death! Itsukushima, Japan; Falciano del Massico, Italy; and Sarpourenx, Cugnaux, and La Lavandou France; and Lanjarón, Spain also have prohibitions on death.

Click to enlarge; Image credit: Wikipedia

The Japanese island of Itsukushima is considered a sacred place according to Shinto belief.  And thus, in an attempt to maintain the sanctity of the island according to Sumitra,  “no deaths or births have been permitted near the shrine [since 1878.  Furthermore,] [p]regnant women nearing the date of delivery aren’t allowed there, nor are the elderly or the terminally ill” (2012).  This may seem strange but this concept is not an entirely unfamiliar one.   The island of Delos, birth place of the twins Apollo and Artemis, was considered a sacred and holy place by the ancient Greeks and various measures were taken to “purify” the island. In the 6th century BC, Peisistratus ordered that all graves within sight of the island’s temple be dug up and the bodies removed to locations on or beyond the perimeter (Whitaker, 2012).  In addition, in the 6th century and under instruction from the Delphi Oracle, the island was purged of all dead bodies and it was decreed that no one shall be allowed to give birth or die there (Whitaker, 2012).

On the other hand, the reasons for prohibitions in France and Italy are not, shall we say, so lofty or practical in nature considering the issue they seek to address.  Since March of 2012, according to Craggs,  it has been illegal to die in Falciano del Massico, Italy.  The reason: the village has no cemetery and has been feuding with the near by town that has one since 1964 when local boundaries were redrawn.   Luckily for the residents of this village, the mayor is now seeking land to build a cemetery.

Meanwhile in France, in an ordinance posted in Sarpourenx (2008), residents were also forbidden to die.  The mayor even threatened harsh consequences should any of the residents deliberately disobey and die.  In addition to Sarpourenx, there are two other settlements in France that have created similar bylaws and/or ordinances, La Lavandou (2000) and Cugnaux (2007), for similar reasons.  All three towns were denied permission to annex land and/or build on certain proposed areas (i.e. requests to expand their town cemeteries were denied). The Mayors’ claimed their responses were proportional to the absurdities of the laws and/or regulations obstructing the requests for land.  As far as I could find, nothing has been resolved in these French towns with the exception of Cugnaux.  And so it seems the residents of La Lavandou and  Sarpourenx will not be as fortunate as their Italian counterparts.

And lastly, we have Lanjarón, Spain.  It seems to have been the first town to outlaw death due to lack of space in the local cemetery back in 1999.  Mayor Rubio blamed “inertia by his predecessors for the tight quarters at the cemetery” and he further insisted that the edict banning death was not about hubris, but, rather, a “response to politicians pestering him for a quick fix to the problem that dogged them for years” (Stiffs, 1999).  

OH, but wait! Of course, there is at least one more.  Mayor of Biritiba Mirim, Brazil, following in the footsteps of the French, filed a public bill to prohibit his some 28,000 residents from dying back in December of 2005 in response to federal regulations restricting new or expanding cemeteries in preservation areas (BBC News, 2005).   The bill was not passed nor denied as far as I could find.  Thus, this issue is still in suspense to my knowledge, but the government has agreed to a vertical cemetery from what I understand.

So, it seems banning death is becoming the trending political response to what has been called, by several of these mayors, absurd politics/law.  Well, isn’t that just– oh, how shall I put it–productive.  Religious beliefs and practical responses to environment and climate change aside, these prohibitions (France, Italy and Brazil) are laughable.  Maybe I find it utterly ridiculous because I do not understand the nuances of French law or peculiarities of Italian pride.  Or maybe I am missing an important environmental factor wrapped in these nuanced laws.  Or maybe I am just missing the political and satirical brilliance that is the purpose of these bans. My question at the moment–to the mayors threatening harsh penalties on those who disobey their decrees– is just how exactly will those that break the prohibition be punished,  that is if you do intend to directly punish those that break the prohibition and not indirectly punish them by fining their bereaved families? Will you not put a pillow beneath the poor souls’ heads?  Will you remove stuffing from their pillows or their casket liners? Will you take their shoes and socks so they are forced to face the afterlife with an chronic case of cold feet all in an attempt to ensure that they duly pay for and regret their decision to disobey the law and die?

It makes me think of the Fellowship of The Rings when Gandolf tells the balrog that he shall not pass…

…Except in this case YOU SHALL NOT PASS takes on an entirely new meaning.

Image Credit: Oddity Central


Bartlett, Duncan. (2008, Jul 12). “Why dying is forbidden in the arctic.”  BBC News. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <;

(2005, Dec). “Brazil City proposes ban on death.” BBC News. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <;

Craggs, Ryan. (2012, 13 Mar). “Death made illegal in Italy town Falciano del Massico.”  The Huffington Post. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from  <;

Dobbie, Andrew. (2008, Mar 5). “Cemetery full, mayor tells locals not to die.” Reuters. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <;

Henley, Jon. (2000, Sept 22). “Citizens live under law’s dead hand.” The Guardian. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 fro <;

Ionox. (2007, Nov 25).  “Forbidden to die because lack of room.” Weird Globe News. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <;

Johansen, B.F., et al. (2008, Jul). Longyearbyen – The Cruise Handbook for Svalbard.  Norwegian Polar Institute. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <; (1999, Oct 2).  Spanish mayor outlaws death. Retrieved 15 Nov 2012 from <;

Sumitra. “4 places where dying is not allowed.” (2012, Mar 16). Oddity Central: Collection Oddities. Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <;

Whitaker, Alex. (2012). “Delos.”  Retrieved 14 Sept 2012 from <;

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Filed under Humor, News

Life Asked Death…

In the past couple days, I have slowly found my way back to tumblr and, in doing so, I have also found some inspiration here and there for some longer posts that will eventually (read: I hope) find their way on to here, provided that I not only finish them but that I am satisfied with them. Actually, as I looked around my dashboard, I stumbled upon at least 8 drafts that I never finished. Did I not mention when I started this that something like this might happen? If I did not, I apologize. I should have made some notation about my tendency to drop blogs and become preoccupied with other things. Anyway, this is my post to tell you that I am going to try and become attentive again and, perhaps, finish something.

And so, I shall leave you with this:

“Life Asked Death…” by Kwan

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Filed under Literature/Poetry

Funeral Director Meme. Share it!

That is only if you want to of course.  My thought on the meme: I wish the picture for “What I Actually Do” were different.  Enjoy!

Courtesy of Caleb Wilde

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Filed under Funeral Industry, Humor

So, What Would You Ask a Mortician?

Before I go into this post, I want to apologize for my absence this past month. I needed a little break from everything and to finish midterms, but I’m back!

I want to start March off with a “fellow-blogger-spotlight” type of post. Who is in the spotlight? Caitlin Doughty. Maybe some of you have heard of her from Connecting Directors, Jezebel, or the Huffington Post. Or maybe you’ve seen one of her youtube videos from the series “Ask A Mortician.”

Who is Caitlin? Caitlin is a licensed funeral director in Los Angeles.  She decided to put herself out there to give people a chance to ask questions and hopefully change the way people think about death.

I came across Caitlin through a friend of mine who sent me a link to an article about her in Jezebel. Caitlin is founder of Order of the Good Death, a site containing Caitlin’s blog, collections of essays, and other things related to death. Here’s what Caitlin says about herself on her bio page:

Caitlin, your mortician, was born on a balmy August evening on the cruel, unforgiving shores of O’ahu, Hawai’i.

An even tempered, bookish child, there was little reason to believe that she would ultimately seek the life of a psychopomp, tiptoeing the line between the living and dead. It was only when she began to ask the pertinent questions that her parents began to suspect a proclivity towards the macabre….

After completing high school, Caitlin fled her island home on the first plane east to Chicago. In the comparatively frigid halls of the University of Chicago, she worked towards her degree in Medieval History. Her thesis, entitled “In Our Image: The Suppression of Demonic Births In Late Medieval Witchcraft Theory,” is a must read for all lovers of demon sex and the medieval church.

A year out of college found your mortician living in California, where she began to apply to crematories in an attempt to put into practice her theoretical death interests. Since her first job as a funeral arranger she has worked as a crematory operator, a body van transport driver, and returned to school for her degree in Mortuary Science. She is currently a licensed funeral director in Los Angeles.

After reading the Jezebel article, visiting her website, and watching the first installment of “Ask a Mortician,” I must say I’m glad that there are others out there who are passionate about this profession and are able and willing to write about it.  It’s definitely getting people talking and I think that is great. Of course, I do not necessarily agree with everything she writes, but I do give her props.  Her website is an interesting collaborative work and her blog contains many interesting topics.  So, if you’re looking for something interesting and aren’t afraid to face one of your fears, stop by and check out Caitlin’s space!


Filed under Blogger Spotlight, Cultural Attitudes toward Death, Humor, News