A Handful of Bones, a Glass Full of Dirt: Ashokan Reservoir Cemetery Relocations and the Liminality of the Body After Burial
In the first decade of the twentieth century, when the water of the Catskill Mountains first began flowing into New York City faucets, one small valley became a lake. In part a sanitary measure, roughly three thousand graves were exhumed from thirty-two cemeteries during the Ashokan reservoir's construction. Examined within the context of changing deathways at the turn of the twentieth century, the Ashokan cemetery relocations illustrate the enduring cultural value of the material corpse. Although scholars define the recently dead body as a liminal figure between life and death, this thesis argues that the buried and decomposing corpse also occupies a liminal space between human and non-human/nature. Uncomfortable with the corpse's ambiguous status, early cremationists, sanitarians, and public health activists sought to establish the buried corpse as primarily nature's domain, while the actions of Ashokan residents emphasized the corpse as human above all else.
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