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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Actress Lynn Redgrave Laid to Rest in Bamboo Casket

Jane Hillhouse had no idea that the bamboo casket she shipped to a Connecticut family a couple of weeks ago would be used to bury the British actress Lynn Redgrave.

"A woman e-mailed me to ask if I could supply her with a bamboo coffin that would be needed sometime between a week and ten days," says Hillhouse, owner of Final Footprint, a green coffin supplier in the San Francisco area. "Later, she sent me a link to a news story about the funeral of Lynn Redgrave, and there in the photograph -- to my amazement -- was the coffin I'd shipped."

Hillhouse figures the Redgraves found her company when searching the Internet for green casket companies. "The woman knew what she wanted," says Hillhouse. "She said someone had been buried in a wicker casket back in England and wanted something similar" for the Connecticut funeral.

The coffin Hillhouse shipped out East is fashioned from lengths of bamboo that are woven into a traditional rectangular shape (pictured above). The detachable lid is secured to the base with a series of wooden dowels which fit through small rope loops. Three wooden hand grips are attached at intervals on both sides. A finished coffin weighs less than 80 pounds but is sturdy enough to support a body weighing more than four times that. Hillhouse charges $400 for the coffin, plus delivery.

Bamboo is a newer addition to the line of readily compostable materials that are being turned into green coffins, including pine, cardboard and wicker. It may be the greenest of the bunch.

Unlike traditional wood, bamboo completely regenerates after harvesting -- no re-planting is necessary -- and does so more rapidly than any other woody plant. When cut at the root, the stalks grow back to their former height in two month's time.

The bamboo diverted to Hillhouse's coffins is further culled from sustainably-managed and –harvested forests in the Hunan province of China. No chemical fertilizers or pesticides are used, and the species of bamboo is not the kind consumed by pandas.

The coffins are produced by Ecoffins of Kent, England, a Fair Trade company whose products Hillhouse distributes throughout the U.S.

Hillhouse doesn't know the extent of the Redgraves's green leanings. Yet the eco casket and final interment in a rural cemetery just over the New York line in Lithgow were in keeping with the actress's last wishes, she says. And, as that first e-mail to her had indicated, the bamboo coffin is similar in nature to the wicker one in which Lynn Redgrave's brother, Corin, was laid to rest last month. (Scroll down in the linked article to see the casket.)

Hillhouse says this is the first time she has seen a photograph of one of her coffins in an actual service. It's not, however, the first time she has served as Green Coffin Supplier to the Stars.

Last May she got a call from a funeral director in southern California, asking her to send down one of her bamboo coffins. When she called back after the funeral to ask how the service had gone, the director said, "Now I can tell you who the coffin was used for: David Carradine," the actor of "Kung Fu" and Kill Bill fame.

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Mark Harris
Author, Grave Matters

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