There are coffins, and then there is the Batesville Z94, better known as the Promethean. This bronze sarcophagus weighs 310 pounds; trimmings include gold-plated hardware, “Rumba Red” velvet upholstery, and a finish so shiny that pallbearers will be able to see their reflections. Price: up to $45,000, depending on the retailer. Remember Aretha Franklin’s golden casket? That was a Promethean.
Now imagine a different type of casket: a humble wooden box built alongside a small community of like-minded souls who are choosing to embrace life by preparing for death, board by board. That’s what’s happening at various “coffin clubs” founded in New Zealand in recent years. Members start by selecting a coffin style (the classic “toe pincher” seems to be enjoying a revival). Next, the measuring and sawing of wood begins (MDF—think IKEA furniture—is common). After gluing and drilling comes the decision about how basic or elaborate the exterior should be (themes have ranged from hand-painted nature scenes to Elvis).
The trend started in the town of Rotorua, on New Zealand’s North Island. With its eerie volcanic landscapes and pungent sulfur odor (a consequence of its geysers and hot springs), it is perhaps as fitting a place as any to contemplate one’s mortality. According to its mission statement, the Kiwi Coffin Club, established there in 2010, provides an “environment in which issues of death and loss can be raised, addressed, understood and accepted through discussion, support and the activity of painting and lining your own coffins.”