By Rick Montgomery

McClatchy Newspapers


KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Crawling on her belly to the edge of a cliff, Bobbi Burg realized that scattering human ashes is not for the faint of heart.

The Lee's Summit, Mo., woman who co-founded the International Scattering Society could handle the altitude of Sandia Peak in New Mexico, 10,300 feet above sea level. But the wind showed no mercy when, per the client's request, she released the remains over the ledge.

They call it "blow-back" in the trade. Burg's face and hair were dusted by the passing cloud of the deceased.

Had it been her mother's remains, "it could've upset me," she said.

Instead, she smiled at the memory, a lesson in why scattering is sometimes best left to professionals.

Burg's friend and fellow hospice worker Kelly Murtaugh launched International Scattering Society Inc. from her Lee's Summit home in 2005. The idea was to address the needs of a marketplace virtually nonexistent in the 1960s, when only 3 percent of deaths resulted in cremation.

A nation trending toward cremation — four out of every 10 Americans say they're planning on it — might wish to ponder the company's trademark line: "Where do you want to be scattered?"

It's not a simple question, as Murtaugh and Burg know firsthand that it's against the law to dump ashes from the Eiffel Tower.

At the Grand Canyon, you need a special-use permit.

One of the society's clients wanted her husband's ashes sprinkled at Stonehenge in England, and through the right connections, the International Scattering Society made it happen. For a fee of about $1,000, it documented the ceremony on a DVD and issued a signed Certificate of Scattering.

"Legally, if it's your private property, then, yes, you can scatter," said Murtaugh, 44. "If it's public property and uninhabited, the broad rule of thumb is you can scatter, but you may need permission. ...

"I try to encourage families to consider a historical landmark or a protected place like a national park, so in 50 years you know it's not going to be a Wal-Mart."


You cannot scatter at Leavenworth National Cemetery.

When Bill Owensby explains why, most people understand.

"We want to keep everything tidy ... and when dealing with cremains, it's like pouring sand on the ground," said Owensby, the director of national cemeteries in Kansas. "You'd have a mound" until the mowers came through.

"My personal opinion? I like scattering. When I die, I intend to be cremated and scattered" from the Tennessee bluff where Owensby released his sister's remains last year.

It was her wish.

A survey by the Cremation Association of North America reveals that 39 percent of Americans who choose cremation favor scattering over burial or keeping remains in an urn. Apply that percentage to the 842,000 cremations carried out nationwide in 2007 and the number of scatterings in any given year easily surpasses 300,000.

Alma maters are popular scattering sites, though many colleges prohibit it on paper. According to a report last week in the Chronicle of Higher Education, the "dirty little secret" at Davidson College, in one official's words, is that nobody enforces the rule.

Naturally, the KU/MU rivalry extends to scattering.

At the University of Kansas, "we make every effort to accommodate such requests," said spokeswoman Jill Jess . "The most commonly requested area is the hill above the football stadium."

Loved ones will find no such welcome if they wish to spread ashes at the University of Missouri's Francis Quadrangle — deemed too "highly public" by the university.

"To see someone pour out 5 to 7 pounds of cremated remains on the ground — well, everyone reacts to that kind of thing kind of differently," said Jon Dale , who operates a crematory in Kansas City, North.

Scattering in the Grand Canyon without a permit is a direct violation of Rule 36-2.62(b) of the Code of Federal Regulations. But nobody has been arrested doing it, said park spokeswoman Maureen Oltrogge .

Last year, 44 visitors actually went through the trouble of getting a permit, which carries the curious caveat that "remains must be scattered in a manner so as to disperse their identity."

In other words, no mounds.


The International Scattering Society has traveled the globe for 25 clients in its four years of sprinkling.

A Connecticut man whose mother had died picked the Lakes of Killarney in Ireland, a favorite vacation spot. But he didn't have the emotional reserve or the money to do the job himself.

Another client dispatched the society to Cancun, where his wife was memorialized near their honeymoon hotel.

Sometimes the assignments are practical. "I want those ashes out of the house before I move in," said the fiancee of a client who lost a wife many years earlier.

Thinking about baseball parks, Burg and Murtaugh whipped up a six-page proposal for scattering cremated remains at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. A stadium vice president turned them down, worried that players might protest.

Kauffman Stadium never returned the society's calls.

Scattering isn't a full-time job, and Burg and Murtaugh still rely on hospice work to pay their bills.

They also rely on three dozen "members" around the world — typically morticians — who do the legwork in places the founders choose not to travel.

The U.S. Postal Service will accept remains sealed in special plastic containers. Federal Express won't.

Kelly Murtaugh has her own wish.

The society's Web site calls it the "Special Service," something for which nobody has yet signed up:

Mount Everest for $2,500.

"We'll need a minimum of 10" to make the scattering worthwhile, she said. "But if it happens, I'm suiting up and going to that base camp!"