Original article by thenewstribune.com

It’s what’s above ground that matters most to Marcus Daly.

Though the coffins he makes at his Vashon Island workshop will be buried or entombed forever, along with their mortal contents, it’s the people he meets who inspire him.

Daly turns out one or two wooded caskets a week at the sawdust-covered shop next to his home.


When Daly turns off his belt sander, the yells of his seven children and the bleating of goats can be heard across his forested five acres.

Daly, 48, grew up outside Philadelphia and came to Seattle as a young man.

He fished and refurbished buildings.

When he and his wife, Kelly, were expecting their second child in 2001, the couple moved to Vashon Island to make wooden boats.

“It seemed romantic,” Daly said. “It seemed like an idyllic lifestyle.”

But finding people who would pay $10,000 for a 12-foot boat became challenging.

So instead he turned to landscaping and carpentry.


In 2003, while expecting another child, Kelly had a miscarriage.

Grieving, the couple wanted to honor their child in some way.

“I just decided, I’ll build a little casket myself,” Daly said.

It was the first he had ever made.

“We found a lot of healing in doing that,” he said.

Two years later, when Pope John Paul II died, Daly was struck by the simplicity of the pontiff’s wooden casket.

“He had a really simple wooden coffin amidst the incredible art and architecture of St. Peter’s Square,” Daly said.

For Daly, a devout Catholic, the pope’s coffin personified the Bible verse on leaving the world as naked as we come, devoid of possessions.

“The exit is the same for all of us,” Daly said. “The only thing we take with us is what we’ve given away. It’s what we give, not what we have that matters.”

The pope’s funeral got him to thinking: Why are funerals so elaborate, so expensive? And does that separate us from the sometimes painful but always inevitable passage of life?


American’s green movement has spread to the great beyond. What one might call a final trip to the recycling center.

A green hereafter can mean biodegradable caskets, an unadorned plot or cremation.

“Sometimes I think people choose cremation because they can’t imagine their body lying in one of those things,” Daly said of ornate, bedazzled caskets.

Traditional caskets and burials use metal, in the form of coffins, and concrete in the form of underground burial vaults.

“Burying metal doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Daly said. “It’s not a renewable resource.”

Daly’s caskets start with planks of pine from Idaho or oak from the Midwest. From there he cuts, glues and joins the wood to form a four-sided coffin.

The oak is heavier and takes two people to lift — empty.

Most of the coffins are inscribed with a religious devotion and an inlay of the Marian cross. His business is named Marian Caskets.

Sometimes a customer will call Daly saying Granddad had always wanted to be buried in a simple pine box, but when that family member goes to a funeral home they find none.

“That’s strange, because there are pine trees growing all over the country and hundreds of thousands of carpenters,” Daly said.

It takes Daly about 20 hours to make a coffin, start to finish.

Daly used to make six-sided versions but now makes just four-sided.

He finishes them with a natural, whey-based product.

The only metal he uses are screws for the handle rails.

Initially Daly used rope handles — and still does occasionally — for folks who want no metal in the casket.

Kelly Daly installs a simple cotton muslin lining in each coffin. A straw-filled pillow is included.


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