Friday, August 19, 2016

Rest in Peat: Bog Bodies

By Joy Neighbors

A Peat Bog
For thousands of years, bodies have lain under the mire, waiting for discovery in the murky depths of northwestern Europe’s numerous bogs – those wetlands made up of decomposing plant material (peat) that locals cut and dried to heat their homes.

Bog bodies are the well-preserved (including mummified skin, hair and organs still intact) remains of people who usually have died a violent death in the swamplands of such countries as Denmark the Netherlands, Ireland and Germany. The oldest known bog body dates back to 8000 BCE and consists of the skeletal remains of a female known as Koelbjerg Woman. The oldest well-preserved bog body is called Cashel Man, who dates to 2000 BCE and was discovered in Ireland.

Grauballe Man
Close to 1,000 bodies have been discovered in the world; many subjected to violent deaths and left for the boglands to dispose of. Researchers believe these people were either human sacrifices or criminals punished for their crimes.

Tollund Man
Most bog bodies date from the Iron Age when peat bogs covered a large area of Europe. The most famous bog people of this era include the 2,400-year-old Tollund Man, 2,000-year-old Lindow Man, and 1,500-year-old Grauballe Man. Pre-Roman villagers believed that they could appease, or have favors granted by their gods by tossing possessions, and people in the form of sacrifices, into that slimy black pit. Most of the bodies bear similarities in the manner in which they were bound or staked out to die indicating a ritualistic killing.

Bogs were also used as convenient “killing grounds” for the criminals of a society. Many still wear the ropes used to strangle them, some bear the stab wounds that ended their lives, and others show signs of the torture inflicted upon them.

Harald Bluetooth
Bog bodies have also been identified by using the legend and lore of the area. In 1835, Danish ditchdiggers came across the remarkably well-preserved body of a woman who had been staked down and left to die in a place now called Gundhilde’s Bog. The swamp was named after a legendary eighth-century Viking queen who, it was said, was on her way to marry Danish king Harald Bluetooth when she was ambushed and drowned.  Apparently the legend was true.

The U.S. has it’s own version of bog people in Florida. These remains are between 5,000 and 8,000 years old and consist only of skeletons; skin and internal organs did not survive in this mire. Windover, Florida is the premier bog site in the U.S. – where in 1982, the excavation of a pond led to the discovery of these American bog people. The remains were found mostly lying on their left sides in a fetal position with their heads aimed toward the west; researchers believe that this may have been a community cemetery bog. Over 160 bodies were unearthed. The dig ended in 1987 with only half of the excavations completed. It is now awaiting a new generation of archaeologist with updated techniques to discover more.

But bog people are not just those who died in the distant past – archeologists have discovered the remains of Russian and German soldiers who fought in Poland along the Eastern Front during WW1. And a WWII Russian pilot whose plane was hit in-flight, crashed into a bog in northern Europe. His remains have been discovered, perfectly preserved for over half a century.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Gold Star Families

By Joy Neighbors

For the past few weeks Gold Star Families have been in the news, but many Americans don’t know what the term means. Gold Star Families indicate immediate relatives - the mothers, fathers, children and spouses of U.S. Armed Forces members who died in battle or while supporting certain military activities. It is a status no one wants, but so many must bear.

Gold Star Flag
The Gold Star refers to the service flag, which families fly to show they have a loved one fighting or  serving in the military during a period of war or hostilities. Although the term Gold Star Family is fairly new, the flags have been flown since World War One. A Blue Star (or stars) indicates family members in the U.S. Armed Forces currently deployed during any war or conflict. If a loved one is killed while serving, the blue star is replaced by a gold one to indicate the ultimate sacrifice.

Grace Darling Seibold
The term “Gold Star Mothers” was coined by Grace Darling Seibold who banded a group of mothers together after WW1 to support and comfort one another in the lose of their children and family members. 

In 1928, 25 women met in Washington D.C. to officially establish the American Gold Star Mothers group. In 1936, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt designated the last Sunday in September as National Gold Star Mother’s Day. (September 25, 2016) 

Gold Star Wives began before the end of WWII. It started as a group of wives banding together to support and assist one another. Today, the group reaches out to those who have recently lost a spouse, and works together supporting all surviving spouses. 

Gold Star Families include fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, or other loved ones who lost a loved one who was in service to this nation. In 1947, a lapel pin was created and is presented to the family members of Armed Forces members killed in combat operations. 

The U.S. Army sums up the Gold Star Families sacrifice best: “The strength of our army is our soldiers; The strength of our soldiers is our families. The army recognizes that no one has given more for the nation than the families of the fallen.”

Indeed, the sentiment applies to all of our fallen service personnel from every branch.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Living in a Cemetery

Cemeteries go by many names - referencing this as a final abode; names like “eternal home” “city of the dead,” “charnel house,” “necropolis,” and “marble town.” But there have been people – living people, who have chosen to reside in the cemetery. No, not necessarily the homeless, and not those looking for a “creepy place” to party. Sometimes it’s just someone who can’t bear to loose a loved one, so they decide to move with them ….

The Evergreens Cemetery
Jonathan Reed was a retired merchant from Brooklyn, New York. He was in his sixties when his wife, Mary died on March 19, 1893. She was interred in her family’s mausoleum in The Evergreens Cemetery and Jonathan went to visit her every day. His father-in-law found such devotion to be in poor taste, so Jonathan limited his visits. When Mary’s father died, Jonathan took things in hand and had Mary removed from the family vault to a mausoleum he had purchased on the other side of the cemetery – one where he could visit for as long as he wished.

As summer turned into autumn, Jonathan had a wood stove installed for heat. He began moving furniture in; a comfortable rocker, a table and chairs so he could eat all his meals there - with Mary. He decided the place needed to look a bit more homey so he hung paintings on the wall, brought the family parrot in to live, and placed Mary’s knitting by one of the chairs – as if she had just left the room and could return at any moment.

Reed Mausoleum
People talked. Many went to see if this was real. The first year, Jonathan Reed had over 7,000 visitors. It seems that he never really believed Mary had died. He thought that “the warmth had simply left her body” and if he kept the crypt warm and cozy, she would continue to sleep comfortably.

In May 1905, Jonathan was found by cemetery workers lying unconscious on the crypt floor. He died a few weeks later and was placed in the homey little tomb he had created; where he went to visit Mary - to sit and talk with her for 10 years. The door of the mausoleum was locked that day, and the Reeds have never been disturbed since.

Then again, necessity may be the reason for such a move.

A Brazilian businessman moved into a tomb after his business failed and his family disowned him. In 2000, 35-year-old Fabio Beraldo Rigol was a broker in Santa Isabel, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Rigol moved into a crypt with his best friend; his friend, however, had been dead for several years.

Rigol said that after he lost his job, he turned to drugs and his family kicked him out. He went to the grave of his best friend to “discuss things” and decided to move in. With enough room for six coffins, the tomb provided Rigol with shelter from the elements, and safety. (Few people want to bother a guy living in a crypt.) Although it could get lonely at times, Rigol didn’t mind, saying he wasn’t very talkative. No word if he still resides there.

~ Joy

Friday, July 1, 2016

Toddler Looks Life-Like 145 Years After Her Death

Last month construction workers made a bizarre discovery while digging under a San Francisco garage – a glass paneled coffin. But things got even stranger when they realized they could see the well-preserved remains of a 19th century little girl holding a flower.

The 3-and-a-half foot long lead and bronze coffin has two glass windows covered with dirt and grime. But when workers wiped them off, they could see a blond haired young girl dressed in white.

Researchers have determined this residential neighborhood was once the home of an Odd Fellow Cemetery during the late 1800s. It is estimated that about 30,000 people were buried there. Apparently, when bodies were relocated to a common burial plot in Colma, California during the early 1920s, the toddler’s grave was missed.

The City of San Francisco said it was the homeowner’s responsibility to deal with the child’s remains so the residents contacted Garden of Innocence; a California group that buries abandoned children. The organization estimated the girl to be about three-years old when she died. They plan to hold a graveside service for her at Colma, California where the other caskets were reburied almost 100 years ago.

The child’s body was nestled in a bed of eucalyptus leaves. Her clothing indicates that she came for a family of means. She held a pink rose in her hand and someone had woven lavender in her long blond hair. Her identity is not known.

~ Joy

*Special thanks to Mike Murray for this fascinating tip!

Friday, May 20, 2016

Call the Death Midwife

Midwives have been assisting women in the birthing process for thousands of years, assisting and providing care to women, not only during birth but also during the stages of pregnancy and postpartum.

But a death midwife, also known as a death doula, is not as common in our society, although these individuals have also been there, assisting the dying for centuries.

Most death midwives are trained in the care of the terminally ill, and include hospice nurses, nurse practitioners, and other medical professionals who assist and ease the process of dying. Others are trained with a focus more toward emotional and spiritual needs.

A death doula can help reduce a person’s anxiety about dying, decrease pain, and provide the patience, kindness and compassion needed during this transition, both for the dying, and their family members.

Death midwives say their job is to make the final exit as peaceful and pain-free as possible. Most view their ability to assist someone as a privilege: an honor.

Many times, the dying simply need someone to talk to; someone to share their concerns with about their disease and prognosis, the pain and suffering that might accompany it, or how to get theirs affairs in order. 

Others may want family members summoned at a certain time, or a final visit with a devoted pet. Midwives see to all of this – anything to assist in making the death experience more dignified, supportive, and comfortable.

This is not a vocation for every one, but if you feel a calling to this profession, there are several end-of-life doula programs available. Research the offerings and find one that resonates with your beliefs and comfort levels.

If you are searching for a death midwife, check with your local hospitals, funeral homes and hospice centers. They should have suggestions for death doulas in your region so that you, or your loved one, may go in peace.

~ Joy

Friday, May 6, 2016

Remembering The Hindenburg Disaster

Charles Lindburg
Amelia Earhart
With the 1930’s came a new age in aviation. Charles Lindbergh made his successful solo crossing of the Atlantic in 1927, and Amelia Earhart followed on his heels as the first female to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1928.

German Dirigibles
Commercial aviation was popular as American Airways and United Airlines offered the public a way to travel across the country that was even more exciting than rail or auto. When Germany began offering air travel by dirgible, the public, and the press, were in awe of the massive airships.

Approaching Storm
Thursday, May 6, 1937 had been a tense day for locals; a storm had been brewing all afternoon and residents of Lakehurst, New Jersey were feeling out of sorts. Family, friends, and members of the press had been expecting the arrival of the Hindenburg, a modern German airship, around 5 a.m., but inclement weather had pushed back the ship’s scheduled arrival until late in the afternoon.

The luxurious airship was the toast of the Nazi government in 1936 and had made ten successful crossings over the Atlantic, carrying over 1,000 passengers. The “lighter-then-air” ship flew about 85 miles per hour and could carry up to 72 customers per trip.

Hindenburg Dining Room
For $400, passengers relaxed in elegant accommodations and dined on gourmet foods, marveling at the astounding views available from the air as they passed over several American cities. The ride was said to be smooth and trouble-free.

But it would not be so during the late afternoon hours of May 6 when a deluge of heavy rains began and the dirigible was delayed from landing until the storm passed.

Ground Crew
At 5 p.m. in Lakehurst, 92 Navy crewmen and 139 civilian ground personnel were deployed to the airfield to assist with the airship’s landing. The men were to grab hold of the mooring lines and help bring the big dirigible down in the high winds.

Capt. Max Pruss
It was just a few minutes past 7 p.m. when the airship was cleared to dock at Lakehurst. Captain Max Pruss was worried about docking in wind speeds that were clocked at 25 knots (about 30 mph), but he knew that after the day-long detainments, passengers were more than ready to get off the airship.

Pruss ordered about 1,300 pounds of water from the ballast to be dropped. Finding the ship’s stern was still too heavy, Captain Pruss ordered another 1,100 pounds of ballast water dropped as he tried to bring the dirigible in. The attempt was too fast so Pruss ordered the crew to reverse engine thrust.

At 7:20 p.m. with the ship 300 feet in the air, a gas leak was discovered. It was now a race to get the ship on the ground and the passengers off quickly.

But at 7:25 p.m., hundreds of onlookers saw a small flame at the top of the tail before hearing an explosion. Within seconds, the tail was engulfed in flames. Passengers had only seconds to respond. Many jumped from the windows of the airship, still 30 stories above the ground.

Thirty-four seconds later, the fire had spread to the ship’s midsection as the Hindenburg hit the ground. Shifting furniture trapped many inside the fiery hull. Others, including the captain and crew, jumped to escape the blaze as the airship fell to the ground.

Those who were there to help moor the craft became the unofficial rescue crew, pulling people from the fiery wreckage and taking them to the airfield infirmary to be treated for burns. Others were taken to the room set up for the press; now the unofficial morgue.

Of the 36 passengers on board, 13 died. Sixty-one crewmembers were on board at the time of the tragedy; 22 airmen and one ground crewmember were killed. It was speculated that a spark of electricity ignited the leaking hydrogen gas causing the explosion and blaze. The cause of the leak was never determined, and no evidence of sabotage has ever been proven.

Reporter Herbert Morrison
What remains vivid from that night is the radio report given by broadcaster Herbert Morrison as he watched the Hindenburg erupt into flames. The harrowing account conveys the shock and horror of that tragedy even now - 79 years later.

~ Joy

Friday, April 22, 2016

Looking For The Green Reaper

I love roaming cemeteries, but I’ll admit it is disheartening to realize how “un-green” a burial can be. In honor of Earth Day, which is today, we’ll take a brief look at some of the more environmentally friendly options available when you finally “slip the surly bonds of earth" for good.

Not Your Grandparents Funerals
Embalming During the Civil War
During the Civil War, embalming was used so that a soldier’s remains could be sent back to the family, when possible. In the coming years, embalming became accepted as experts touted the therapeutic advantages of having an open coffin, allowing the family more time to “say good-bye.”

Today, modern embalming assures the family a few days to hold a visitation and funeral for the deceased without purification setting in. But is it necessary? Not really! Embalming is required by law only in cases when death has occurred due to certain contagious diseases, or if the body must be transported a long distance. So what are the environmental effects of death on our planet?

According to Seven Ponds, a group that promotes harmony with the environment, even in death, “Adverse environmental effects of embalming fluids leaching into the ground following a body’s burial have yet to be adequately established, but over 800,000 gallons of embalming fluid are introduced into U.S. soil every year through burial, sometimes disconcertingly close to animal and plant life.“

What Are Greener Options?
There are several alternatives including cremation, natural burial, and a “green” funeral. Here’s a quick breakdown on each.

Cremation is on the rise, thanks to Baby Boomers looking for more economical burial methods, and willing to take a stand for the environment. The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) predicted that the rate of cremation would exceed that of burial by 3% for 2015. By 2025, it is predicted that 56% of Americans will choose cremation. This change is also due, in part, to many religious faiths that now embrace cremation, where once it was discouraged.

Carbon Emissions
But cremation also has its drawbacks, mainly due to carbon emissions. One cremation produces the same carbon emissions as driving a car 500 miles. To counter this, request a casket that is made of  wicker or recycled cardboard. Or consider having the body placed in a shroud of organic material.

Also request that any medical parts be removed and recycled, if possible. (Pacemakers and prosthetic limbs are both recyclable.) Tooth fillings should also be removed before cremation because they can create toxic mercury emissions.

Once the body has been cremated, (remember cremation is a process), the cremains should have a final resting place designated. Cremains may be buried or placed in a columbarium, (Consider a biodegradable urn.) The cremains may be scattered in a special location (Launched into space, and placed on coral reefs are just two options.), or returned in an urn or box to the family.

You might also consider making a contribution to Carbon Fund, as a way to offset your carbon footprint.

Natural Burial
Natural Burial
A natural burial is when the body is buried without any chemical preservatives such as embalming fluid. A shroud may be used to wrap the body, or it may be placed in a biodegradable coffin made of organic material such as bamboo, recycled cardboard or recycled newspaper. No concrete vault is used; the body is placed directing in the earth. GPS may be used to locate the burial plots; the goal is to preserve nature as it is, and to sustain natural plants and wildlife in the area.

Green Cemeteries
Green Cemetery
Green Cemeteries started to really catch on with the eco-conscious at the beginning of the 21st century. (The first green cemetery was created in 1993 in England at Carlisle Cemetery.) These green graveyards are natural settings filled with plants, native grasses and flowers, trees and bushes. Monuments and tombstones are not allowed but natural rocks and trees are usually permitted to mark the grave.

Many traditional cemeteries now offer special sections where green burials are held. And remember, a green cemetery will not use any pesticides, herbicides or irrigation.

Green Funerals
Green Funeral
A green funeral advocates the phrase, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.” A green funeral may include any or all of these elements: no embalming, or embalming with formaldehyde-free products, use of a biodegradable shroud and/or coffin, burial in a natural setting or in a cemetery without the use of a vault. Recycled paper products such as memorial cards and programs may be used, along with locally grown flowers and plants for the service and grave.

Each of us can work to reduce our carbon footprint during our lives. And, yes, we can also continue to do good, and honor the environment, after we’re gone …

~ Joy