Friday, March 20, 2015

The Day Niagara Falls Disappeared

This month marks the 167th anniversary of a 30 to 40 hour period when Niagara Falls ran dry!

It was late on the night of March 29, 1848 when a local farmer on the New York side, Jed Porter, was out for a walk and noticed something was different. The normal sound of the thundering falls was gone!

Dry Niagara Falls
The next morning residents on both sides of the falls had gathered to witness the site; the falls had dried up over night. Factories and mills on both sides of the falls stopped work because the waterwheels used to power them couldn’t operate without water.

River Bed
Once word was out, over 5,000 people gathered to see the dry riverbed, and contemplate the absence of the falls. Stories were told for years afterwards about people walking across the riverbed, discovering guns and tomahawks that had been dropped over the falls, one person even reported finding a skeleton ...

Ice Chunks
Many feared it was the end of the world; others thought the falls had finally run dry. When no one could offer a logical reason why the falls had stopped, impromptu church services sprang up on both sides of the river.

The answer finally came from Buffalo, New York – gale-force winds has forced chunks of ice into the mouth of the Niagara River, between Buffalo and Fort Erie, effectively shutting off the flow of water to the falls.

For all of March 30 and most of March 31, there was no water, but late on that Friday evening, after a day with temperatures in the 60s and a shift in the winds, a low rumble could be heard approaching the falls. People ran from the riverbed as torrents of water tumbled and tore through, to once again cascade over the falls with a deafening roar. The river was running again!

It was the only known time that Mother Nature stopped the falls.

~ Joy

Friday, March 6, 2015

Not Your Grandfather’s Funeral

Funerals followed a set pattern during the 20th century. First, there was the visitation or viewing, then the funeral service with remembrances, scripture readings, songs and the obligatory memorial cards. And finally, the drive to the cemetery for those final words as the body was returned to the earth.

But with the approach of a new century, a modern, more contemporary funeral service began to appear. Now, 15 years into the 21st century, funeral services have become as individual, as elaborate and as themed as the deceased and the family could want.
Instead of following tradition, today it’s more about a service that reflects who the deceased was; their likes, interests, even their keen sense of humor might be featured.

Contemporary funeral services are much more casual than the traditional services of old. Just about anything goes from a dove release (to signify the flight of the spirit) to a Burning Man memorial service; the parameters are only as limited as your imagination. (And certain state laws.)

Funeral services can also take on themes. Whatever your loved one’s passion was in life, you can replicate it at the funeral service. Some state laws may limit where the deceased’s body can be taken, making cremation much more versatile. A memorial service can be held almost any where from a public garden or lake, to a restaurant or favorite pub, to a setting that harkens back to another century – the funeral at home. After the services, the deceased can be taken to the cemetery in anything from a motorcycle-driven hearse to a big rig semi.

There are also those funeral services where the deceased becomes the “star” of the show, posed in a tableau of his or her life.  The trend began back in 2008 at the Marin Funeral Home in Puerto Rico when a mother requested that her 24-year-old son be posed standing in her living room during his three-day wake.

Last month, a 50-year-old man was dressed as the comic book superhero, the Green Lantern, and posed standing in his sister’s apartment in San Juan.

And the popularity of these "muerto parao" ("dead man standing") funerals is growing, both in Puerto Rico and the U.S

Several of these services have been held in the U.S. during past two years; most taking place in New Orleans. The Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home made news last year when a local woman was posed at a table, surrounded by several favorite items including a can of beer with a cigarette between her fingers.

We have become such a mobile society that the funeral industry has adapted a service for that. Drive-through viewing is offered in several states throughout the U.S. including Illinois, Michigan, California, Georgia and Florida.

Even the name is changing. Where we have used funeral service or memorial service to describe a remembrance ceremony for the deceased. Today, the more modern terms include Celebration of Life Service, Service of Remembrance, or Contemporary Memorial Service: all should clue you in that this is not your grandfather’s funeral.

In the end, the goal is to honor the deceased with a remembrance that is as unique and special as they were – something they’d have been proud of, and we seem to be doing that quite well.

~ Joy

Friday, February 27, 2015

Seeking Relatives of Unclaimed Persons

A person dies. No one knows how to reach the family. The coroner’s investigators have exhausted their resources. That’s when Unclaimed Persons starts to work.”

It sounds like opening line from a forensic program on TV, but Unclaimed Persons is a real group made up of volunteers who combine their love and understanding of genealogy research with investigative research techniques to try and locate the next of kin for those who have died without any one to claim them.

These aren’t necessarily people who have not been identified; rather it’s their family – their next of kin that are unknown. Although there are also those who have used a false identity, or several, and died without their actual identity known.

So how does Unclaimed Persons (UP) work?
1) A coroner’s office will send information to Unclaimed Persons. A submission  form can be filled out on line, or the coroner’s office can provide specifics in their standard format.
2) A case manager with the UP group will assign a case number to the submission.
3) The case manager then forwards the information to a case administrator, labeling it as an “active case.”
4) A conversational thread between volunteers and readers begins. (It is these conversations that usually bring about the discovery of those elusive next of kin.)
5) Information is investigated by UP volunteers using their genealogy research techniques. A social security application may be ordered to assist with difficult cases.

6) Findings are submitted to a UP case administrator who reviews the information.
7) That administrator will then submit the findings to the case manager.
8) The case manager will prepare a report that goes to the submitting coroner’s office.
9) And hopefully, the coroner’s office will share the outcome of the case (without violating anyone’s privacy) with the Unclaimed Persons group.

If the deceased has already been interred, the next of kin will be given the option of having the remains disinterred and moved. If the body was cremated and the ashes scattered, the next of kin will be given that information.

There is no set period of time for a case to be solved. A case can be returned to the group for a second attempt if the information did not produce the necessary resolution or if the relatives express no interest in getting involved.

In the past six years, since Unclaimed Persons began, volunteers have solved hundreds of cases.

If you would like to volunteer your time and expertise in assisting to help locate "missing" family members, contact Unclaimed Persons on their Facebook page. "Every life is worth remembering."

~ Joy

Friday, February 20, 2015

Remembering the First American Flying Ace of WWII

Edward O'Hare

It was February 20. 1942 when an American Naval pilot became the first U.S. Flying Ace of World War Two. Twenty-seven-year-old Edward H. “Butch” O’Hare made history when his F4F Wildcat fighter intercepted nine Japanese bombers, not far from the Solomon Islands, preparing to attack the USS Lexington.

USS Lexington
Dufilho and O'Hare's Planes
O’Hare’s plane was one of six fighters that took off from the Lexington’s deck to take on the nine incoming Japanese Mitsubishi G4M “Betty” bombers. But only two of the fighters were within striking distance of the bombers; O’Hare and “Duff” Dufilho. Then Wildcats were flying in formation toward the Japanese bombers when Dufilho's guns jammed and he dropped off, leaving O’Hare to fly solo into the enemy's formation. With remarkable skill, O’Hare downed three of the bombers and heavily damaged two more in a matter of minutes, using about 60 rounds per bomber.

Lt Comm Butch O'Hare
The USS Lexington escaped without damage, and O’Hare was promoted to Lieutenant Commander. He was also designated as the Navy’s first fighter ace. (The designation ace is only given to a pilot who had downed five or more enemy planes.) O’Hare was also the first naval aviator to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his bravery.

For the next several months, O’Hare toured the country on promotional and war bond tours. In June 1942, he was relocated to Maui, Hawaii and placed in command of a group of combat pilots that he trained in fighting tactics.

Wake Island
O’Hare did not fly a combat mission again until October 1943 when he took part in the attacks on Wake Island. Then, on November 27, 1943, Butch O’Hare volunteered to lead a team of three fighters during the Navy's first-ever nighttime fighter attack.

USS Enterprise
F4F Wildcat
O’Hare and his group took off from the deck of the USS Enterprise. But the mission soon became muddled and radio contact with O’Hare was lost during the battle. It is not known what happened to O’Hare or his Wildcat fighter, but no trace of either was ever found.

In November 1944, one year after the attack, Edward Butch O’Hare was officially listed as dead. His wife Rita received her husband’s posthumous decorations, a Purple Heart and Navy Cross.

O’Hare continued to be honored, both during and after the war. A US Navy Destroyer was named after him in 1945. And in 1949, the Chicago Airport was renamed O’Hare International Airport in honor of the first Fighter Ace of WWII.

~ Joy

Friday, February 13, 2015

A Look At Funeral Prices: 1915 and 2015

Mankind has held funeral ceremonies since ancient times. Every culture has had specific rites and customs that would be followed for the burying of their dead.

Egyptian Mummification
Celtic Burial Ground

The Neanderthals decorated their graves with flowers and antlers as far back as 60,000 BC. Ancient Egyptians began using a form of body preservation now known as mummification (the first embalming) in 3400 BC. Egyptians along with Native Americans buried their dead with tools, pots, jewelry and other items that might be needed in the next life. 

A constant theme exsists in regard to death: There was always a ritual or ceremony held when someone died. Then the remains were entombed, placed or scattered at a specific place considered scared by the community, and a memorial or some type of monument, rock or plant was placed on the grave as a way of showing remembrance and respect.

A Modern Funeral "Parlor"
Today, we have funerals at a funeral home where a service is held before the body is consigned to a cemetery where the family erects a monument, plants a tree or marks the grave with a token of remembrance.

Civil War Embalming
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, the process of burying the dead began to change. Embalming became accepted during the Civil War as a way to preserve bodies. The deceased was then placed in a homemade coffin so that family could say their last goodbyes in the parlor.  But then solid caskets began to replace these wooden coffins and the funeral home was the place where the body was "visited" - not in the "parlor" at home. Funerals became a professional business.

There are many ways in which we have changed our burial methods. Take a look at this listing that shows some of the changes over the past 100 years.

         Average Cost of Adult Funeral & Burial in 1915                              
Burial Details                                  Prices

Casket with handles and plate       $45.
Painted pine box                           $ 8.
Embalming                                   $10.
Laying out, shaving, dressing         $ 3.
Delivering box to cemetery            $ 1.50
Four pairs of grey gloves               $ 1.
Three dozen chairs                       $ 1.50
Four newspaper notices                $ 2.
Opening grave                             $ 3.
Shirt, tie, collar, cuffs                   $ 1.
Hearse to cemetery                      $ 8.
Four coaches to cemetery             $24.
Attendance, assistance
and removal of remains                $ 5.
Total Amount                               $113.

         Average Cost of Adult Funeral & Burial in 2015
Burial Details                                Prices
Non-declinable basic service fee    $1,975
Casket (metal)                             $2,300

Embalming                                   $700
Preparing the body                       $225
Refrigeration                                $50 per day
Use of funeral home for visitation   $400
Use of funeral home for service      $495
Media notices                                $300
Printed memorial cards                  $150

Grave site/plot                               $1,000
Opening grave                               $600
Grave liner or vault                        $1,300
Headstone                                     $1,500
Hearse to cemetery                       $295
Family cars to cemetery                 $225
Visitation Attendance                     $325
Removal of remains                       $285
Total Amount                                $12,125*

And, there could also be additional costs including burial clothing ($210) flowers ($260), flower car ($225), clergy ($200), death certificate ($12 each), musician ($150), guest book ($50), etc.

Where 100 years ago an average funeral service and burial for an adult could run between $100 and $200. Today that number can easily range from $9,000 up. Statistics given for an adult funeral usually average around $7,300 but this does not include the gravesite, vault, opening and closing fees, gravestone and other cemetery-related expenses which must be considered if the remains are to be buried.

"All good things must come to an end" and the days of the $100 funeral have gone the way of the horse and carriage. But you can still control how much you want to spend on your funeral by pre-planning, and shopping around. After all - It is your funeral!

~ Joy