Friday, March 29, 2013

Cemetery Angels at Easter

Angels abound in the cemetery.  They have been described since ancient times as the guardians, guides, and intercedents for humans; as well as carrying out heavenly tasks, and acting as messengers of God.

Angels are considered to be spiritual beings that take on a human form with wings.

Angels are prevalently mentioned in the Bible during the Passover and Easter seasons.    They are recognized in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, although most Eastern religions do not believe in angels.

It is an angel that appears to Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, at the cross.

It is an angel, which rolls the stone away to reveal an empty tomb on Easter Monday.

Angels in the cemetery offer us clues to their identities, if we search for the symbolism surrounding them.

An agent of God can be seen pointing the way to heaven for a departed soul, or holding the wreath of victory over death.

There are also several famous angels found in the cemetery.  In Thomas Heywood’s Hierarchy of Blessed Angels, written in 1635, the Angels of the Four Winds are Gabriel of the north winds, Michael of the east winds, Raphael of the west winds, and Uriel of the south winds.

Gabriel is God’s primary messenger and the first angel to be mentioned by name in the Bible.

Gabriel is an angel in many religions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  He is mentioned in religions such as Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Anglican Communion, and the Catholic Church.

Gabriel is considered to be a kind angel who performs acts of healing.  He is easy to identify in the cemetery – Look for his horn. Gabriel is usually shown with his horn in his hand or blowing his horn to indicate the Second Coming.

Another well known angel is Michael.  Michael is an archangel and known as the holy fighter.  He performs acts of justice and is considered the most “God-like” of the angels.

In the New Testament, Michael is the leader of God’s armies against Satan’s forces.  He is considered an angel in Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Lutheranism, Islam, Judaism, Anglicanism, and Oriental Orthodoxy.

Michael is usually seen with a sword, carrying a banner or scales (for justice,) or seen stepping on the devil.

Another cemetery angel is Raphael. He is recognized as an archangel in Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  Raphael is the angel that heals.

Raphael may be seen holding a bottle or flask.  He can also be identified when carrying a staff or fish.

Uriel is an archangel recognized in such religions as Judaism, Anglican, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Oriental Orthodoxy. He is known as the “light of God.”

Uriel is depicted in the Apocalypse of Peter as the angel of repentance. Uriel is also the angel that checks the doors of Egypt for lamb’s blood.  He is the keeper of the key to the Pit during the end of times, and can be identified carrying a sword or a palm.

Yet another angel seen in the cemetery but usually not identified is Samael.
Samael is regarded as an angel who is both good and wicked.  In Judaism, he is the angel that tempted Eve. He is also the angel of death.

Samael is depicted in the cemetery as the grim reaper with a scythe in hand.

There are said to be over 30 varieties of angels, but most are not given names.  They are shown to be like humans with wings and halos; acting as the servants of God, messengers of God, and who intercede between humans and God.

Angels are considered to be benevolent spirits, who protect and guide humans before and after death.  This may be why they are so prevalent in cemeteries around the world – Helping those who have passed, and comforting those who remain…

~ Joy

Friday, March 22, 2013

Using the Internet to Identify the Dead

Cook County Medical Examiner's
Two weeks ago the Cook County Illinois Medical Examiner’s Office made a bold move.  The office began releasing photos of unidentified dead bodies on its webpage.  The hope is that someone might be able to ID a missing family member or friend from the photos.  But the move has sparked controversy.

Dr Steve Cina

The photos of decaying corpses have been called too graphic, disturbing, and insensitive. But the Cook County Medical Examiner, Dr Steve Cina, feels that it’s worth the discomfort if the photos help a family find a loved one.

An unidentified person (UP) is a person who has died and his/her body has not been identified. Once normal channels have been exhausted in trying to gain identification, a coroner or medical examiner may post a photo and information on the UP site in hopes that it triggers someone's memory, or that someone recognizes the person and can identify them.

Information about those who have not been identified can be found on the Cook County Medical Examiner’s (CCME) website under “Unidentified Persons”,_office_of/307/unidentified_persons/735.

A physical description of the person including sex, race, and the clothes they were wearing, along with descriptive body features such as height, birthmarks, tattoos, or dental information can be used. Photos on the site are updated biweekly. 

All of the photos are watermarked by the Medical Examiner’s office and include a disclaimer of the ”potentially graphic nature of the images.”

But, the Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office is not the first to place photos of the deceased online in an attempt to discover their identities.  In fact, the CCME worked in conjunction with the National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs) to create their page.

NamUs is a searchable database funded by the National Institute of Justice and managed by the UNT Health Science Center.  It was also created in an attempt to discover whom these unidentified persons are. 

Searches can be conducted by using demographics, case numbers, physical characteristics, or other specific information. New cases are added each day by medical examiners and coroners across the U.S.

Currently, NamUs has almost 10,000 unidentified persons in their database.  Fewer than 10% of the remains have been identified and those cases closed. Just over 90% of the cases remain open. Close to two million people have visited the site since it began in 2010.

Cook County Morgue
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s office currently has several unidentified persons, some still waiting to be identified after four years. The office also has close to 50 bodies that are identified but unclaimed.

An unclaimed person (UCP) is someone whose body has been identified but no next of kin have been found, or if the family has been located, they cannot afford to pay for a funeral, or they do not want to accept responsibility for the body. In 2011, Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office began donating unclaimed remains to the Anatomical Gift Association (AGA) within two weeks after arrival there. 

Once the body is picked up, the AGA is then required to wait 21 days before embalming it and another 60 days for next of kin to be located or come forward.  If, after that time, no one has claimed the body the AGA may use the body for medical research and subsequent cremation.

The Doe Network is an organization ran by volunteers that includes searchable websites for unidentified and missing persons from around the U.S.  The organization has been active for 12 years and has been recognized by the Department of Justice.

Fifteen sites are listed that deal with unidentified remains, unexplained disappearances, and missing persons. Unidentified remains may be from the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, or other countries. The network deals with hot and cold cases.

Besides Illinois, other states listed on the Doe Network are Kentucky, Iowa, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Nevada, Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Tennessee. Almost four million visitors have visited the site since it began in 2001.

Although the photos may be considered disturbing, they do serve a very real purpose.  There is an estimated 40,000 remains currently unidentified in the U.S.  Sites such as these could help countless families and friends find out what happened to someone dear.

It is often said “You can judge a society by how it treats its dead.”  It is time we allow those who have remained nameless to be identified and bring some sense of closure to those lives. 
And the internet may be the most effective way for us to do this...

~ Joy

Friday, March 15, 2013

Embalming World Leaders, Long-Term

Embalming is the act of preserving a body for a short period of time so that the remains may be placed on display at a viewing or funeral.

Egyptian Embalming
Embalming has been practiced since ancient times. The Egyptians are best known for their embalming (mummification) customs.  The embalming process is similar to pickling food – a way to keep something preserved for a short period of time.

King Tut
King Tutankhamen’s tomb was discovered in 1922, in the Valley of the Kings.  The fact that his body had been preserved by mummification presented an opportunity for governments to consider the same being done for certain world leaders, with the goal of preserving them for thousands of years.

Sister Bernadette Soubirous
Placing a body on long-term display became a tradition with Catholic saints and popes.  But the bodies did not last, and therefore did not remain on display permanently.

Civil War Embalming
Civil War Soldier
The necessity of finding a way to preserve remains for a certain length of time became crucial during the American Civil War.  Families wanted their soldiers returned home for burial.  Dr. Thomas Holmes, a surgeon with the Army Medical Corps began the process of embalming dead Union soldiers so their remains could be sent back to their families.

Lincoln's Funeral Train
Embalmed Lincoln
These embalming methods made it possible for the body of President Abraham Lincoln to be viewed enroute across the country, as it was returned to Springfield, Illinois for interment. When Lincoln’s coffin was opened 36 years later, his features were still recognizable.

19th Century Embalming Fluids
The main ingredients used in embalming during the Civil War were alcohol and arsenic salts.  Then in 1867, a German chemist discovered formaldehyde, and the process of modern embalming began.

Crowds Wait to see Lenin
Vladimir Lenin
Long-term embalming for public display became accepted when Soviet founder Vladimir Lenin died in 1924. Over 3-million showed up to say farewell to their leader.

The exact techniques used by the Russians for long-term embalming have remained secret. However, it is known that the procedure involves removing the organs, dissolving the veins, and extracting blood from the tissues.  The body is then placed in a vat of embalming fluid where the temperature and humidity levels are closely watched and controlled. After six months, the body has soaked up enough of the embalming fluid to preserve it for a longer period of time.  The formaldehyde-based embalming fluid changes the chemical composition of the body and gets rid of bacteria so that mold can’t grow. This helps prevent decomposition from occurring. 

Mortuary Artist at Work
Once the body has been embalmed, mortuary artists are brought in to make the deceased look more lifelike with the use of cosmetics, hair, and clothing.  The products used are in keeping with the local climate, and conditions that the body will be subjected to.

Climate Controlled
Long-term embalming does not stop decomposition; it only slows it down.  The embalming process must be reapplied periodically in order to keep the body maintained, and the remains must be kept in a climate controlled, sterile environment.

Lenin's 'Bath'
Lenin in 1991
Lenin also has his own embalming maintenance team at the Research Institute for Biological Structures in Moscow.  His body is inspected twice a week, and his hands and face are then cleaned with a special solution.  Every 12 to 18 months, Lenin’s body is immersed in an embalming solution bath to soak for 30 days.  It is then placed back on display in a glass sarcophagus that protects it from bacteria.

Since Lenin’s embalming, several Communist and Socialist leaders have been put on public display.  The list includes:

Argentinean Vice President Eva Peron in 1952.

Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in 1953.

Vietnamese revolutionary leader Ho Chi Ming in 1969.


Leader of the People’s Republic of China, Chairman Mao Zedong in 1976.

Exiled Filipino dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1989.

North Korean leader Kim Il-sung in 1994.

His son, Kim Jong-il in 2011. 

Chavez at Funeral
Hugo Chavez
Now plans are underway to embalm Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who died on March 5th, 2013.  Once embalmed, Chavez’s remains would lay in a glass case on public display, permanently.

Lenin's Mausoleum
Ho Chi Ming Museum
Most embalmed leaders were laid to rest in a mausoleum or military museum where generations of the faithful could visit.  Only Lenin, Ho Chi Ming, Kim Il-sung, and Kim Jong-il are still in presentable condition and on display.  (Ho Chi Ming is also treated to a special ‘bath’ once a year in Moscow.)

Stalin at Kremllin Wall
Lenin and Stalin
Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin was embalmed and put on display next to Lenin in 1953.  The Soviet government ordered Stalin’s body removed from the mausoleum in 1961 as part of the de-Stalinization of the country.  He was quietly interred in the Kremlin Wall Necropolis, outside the walls of the Kremlin.

Communist Leaders
The decision to embalm Chavez is considered to be an endeavor to elevate him to the ranks of the high communist.  As to who will do the embalming process – no one has yet been officially announced, although a Filipino mortuary artist, Frank Malabed has volunteered. 

Attending Lenin
The Russian specialists who care for Lenin’s body are considered to be the best at this type of long-term preservation, and have also sent word of their interest to help. 

Lenin On Display
Lenin’s embalming process is still one of the best examples of long-term embalming ever done.  But since the fall of Communism in 1991, the government no longer funds the preservation work.  Now the continued maintenance is paid for by private funds and donations. There has even been talk of deconstructing Lenin’s Mausoleum and burying his remains in a tomb. 

As they say, “Nothing lasts forever…”

~ Joy

To view the process of Lenin’s yearly ‘bath’,