Friday, February 28, 2014

Bones of Contention and Disappearing Bodies

Rest in Peace” - it’s more than comforting words said at a funeral. The phrase expresses a desire for the deceased to be granted eternal repose and tranquility; calmness after life’s hectic journey. But there are some who had a rough road to travel, even after death...

Thomas Paine - "These are the times that try men's souls."
Thomas Paine
Thomas Paine was a well known political activist, revolutionary and author of several pro-revolutionary pamphlets.

Paine left England for the U.S. in 1774. On January 10, 1776, he published one of his best-known works, Common Sense.  The pamphlet was an immediate success and sold over half a million copies during the Revolutionary War. Paine later moved to Paris and was an ardent supporter of the French Revolution.

Paine's Farm
He returned to the U.S in 1803 and lived out his life an outcast due to his attitude toward organized religion. Paine died on June 8, 1809 in New York. In his obituary it was written, "He had lived long, did some good and much harm." Paine was buried under a tree on his small farm with six mourners in attendance.

William Cobbett
In September 1819, Paine’s body was dug up and shipped to England by English journalist and pamphleteer, William Cobbett. Cobbett hoped to build a monument to Paine where his body could rest in honor, but ran out of money before project was completed. Paine’s body remained in a trunk in the attic for over 20 years, until Cobbett died in June 1835.
It is not known what happened to Paine’s body – it simply disappeared. It was rumored that the bones were made into buttons but that was never proven.

The “Trophy” Bushman of Banyoles – El Negro
In the early 1830s, a French taxidermist, Edmund Verreaux stuffed, preserved and mounted the body of an African San male found in the Kalahari Desert. Verreaux then took the body on tour through Europe during the 1830’s.

In 1916, the bushman’s mummified body was acquired by the Darder Museum of Banyoles, Spain and given the name El Negro. The mummy was polished a darker color and placed on display. It remained there until March 1997.

In 2000, the remains were sent to a museum in Madrid where the artificial spine, eyes, hair, and genitals were removed before the skull and bones were placed in a coffin and returned to Botswana. There the bushman was finally given a dignified burial in a national park.

Charlie Chaplin – The Little Tramp
He was known as “The Little Tramp,” but Sir Charles Spencer Chaplin was more than a silent film star. He was also a filmmaker and composer. Chaplin died on Christmas Day, 1977 at the age of 88 and was buried in the Vevey Cemetery, in the village of Corsier, Switzerland.

Oona Chaplin
But in March 1978 two men dug up the grave and stole the body.
Chaplin’s widow, Lady Oona Chaplin received a ransom note demanding £400,000 ($650,000 US), which she refused to pay stating, “Charlie would have thought it ridiculous.”

Chaplin's Casket
Chaplin's Grave
Eleven weeks later police arrested two auto mechanics, Roman Wardas and Gantscho Ganev, after they had made another phone call to Chaplin’s widow. The two led police to Chaplin’s body buried in a cornfield about 10 miles from his original resting place. Wardas, the ringleader, was sentenced to 4 years in jail, while Ganev was given an 18-month suspended sentence.

Chaplin was reburied in same grave, but this time his coffin was enclosed in reinforced concrete.

Abraham Lincoln – 16th President
Abraham Lincoln
When Lincoln was assassinated in April of 1865, the Civil War was drawing to a close, and most of the country was ready for peace. But with news of the President’s murder, thousands lined the nation’s railroad tracks to pay their respects, and watch the funeral train pass by.
After stops in 12 cities to allow over 5 million people to view the body, Lincoln was interred in a tomb at Oak Ridge Cemetery in Springfield, Illinois. But he did not rest in peace.

Terrence Mullen - Gang Member
Jack Hughes - Gang Member
In 1876, a band of counterfeiters attempted to steal his body. The plan was to take Lincoln’s remains and hide them in the sand dunes of northern Indiana until a ransom of $200,000 was paid.  The gang was also going to demand the release of one of their members from prison.

A police informant, who had infiltrated the group, alerted the secret service of the plan. Although the grave robbers got away, they were rounded up a few days later, tried, and sentenced to one year in the Illinois State Prison.

Lincoln's Tomb
Lincoln was reburied in the mausoleum, but it was his son, Robert Todd Lincoln who could not rest easy now. In 1901, he had the remains disinterred and placed inside a steel cage that was buried 10 feet beneath the floor of the tomb.  The cage was then encased in 4,000 pounds of concrete so it could never be opened again.

Elvis Presley Has Left the (Mausoleum) Building
Elvis Presley
Elvis Aaron Presley was one of the most significant cultural icons of the 20th century. When he died in August 1977, the world mourned. Presley was buried in the family mausoleum next to his mother, in Forest Hill Cemetery, Memphis Tennessee.

But a couple of weeks after his burial, Ronnie Tyler,
Raymond Green, and Bruce Nelson decided to steal the body. Possibly seeking media coverage, they informed a local reporter about their intended heist. The police were notified and were waiting at the mausoleum, where they arrested the three men. All were charged with criminal trespass but the case was dismissed.

Elvis's Grave
Elvis’s coffin was removed from the family mausoleum, along with his mother's. Both are now interred in the Meditation Garden at Graceland, Presley’s home in Memphis.

Gram Parsons – Dim Lights, Thick Smoke, and Loud, Loud Music”
Gram Parsons
He was born Cecil Ingram Conner III but professionally went by the name of Gram Parsons. Born in 1946, Parsons was a pioneer of the country/rock music genre.  He was the founder of the International Submarine Band, and a member of the Byrds and The Flying Burrito Brothers bands, before touring with Emmylou Harris.

Joshua Tree National Park
On September 19, 1973, Parsons died of a massive drug overdose. His family arranged for the body to be sent home to Louisiana for burial, but Parsons' manager and friend, Phil Kaufman had made a pact with him. Whoever died first was to take the other’s remains out to Joshua Tree National Park and cremate him.

Phil Kaufman with Gram Parsons
Kaufman held to his end of the bargain, arriving at L.A. International Airport to intercept the coffin before it was put on-board a plane. Kaufman and a friend then drove Parsons' body to the park, doused it with gasoline and set it ablaze. A few days later, both men were taken into custody. However, there was no law against stealing a body, so both men were fined $750 for stealing the casket and released.

Parson's Grave
Parsons' remains were eventually sent to Louisiana where he was buried in the Garden of Memories in Metairie.

And, there are many more unusual tales of "traveling" bodies after death, proving that you just never know what will happen next - even after you die ...

~ Joy

Friday, February 21, 2014

From Cask to Casket: A Wine-ing Approach to Celebrating the End of a Life

I have to say, it’s not often that my two main interests – wine and end-of-life issues/cemeteries – coincide, so this is an opportunity I could not resist reporting on.

Hodges Funeral Home - Naples
in Naples, Florida believes that grieving is as much about celebrating a life as it is about the end of it. That is why the business had a wine cellar installed in the basement last month.

Let’s face it, few people want to go to the funeral home, and most just want to move through as quickly as possible. But now those attending visitations, wakes, and services at Hodges, in southwest Florida, have the option to meet in the wine cellar to remember the departed in a less traditional setting.

The Wine Cellar
Most people, especially those under 30, would prefer gathering with family and friends in a comfortable atmosphere, maybe with a glass of wine in hand, and share their memories of the departed. It’s a different way to grieve, and that’s what the wine cellar offers.

While it is not traditional, nor does it meet old-school funeral ethics, it does provide a more relaxed and calmer way to mourn and remember. Amid comfortable chairs, high top tables, and racks of wine, this modern wine cellar provides a laid-back, tranquil vibe.

Of course, this is still about honoring the deceased, but this approach sure beats that line of chairs in front of the body, in my opinion. And no other funeral home is known to have a wine cellar, so this is definitely breaking new ground … (There is no mention of what wines are offered, but I’m assuming Bone Dry Red and Two Angels Petite Sirah are not in the line up: but maybe they should be …)

Hodges Funeral Home is not shy about blazing new trails. They also offer catered reception services as part of the Dignity Memorial Community. (Dignity Memorial
has over 1,800 funeral homes in the U.S.) A reception can be held at the funeral home, or any place you select. Breakfast can also be ordered for the family the day of the funeral, and delivered at a home or church before services.

One of Hodges Traditional Rooms
For those who believe the traditional way is best, Hodges will continue to offer the standard funeral home experience. But for those looking for a new and innovative way to mourn – the wine cellar seems to provide a modern answer.

Hodges Wine Cellar
If this venue is successful at Hodges Funeral Home, expect to see other Dignity Memorial-owned funeral homes offering the “Cask to Casket” experience. Could this be the trend of the future?  We can only raise a glass, and hope.

~ Joy

Friday, February 14, 2014

Mourning Cards: The Art of Death

When attending a funeral, you may have been given a memorial program with a picture on the front, and inside, a verse and the name of the deceased along with his or her birth and death dates, and related funeral information. This is our modern day equivalent to the mourning card.

Correct Mourning Attire
Mourning Card with Photo
Mourning cards became popular during the early 1800s. Victorian mourning customs were comprised of rituals and strict rules of etiquette. The symbols of mourning were carefully observed, and were used to denote the social standing of the family. But those of poorer means still tried to “keep up with the gentry” when it came to mourning and funeral rituals, regardless of the cost.

Funeral invitations were used during the 17th and 18th centuries. The cards were sent to notify family and friends when the funeral was to be held. These invitations were very important socially. A funeral invitation could actually be used like a ticket, to gain admittance to a funeral, especially if it were for someone important or well known.

Funeral Invitation
The funeral invitation was wood engraved, and featured the typical symbols of death found on tombstones: the hourglass, Father Time, the Grim Reaper, or crossed bones. Wealthier families might provide copper-engraved funeral invitations. The invitation also contained details about the departed, along with the time, date, and location of the funeral.

Attending a Funeral
By the Victorian era (1830 - 1901), the funeral invitation was no longer popular. Instead, small mourning or memorial cards were sent out after the funeral, usually to those who could not attend. Information about the funeral might also be included.

Most mourning cards were 3 by 4.5 inches, constructed from heavy card-stock, and made up of intricate, formal designs that were cut and embossed. Symbolism was very popular during the Victorian Era, and again, those gravestone symbols could be found decorating mourning cards.

Two Babies After Death
A heavy black border usually framed the card, which included the birth and death dates. Other pertinent information about the deceased might be listed, along with a prayer, poem, or sentimental words of remembrance. If the deceased were a child or young adult, many times a photo, usually taken after death, would be used.

Those with wealth might opt for a larger mourning card, measuring about 4 by 6 inches, and lettered in gold, or embossed with intricate artwork.

But regardless of size, it was expected that the mourning card would be saved and placed in an album, or hung in a frame as a keepsake. Mourning cards belonging to family members might also contain a lock of the deceased’s hair, or a button from a uniform. These items would be included in the framed presentation.

By the beginning of the 20th century, the memorial card had been folded, with a scene on the front, and the deceased's name and information printed inside.  As this type of card became popular, all four sides contained information about the deceased, and included poems, photos, and artwork.

Today, memorial cards come in a vast variety of choices: religious, landscapes, hobbies, sports … Poems and remembrances can be selected from thousands that are available, or a personal remembrance can be written. Cards may be given out at the visitation, vigil, or wake, or be presented at the funeral or memorial service.

Today's memorial items also include bookmarks, key rings, memorial car magnets, and memory books. Funeral homes may offer these remembrances, but the family can elect to have them printed at a local printing shop, order over the internet, or create them at home on the computer.

Call them mourning cards or memorial cards; these keepsake remembrances are part of a funeral custom we continue to practice - a traditional way in which we offer a lasting tribute to those we love.

~ Joy