1300 Skulls & Embalming-of-the-Day | 4M #108
Welcome to the hundred-and-eighth edition of Morticians’ Monday Morning Mashup, 4M #108, where we’ll serve up bite-sized, easily-digestible nuggets of the deathcare news you need to crush conversations in the week ahead. Bon appetit!
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Extreme embalming, 1895 style
When James Murphy strolled into Reading, Pennsylvania to attend a firefighter convention in 1895, he probably never imagined he’d still be hanging around 128 years later. Yet, that’s what happened after Murphy, an alcoholic, was arrested for burglarizing a boarding house and died in the prison from kidney failure. Because he was booked under a fake name and relatives couldn’t be located, Murphy’s body was taken to Reading’s Auman Funeral Home, where he was embalmed using an experimental “high-octane” method. The technique had a mummification effect, and the funeral home asked to keep the body for long-term observation. Until last week, Murphy, who had long been nicknamed “Stoneman Willie” as he was still unidentified, remained a permanent fixture at Auman Funeral Home. He was finally buried — and his true identity revealed, thanks to some historical sleuthing — on Saturday, October 7.
Speaking of remains on display …
Penn Museum in Philadelphia has recently updated its Human Remains Policy to prohibit the display of “anything that comes from a person.” This means that the museum will soon begin removing more than 10,000 human remains from their public displays, including 1,300 human skulls. Of course, there will be exceptions to the policy, including wrapped remains and remains contained in a coffin.
Vermont’s getting a little greener
This month 56 acres of lush forest among Vermont’s White River will become the state’s first exclusively-natural burial ground. Vermont Forest Cemetery founder Michelle Acciavatti is a former neuroscience and ethics researcher whose later career as a death doula led to her passion for home and green burials. Although the cemetery’s grand opening was held this weekend, the first burial took place last year when Acciavatti buried her 120-pound German Shepherd.
Europe’s first AH
The first disposition via alkaline hydrolysis on the entire European continent took place a few weeks ago in Ireland. Pure Reflections Resomarium owner Elizabeth Oakes said she first heard about “water cremation” 20 years ago during a tour of UCLA’s body donation facility, and worked with Irish authorities to get the process approved in her native country. She’s already performed three AH dispositions, and says she’s receiving at least 10 inquiries a day.
Are we ready for this?
Remember when the hashtag #OOTD went viral? It was part of a social media trend where people posted daily full-length selfies showing their “outfit of the day.” Well, a Nigerian mortuary worker has taken this to another level by posting images of the deceased individuals he has prepared for viewing. His posts have garnered mixed reactions. Some believe he’s justified in sharing his work and showing off his skills, while others believe it’s completely inappropriate given his subject matter. What say you?
An Ohio court has ruled that a funeral director who solicited preneed sales from those under contract from his former employer did not break any laws. According to the state’s Supreme Court, the director didn’t “violate the state’s trade secrets law because the information he took was readily available to the public” at the time. The state law changed in 2021, though, and preneed contract information is no longer public record.
Whatchu talkin’ ‘bout, Dave?
Most folks know Dave Ramsey as a reliable personal finance guru, but it’s tough to agree with his latest advice to preplan a funeral, but not prepay. In response to a question about preneeds, Ramsey told the Knoxville News Sentinel last week that “the funeral world is an industry — an extremely profitable industry.” He also said that prepaying adds on “stuff like financing or prepayment to a purchase” which is basically “adding to their profits.” Ramsey goes on to say that prepaying is “mathematically ridiculous” for people in their 30s or 40s because with an inflation rate of 4% on funerals, “If you took the cost of a funeral and invested it at age 30, instead of 4% on your money, you’d get an actual investment return. By the time you’re 80, you’d have about $600,000.”