November 7, 2008

Canadian's Epitaphs

Traditional epitaphs rest in peace
By Stefanie KranjecFri Nov 9, 8:16 AM ET
Canadians are becoming wordier, particularly when it comes to their last words.
Alberta-based author Nancy Millar has wandered the country's graveyards and says that over the past 20 years, gravestone epitaphs have begun to illustrate a trend of Canadians wanting to be more than "eternally beloved" when they
"rest in peace."
"I was trying to show that Canadians are interesting and can be interesting in their graveyards," she said about her book, "The Final Word: The Book of Canadian Epitaphs."
"I think graveyards have a root in history. I'm not particularly creepy or any of those sorts of things, I just love them because they tell a story out there."
Many of the nontraditional epitaphs noted in the book are whimsical.
"This wasn't my idea," complains a gravestone near Salmon Arm, British Columbia.
A Saskatoon headstone reads: "I'd rather be in Boston watching the Red Sox," and in Manitoba, a widely used epitaph, according to Millar, is "I told you I was sick."
"He who dies with the most toys wins" can be found in a cemetery near Medicine Hat, Alberta. Three hours north, in Delia, Alberta, "All things considered, we'd rather be in Philadelphia," a variation on the W.C. Fields quotation, is immortalized.
Diane Langlois, co-owner of Mountain Memorials in Hamilton, Ontario, a family-owned business that has designed and engraved headstones since 1924, says that personalized epitaphs account for about 40 percent of her business. She attributes the upswing to technology and the Internet giving people a database of phrases to pick from. In earlier times, the Bible was often where people looked for inspiration.
Millar also says that with fewer Canadians attending religious services on a regular basis, the church has lost headstone influence.
In Ontario, each cemetery has its own bylaws, which, among other things, may lay out what can and cannot be engraved on a headstone.
The Registrar of Cemeteries, however, has the power to revoke a cemetery's bylaws if anything "generally offensive" such as profanity, racial slurs and messages amounting to a hate crime, make it on to a headstone.
"It's really hard to get a saying that works for you because you don't want to be irreverent, because that offends the living people," Millar said.
But sports enthusiasts - "Gone Fishing'; writers - "To be continued..."; romantics - "We'll dance in the moonlight"; and even jokers - "I'm not here, I'm havin' a beer"; all have their final say in cemeteries across the country.
"Well, I suppose you don't dress like everyone else," said Millar. "You want to be noticed a little bit out in the graveyard. It depends on the person, just like what we pick to wear."
(Reporting by Stefanie Kranjec; Editing by Peter Galloway)

August 17, 2008

Winchester Mystery House

It certainly looks out of place surrounded by modern buildings and parking lots. It certainly is big, almost unbelievably large. It certainly is strange, full of mystery, and seems to have no rhyme or reason to its random layout. The house, built by a woman named Sarah Winchester, was an attempt to attract good karma. Her husband was the second president of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company. The gun that won the west, was stained with the blood of angry spirits, according to Sarah. Sarah felt the deaths of her husband William Wirt Winchester in 1881 and baby girl Annie Pardee Winchester in 1866, were the result of the angry spirits who were killed by the riffle.

Sarah suffering from the loss of her baby girl and husband consulted a physic. The physic told her to appease the spirits. The physic said that she lost her loved ones because the people who were killed by a Winchester were angry and vengeful. She must move west, and build a house that must never be completed. If the building stopped, Sarah would die. So Sarah, moved from New Haven to San Jose, California and hired workers to began construction on her house in
1884. Night and day workers toiled with the sound of hammers and saws in the background. It didn't stop until Sarah died on September 5, 1922.

Sarah had inherited a fortune from her husband's company, and used it to furnish and build the house. You can find Tiffany glass, hand carved wood, modern indoor plumbing, hand pushed gas lighting, and three elevators inside the mansion. The cost to build was well over 5 million, an amazing sum especially for the late 1800s. The house covers 4 acres, has two basements, 467 doorways, 47 fireplaces, 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, and 5 kitchens.

Part of the house's purpose was to confuse the angry spirits and keep Sarah safe. To do this, there are countless stairways that lead into walls, doors open to the lawn outside, stair posts that are upside down, skylights that are designed to be one above the other, and bathrooms with glass doors. It's wonderfully strange.

Today, the house is a California Historical Landmark and is registered with the National Park Service as "a large, odd dwelling with an unknown number of rooms." Several different tours of the house are available, including flashlight tours at night on dates around Halloween and each Friday the 13th.

You can find out more about the mansion at

May 8, 2008

The Murder of a Civil Rights Activist

Medgar Evers
In July of 1963 civil rights activist, Medgar Evers was shot in the back while exiting his car in the driveway of his Mississippi home. Ironically, his wife and children were inside watching President Kennedy's famous speech against segregation. Medgar staggered, bleeding to his front door as his wife and children ran out of the house trying to aid him. He died close to an hour later at an area hospital. 

Medgar's wife and children view his body.

Medgar was born on July 2, 1925, in Decatur, Mississippi. He enrolled at Alcorn State University in 1948 and married fellow student Myrlie Beasley in 1951. His increasing roll in fair treatment in the black community made him a target of death threats and violence. He was an active member of the RCNL (Regional Council of Negro Leadership) Medgar helped to organize boycotts against gas stations that wouldn't allow blacks to use their restrooms.

The night Medgar was shot a gun was found at the scene which was traced back to a man named Byron De La Beckwith, a man with known ties to the Ku Klux Klan and White supremacist organizations. Beckwith evaded justice twice when both court trails resulted in a hung jury. In 1994 Medgar's widow, Myrlie, helped to reopen the 30-year case and retry Beckwith. Bobby B. DeLaughter was the prosecutor and later wrote a book about the case entitled Never Too Late: A Prosecutor's Story of Justice in the Medgar Evers Case

Medgar's Casket after being exhumed 1991.
Medgar's body was exhumed in 1991. An autopsy was performed by Dr. Michael Baden. 
Dr. Baden commented in his book Dead Reckoning and on the HBO TV series Autopsy, that Medgar's body was in remarkably good condition. So good in fact, that Dr. Baden called Medgar's son to come view the body. Medgar's son was just a little boy when his father was murdered and barely remembered him. Dr. Baden set up the autopsy room like a funeral parlor and was able to reunite father and son. According to Baden, it was an incredibly touching and powerful moment. 

Beckwith was convicted of murder on February 5, 1994. Beckwith appealed several times without success and died in prison on January 21, 2001.

A movie was made about Edgar's Murder entitled Ghosts of Mississippi directed by Rob Reiner. An excellent movie starring Whoopie Goldberg, as Myrlie Evers and Alec Baldwin as Bobby DeLaughter. 

For More Information:

Medgar Evers - Wikipedia

NAACP History - Medgar Evers

Find A Grave- Medgar Evers
Life Magazine - Behind The Picture: Medgar Evers Funeral

May 6, 2008

Lady Dai

The art of body preservation is in most minds mastered by ancient Egyptians. The ancient Egyptians believed in life after death, that life simple continued on as they knew it. So if life continues on, then your body must survive to make the trip. Ancient Egyptian morticians were excellent at their trade. They preserved bodies that are on display thousands of years after they placed the last strip of linen around the body.

However, the Egyptians might need to pass the blue ribbon in body preservation to the ancient Chinese. In 1971 archaeologists came across a tomb and a preserved corpse. The body was in such good shape that a modern autopsy was preformed. The organs were found in tact including the brain. The limbs were flexible and blood was still found in the veins.

The body belonged to a woman name Xin Zhui, the Lady of Dai. She died, between 178 and 145BC and was a woman of wealth and privileged. She was married to the marquis of Han, and lived during the dynasty of Han.

Her tomb was full of treasures literally reflecting her tastes. It was apparent she loved to eat since her tomb included artifacts related to food including bamboo baskets containing soy beans, pears, and the bones of game, including swans, pheasants, pigs, and oxen.

There were also copies of her favorite recipes and lacquer dinnerware. There was also a beautiful hand woven funeral banner placed over her coffin. It featured the Lady Dai making her way to the afterlife with cane in hand.

Her love of food became her demise. The autopsy reveled extensive heart disease, a fused disc in her spine, and gallstones. It seems a gallstone blocked one of the gall ducts and caused her already weakened heart to fail.

There was a reddish liquid found in the coffin and scientists can't decided wither the liquid was place there for preservation purposes or was simple water leaking through the tomb and casket.

The corpse is on display at the Hunan Museum in Changsha. Her postmortem story was also featured on Diva Mummy on the National Geographic Channel.

February 8, 2008

Funeral horses stampede, overturn hearse

A hearse overturned when the horses pulling it to a south London cemetery stampeded, dragging the carriage and coffin past appalled relatives and sending floral tributes flying.
"It was dreadful," a mourner told the South London Press. "The horses dragged the carriage to the cemetery on its side, tossing the coffin all over the place and destroying all the flowers inside.
"Some people got very angry and had to be restrained by other mourners... It is understandable given the circumstances. I'm horrified that something like this could happen."
Police were called to calm angry mourners so that the funeral last month could go ahead.
The carriage appeared to have clipped a mini-roundabout as it entered Lambeth Cemetery for the funeral, the local council which administers the graveyard said Friday.

(Reporting by Peter Apps, editing by Tim Pearce)

January 25, 2008

Autopsy with Dr. Baden

One of my favorite shows on TV airs on HBO entitled Autopsy with Dr. Michael Baden. Dr. Baden serves as New York's medical examiner. He has done high profile cases such as Nicole Simpson & Ron Goldman, The Romanovs Last Imperial Family of Russia, President Kennedy, Sid Vicious of the Sex Pistols, and Medgar Evers civil rights activist. I have read his book Dead Reckoning: The New Science of Catching Killers. Dr. Baden has the incredible gift and talent to allow the dead to speak, to give voice and shine light on horrific crimes and help put the perpetrators behind bars.

One of his cases that sticks out most in my mind is when a bag of bones was found in a river along with what looked like, at first glance, two jelly fish. The jelly fish turned out to be breast implants. The implants had a number printed on them and with that number, the implants were traced back to the owner. A woman, who had a connection with drug dealers and was murdered and had her body thrown in the river. I'm sure when she went to the plastic surgeon for the consultation she never imaged that those breast implants would one day help to identify her killer.

I have included posts in my blog about some of the stories featured on Autopsy.