December 14, 2012

Hart Island

When I first learned about Hart Island, I was watching a movie called "Don't Say A Word" featuring Michael Douglas, and Brittany Murphy. There is a long scene towards the end of the movie that is set in Hart Island, New York. Hart Island was then made reference to again when I was reading about the sad ending for child actor Bobby Driscoll, who is buried at Hart Island.

Hart Island is more than just an Island, located in New York, Hart Island is a potter's cemetery for the New York City. It's the largest tax funded cemetery in the world. New York acquired it in 1869 and began using it as a cemetery. According to, over 850,000 people have been buried there. Due to the large amount of burials on the island, and the tax payer expense in doing so, the burials are now conducted by Rikers Island inmates. All burial records are kept within the prison system, making it difficult for the public to get information about their loved ones. The Hart Island Project, a nonprofit charitable organization since 1994, has helped family members obtain burial records of their loved ones.

Prisoners are ferried to the Island from Fordham Street Pier located on City Island. They are paid 50¢ an hour to buried the dead. Coffins are placed in two rows, three high, and 25 across. There is one single grave, for a baby that died of AIDS in 1985.

Visitation to Hart Island is restricted and NY City Department of Corrections schedules any visits family members wish to have. They have to have proof that their family member is buried on the island. Currently no one is allowed on the island without contact the prison system.

Before the purchase of Hart Island by New York City, it was used for a Civil War Interment camp, a prison, and a workhouse for trouble youth. Those buildings are now decaying in the background as bodies are committed to the ground.

There are pictures of Hart Island at The Hart Island Project website, that are simply haunting. Several prisoners holding baby coffins 4 at a time and setting them in the ground, also several of the decaying buildings, with light pouring in from the caved in ceilings and nature slowly calming back what it used to own. One of the Hart Island Chapel, now empty with debris scattered across the bare floor.

It seems Hart Island is full of ghosts, ghosts of the past, and the present.

The Sad Fate of Bobby Driscoll
The Hart Island Project

November 21, 2012

Cemetery Managers Have No Respect For The Dead, including Emmett Till

On a Summer day in 1955, 16 year old Emmett Tilll made the fatal mistake of whistling at a white woman named Carolyn Bryant, (some accounts say they also held a conversation) who was crossing the street. Several nights later on August 28, 1955 Carolyn Bryant's husband, Roy and his half-brother J. W. Milam, kidnapped Till from Till's great uncle's house in Mississippi, and proceeded to beat him, mutilate him, and finally shoot him. They later dumped his body in the Tallahatchie River, weighing the body down with a cotton gin fan.

His body was discovered three days later, and was shipped back to Chicago, Illinois, his home town. There his Mother, Mamie Carthan held a public funeral, and the body was displayed in a glass top casket. Mamie wanted everyone to know what they had done to her boy. Hundreds filed past the casket and more saw the photos in Jet Magazine. Emmett's murder became a powerful example of the hatred, and crime exhibited towards Black Americas during the Civil Rights movement. Rev. Jesse Jackson said, after finding out about the crime and with members of Till's family at the cemetery, "She said (Rosa Parks), 'I thought about Emmett Till and I couldn't go back."

Emmett's Decaying Casket
Maybe, in death he would finally find peace. Not so, I'm afraid. In 2005 Emmett's body was exhumed to go under DNA testing to display long time rumors that the body was not Tills who was buried in Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Ill. It turns out the body was in deed Tills. His body was then transferred to a new casket and re buried. The glass top casket was supposed to become a memorial to Till and displayed in a museum. 

However, in July of 2009 investigators were called to Burr Oak Cemetery to look into allegations that the cemetery owners were digging up plots, dumping the bodies, and reselling the plots. The investigators found the famous glass top casket, that 100,000 filed past in 1955, left to decay in the cemetery's shed, surround by garbage and now a home for possums.

Sheriff Tom Dart said the displacement of bodies "was not done in a very delicate way," and that remains were dumped haphazardly, littered with shards of coffins. For graves stacked on top of each other, Dart said it appears they "pounded the other one down and put someone on top."

The suspects in this gruesome crime were, Carolyn Towns, Keith Nicks, Terrence Nicks, and Maurice Dailey. They all have been charged with felonies, of dismembering a human body. By the way, they were all African Americans.

The glass top casket was place in police custody, pending the investigation, and they reported it will eventually be released back to the Till Family. Thankfully Emmett's grave doesn't seem to be disturbed.

"I once asked Mrs. Parks, 'Why didn't you move to the back of the bus?'" the Rev. Jesse Jackson said last week, standing with members of Till's family at the cemetery. "She said, 'I thought about Emmett Till and I couldn't go back.'"

Tills cousin, Wheeler Parker, who was a witness to Till kidnapping back in 1955, stated to the press after learning about the crimes committed in Burr Oak: "To me, it's just as bad as it was the night they took Emmett, Emmett's thing sounded like a nightmare and a dream, and this is the same thing."

See The News Story

A YouTube Video of Emmett's Story

November 15, 2012

Mercury Poisoning Is A No Go..

Scientists rule out famed Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe died of mercury poisoning

By Associated Press, Updated: Thursday, November 15, 8:42 AM

PRAGUE — Ever since Tycho Brahe died suddenly more than 400 years ago, there has been mystery about whether the Dane whose celestial observations laid the groundwork for modern astronomy fell victim to natural causes or was murdered.
On Thursday, scientists who had exhumed his body said one thing is clear: if he was murdered, it wasn’t with mercury, as many rumors had claimed.
“We measured the concentration of mercury using three different quantitative chemical methods in our labs” in the Czech Republic and Denmark, said Kaare Lund Rasmussen, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Southern Denmark.
“All tests revealed the same result: that mercury concentrations were not sufficiently high to have caused his death. In fact, chemical analyses of the bones indicate that Tycho Brahe was not exposed to an abnormally high mercury load in the last five to 10 years of his life,” Rasmussen said in a statement.
The scientists didn’t say what did kill the astronomer, but tests on the remains are still being conducted.
Brahe’s death in 1601 at the age of 54 was long believed to have been due to a bladder infection. Legend said it was the result of his reluctance to breach court etiquette during a reception by leaving for a toilet. Kidney disease was another suspect.
But some speculated that he might have been poisoned with mercury, even at the hands of a king or a rival astronomer.
“Brahe’s famous assistant (astronomer) Johannes Kepler has been identified as a possible murder suspect, and other candidates have been singled out for suspicion throughout the years.” said Jens Vellev, a professor of medieval archaeology at Aarhus University, Denmark, who heads the Czech-Danish team of scientists that conducted the research.
Some even contend that a cousin of Brahe’s killed him on the orders of Danish King Christian IV for allegedly having an affair with the king’s mother.
Tests conducted in 1996 in Sweden, and later in Denmark, on samples of Brahe’s mustache and hair obtained in a 1901 exhumation, showed unusually high levels of mercury, supporting the poisoning theory.
But Vellev wasn’t satisfied with that conclusion and he won permission from the church and Prague authorities to reopen the tomb, saying the remains needed to be analyzed with contemporary technology.
His team opened Brahe’s tomb in the Church of Our Lady Before Tyn near Prague’s Old Town Square two years ago.
Tests on Brahe’s beard and bones resolved the mercury question, Vellev said, but work is still being done on his teeth and that could determine his cause of death.
Brahe was born in 1546 at his family’s ancestral castle in Scania, then part of Denmark, and he studied astronomy at the University of Copenhagen and in Germany. He worked at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph II at a time when Prague was an imperial city.
In 1572, Brahe detected a new star in the constellation Cassiopeia. At the time the heavens were thought to be unchanging, so his discovery was startling. The next year, he became the first astronomer to describe a supernova, or exploding stars.
The exhumation also shed light on another mystery linked to Brahe — his artificial nose.
The astronomer had part of his nose sliced off in a 1566 duel with a fellow nobleman while a student in the German city of Rostock, and the missing piece was replaced by a metal plate.
“Surprisingly, our analyses revealed that the prosthesis was not made of precious metals, as was previously supposed,” Vellev said. He said the samples contained “traces of equal parts copper and zinc, which indicates that the prosthesis was made of brass.”
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

August 8, 2012

The California Venus

It all started with a beauty contest.. It was held in San Francisco, in 1892. The winner would have a statue made of their likeness which would be dubbed "California Venus" and put on display in the 1915 Saint Louis World's Fair. A girl by the name of Marian Nolan, age 16, won the contest, hands down. She became California's Venus. She became famous for her beauty. Women wanted to be like her, and men wanted her. With her new found fame she tried her hand at acting.. However her roles were mostly small, two line parts. However, she had many male admirers. One such admirer, Edward "Ed Marshuts" Marschuetz was smitten for Ms. Nolan. His love was not reciprocated by Maria. He became obsessed and waited for her out side the theater where she preformed. On October 20, 1902, Edward confronted Marian on the street as she was walking home. Edwward grabbed her. In frustration she reportedly hit him with her umbrella. She became free of his grasp and started to retreat when he pulled out a revolver and shot her dead. Seeing his love dead on the ground with blood starting to seep from her body, he put the revolver to his temple and pulled the trigger. There lay Beauty, with a pool of blood slowly building around her, and the beast, who's madness followed her even in death.

July 12, 2012

Acquisition of the Essence

Victorians, in my opinion, had a more health way to deal with death. When photography was in it's infancy, the subject being photographed wasn't always alive. Taking a picture of your spouse, child, pet, or close relative was a common practice that allowed family members to remember their loved ones by. Many believed the photograph captured the dearly departed's soul. There is an excellent book written about this macabre Victorian practice entitled Secure the Shadow: Death and Photography in America, by Jay Ruby.

10 Famous Mummified Bodies

10 Famous Mummified Bodies via