Hallowed Ground

Houdini’s New Grave
& Poe’s Bronx Cottage

Perhaps no other two public figures are more intrinsically connected with Halloween than Harry Houdini and Edgar Alan Poe. Fittingly, there seems to be always fresh new stories about them too.
Houdini, who died 85 years ago tomorrow, famously promised to give us a sign, proving there’s life after death. We’re still waiting.
And Poe, who preceded him to the great beyond by 77 years, will be forever attached to tales of the macabre, even though his claim to literary immortality comes from his detective stories.
Hungarian-born Houdini, escape-artist extraordinaire with a Freudian relationship with his mother, was skeptic about the supernatural, but inspired a generation of then-called occultists.
Poe, who was found delirious on the streets of Baltimore and died on Oct. 7, 1849 without ever regaining consciousness, was a true believer in the afterlife, but his name’s often mentioned along that most rigorously of law-enforcement sciences: forensics.
Lastly, both will be forever connected to New York, by the way of Continue reading

Ways to Go

Freeze it or Reconstruct the Face:
Dressing Dead Bodies With Fungi

The death of Robert Ettinger, founder of cryonics, and Frank Bender, forensic sculptor extraordinaire, within a few days of each other last week, somehow encapsulates two radically different views of our longing for permanence far beyond our natural expiration dates.
Their obits also extrapolate two curious takes on how we should dispose our earthly remains, when that date does come: put a speed on the organic matter that will feed on the body, or simply burn it and stuff its ashes in lethal bullets. Your choice.
THE BIG (COLD) SLEEP
Ettinger, who died on July 23 at 92, a physics teacher, lived his life as a scientist and sci-fi writer. But with his 1962 book, The Prospect of Immortality, he laid down the basic tenets of cryonics, the radical concept of freezing the body after death, so it can be revived by yet unknown medical techniques of the future.
He went on to found and lead the Cryonics Institute and the Immortalist Society, and became the movement’s most visible figure. That did not prevent his ideas, and the ethical debate over the procedures to make it all possible, from taking a life of their own, completely independent from him, and mostly close to public derision.
His scientific training may have been instrumental in insulating him to it Continue reading

It Happens

Dead at Her Funeral,
Alive at the Morgue

Here’s a tale of a man who could’ve died of fright but didn’t, and a woman who could’ve lived but perished.
Fagilyu Mukhametzyanov, a 49-year-old Russian woman, reportedly had a full and happy life, but unfortunately, also a weak heart, and suffered what appeared to be a fatal attack.
Fagili, her dutiful husband, made all the funeral arrangements and invited their closest friends and relatives.
It was when the priest was leading the group into a prayer for Continue reading

Wake Up

Odd and Strange Ways
of Dispatching the Dead

Death and ritual go hand and hand since records are kept and bodies are buried. The more we grieve the loss of our loved ones, the less we’ll morn them in the future.
Seeing them peacefully at rest is still an effective way to get through the pain of their departure and how it happened.
Today, though, most western societies seem averse to such an acknowledgment of life’s finality. Many prefer to do away with Continue reading