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A Timeline for Taphophiles

  • Archaeologists employed by the Laurence Sterne Trust discover several skulls buried in Sterne's grave. One with the top cut off is identified to be that of the novelist, dissected by Dr. Charles Colligton in 1768.
  • Modern Times
    • The Massachusetts College of Embalming is established.
    • The lead coffin holding the relics of St. Whyte is opened and found to contain the bones of a small, forty year old woman, disproving an alternative folk tradition that the saint was a bishop.
    • Abraham Lincoln's remains are reburied in solid concrete.
    • Flowers for the funeral of Queen Victoria cost in excess of £80,000.
    • Inventor James O'Kelley demonstrates the Navohi, a device for "air burial" of remains. The Navohi uses the gases of the corpse to ignite a rocket which shoots the remains into the sky where they disintegrate in the atmosphere.
    • An Indianapolis body-snatching ring is exposed. Twenty five persons are indicted for stealing 100 bodies.
    • "Ghost dogs" dig up a Virginia potter's field and eat the corpses.
    • The body of James Smithson is rescued from a Genovese cemetery about to become landfill and placed in the Smithsonian Institution which his fortune founded.
    • Schoolchildren in Hydesville, New York, discover a skeleton in the basement wall of the house once occupied by the Spiritualist Fox Sisters. Spiritualists hail the discovery as proof of the now deceased sisters' powers (they had claimed to receive messages from a dead man buried beneath their cellar), despite the fact that all three publically confessed to faking their performances. Critics suspect the skeleton to have been planted.
    • American Ambassador to France, General Horace Porter, succeeds in locating Paris's abandoned St. Louis Cemetery where the body of John Paul Jones is buried. Excavators find the body in remarkable condition (it has been pickled in alcohol) and send it back to the Naval Academy at Annapolis for a honored burial.
    • New York bans the use of arsenic and various heavy metals in embalming to avoid confounding autopsies.
    • Archaeologists discover a memorial inscription honring the martyrs Ss. Perpetua and Felicita (d. 203) in Carthage's Basilica Majorum where they are buried.
    • Theodore Davis uncovers the mummy of a man buried inside a woman’s sarcophagus. Scientists now believe the occupant of the Valley of King’s Tomb 55 to be that of Smekhare, advisor to the heretical pharoah Akenaten, or perhaps the disgraced remains of Akhenaten himself.
    • The family of Lt. Sutton demand that his body be exhumed and autopsied from Arlington because they claim that his ghost has been visiting them. Sutton, believed to have committed suicide while studying at the Naval Academy, turns out to have been murdered.
    • Harry Houdini visits the grave of William Davenport (see 1889) while on tour in Australia. He has the neglected grave cleaned and restored, an act which endears him to Ira Davenport, who reveals the secrets of the brothers' "spiritualist" act to Houdini.
    • Sir Bernard H. Spilsbury identifies a headless, limbless torso as that of Cora Crippen. Her husband is apprehended in the United States and returned to England for trial and eventual execution.
    • The first motorized hearses appear in the United States and England.
    • Chinese soldiers eat the heart of a rebel leader.
    • Undertaker Joel E. Crandall performs "demi-surgery" on the body of a young man whose head has been crushed between the bumpers of two trains. He removes the skull (which is in eighty pieces), replaces it with one he has made, and successfully restores the deceased man's facial features, to the delight of the parents.
    • The Cremation Association of America is founded.
    • Ambrose Bierce, a long time critic and satirist of funeral practices, avoids his own obsequies by disappearing without a trace in Mexico.
    • The City of Paris decides to give its grave attendants free shaves and hair-cuts at municipal expense.
    • The last Union soldier bodies from the Civil War are located and buried.
    • The San Francisco City and County Board of Supervisors prohibit further burials within city limits.
    • Animal rights activists persuade the British Undertakers' Association to urge its members to discontinue making horses wear plumes on their head.
    • Valuables from the tholos tomb at Tiryns, stolen in 1000 B.C., are recovered when archaeologists excavate the house of the robber.
    • Deaths from the influenza epidemic are so many that the United States suffers a major coffin shortage.
    • Bolsheviks desecrate the graves of the Czars in the Kremlin.
    • Napoleon's Arc d'Triomphe becomes a sepulchre with the interment of the Unknown Soldier.
    • Dedication of the American Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
    • Excavations at Carthage, Tunisia uncover the first of some 60,000 tophets or child sacrifices.
    • Howard Carter finds the tomb of Tutankhamen.
    • The fifth Lord Carnarvon, sponsor of Howard Carter's expedition to Egypt, dies suddenly. The press attributes his death to a "Pharoah's Curse".
    • Actress Sarah Bernhardt dies and is honored by the citizens of Paris, though not by the French Government, with a long funeral procession and a moment of silence in front of the theater where she gave many of her performances. Earlier in life, Bernhardt had taken to sleeping in a satin-lined coffin when a doctor forbade her from lying with her tubercular sister.
    • Hanover's Fritz Harmann is found to have killed 27 young men to make them into sausage and choice cuts of meat.
    • Lenin dies and is put on display in Moscow. His widow opposes the decision, which is rescinded under Glasnost almost 70 years later.
    • Dr. Douglas Derry performs the first autopsy on the body of King Tutankhamun, but is unable to discover the cause of death.
    • The Marquis Maurice d'Urre of Aubais dies, leaving his great estate to the French government on the following bizarre condition: "I wish to be seated in an armchair under a glass dome. This dome must be placed facing the sea in a public place, near a lighthouse and a radio station, and must be perpetually illuminated." The government modifies his last request, entombing the Marquis's coffin in a perpetually illuminated room of his chateau.
    • The body of Sharbel the Maronite, still oozing red perspiration (see 1899), is buried by order of the Patriach.
    • An earthquake weakens the Aedicule standing over the reputed tomb of Christ. British administrators erect a scaffold that has supported the structure ever since.
    • Forest Lawn, often called the Disneyland of the dead, opens in Glendale, California.
    • Scientific examination of the bones reputed to be those of the Maccabees, enshrined in a church at Rome, show them to be dogs. They are removed from veneration by the Faithful.
    • A Key West, Florida court fails to convict Carl van Cassel of necrophilia because it is not a crime. When van Cassel asks for the return of the body of Maria Elena Oyoz, the court orders it secretly buried. Van Cassel disappears.
    • The tomb of boy princes, Edward V and Richard, Duke of York, is reopened to conduct an autopsy. No cause of death can be verified due to the great age of the remains.
    • Prince Paul Esterhazy promises to build a tomb for composer Franz Josef Haydn on the condition that the skull is restored to the body.
    • Two leading undertakers' magazines, The Casket and Sunnyside merge into a single journal.
    • The body of St. Francis of Assisi us removed from the ornate tomb constructed for it after its rediscovery in 1818 to a simpler one more in keeping with the ascetic lifestyle he preached.
    • Souvenir hunters descend on the site of Bonnie and Clyde's ambush. Some go so far as to attempt to remove Bonnie's finger and Clyde's ear as relics before law enforcement officials stop them. The duo are buried separately, despite their professed wish to be buried together.
    • Patrick Brady is acquitted of murder after the arm of his alledged victim is disgorged by a shark at an Australian aquarium.
    • Harvard University begins formal training in forensic pathology.
    • The Holocaust begins with "Crystal Night".
    • The first German airmen killed over England are given military funerals with full honors, including Nazi flags draped over the coffins. As the war proceeds, enemy corpses receive less honored treatment.
    • The People's Memorial Association is founded in Seattle, Washington.
    • Chinese Roman Catholics are permitted to take part in rites honoring Confucius and their ancestors subsequent to this date.
    • Death of Guy Ballard, co-founder of the "I Am" movement which promises its followers liberation of the soul from the cycle of reincarnation would take place without a physical death (ascension). His wife, Edna, cremates him and proclaims him an Ascended Master despite his obviously mortal end.
    • Nazi bombs destroy many valuable specimens at London's Royal College of Surgeons.
    • The process of re-interring remains of 90,000 San Franciscans in Colma, California is completed.
    • The presumed body of Iranian political agitator Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani (see 1897) is transferred to Kabul, Afghanistan where a mausoleum is built for it.
    • Relatives discover Franklin D. Roosevelt's instructions calling for a simple funeral and burial several days after his death. A grand public funeral and burial have taken place because the family did not know of FDR's final wishes.
    • It takes three months to bury the dead after "Little Boy" is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan.
    • A Joint War Crimes Commission tries twelve Japanese officers for cannibalism.
    • The Roswell legend begins. The bodies of four aliens are supposedly recovered from a UFO crash and hidden away in Hangar 18.
    • Evelyn Waugh's book The Loved One satirizes Southern California's Forest Lawn and angers the funeral industry. A 1951 revision and a 1965 film deepen the tensions between the morticians and the literary establishment.
    • The remains of Zionist Theodore Herzl (died 1904, Vienna) are removed to the hill west of Jerusalem that now bears his name.
    • King Ananda of Thailand is cremated after a short reign. His successor lights the pyre.
    • A reddish perspiration appears on the walls of the tomb of Sharbel the Maronite. He is exhumed, found to be incorrupt and fresh, and reburied in concrete. He is canonized in 1977.
    • Eva Peron dies and is embalmed for display in a glass coffin.
    • Bog man is discovered in Tollund, Denmark. He is nearly perfectly preserved.
    • French archaeologists open a barrow mound at Vix, discovering the remains of a Celtic princess complete with a gold diadem, amber and schist beads, and several brooches.
    • London's Tate Gallery exhibits ephemeral pieces made for the Mexican Day of the Dead.
    • The head and body of composer Franz Josef Haydn are buried together for the first time in 145 years.
    • Political enemies of Peron steal Eva's body and hide it in an Italian graveyard.
    • Albert Einstein dies and wills his brain to science. Nothing unusual is found.
    • Geoffrey Gorer's article "The Pornography of Death" appears in England's Encounter magazine.
    • Bela Lugosi dies and is buried in his Dracula cape.
    • Archaeologists are alerted to the importance of the necropolis of Salamis by the activities of tomb robbers.
    • Excavations at the Vatican fail to authoritatively locate and identify the remains of St. Peter the Apostle.
    • Plainfield, Wisconsin police uncover the grave-robbing and murdering activities of farmer Ed Gein. The local sheriff finds the remains of fifteen women, fashioned into various household and food items, at the Gein household. Gein confesses to two murders and a long career as a grave-robber. His life inspires Robert Bloch to write Psycho.
    • The body of a World War II casualty is interred at Arlington's Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
    • Oliver Cromwell's skull is buried at a secret location on the grounds of his alma mater, Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.
    • Archaeologists convince the Vatican that evidence for the martyrdom of St. Philomena has been tampered with. (see 1802, 1805, 1835) Her cult is officially suppressed.
    • The trade in stolen Etruscan tomb objects tops three million dollars.
    • Despite its policy of burying anyone who pays, Forest Lawn refuses to inter the remains of murder-rapist Caryl Chessman "on moral grounds".
    • Publication of Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death leads to Federal regulation of the funeral industry.
    • The Second Vatican Council allows priests to say masses for cremated bodies with the specific permission of the local diocese.
    • Thousands of ordinary citizens are allowed to file past closed coffin holding the body of John F. Kennedy as it lies in state under the U.S. Capitol dome. Robert F. Kennedy attempts to apply the lessons of The American Way of Death as he makes the funeral arrangements, but the family is gouged on a poorly constructed and overpriced coffin by a Texas undertaker. RFK decides to close the coffing as the late President lies in state after he view the pathetic embalming done by local morticians.
    • Sociologist Geoffrey Gorer's Death, Grief and Mourning in Contemporary Britain finds that most Britons have not attended a funeral in the last five years.
    • Excavation of Kebara Cave burial pit, Israel. (See 61,000 B.C.)
    • Robert C.W. Ettinger states in his The Prospect of Immortality that cryogenics is possible under present technology. Science refutes his argument in a review of the book.
    • First cryonic society established in New York.
    • A Springfield, Ohio hospital refuses to allow a woman to be cryonically preserved in their facility.
    • Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is told by U.S. hospital administrators that they can find no dying persons for her to interview.
    • The U.S. Army opens a second mortuary for U.S. victims of the Vietnam War at Da Nang.
    • Professor James H. Bedford becomes first cryonically preserved human.
    • A Welsh study finds that the mortality rate among widowers reaches 12.2 percent in the first year.
    • Seventy-five percent of deaths in New York City take place in hospitals or other institutions.
    • The 22nd World Medical Assembly announces standards for diagnosing death by brain death.
    • R.G. Harrison’s X-ray analysis of King Tutankhamun reveaes a stray bone fragment inside the skull, suggesting that the boy pharoah may have been murdered by a blow to the back of the head.
    • Elizabeth Kubler-Ross's On Death and Dying appears.
    • The Catholic Church suppresses the cults of several saints for whom there is no firm historic substantiation, including St. Barbara (patron saint of sudden death) and St. Margaret of Antioch (patron saint of the dying).
    • Death of spiritual master Meher Baba, self-professed avatar and anti-founder of a religious movement with no organization. His tomb at Meherbad, India, becomes a place of pilgrimage for his followers.
    • Frank James of the Wampanoags is prevented from speaking as his tribe's chosen representative at ceremonies commemorating the 350th anniversary of the landing at Plymouth Rock because his speech mentions many atrocities committed by the white settlers, including the robbing of graves. [See 1622.]
    • The body of Eva Peron is returned to Argentina and buried in the Peron family vault.
    • A Psychology Today survey discovers broad class differences in American attitudes towards death.
    • Survivors of an Andean plane crash admit to cannibalism. The Catholic Church declares that no absolution is neccessary because the Uruguayan rugby team members ate only those who died in the plane crash and were in extremis.
    • Well diggers near Xian, China uncover elements of an ahmy of terracotta soldiers assembled to guard the tomb of Qin Shihuangbi, first emperor of China.
    • Ernest Neizvestny's memorial to Nikita Krushchev appears in Moscow's Novo-Devichy Cemetery. Neizvestny and Krushchev had openly quarreled over the value of modern art, but the two later reconciled and became friends.
    • Charles Nowell founds Summum Mummification.
    • The New York Times exposes a modern body-snatching ring which claims bodies so that they can collect a portion of the state burial allowance for indigents.
    • Megnistu Haile Mariam buries the body of his predecessor, Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, beneath his office floor "to see that the body did not rise from the dead."
    • American television broadcasts Michael Roemer's Dying.
    • Mao Zedong dies. His body is embalmed and put on public display.
    • The tomb of Mao Tse-tung is completed.
    • Death of Elvis Presley. His grave at Graceland becomes a tourist mecca.
    • Dr. Gunter von Hagens invents plastination, a process by which the water in the dead human body is replaced with polymers for the purpose of creating medical specimens.
    • The bodies of the followers of the Rev. Jim Jones are collected from the scene of mass suicide and murder at Jonestown, Guyana. Many are interred in a mass grave in Oakland, California.
    • President's Commission for the Study of Ethical Problems in Medicine and Biomedical and Behavioral Research proposes the model "Uniform Determination of Death Act". Many states adopt it as law.
    • The Book of Lists optimistically predicts that the first cryonically preserved individual would be successfully reanimated by 1992. That year passes without the anticipated result.
    • The intestines of Pope John Paul II are interred in the Church of Santi Vincenzo ed Anastasio with other Papal body parts.
    • Scientists open the tomb of St. Antony of Padua. They conclude from an examination of the remains that he was extremely malnourished from his frequent fasts.
    • Colorado ends licensing of funeral directors and embalmers.
    • Infamous Filipino "psychic surgeon" Tony Agpaoa dies, Manila papers report, of "rich living". He is buried, at his request, in a glass coffin.
    • Historian Götz Aly discovers that the brains of Nazi eugenics rejects were given to the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research.
    • Discovery of a bog body at Lindow Moss, England. The skull is in such excellent preservation that police suspect it to be that of a recent murder victim and obtain a confession from a suspect. Radiocardon dating shows that Lindow Woman is 2000 years old.
    • The Federal Trade Commission's "Funeral Rule" becomes effective and helps raise funeral prices though its primary intent is to protect consumers.
    • Cannibal and graverobber Ed Gein dies in Wisconsin's Central State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.
    • Ronald Reagan presides over the interment of an Unknown Soldier from the Vietnam War. It is suggested that he pushes for the Pentagon to designate a body as "unknown" for political purposes.
    • The remains of Nazi mass-murderer Josef Mengele are exhumed from a Sao Paulo cemetery and positively identified.
    • Thousands of gay and lesbian mourners attend the interment at Washington D.C.'s Congressional Cemetery of the ashes of slain San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk. After the ceremony, Milk's ashes are placed on a mortuary shelf because arrangements have not been made to pay for his memorial.
    • Radiocarbon tests of the Shroud of Turin show it to be a product of the Middle Ages. Believers insist that the Shroud has been "contaminated" by exposure to fire and pilgrims.
    • A California professional ash-scatterer is forced to pay $27 million to 5000 families after using the ashes to fertilize his farm.
    • The Max Planck Institute for Brain Research agrees to cremate 10,000 glass slides containing sections of brains from children killed in Nazi eugenics centers.
    • The discovery of an ancient burial ground does not stop construction of a new Hawaiian luxury hotel.
    • British Columbia, Canada, outlaws the sale of human cryonics suspension services.
    • Zachary Taylor, 12th President of the United States, is exhumed to test for poisons. None are found.
    • The Monmouth, England Borough Council doubles burial fees for those dead from AIDs. The reason given is the extra cost of protective clothing for gravediggers and special lining of the graves to prevent the spread of infection. The fees are rescinded in 1991.
    • The "Iceman", a 5,300 year old corpse, is discovered on Italy's Similaun glacier by two German climbers.
    • The Netherlands permits cremains to be kept at home in response to the growing number of Hindus in the country.
    • The Russian government confirms that it found the charred bodies of Adolf Hitler and Eva Braun in 1945. The identities of the bodies were confirmed in two subsequent exhumations and autopsies. The location of the graves remains a secret.
    • Scientists use ultrasound to examine the remains of American explorer Meriweather Lewis without disinterment.
    • Grave robbers steal remains from the tomb of Ransom Olds (of Oldsmobile fame). No payoff is publically demanded.
    • Columbian police break up a murder-for-medicine who have been supplying the Free University of Barranquila with indigents they have ambushed and transformed into cadavers. The University's Legal Medical Institute is closed after the affair.
    • Skeletons of Czar Nicholas and his family are positively identified.
    • Spanish forensicist Jorge Perlosio is attacked by a knife-wielding Catholic priest when he attempts to remove soil samples from a gravesite as part of a murder investigation.
    • The Neptune Society of Los Angeles is sued after giving a widow the wrong ashes. The real body is later found in a mortuary refrigerator. Nobody knows whose ashes the widow received.
    • Fourteen hundred remains are washed away when the Missouri River rises at Hardin, Missouri. 127 of these bodies are never recovered.
    • A Washington state funeral home is made to pay $101,000 to the widow of Dick Hughs after a director disregards the wishes of the deceased and gives his prize Stetson hat to a relative after his 1989 funeral.
    • Nepalese gangs steal the Buddha's mortal remains for sale to the international black market.
    • Teachers and parents protest when the Maricopa Bar Association makes survival cannibalism the subject of its essay contest.
    • Millions watch on television and others line the freeways as police pursue murder subject O.J. Simpson who has been tracked to the Orange County cemetery where his ex-wife Nicole Brown is buried.
    • Russ Harman founds Affordable Funeral Service in Washington, D.C., which revives the old custom of an undertaker working out of his home and laying out the dead in the family's living room or church.
    • Joel GAzis-SAx starts the World Wide Web Post-Mortem Page, which later is subsumed into City of the Silent.
    • The mummy of an Incan girl is recovered from an avalanche near the summit of Mount Ampato, Peru.
    • Celestis Inc. announces that it will become the first company to send cremated remains into orbit. Among those in the first batch are LSD guru Timothy Leary and Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry.
    • Death of funeral industry critic Jessica Mitford.
    • The bones of a man that wash out of a river bank in Benton County, Washington prove contentious when radiocarbon dating suggests that “Kennewick Man” is not a recent murder victim, but more than 10,000 years old. Anatomists conclude that he may have had Caucasian features, making the North American settlement story complicated. When the BLM attempts to turn over the bones to local Indian tribes, anthropologists counter-sue, in an attempt to keep the remains accessible to scientists.
    • Leif Technologies announces the creation of a custom biographical computer in which a person's life can be chronicled. The computer can then be installed into the deceased's cremation urn, coffin, or other memorial.
    • Thirty nine members of the Heaven's Gate sect, including founder Marshall Applewhite, commit suicide at the appearance of the Hale-Bopp Comet.
    • The death of English Princess Diana in a car accident results in a windfall for artists and businesses catering to royal watchers. British flower sales increase 25 per cent as distraught citizens send their condolences to her family.
    • Martinez, California pilot Allan K. Vieira commits suicide after it is discovered that he has not scattered some 5,067 cremains. Police set up a special warehouse where relatives may search for their loved ones.
    • An exhibit of more than 200 plastinated human beings in Mannheim, Germany provokes a storm of protest and a stream of curiousity seekers. "Human Body World" is condemned for the way it uses human corpses as works of art.
    • The Pentagon uses DNA testing to discover the identity of the "unknown" Vietnam War casualty entombed at Arlington. He is Air Force pilot First Lt. Michael Blassie.
    • The United Nations estimates that there are 5,500 AIDS-related funerals every day in Africa.
    • Posthumous publication of Jessica Mitford's The American Way of Death Revisited.
    • United Nations human rights teams exhume bodies of Kosovans executed by Serbs and placed in mass graves.
    • Art dealer Alastair Duncan is convicted of receiving a Tiffany window stolen from New York City's Salem Fields Cemetery from graverobber Anthony Casamassina. Casamassina testifies that Duncan not only purchased the window (which he sold to a Japanese museum for $220,000) knowing that it was stolen, but Duncan also arranged for the stealing of a second window.
    • Lawyers for the Allman Brothers' family threaten to move the remains of Berry Oakley and Duane Allman after fans desecrate the grave by chipping bits of stone for souvenirs, stealing statues, digging a tunnel to steal one of the bodies, and using the gravesite as a lover's rendeavous. Fans complain that they have a "right" to enjoy the graves.
    • The National Park Service refuses to allow the exhumation of the grave of Meriwether Lewis.
    • Vandals desecrate the grave of Jon Benet Ramsey after a Colorado grand jury fails to find enough evidence to indict anyone for her 1996 murder.
    • The French town of Le Lavandou makes dying illegal after a new cemetery is blocked for failing to meet environmental standards.
    • Jim Morrison fans are relieved when officials of Pere Lachais Cemetery announce that they will not remove his grave when the thirty year burial lease expires this year.
    • City of the Silent celebrates its fifth year of existence.
    • Mourners in south Vietnam are shocked to discover the ransacking of loved one's graves which have been looted of their bones by body snatchers eager to cash in on rumored rewards for the return of soldiers' remains by the U.S. government.
    • Special arrangements are made to allow the spouses of those missing in the September 11 World Trade Center attack to declare themselves widowed without having to wait the usual seven years.

    Ancient Times and Early Christianity 50,000 BC to 999 AD
    The Middle Ages and the Renaissance 1000 AD to 1599 AD
    The Age of Colonization and Enlightenment 1600 AD to 1799 AD
    The Romantic and Industrial Era 1800 AD to 1899 AD
    Modern Times 1900 to the present day

    Photos come from the Detroit Publishing Archive of the Library of Congress American Memory Collection. 1 - Jefferson Davis Tomb, Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond, Virginia;2 - Benjarmin Franklin Grave, Christ Church Cemetery, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; 3 - Ralph Waldo Emerson's Grave, Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, Concord, Massachusetts.