Putting the fun in funerals

Ransom Riggs

It's been awhile since I've written about death or dying -- like, four days -- so I figured it was high time to tackle a subject I've long pondered myself: if you could have any kind of funeral, what would it be? Personally, I get serious willies when I think about what goes on in a big metal semi-airtight casket a few years or more down the line, and frankly, I don't want any part of it. (If you do a google image search for "adipocere" [rather NSFW, btw], you'll find lots of gross pictures of, for instance, recently-exhumed Civil War veterans or victims of the 1918 flu epidemic who look kinda like they were buried last week -- and kinda melty too. Blecch!). On the other hand, cremation pollutes the atmosphere -- so what to do? In the spirit of trying to keep an open mind, here are some unusual examples of people who thought outside of the pine box when it came to planning their funerals.

San Francisco's Ghia Gallery has built their business selling people weird things to put their ashes in:

Among the gallery's unusual wares are a huge chrome rhino's head with a hollow horn for a loved one's cremated remains and an urn made out of an old liquor cabinet that, when opened, plays "How Dry I Am." There's also funerary jewelry in silver, crystal and porcelain that allows survivors to wear a bit of the deceased around the neck or pinned to a blouse; a bronze reliquary cast from the fangs of prehistoric carnivores; lidded jars in raku and inlaid wood; a tall marble columbarium with room for a whole family's remains; and a blinking 3-foot-high robotic sculpture with a comically tiny light-bulb head whose beaded skirt conceals a container for ashes. (From an article by Tessa DeCarlo and Susan Subtle Dintenfass.)

A woman interred at Woods Glendale Mortuary in Glendale, California was buried with a portable television tuned to her favorite soap operas. (Hopefully she used Energizer batteries.)

Some requests require special effort. Last summer, a Belmont, California mortician fulfilled a woman's wish to be buried at sea in a hand-carved canoe. Full-body burial isn't legal off California's coast, so he and a colleague "put her in the back of a U-Haul truck and drove to Oregon," he says. They rented a fishing boat, went 15 miles offshore, and pushed the canoe overboard. The price? About $4,000. That can be considerably less than the cost of a traditional funeral-parlour service and burial in certain areas of the country. (From an article by Carrie Dolan.)

Hunters can arrange to have Iowa-based Canuck's Sportsman's Memorials Incorporated place their ashes into shotgun shells and fire them into the woods. (Rather reminds me of Hunter Thompson's funeral, in which his ashes were fired into the sky from a canon.)

You see lots of Civil War-era graves for amputated legs and arms -- especially those lost in battle -- but these bizarre ceremonies are pretty rare nowadays. One notable exception occurred in Giojosa Marea, Sicily in 1998:

An Italian man who had his left foot amputated gave it a funeral service before burying it in a coffin. Antonio Magistro, 56, of Giojosa Marea, Sicily, asked for the foot to be buried in his future grave at the city's cemetery. He persuaded the surgeon to give him his foot back after the operation and then negotiated a deal with a local funeral director. Mr Magistro, along with his relatives, attended the short religious service which included a fanfare by the city's band. The foot was then buried in a small coffin and the man's name and date of birth embossed on the tombstone. Mr. Magistro said he hopes to join the foot in the grave "as late as I possibly can." He had his foot amputated because of cancer. (Article.)

Finally, just to illustrate how much stranger "strange" funerals have gotten over the years -- and how stuck in tradition the business of funerals has been -- here's what a funeral strange enough to merit a blurb in the February 21, 1912 New York Times looked like:

The airman Graham Glimour, who was killed last Saturday, had a strange funeral today ... [he] expressed a wish that there by "no moaning or mourning at his funeral, and that everyone should be merry and bright." In order to meet his wishes an automobile chassis was used instead of the ordinary hearse, and colored instead of white flowers were sent by the mourners, most of whom wore ordinary dress. Hundreds of villagers gazed with astonishment at the strange funeral procession."

What's your idea of a fun funeral?