Categories
Cemeteries Death + Architecture Death + Art / Architecture Death + Crime Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture Death + Technology Death + the Web Death Ethics Monuments + Memorials

2016’s Most Memorable Death Articles and More

2016 will very likely be remembered as the year of the Dead Celebrity. Prince was certainly a tough death for Death Ref.

And yet, a plethora of other articles and radio programmes on diverse death topics also appeared in 2016. This is not to belittle everything written about Dead Celebrities, but we here at the Death Reference Desk want to highlight some of the year’s most compelling pieces on non-celebrity death, dying, and dead bodies.

Death Ref started running a year end feature last year. As with the 2015 list, many of the 2016 pieces came from the New York Times, which continues to produce really good essays and articles on human mortality.

Collecting the 2016 material was a bit more systematic than last year. Throughout 2016 articles were placed in a folder that was then reviewed. By today, December 31, 2016, there were over forty different items in that folder.

What follows below is a sampling of those essays, articles, and radio stories.

It was good to see so many articles in 2016 about the legacy of AIDS and the political movements that formed around the Epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. A couple of pieces towards the bottom of the 2016 list highlighted this forgotten, but crucial history. Death Ref also recommends that everyone signs-up for the BBC Radio 4 We Need To Talk About Death podcast. The shows started at the end of 2016 and will continue into 2017. Finally, we were saddened to learn that our good friends at the Morbid Anatomy Museum closed its doors in December. Death Ref John was the MAM’s Scholar in Residence in 2014 and you can read his essay about the Morbid Anatomy Museum here.

As with last year, that’s it for 2016. The Death Reference Desk (Meg, Kim, and John) all look forward to 2017 and what will most certainly be an unpredictable year for death.

For Martin Luther King’s Birthday, Black Leaders as Obituaries Portrayed Them
by Sam Roberts, New York Times (January 18, 2016)
To commemorate the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. — he would have been 87 — in advance of Black History Month in February, The New York Times culled its historical obituary files for a retrospective on how he and other prominent black Americans were regarded at their deaths.

 

Death Predicts if People Vote for Donald Trump
by Jeff Guo, Washington Post (March 04, 2016)
It seems that Donald Trump performed the best in places where middle-aged whites are dying the fastest.

 

Why Slaves’ Graves Matter
by Sandra Arnold, New York Times (April 02, 2016)
Those who lived through slavery were human beings, not abstractions.

 

When Your Mother’s Death Is Kept Secret From You
by Alexa Tsoulis-Reay, Science of Us (May 25, 2016)
The reverberating effects of hiding the truth.

 

Alton Sterling and When Black Lives Stop Mattering
by Roxanne Gay, New York Times (July 06, 2016)
Tiny cameras allow us to bear witness to injustice. What does that change?

 

Solving All the Wrong Problems
by Allison Arieff, New York Times (July 09, 2016)
Do we really need an app that lets us brew our coffee from anywhere?

 

‘Transfesto’ Launches to Tackle Transgender Discrimination After Death
by Jenny Marc, The Independent (June 30, 2016)
In 2016 researchers and activists in London released a ‘transfesto’, calling for greater awareness of issues faced by transgender, non-binary and gender nonconforming people after they die. The manifesto calls on the funeral industry to develop more trans-friendly practices and for official death-related paperwork to be more trans-inclusive. It also outlines plans to make trans-specific legal information more easily accessible.

 

THIRD human foot found in Bath, England
by Amanda Cameron, Bath Chronicle (August 05, 2016)
Another human foot has been discovered in Bath….(NB: Death Ref John lives in Bath and can’t get enough of these severed feet stories)

 

10 of the World’s Most Iconic Cemeteries, Mausoleums, and Crematoriums
by Demie Kim, Artsy (August 09, 2016)
Though we may think of cemeteries as transporting us to the past to remember and honor our loved ones, they have historically been spaces of innovation and reinvention in art, architecture, and design.

 

Death & The Maidens: Why Women are Working with Death
by Sarah Troop, Death and the Maiden (August 15, 2016)
Death & the Maiden’s co-founder, Sarah Troop, delves into the reasons underlying the current interest many women seem to have with death, and the rise of the Death Positive movement.

 

Playing God
by Radiolab (August 21, 2016)
When people are dying and you can only save some, how do you choose? Maybe you save the youngest. Or the sickest. Maybe you even just put all the names in a hat and pick at random. Would your answer change if a sick person was standing right in front of you?

 

On Assisted Suicide, Going Beyond ‘Do No Harm’
by Dr. Haider Javed Warraich, New York Times (November 04, 2016)
Fewer people experience a “natural death” anymore. Doctors should rethink their opposition to right-to-die laws.

 

LGBTQ Activist Cleve Jones: ‘I’m Well Aware How Fragile Life Is’
Terry Gross radio interview on Fresh Air (November 29, 2016)
Jones became an activist after Harvey Milk’s assassination, and he lost countless friends to the AIDS epidemic. He says, “There are some days when it is so painful that I really can barely function.”

 

The Reinvention of Radical Protest: Life on the Frontline of the AIDS Epidemic
by David France, The Guardian Long Read (November 29, 2016)
As reports of a mysterious plague swept through the gay community in the 1980s, activists developed shock tactics to get the support they desperately needed.

 

America Is Failing the Bad-Break Test and People Are Dying
by Jesse Singal, Science of Us (December 09, 2016)
The United States likes to view itself as a singular force of prosperity and opportunity, but by many public-health metrics — including infant mortality and preventable deaths and a variety of others — it doesn’t look like a top-tier world power.

 

The Rooms they Left Behind
by Mitch Epstein, New York Times Magazine (December 21, 2016)
After the deaths of these 10 notable people, The New York Times photographed their private spaces — as they left them.

 

We Need to Talk About Death
with Joan Bakewell, BBC Radio 4 (Ongoing Series started in December 2016 — download the Podcasts)
Joan Bakewell and her panel discuss death and dying, exploring the choices open to us and confronting the questions we fear the most.

Categories
Cemeteries Death + Humor

Day 27: On Sundays, the Death Reference Desk Kicks It Cemetery Style

Does the Death Reference Desk know how to party, or WHAT?!

Categories
Burial Cemeteries Grief + Mourning

Day 26: Photos of London’s Afro-Caribbean Funerals

How great thou art: 50 years of Afro-Caribbean funerals – in pictures
Charlie Phillips, in The Guardian (July 25, 2014)
The spirituals sung, the Scotch bonnet berets worn, and the rum drunk at the graveside … Charlie Phillips’s photographs chart the rituals and the changes in African-Caribbean funerals in London since the Windrush generation, to preserve a part of British culture he feels has been overlooked. Here Phillips recalls the stories behind some of his most striking images

Any large city will always have a migrant population that dies and then fuses its own funeral traditions with the status quo.

These photos by Charlie Phillips of funerals in London’s Afro-Caribbean community are stunning.

If you’re interested, you can support his kickstarter campaign to create a book of these images.

Above image by Charlie Phillips.

Categories
Burial Cemeteries Grief + Mourning

Grave Matters… Muahahahaha!

Grave Matters (podcast)
BackStory, with the American History Guys (May 23, 2014)

This week the genius history podcast BackStory rebroadcasted their show “Grave Matters” in honor of Memorial Day.

Did you know that the term “funeral parlors” was a marketing riff on the Victorian parlor room of the home, the inevitable site of the wake and funeral? To kick the dour image of death, the parlor eventually morphed into the “living” room. BOOM!

https://soundcloud.com/backstory/grave-matters

Do check it out. Always informative and entertaining, BackStory is one my (Meg’s) favorite podcasts.

Categories
Cemeteries Death + Popular Culture Death + Technology Death Ethics

The Future of Death, Dead Bodies, and Cemeteries talk on June 20 in London

Future Death. Future Dead Bodies. Future Cemeteries
Illustrated lecture by Dr. John Troyer, Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath
20th June 2013
Doors at 6:30 / Talk begins at 7:00 pm
Ticket price £7
The Last Tuesday Society at 11 Mare Street, London, E8 4RP

This coming Thursday, June 20, 2013 I’m giving a public talk for the Morbid Anatomy Library and the Last Tuesday Society in London. The Morbid Anatomy Library talks are normally located in the lovely Gowanus Canal area of Brooklyn (don’t pay any attention its Superfund site classification) but its Librarian-in-Chief Joanna Ebenstein is currently in London to organise this lecture series.

Joanna has been a good friend to the Death Reference Desk and one of our earliest supporters. Indeed, the very first Morbid Anatomy talk that I ever gave (in Brooklyn) was in July 2009. That was the same month and year that Death Ref launched.

It’s been an adventurous four years.

So come to this talk on Thursday if you can or, even better, go to one of the many other fantastic talks curated by Joanna at the Last Tuesday Society.

You will not be disappointed.

Future Death. Future Dead Bodies. Future Cemeteries
Illustrated lecture by Dr. John Troyer, Deputy Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath

20th June 2013
Doors at 6:30 / Talk begins at 7:00 pm
Ticket price £7

 

Approximately 1500 people die every day across the United Kingdom, roughly one person a minute. And unless you are a person who works in a profession connected to the dying, chances are good you rarely (if ever) see any of these 1500 dead bodies. More importantly– do you and your next of kin know what you want done with your dead body when you die? In the future, of course, since it’s easier to think that way. Dr. John Troyer, from the Centre for Death & Society, University of Bath, will discuss three kinds of postmortem futures: Future Death, Future Dead Bodies, and Future Cemeteries. Central to these Futures is the human corpse and its use in new forms of body disposal technology, digital technology platforms, and definitions of death.

 

Dr John Troyer

Dr. John Troyer is the Deputy Director of the Centre for Death and Society at the University of Bath. His interdisciplinary research focuses on contemporary memorialisation practices, concepts of spatial historiography, and the dead body?s relationship with technology. Dr. Troyer is also a theatre director and installation artist with extensive experience in site-specific performance across the United States and Europe. He is a co-founder of the Death Reference Desk website (http://www.deathreferencedesk.org) and a frequent commentator for the BBC. His forthcoming book, Technologies of the Human Corpse (published by the University of North Carolina Press), will appear in 2013.

 

The Last Tuesday Society is honoured to house this exhibition and lecture series cultivated in collaboration with Joanna Ebenstein of the rightfully venerated ‘Morbid Anatomy’ Library, Museum & Blog.

 

Talks take place at The Last Tuesday Society at 11 Mare Street, London, E8 4RP

Categories
Cemeteries Death + Technology Death + the Web Eco-Death

Future Death. Future Dead Bodies. Future Cemeteries. TEDx Talk by John Troyer

Future Death. Future Dead Bodies. Future Cemeteries
John Troyer, TEDxBristol Talk (September 15, 2012)

On September 15, 2012 I was one of the TEDxBristol speakers. The TEDxBristol 2012 theme was Future Shock, so I took the opportunity to discuss three of my favorite topics: Future Death, Future Dead Bodies, and Future Cemeteries.

The entire TEDx event was organized exceptionally well, and I was impressed by all the speakers. I usually count on at least one speaker who completely blows it and becomes that guy (because it’s almost always one of the male speakers) so that I can be relieved that I wasn’t that guy. But no.

 John Troyer using officially recognizable TED talk hand gestures
John Troyer using officially recognizable TED talk hand gestures

What really stands out for me from the day is the live drawing being done by artist Nat Al-Tahhan as each of us spoke. Nat drew images reflecting our talks, while we spoke, and she nailed the day down. I love the images. You can see them here.

I’m fairly certain that Death Ref readers can determine when I spoke, based only on the drawings.

The video of my talk is now up and you can watch it on YouTube here or above.

Categories
Cemeteries Death + Art / Architecture Death + Technology Death + the Web

A Brief Glimpse into the Future Cemetery.

The Future Cemetery Project is sneaking up behind you.

Right now.

You. I. We all know that death is the future

Follow the Future Cemetery here.

And here.

And for a matter of minutes you can see what and who lives in the Future Cemetery.

Categories
Cemeteries Death + the Web

The Kindness of Strangers and the Internet: Finding William’s Grave at Mountain View

For all our morbid bent and grave humor, plenty warms our hearts at the Death Reference Desk. Personally I (Meg) am a stickler for serendipity and random acts of stranger kindness, especially when it involves the internet and otherwise impossible interactions. This week the cardiac warm fuzzies involve… hey! us! all starting with a post I wrote in 2010.

I used to live in Vancouver, British Columbia, and had been keeping tabs on Mountain View Cemetery—in this particular post, their quirky signage. Over a year later, in October 2011, Edward Millan of Wales commented on the post. He was looking for information about the grave of his uncle, William Millan. Born in Scotland in 1901, as a teenager William served in the Kings Own Scottish Borderers during World War I. Later a farmhand, William sought a better life and immigrated to Canada in 1927. He settled in Vancouver but in 1934 died of tuberculosis. He was buried at Mountain View Cemetery.

Unfortunately there wasn’t much I could offer Edward, the curious nephew half the world away. After hunting around the Mountain View website, I found the interment directory and cemetery maps, and made some screenshots that pinpoint the section and exact plot of William’s grave.

This was something but left much to be desired. Then, out of nowhere in December, another random visitor to this random, old blog post offered to take pictures of the grave. Neville McClure of Vancouver figured it a “fun, little self-imposed errand” for a brisk afternoon and this week sent me photos that I forwarded to a very surprised, very grateful Edward.

MVCemetery_Millan1 MVCemetery_Millan2

I love this for a lot of reasons. It’s obviously a touching gesture (go Neville!), made the more interesting with the three of us being complete strangers (in separate countries, at that). But I also enjoy the motivation—less good deed than having a mission, a goal and grail if only for an afternoon, a treasure hunt when the real gold is simply getting outside and enjoying nature. As Neville writes, “In a city increasingly jammed with condo towers, it’s a rare Big Open Space these days.”

As a librarian and all-around internet fiend, I’m also fascinated by the role of technology in this effort. Instantaneous information and real-time communication get all the glory. Bombarded by the hype of social media networking and on-the-spot everything, we forget that the internet has a long memory and still works splendidly for asynchronous discovery and collaboration.

As such, this post was years in the making. Thanks, Edward and Neville! 🙂

Categories
Cemeteries Death + Technology Monuments + Memorials

Virtual Graves for Armistice Day

How to visit a Virtual Grave
Alison Winward, The Guardian (November 10, 2010)

 

Armistice Day Marked Around the World – In Pictures
The Guardian (November 11, 2011)

 

The War Graves Photographic Project
Commonwealth War Graves Commission

A quick post for Armistice Day (in the UK), Veterans Day (in the US) and Remembrance Day (in Canada). A few years ago, volunteers began amassing online photos for The War Graves Photographic Project. People can search online for graves all over the world and see images of the gravestones. The Guardian article at the top discusses the project and how it got started.

As of right now, it looks like the graves are only for the UK and Commonwealth Nations. That said, it seems like something which will catch on in America.

Thanks Veterans, one and all.

— The Death Reference Desk.

Categories
Cemeteries Death + the Law Monuments + Memorials

Enter now the FBI into the Arlington Cemetery Debacle

Arlington Cemetery’s Mishandling of Remains Prompts FBI Criminal Probe
Jerry Markon and Christian Davenport, The Washington Post (June 29, 2011)
The Justice Department is investigating the mishandling of remains at Arlington National Cemetery in a broad criminal inquiry that is also seeking evidence of possible contracting fraud and falsification of records, people familiar with the investigation said Tuesday

I have no idea who is going to make the documentary film about the rise and fall of Arlington National Cemetery but it is going to be a long and complicated movie. Twists and turns will emerge from nowhere and then suddenly it will turn out that the FBI was investigating the whole situation.

At this point, nothing which emerges from the ongoing and unstoppable Arlington cemetery train wreck surprises me. Nothing. The Washington Post has been singlehandedly leading the charge on this case. Now we have FBI Agents, a federal grand jury handing out subpoenas, and increasingly obvious cases of multi-million dollar fraud.

Here’s the rub: it’s only going to get worse. That’s my guess after following this case since day one.

You can read all the previous Arlington Cemetery posts here.

The Death Reference Desk will of course follow this case until the end.

Categories
Cemeteries Death + the Economy Monuments + Memorials

No More Big Dead Tombs in China

As China’s Income Gap Grows, Tombs Are a Target
Sharon LaFraniere, The New York Times (April 22, 2011)

Since 1997, official policy limits the size of cemetery plots in China, promoting low cost funeral arrangements regardless of the wealth of the deceased. That doesn’t mean it happens. From the bottom end of this article:

Most Chengdu mourners interviewed expressed skepticism about the tomb limits. At Temple of the Lighted Lamp cemetery, Kuang Lan, 42, said: “My personal opinion is if you have the money to make a bigger tomb, make a bigger one. If not, make a smaller one.”

 

But Yang Bin, 48, who earns roughly $150 a month chiseling tombstones at Zhenwu Shan cemetery, quietly criticized the excesses of “capitalists” who “are everywhere now.”

 

“This is how the Chinese are,” he said, after trudging down the cemetery’s steep hill in his thin, black cloth shoes. “If they have money, they want to show off their face. If you don’t have money, you have to work.”

And for everything that I could say, I have only one comment. It comes from the 1980s band Men Without Hats:

Categories
Burial Cemeteries cremation Death + Technology Eco-Death

Dead Body and Technology Lecture Tuesday April 19

Future Death: The Dead Human Body as Biomass
An Illustrated lecture with Dr. John Troyer
Deputy Director
Centre for Death and Society
University of Bath
Tuesday, April 19 at 8:00pm

Hello Death Reference Desk readers. Next Tuesday, April 19 I am giving a talk in Brooklyn, New York for the Observatory group and the Morbid Anatomy Library. My good friend Joanna Ebenstein runs the Morbid Anatomy Library and she is the hippest, coolest, pathological anatomical specimen collector you will ever meet.

Next Tuesday’s talk is on research that I am doing about new(ish) forms of dead body disposal. These newer postmortem technologies will most certainly become more prevalent in the future and I will discuss their impact on the dead body.

Nothing says HOT HOT TUESDAY NIGHT to me like pictures of new machines which dissolve dead bodies.

Here is a full description for the talk.

Please check it out if you can.

Future Death: The Dead Human Body as Biomass

An Illustrated lecture with Dr. John Troyer
Deputy Director
Centre for Death and Society
University of Bath

Date: Tuesday April 19th
Time: 8:00
Admission: $5

 

As people become more and more interested in the environmental impacts of their daily lives, some individuals are asking: How green is death? What are the environmental impacts associated with handling the dead body? Dr. John Troyer, Deputy Director at the Centre for Death & Society, University of Bath, England, will discuss the environmental issues which surround current post-mortem options, from burial to cremation to biomass tissue digestion. Dr. Troyer will discuss new research exploring how heat-capture technology currently used at the Haycombe Crematorium in Bath reduces both mercury emissions and offers a potentially viable energy source for the local community.

Soylent Green isn’t just people. It’s now.