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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.

Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture

Happy New Year from the Desk Reference Desk!

Have a great 2015 Everyone!

Dead Drunk Drinking Card

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?!

Death + Art / Architecture Death + Humor Monuments + Memorials

Day 23: Death Ref John as a 19th Century Postmortem Photograph

Professor Bellows Photography
Mall of America, Minneapolis, MN (USA)

In summer 2006, Argentinian artist Ana Lois-Borzi and I collaborated on a postmortem photography project.

Ana and I both lived in Minneapolis at the time and we had gotten to know each other through the local art scene. Our earliest encounters were at Gus Lucky’s Art Gallery on East Lake Street, which is sadly long gone.

We decided that we wanted to create 19th century-style postmortem photos of each other but we didn’t want to use her studio. So, we did the only logical thing we could. We went to the Mall of America’s old timey photo studio (linked to above) and paid to have one of their eager-to-please employees take our photographs.

The catch was this– we didn’t tell the photographer what we were doing so we became ‘dead’ right as the photo was taken.

Ana Lois-Borzi Postmortem Photograph

It was obvious to us both, that Ana was far better at becoming dead than me. It’s in the hands, we both agreed. My hands don’t look very dead. Ana’s hands = totally dead.

We had plans to travel around the United States so that we could visit as many old timey photo studios as possible.

Alas, I moved and we put the project on hold.

But one day, and hopefully soon, we’ll both go back to being photographically dead.

Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture

Day 8: Hot Dog Eating Contests Can Kill You (in South Dakota)

South Dakota man dies after choking during hot-dog eating contest
Walter Eagle Tail, 47, died at a hospital on Thursday after attempts to save him at the scene failed, police said
Associated Press (July 8, 2014)

I was writing a verbose and longish post about radical life extension today but then this story about a man dying during a hot dog eating contest popped up and, well, living to 500 can wait.

I’m inclined to say that this is a mid-year entry into the annual Darwin Awards but it sounds like the gentleman who died was a decent guy. He just had some bad luck.

Out of curiosity, I started poking around the internet to see what kind of safety warnings accompanied eating contests and, lo, I was not disappointed. This WebMD article, helpfully titled Competitive Eating: How Safe Is It?, covers all the bases. Then this Time article called Here’s What Competitive Eating Does to Your Body really goes in-depth on what these contests do to your innards and made me never want to eat food again.

And while this specific story is certainly tragic, it did remind me of the hot dog eating scene in the movie Meatballs.

Death + Humor

Day 4: Happy 4th of July — Don’t Shoot Your Eye Out!

Happy US Independence Day from Kim, Meg, and John at the Death Reference Desk!

PSA– Don’t blow up parts of your body to impress people. Dumb way to Die.

Death + Humor

Coney Island Freakshow: The Normal, the Abnormal, and the Pathological on Display

The photo sums it up.

Death Ref John’s Congress for Curious Peoples presentation on the Abnormal, the Normal, and the Pathological on Display.

Death + Humor

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Death Reference Desk Ho Ho Ho

Merry Christmas to all of our lovely Death Reference Desk Readers.

And remember to keep those Christmas Trees from spontaneously combusting.

Ho ho ho.

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Walter Potter’s Anthropomorphic Taxidermy and Dead Animals

On the Death and Burial of Cock Robin
Guest Post by John Troyer, Centre for Death and Society, Bath University (August 23, 2013)

Death Ref’s good friend Joanna Ebenstein, who runs the Morbid Anatomy blog and benevolent empire in Brooklyn, NY, asked me if I would write a guest blog post for her new book on the 19th century British taxidermist Walter Potter. If you don’t know Walter Potter’s work, but like taxidermy, then you really must look him up. Joanna and Walter Potter expert Pat Morris have put together a new book called Walter Potter’s Curious World of Taxidermy.

Walter Potter is known (and a little infamous, in a late-Victorian kind of way) for his anthropomorphic taxidermy in which dead kittens (for example) have a tea party. There is significantly more to say about all of Potter’s taxidermy work, but I focused on a personal favourite The Death and Burial of Cock Robin.

The Death and Burial of Cock Robin by Walter Potter
The Death and Burial of Cock Robin by Walter Potter


Please check it out!

Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture Death + the Web

Dumb Ways to Die Wins Big at Cannes Festival of Creativity

In November 2012 we posted about Dumb Ways to Die, an Australian train company’s public safety campaign video. The video just won top awards at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity. You can read more about the award from the Guardian: Cannes Lions: Dumb Ways to Die scoops top award.

If you missed it last time, definitely check it out!

Death + Humor

Happy Easter from the Death Reference Desk

Happy Easter to all from the Easter Bunny of Death.

No holiday can escape the bony grasp of ye olde Death Reference Desk!

Death Bunny’s Easter by Obsidian Signum at DeviantArt.

Death + Humor Death + Popular Culture

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from the Death Reference Desk

Merry Christmas to all of our lovely Death Reference Desk Readers.

And remember to keep it Goth this holiday season. Ho ho ho.