Library of Articles

12/10/2007 09:00 AM

a poem by John H. Sime


Far below us

The U.S. Highways meet,

The drive-in opens for business,

And the gas station attendant

Wipes morning fog off

The clear plastic walls.

The mist makes each hilltop

A separate reality, and this reality

Is a blend of Union blue and wilderness.

We’ve been here since the time

Of the 18th Wisconsin Infantry Volunteers

(As you can read chiseled so deep).

So rarely do visitors come

That we have almost lost

The art of socializing

But we can still entertain

With the wind in the branches,

The awesome rattle of milkweed pods,

The glinty sunlight on empty flag holders,

The mossy resilience of gray slate,

And the pervading persuasion

That there is more here than meets the eyes.

Mists, rain, snow, hail, and sun

Have left us chipped,

Settled, and discolored.

Oblivious to all but the ultimate cataclysm,

During which we will be cognizant.

Humankind could learn here.

Life is change not rock.

But it pays to know our ways.

The line between life and rock

Is harder to trace than most will believe.

Pause a while here, but regard the coming clouds.

Think of us, again.

12/09/2007 11:35 AM

Funerals in History

(talk delivered before the Viroqua Ministerial Association)


Where do funerals come from? Some scholars consider funeral rituals to be as ancient as religion itself and one of the fundamental acts that separate mankind from the other animals.
Joseph W. Campbell, the late scholar of mythology and literature, wrote in “The Way of the Animal Powers”:

“Through all the remains in stone and bone of the first 4 million years or so of the evolution of our species, the earliest indubitable evidences of ritual, and therefore the mythic inspiration motivating human thought and action, appear toward the close of the Riss-Wurm interglacial, in the cave burials of Neanderthal Man, as for example in the burial discovered, in 1908 in France, in the lower grotto of Le Moustier, where the remains of a youth of about sixteen had been left in a sleeping posture, head resting on the right forearm, pillowed on a pile of flints. At one hand lay an exceptionally fine Late Acheulean hand ax, and round about were the charred split bones of sacrificed wild cattle.”

The above described burial occurred about 40,000 B.C. Campbell goes on to describe and even earlier burial in Iraq:

“The most significant find, however, came to light at a level of 60,000 B.C. It consisted of the skeleton, with a badly crushed skull, of a male about 5 feet, 8 inches tall, which for a Neanderthaler was large. The body had been laid to rest on a littler heaped with flowers, of which the surviving pollens have been identified by microscopic analysis. An infant had been placed first in the grave, two women above the infant, and then finally, as Ralph S. Solecki, the excavator, states, ‘room was made for the male, who was evidently an important man.
The flowers of this burial were of eight species or more, relatives mainly of the grape, hyacinth, bachelor’s button, hollyhock, and a yellow-flowering groundsel, seven of the eight being known today in Iraq as medicinal herbs. ‘These flower pollens, ‘ Solecki observes, ‘were not accidentally introduced into the grave, and hence must represent bouquets or clumps of flowers purposely laid down with the Shanidar IV burial (the technical name for the male skeleton of this quadruple grave) The hollyhock is especially indicative of this since it grows in separate individual stands, and cannot be grasped in bunches like the others. Some person or persons once ranged the mountainside collecting these flowers, one by one.’”

Campbell goes on to speculate on the connection between ancient burials such as these and the growth of religion. He quotes from the 18th century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico:
“…that all nations barbarous as well as civilized, though separately founded because remote from each other in time and space, keep the following human customs: all have some religion, all contract solemn marriages, all bury their dead. And in no nation, however savage and crude, are any human actions performed with more elaborate ceremonies and more sacred solemnity than those of religion, marriage, and burial.

As might be expected, Campbell bridles a bit at Vico’s characterization of other races as ‘savage’, and he does point out that Vico neglects the existence of such customs of cremation as a substitute for burial. However he does tend to agree with his main point:

“…it does look very much as though Vico’s three elementary institutions of religion, marriage and burial may have come simultaneously to manifestation in that period when in the course of the evolution of life, the first degree had been attained of the ‘sapient’ mind.
The evidence for burial in that distant era is secure, that for marriage, circumstantial, while that for religion asks for a much more generous definition of the term than the famous one of Parson Thwackum in Henry Fielding’s “Tom Jones”: ‘When I mention religion I mean the Christian religion, and not only the Christian religion but the Protestant religion, and not only the Protestant religion but the church of England.”’

So, while we have to adopt a broader view of religion than that of Parson Thwakum in order to do so, I think we can see that from a very early time funeral customs and religious customs have gone hand in hand. Where do funerals come from? They come from the first stirrings of the human soul, millennia ago.
Where do our funeral customs come from? The answer is a combination of tradition and technology. From Medieval times, we see Europeans engaged in a similar ritual of washing and dressing the deceased in some special manner, followed by a period of respectful viewing of the deceased, then a ceremony. That custom continued in America in the 19th century. The washing and dressing of the remains was often done by women, frequently older women, sometimes members of the family, sometimes members of the church. The assistance of specialists, who sell or contract their services gradually emerges in the 19th century both in Europe or America. The word ‘undertaker’ is itself an old English word meaning ‘contractor’. People were often hired to build the casket or to dig the grave. Gradually these people began to perform other services–setting up chairs for the funeral services (then mostly held in the home), serving as a go-between in the securing of ministers, musicians, or others who might be involved in the funeral service. Some of these contractors or undertakers began to devise ways of making the funeral experience less arduous–and the most important developments along this line concern the development of modern embalming.
Decomposition was an ever present problem–regardless of the amount of washing and perfuming (the word ‘embalm’ itself is a reference to the application of perfume and balms to the body). The process of decomposition can be slowed down by keeping the body cool. An early technical development in the 19th century is a practice called in old textbooks “natural embalming’. This was a practice confined mostly to urban areas. It required a special metal casket filled with ice, into which the body would be placed for the viewing.
However, this practice did nothing to halt decomposition, with its attendant odors, oozing body fluids, and potential health danger. something needed to be done which would chemically halt the decomposition beginning in the internal organs. The Egyptians practiced an embalming method which effectively did this–the body organs that would be the source of the decomposition were removed and placed in special jars with salt water, the chest cavity was scrubbed with lemon juice and spices, and the entire body was then soaked for 60 days in a salt water solution. But such a lengthy and involved process was foreign to European and American families.
A number of scientific discoveries had to take place in order for the practice of modern arterial embalming to develop. Among these: the circulation of the blood, discovered by William Harvey between 1616 and 1628, the discovery of the existence of blood capillaries by Marcello Malpighi in 1661, the discovery of bacteria by Leewenhoek in 1683, and the discovery of formaldehyde by Butlerov and Hoffman in the mid 19 century.
Other chemicals have been used for arterial embalming–including turpentine, wine, Balsamic spirit (which was made by mixing 1 pound of cream of tartar with 6 pounds of water and a half pound of sal ammoniac) . Zinc chloride and arsenic were most commonly used by early in the 19th century. The man known as “The Father of Modern Embalming”, Dr. Thomas Holmes, is believed to have used zinc chloride and arsenic. Holmes learned the technique of injecting the embalming fluid into the arteries and draining the blood from the veins in his early career as a coroner’s assistant in New York city from 1840 to 1846. The arterial embalming technique of that time involved using the force of gravity to push the blood through the circulatory. The embalming fluid was contained in a special jar suspended a number of feet off the embalming table, with one pound of pressure attainable for every two feet the container is suspended above the body. This technique was devised by Dr. Frederick Ruysch in Holland in the early 18th century. Initially, it was used largely by coroners and medical schools as a means of preserving cadavers.
Dr. Thomas Holmes was the man who took this specialized preservation method out of the morgues and the medical schools and helped create today’s funeral industry. It was the Civil War which gave him the impetus to do this. Holmes received a captain’s commission in the Army Medical Corps after the war broke out. He was assigned to Washing ton, D.C. , While there he began embalming the bodies of prominent officers and politicians He charged $50 for officers, and $25 for enlisted men. This was later raised to $80 and $30 respectively. Coffins typically sold from $4 to $7 each. He claimed to have embalmed 4,028 soldiers and officers.
Holmes and his assistants began to train others in the arterial embalming technique. After the invention of formaldehyde, the process became far safer and more widespread. the use of arsenic was not only dangerous but was actually been outlawed as it could be used to cover up poisoning as a cause of death.
The first mortuary schools in this country were set up as seminars run by chemical companies eager to sell their fluids to the growing numbers of embalmers. The first permanent mortuary school was established in Denver in the 1870s, with the second one in Louis ville, Kentucky (my alma mater).
This process was initially carried out in the home of the deceased, with embalming instruments and chemicals carried into the home and embalming usually taking place in the death bed. The funeral director would also bring a casket and set up draperies, lecterns, and chairs for the funeral service.
One of the few portraits of this type of funeral service is provided to us by Mark Twain in “Huckleberry Finn”:

“Towards the middle of the day the undertaker come with his man, and they set the coffin in the middle of the room on a couple of chairs, and then set all our chairs in rows, and borrowed more from the neighbors till the hall and the parlour and the dining-room was full….
Then the people begun to flock in, and the beats and the girls took seats in the front row at the head of the coffin, and for a half an hour the people filed around slow, in single rank, and looked down at the dead man’s face a minute, and some dropped a tear, and it was all very still and solemn, only the girls and the beats holding handkerchiefs to their eyes and keeping their heads bent, and sobbing a little. There warn’t no other sound but the scraping of the feet on the floor and blowing noses–because people always blows them more at a funeral than they do at other places except church.
When the place was packed full the undertaker he slid around in his black gloves with his softly soothering ways, putting on the last touches, and getting people and things all shipshape and comfortable, and making nomore sound than a cat. He never spoke; he moved people around, he squeezed in late ones, he opened up passageways, and done it with nods and signs with his hands. Then he spoke his place over against the wall. He was the softest, glidingest, stealthiest man I ever see; and there warn’t no more smile to him than there is to a ham….
Then the Reverend Hobson opened up, slow and solemn, and begun to talk; and straight off the most outrageous row busted out in the cellar a body ever heard; it was only one dog, but he made a most powerful racket, and he kept it up right along; the parson he had to stand there over the coffin, and wait–you couldn’t hear yourself think. It was right down awkward, and nobody didn’t seem to know what to do. But pretty soon they see that long-legged undertaker make a sign to the preacher as much as to say: “Don’t worry, just depend on me.” Then he stopped down and begun to glide along the wall, just his shoulders showing over the people’s head. So he glided along, and the powwow and racket getting more and more outrageous all the time; and at last when he had gone around two sides of the room, he disappears down cellar. Then in about two seconds we head a whack, and the dog he finished up with a most amazing howl or two, and then everything was dead still, and the parson begun his solemn talk where he left off. In a minute or two here comes this undertaker’s back and shoulders gliding along the war again; and so he glided and glided around three sides of the room, and rose up and shaded his mouth with his hand, and stretched his neck out towards the preacher, over the people’s heads, and says, in a kind of coarse whisper, ‘He had a rat!’. Then he drooped down and glided along the wall again to his place. you could see it was a great satisfaction to the people, because naturally they wanted to know. A little thing like that don’t cost nothing, and it’s just the little things that makes a man to be looked up to and liked. There warn’t no more popular in town than what that undertaker was.”

The first undertakers in this area appear just before the turn of the century. Oscar Anderson sets up shop in Readstown in the 1890s as a dealer of furniture and dry goods. Eventually, he offers a line of caskets for sale. In time he takes an embalming seminar presented by a chemical company at Valpraiso University in Indiana. This was probably a course of about a month or so, and concentrated exclusively on embalming.
Technology and society have changed the funeral industry in this century. Embalming machines replaced the old gravity bottles. entire subindustries have developed involving the manufacture of caskets, vaults, and various funeral items such as register books and memorial folders. Society became more urbanized and families smaller and more fragmented–all necessitating a move of funeral services to a specialized location, namely a funeral home.
While the look has changed from era to era, the funeral ritual has continued remarkably unchanged over tens of thousands of year. Beginning in the times of Neanderthal man, the human being has demanded that the body be prepared in some special manner and a ceremony of some kind take place. Once that ceremony included the sacrifice of wild cattle and even human sacrifice, today it includes preaching, hymn singing, and tuna salad sandwiches. But the same powerful emotions just beneath the ceremony, no matter what the format of the ritual might be.

12/06/2007 10:07 AM

Otis Redding Funeral

Otis Redding was born in Dawson, Georgia on September 9,1941
to Otis Sr. and Fanny Redding. Otis Sr. was a part time Baptist preacher and Otis Jr. sang regularly in church choirs from the age of three after the family moved to the larger city of Macon, Georgia.
Partly to aid the dwindling income situation of his family (after his father became ill with tuberculosis) Otis had take to the road with bands by the time he reached the 10th grade. His first such trip was with Little Richard’s back up band, The Upsetters.
In time he began appearing on a locally produced television rock competition show: “Teenage Party”. He won this show an unprecedented ten times in a row. The fame he acquired on this show made him the contacts in the music business which sent him to the top of Soul music by the time of his untimely death on December 10, 1967 at the age of 26. Rolling Stone magazine wrote of his death: “Otis Redding was the Crown Prince of Soul, and now the Crown Prince is dead.”–Rolling Stone, Jan. 20, 1968.
His death was one of the great losses of American popular music. We can only guess what might have been achieved by him, but an indication can be found in the reaction to his death. A song which he recorded three days before his private plane crashed into icy Lake Monona in Madison, Wis., “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” was the #1 Rhythm and blues hit in the nation within a month. And at his funeral in Macon, Georgia, 4,600 people had filled the Civic Auditorium to join with his family and numerous music stars to pay tribute to him.

Otis Redding’s death was another of those famous plane crash deaths that have so haunted American popular music–other examples include: Buddy Holly, Jim Croce, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Ricky Nelson, and most recently Aaliyah. Redding was in the midst of a nation-wide tour which was going to help catapult him from an exclusive Soul music phenomenon to being mainstream performer, much as Elvis Presley had successfully moved in the market from Rockabilly a decade earlier. He was a man in a hurry to get places.
On December 7, 1967,Redding and his band the Bar-Kays had just finished recording their new album in a Memphis recording studio. They played a show in Nashville, and on Dec. 9 flew on to Cleveland where they played three shows on Saturday night. On Sunday, Dec. 10, they left for Madison at 12:30 P.M. At about 3:30 P.M., their twin engine Beechcraft crashed in the water about a half a mile from the southeast shore of Lake Monona.

Twenty years later, a stone monument was erected along the shores of Lake Monona, looking out on Squaw Bay, to commemorate the location of the plane crash. In the following decade, in the 1990s, this monument had to be moved to make way for the construction of the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Monona Terrace Auditorium. The monument was finally re-installed in a ceremony held on the William T. Evjue Rooftop Garden of the cliff-clinging auditorium, famed for its striking view of Lake Monona, including that spot in the lake where Redding’s Beechcraft went down in 1967.
On display at that ceremony was an original poster for the concert Redding was to perform at The Factory on West Gorham Street, now the location of a bed and breakfast and bookstore called Canterbury Booksellers. The poster features a longhaired girl drawn in vintage late 1960s Height-Ashbury influenced style. Along with Redding and his band the Bar Kays, the poster lists the warm-up band–in a bit of strange irony for this occasion, The Grim Reapers–this band later went on to become Cheap Trick.

A Madison resident on Tonyawatha Trail had been standing in his back yard on the afternoon of Dec. 10, 1967. He first heard a plane sputtering in the fog bank overhanging Lake Monona, then he saw the plane emerge from the clouds, dip to the left and hit the water. It floated for a few minutes then sank. The Madison Police Department was phoned and within seventeen minutes a city police boat had reached the site. Only one man was still alive, Bar-Kay trumpeter Ben Cauley. Two other men were found floating in the water, not alive. Redding himself was found strapped into the seat next to the pilot’s seat. Despite rumors to the contrary, Redding had not been flying the plane.
Redding’s body was taken to the Dane County morgue in the basement of the City County Building. The next day, Redding’s wife Zelma viewed the body. According to the police report: “There was a head wound on Redding, right between his eyes, plus several other cuts around his face and neck. The right leg was also broken.”
The body was taken to the Frautschi Funeral Home in Madison, where it was embalmed and prepared for transport to Macon, Georgia. Floyd Kleppe, who still works for Cress Funeral Home–successor to Frautchi’s–coordinated the transport. The Hutchings Funeral Home of Macon, Georgia was the receiving firm and went on to conduct the funeral at the end of the next week.. Bill Hutchings remembers the event: “It was the largest and most elaborate funeral it was ever my honor to serve at.”
The copper casket was a product of the Tocoa Casket Company. The funeral home brought the casket to the Macon Civic Auditorium at 6:30 A.M. on the day of the funeral, Sunday, Dec. 17. Mr. Hutchings had moved the initial viewing time of 7:00 A.M. up a half-hour to accommodate viewers enroute to work. He estimated that 6,000 people had passed through the funeral home on Saturday night.
The Macon Telegraph described the setting and situation of the funeral:
“The stage area was a huge mural painted by dozens of wreaths of flowers with the dignitaries on stage forming mere dots in the ensemble of color. In addition to thousands inside there were almost equal numbers outside under skies threatening rain. Inside, the funeral service was marked by frequent bursts of emotion by spectators and participants. Twice the widow, Mrs. Zelma Redding, had to be given aid by two of the nurses who accompanied her, once during the impassioned rendition of ‘Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross’, sung by Joe Simon. Blues singer Johnnie Taylor broke down during his singing of ‘Ill Stand By’, but regained composure and continued.”
Booker T. Jones, of Booker T. and the M.G.s, played the organ for the service. The processional was “Come Ye Disconsolate” and the recessional was Redding’s own composition “These Arms of Mine”. Among the musical stars present were James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Joe Tex. The pallbearers were Earl Simms, Sylvester Huckaby, Joe Simon, Johnnie Taylor, Joe Tex, Clark Walden, Hampton Swain, and Arthur Conely.
Prayers were read by the Rev. W.L. Reynolds of the Allen Chapel, A.M.E. Church, scriptures were read by Rev. M.D. Dumas of the Lizzieboro Baptist Church, who read from the Gospel of John and the 23d Psalm. The eulogy was delivered by the Redding family pastor Rev. C.J. Andrews.
Otis Redding was buried in a marble tomb erected a few hundred feet from the ranch style house he built on his Big O Ranch, twenty miles north of Macon. As the years have gone by, numerous honors have been bestowed upon Redding’s memory. In addition to the granite monument in Madison, Wisconsin, a bronze statue of Redding was erected in Macon, Georgia and a bridge there was named the Otis Redding Bridge. The U.S. Post Office Department issued the Otis Redding stamp on June 16, 1993.

by John H. Sime

11/20/2007 09:45 AM

Walt Whitman 1819-1892

By John H. Sime

(Originally published in American Funeral Director Magazine)

On Dec. 6, 1891, Walt Whitman sent to a publisher his manuscript of what has
since become known as the “Deathbed Edition of Leaves of Grass.” Less than a week
later he developed an illness that resulted in his death on Saturday, march 26, 1892, at his
home in Camden, N.J. On Wednesday, March 30, thousands of people passed through
the poet’s home to view his body. The crowd followed the two-mile procession to
Harleigh Cemetery where a service was held and Whitman was buried.
Despite the fact that Camden saw his final years of life and his burial, Whitman
was by birth and soul a New Yorker. “Manhattan faces and eyes forever for me,”
Whitman wrote in “Leaves of Grass.”
The New York Times said in its March 27, 1892 obituary of Whitman:
“In the passing away of a writer whom his admirers loved to call the Good Gray
Poet, the City of New York has lost the most remarkable literary character since
Washington Irving.”
However, the same obituary said: “New York never cared for Walt Whitman or
bought his books or read them.” New York was too practical and busy to take the gentle
poet to its breast. But the great metropolis did tolerate his peculiar ways and provided
him with a universe of inspiration.
Whitman was born in West Hills, Long Island, N.Y., on May 31, 1819, in a house
within sight and sound of the ocean. His father, Walter Whitman, Sr., descended from a
Puritan English family that settled in Huntington, Long Island, in the 17th century. His
mother, Louisa Van Velser Whitman, was Dutch and English, and her family had a farm
between Cold Spring Harbor and Woodbury.
After his parents married on June 8, 1816, the young husband built the two-story
house with cedar shingles in which Whitman was born three years later.
Whitman Sr. was a skilled carpenter and contractor, but financial success eluded
him all his life. The poet liked to say that his father had known Thomas Paine during the
final years of the Revolutionary War patriot’s life in New York City. This claim is not
too far fetched as the elder Whitman was a dedicated supporter of liberal and
freethinking causes. In addition to Paine, the elder Whitman was a reader of the liberal
Quaker Elias Hicks, and the radical socialists Fanny Wright and Robert Dale Owen.
Louisa Whitman provided the stability and loving kindness the growing family
(she eventually had nine children) needed. Her husband was moody and he frequently
uprooted the family from house to house and town to town.
All of the children were not to have happy lives. An older brother, Jesse, had
severe mental problems and was confined to an asylum in 1864. Hannah, a sister, while
neurotic, did marry. One younger brother, Andrew, whose wife turned to prostitution,
became an alcoholic and died young. Another younger brother, Eddie, was mentally a
child all his life. Whitman’s closest brother, George, was both injured and a prisoner
during the Civil War.
In 1823, the family made the first of many moves–from West Hills to Brooklyn.
At the time, Brooklyn had a population of about 7,000. During the 1860s, Whitman
reflected on Brooklyn saying it had “such a rural character that it was almost one huge
farm and garden in comparison with its present appearance.”
Even Manhattan had only 100,000 people and no buildings taller than four stories.
Nevertheless, in the mind of young Walt Whitman from Long Island, Manhattan was a
grand metropolis. Brooklyn was a way-station between the rural life of Long Island and
the urbanity of Manhattan.
Until 1827, there was just one public school in Brooklyn, a building that stood at
the corner of Concord and Adams Streets. This was the school Whitman first attended in
1825. In 1827, a second district was added, which still meant there were but two teachers
for 200 students. These schools were taught in a rigid fashion that Whitman would reject
when he became a school teacher in his early 20s in rural Long Island. But before that,
Whitman’s final year of formal education was at age 11, when he had to drop out of
school and get jobs to help support his family.
In June 1830, he began working as an office boy for lawyers James and Edward
Clarke, a father and son operation. His duties included running the occasional
errand–among his stops was the New Jersey home of the infamous former vice president,
Aaron Burr.
The younger Clarke took a liking to young Walt and began to tutor him and
bought him a subscription to a circulating library. Whitman read the novels of James
Fenimore Cooper, “The Tales of the Arabian Nights,” and other imaginative
material–the literary genius of his young mind was being cultivated.
Within a year, he was apprenticed to a newspaper, The Long Island Patriot. This
was a Democratic paper, and would mark the beginning of Whitman’s two-decade
association with the Democratic party as a journalist, publicist, and even local level
Whitman tended to gravitate to the most radical (“Loco-Foco” or “Barnburner”)
elements of the New York Democratic party prior to the Civil War. He once worked as
an editor of a conservative or “Hunker” Democratic paper, but he did not last long
because he quarreled with the publisher over the issue of slavery. The Loco-Focos were
anti-slavery and the Hunkers were either proslavery or neutral. Many Loco-Focos such
as Whitman, eventually abandoned the Democratic Party for the Free Soil Party and later
the Republican Party. These shifts of opinion would eventually lead to his
unemployability in the newspaper world.
His journalistic career had two phases. From 1831 to 1836 he worked as an
apprentice printer and newspaper man for a number of papers, including The Patriot and
the New York Mirror. From 1841 to the early 1850s he worked as a reporter and
eventually an editor of a number of dailies–New York Aurora, Brooklyn Eagle, and even
for a time the New Orleans Crescent. In between these two periods he served as a
country school teacher on Long Island, at such locations as Babylon, Long Swamp,
Triming Square, and Woodbury. during this period he and his brother, George, operated
The Long Islander, a small weekly newspaper based in Huntington.
Beginning in 1851, Whitman operated a small print shop and bookstore in
Brooklyn. His family lived in the upper two stories. During this time he helped his
father and his brother, George, in construction and carpentry jobs. In the meantime,
Whitman continued to write articles for the newspapers, composed poetry, and broadened
his intellectual range. Transcendentalist poet and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson was
a particularly important influence:
“I was simmering, simmering, and Emerson brought me to a boil,” Whitman
wrote. During this period, the once conservatively dressed Whitman began to adopt the
dress and persona of a New York City street tough.
Whitman never married. Throughout most of his life as a printer and editor he
lived at home with his parents. His father died in 1855, which essentially left the cared
of Whitman’s aging mother to himself and his brother, George. The Whitman family
was to see much turmoil and was under a considerable amount of stress. Walt came to
see himself as a unifying element during those tumultuous times of his siblings.
In 1855, Whitman published “Leaves of Grass,” a large poetic work which he
added to over the decades. “Leaves of Grass” is a growing, living, organic whole of a
document, which essentially served as an ongoing poetic workshop throughout the rest of
his life. He used all his skill as a poet, a printer, a publisher, a distributor, and a
businessman to make “Leaves of Grass” a nationally sold, reviewed, and praised or
damned work of literature.
A consummate self-promoter, Whitman masterminded the initial printing of his
work, distributed copies to influential newspapers and writers, even anonymously wrote
favorable reviews that he, in time, reprinted in later editions of his book. Emerson wrote
a letter to Whitman in response to the collection he received:
“I greet you a the beginning of a great career…”
Whitman saw to it that this letter was reprinted in every subsequent edition of
“Leaves of Grass,” sometimes on the back cover.
“Leaves of Grass” opens with the poem “Song of Myself.” A rebellion against
death seems to be at the heart of this poem:

“Stop this day and night with me and you shall possess the origin of all
poems… You shall no longer… look through the eyes of the dead. (from #1).

Whitman had an attitude towards death that today we might call New Age. He
believed that death was impossible for he was a part of the overall universe:

“I know I am deathless
I know this orbit of mine cannot be swept by a carpenters compass,…(from

He asks what has become of the dead:

“What do you think has become of the young and old men?
And what do you think has become of the women and children?
They are alive and well somewhere
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death,
And if ever there was it led forward life, and does not wait at the
end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward, nothing collapses,
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”(#6).

Some of the things he said about death were shocking for 19th century readers:
“…copulation is no more rank to me than death is.”
He is one of the very few poets in American Literature to depict the funeral
process in a scene where he sketches the casketing of a dead body and even imagines to
be the dead body:

“And as to you Death, and you bitter hug or mortality, it is idle to alarm
To his work without flinching the accoucheur comes,
I see the elder-hand pressing receiving supporting,
I recline by the sills of the exquisite flexible doors,
And mark the outlet, and mark the relief and escape.
And as to you Corpse, I think you are a good manure, but that does not
offend me. (from #49).

And then a few lines later he goes on to merge this death with all of life:

“As to you life I reckon you are the leavings of many deaths,
(No doubt I have died myself ten thousand times before.)
–O grass of graves–O perpetual transfers and promotions,…

And merging with this is a notion of Walt Whitman as a high priest of
Democracy–which becomes like a secret, initiatory lodge like the Masons:

“I speak the pass-word primeval, I give the sign of democracy. (from #24).

As the decades went by, Whitman kept adding to the “Leaves of Grass,”
eventually releasing 11 editions over the years. His experiences of moving to Washington
and caring for the wounded in Civil War hospitals after George’s injury led to “Drum
Taps” and “Sequel to Drum-Taps”–which contained Whitman’s most famous work:
“When Lilacs in the Dooryard Bloomed,” his elegy upon the death of President Lincoln:

“When lilacs in the door-yard bloom’d,
And the great star drooped in the western sky in night,
I mourned…and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.”

His poem “Prayer of Columbus” expressed his take on the approach of old age,
illness and death:

“My hands, my limbs grow nerveless;
My brain feels rack’d, bewilder’d;
Let the old timbers part–I will not part!
I will cling fast to Thee, O God, though the waves buffett me;
The, Thee, at least I know.”

Walt Whitman’s poetry struck a chord from its first appearance, and continues to
stir souls today. In 1855, when the book first appeared. Abraham Lincoln purchased a
copy, which he read aloud to his law partners in Springfield, Ill. In 1997, President Bill
Clinton gave a copy of “Leaves of Grass” to Monica Lewinsky.
Whitman remained in Washington as a clerk for the government, until he had a
stroke in January, 1873. for a long time, he continued to live alone in Washington. Then
in May, he was summoned to the deathbed of his mother, who was living with his
brother, George, in Camden, N. J. She died on Mary 23, 1873. Walt continued to live in
Camden, first with his brother and later alone with the help of numerous friends. Here he
was visited by admirers from all over the world. In his retirement years his funds were
meager, but he was loyally supported by the assistance and donations of a large group of
loyal friends. Benefits were held for him in New York and London, with contributors
including Mark Twain and Andrew Carnegie.
Walt Whitman approached his death as a work of art. In December, 1889,
Whitman was driven out to Camden’s Harleigh Cemetery, purchased a lot, and made
plans to build a family mausoleum, which now stands in that cemetery. The design of the
structure was borrowed from a design by William Blake. It is 15 feet high, 15 feet wide,
with a peaked roof structure of Massachusetts granite–the total weight is 72.5 tons. The
weight of the six interior catacombs of white marble is 5.75 tons. The walls and sides are
lined with 15,500 bricks. The contractor had initially billed Whitman $4,000, but
accepted $3,000 after negotiations by a wealthy friend of the poet.
The bodies of his parents were disinterred and moved into this structure, and later
the bodies of George and Louisa Whitman, and brother Edward Whitman, and sister,
Hannah, as well as Walt, were all interred in this mausoleum. His family would know a
togetherness after death that they never had in life. Despite its use by the family, the
only name engraved on the structure was “Walt Whitman.”
In 188, Whitman suffered another stroke and had seemed to be near death. His
food friend, Dr. R. M. Bucke took upon himself, at that time, the task of putting together
funeral arrangements for the Good Gray Poet. It was Bucke’s idea to ask America’s
greatest orator, Col. Robert G. Ingersoll, to deliver the funeral eulogy. Ingersoll was
contacted, and declined–as he had not read much of Whitman’s poetry. However,
Whitman recovered, and Ingersoll became acquainted with his poetry–the two became
fast friends.
On Dec. 17, 1891, Whitman was “seized by a chill” and confined to bed. Within
two days, one of his lungs had become congested and his doctors concluded that the case
was hopeless. His friend Dr. Bucke again appeared, and again contacted Ingersoll to
perform the eulogy. This time the orator agreed, but the subject refused to cooperate.
Whitman rallied and by January was deeply engaged in a very public death, receiving
cables from all over the U.S. and Europe, and sending out messages printed in the press.
Finally, during a gently raining twilight on March 26, 1892, Walt Whitman died. Almost
in keeping with his sense as a literary businessman, Whitman’s death came in time for
the morning edition of the Sunday papers–thereby gaining far more space than would
have been possible during the week.
An autopsy was performed by Professor henry W. Cattell, demonstrator of Gross
Morbid Anatomy at the University of Pennsylvania. Also present were Dr. Daniel
Longaker, Professor F. X. Dercum, Dr. Alexander McAlister, and Horace L. Traubel.
The results pronounced that “the cause of death was pleurisy of the left side,
consumption of the right lung, general miliary tubercular abscesses, involving the bones,
and pachymeningitis.” The right lung was completely useless, and the left lung was
down to 1/8 capacity.
The Camden, N.J. Post of March 30, 1892 reported that undertaker Fithian
Simmons prepared the dead poet’s body for burial.
The casket and surroundings were described:
“All that was mortal of the good, gray, bard rested peacefully in a handsome and
massive casket of English quartered oak with oxidized trimmings. A silver plate on the
lid bore the simple inscription in old English text: ‘Walt Whitman,’ and the throngs
gazed at the man and emaciated features of the sleeping sage through a covering of
French plate glass. The interior lining was of corded silk and very fine. The cedar case,
which enclosed the casket at the vault in Harleigh bore a copper plate containing the
following ‘Walt Whitman, born May 31, 1819, Died March 26, 1892’….No shroud nor
sable suit of black enclosed the remains, but there he lay in the gray woolen garments
which made him such a picturesque figure in his life time. The gloomy emblems of
death were missing–only the streamer of crepe fluttering from the bell pull suggested a
home of great mourning.’”
The same issue of the Camden Post reported on the letters and telegrams:
“Letters and telegrams of condolence have been pouring in from all parts of the
world ever since the announcement of the poet’s death. Mark Twain telegraphed from
Europe to the head of his New York publishing house directing him to represent him at
the obsequies. Word is expected from Tennyson today. Hamlin Garland…in New York
yesterday paid tribute to the memory of Walt Whitman.”
On Wednesday, March 30, Whitman’s casketed body was on view the remains
from 11 A.M. to 1 P.M., and many did not have a chance to view the body. then the
doors of the house were closed to permit the family and close friends to be along with the
“At the foot of the casket stood the poet’s faithful attendant, Harry Fritzinger,
while Dr. Bucke, Thomas B. Harned, and William Ingram spoke in subdued whispers in
the front parlor. Out in the dining room were Colonel George Whitman, the dead bard’s
brother; his wife, Mrs. Davies, and Harry Fritzinger, whose infant boy is the poet’s
namesake. the baby was there too, sleeping sweetly in his mother’s arms.”
Beginning at 2:20 P.M., the body was moved in procession from the house to
Harleigh Cemetery, where a large tent and speakers platform had been erected. The
procession reached the cemetery at 3 P.M.
There was no minister on the platform, most were friends. Also on hand was the
eloquent Ingersoll, who was finally permitted to deliver his tribute to Whitman before
thousands of people in Harleigh Cemetery:
“Today we give back to Mother nature, to her clasp and kiss, one of the bravest,
sweetest souls that ever lived in human clay…He has lived, he has died, and death is less
terrible than it was before. Thousands and millions will walk down into the dark valley
of the shadow holding Walt Whitman by the hand. Long after we are dead the brave
words he has spoken will sound like trumpets to the dying.”
The pallbearers (active and honorary) were: George W. Childs, Julian
Hawthorne, Robert G. Ingersoll, Horace Howard Furness, Daniel G. Brinton, John
Burroughs, Lincoln L. Eyre, J. H. Johnston, J. H. Stoddart, Francis Howard Williams, R.
M. Bucke, Talcott Williams, Thomas Harned, Horace L. Traubel, Judge Charles G.
Garrison, H. L. Bonsall, Reverend J. H. Clifford, Harrison S. Morris, Richard Watson
Gilder, H. D. Bush, Julius Chambers, Thomas Easkins, A. G. Cattel, Edmund Clarence
Stedman, David McKay, and Thomas Donaldson.
Thomas Harned, in his remarks, extended Whitman’s thanks to Camden and the
“A predominant trait of his character was gratitude, and it is because of his
personal request to me, that I speak to-day to return his thanks to the people, especially of
Camden, for the many acts of kindness, while he has been one of its humble citizens:
‘Don’t forget,’ he said to say, ‘Thanks, thanks, thanks.”

11/20/2007 09:39 AM

The Death and Funeral of Tennessee Williams

by John H. Sime

(published in American Funeral Director magazine, May and June 1998)It is often thought that death communicates its coming. Grief experts tell us that even those who do not commit suicide, or do not die from lingering illness, but instead die quickly, unexpectedly in accidents or of heart attacks sometimes can be seen in retrospect to have made efforts to tie up loose end. This was the case with playwright Tennessee Williams. A few months before his death, a young writer named Steven Kunes and his wife met a friendly old man in a roadside bar in Florida. They talked together about writing for some time before the old man finally introduced himself as Tennessee Williams. The couple gave him a ride back to his house in Key West where they continued the conversation. Suddenly, Williams left the rom and returned with a battered Underwood typewriter.
“I write very rarely on this anymore, “Williams said to Steven. “but I used it for ‘Summer and Smoke’ and ‘Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’. It needs a new ribbon, and perhaps some oil. I didn’t know I’d be finding a place for it soon. Write a play, Steven. Just write a play. I know you can hit the core. I know it like I know a good wine. Don’t be flattered when I say this. You can flatter me by using this old machine here to do the job.” Four months later, Kunes sent Williams a rough draft of his novel. He never received a reply. Two months after that, Williams was dead.
A world-class hypochondriac most of his adult life, Williams regularly told friends for the last 30 years of his life that he was dying of heart trouble, or a brain tumor, or cancer. yet the autopsy performed on his 71-year-old body after his death in February 1983 revealed a constitution remarkably free of the effects of deaces of alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual extravagance. The cause of death was determined to be asphyxia. He choked to death on the cap from a bottle of Visine eye drops, which he apparently had tried to administer to himself while in a bed in the penthouse suite of New York City’s Elysee Hotel. While blood test indicated considerable amounts of alcohol, cocaine, and other drugs in his system, this was not an unusual condition for Williams.
Death was long sought and contemplated in the art of Tennessee Williams. One of his later plays, a one act called “I Can’t Imagine Tomorrow”, actually has a character journeying to the house of Death and demanding to be let in. The Grim Reaper finally answered that knock with the ironic twist of a bottle cap, showing that death is as great an artist as Williams, and just a great a master of black comedy.
Tennessee Williams was born Thomas Lanier Williams on march 26, 1911, in the parsonage of his grandfather, the Rev. Walter Edwin Dakin, an Episcopal priest in Columbus, Miss. His mother, Edwina Dakin Williams, had married Cornelius Williams on June 2, 1907, in that same parsonage. Williams worked for the Cumberland Telephone Company, and was frequently away from the home the couple initially maintained in Gulfport, Miss. This combined with Cornelius’ frequent forays into drinking and womanizing, led to Edwina’s return to the parental parsonage in 1909, where she gave birth to her first child, Rose, and where she stayed for the next several years. During this period she saw Cornelius rarely, but often enough to give birth to two other children, Thomas and Dakin (1919). The birth of Dakin (or Walter Dakin) came after the couple had reunited and made a move together to St. Louis, where Cornelius had obtained a managerial position with the International Shoe Company, and the only place where the family would develop any strong roots.
St. Louis would be the city where Tennessee Williams would receive his primary and secondary education. It would be the city where he published his first juvenile efforts at poetry, fiction, and drama. It also would see his funeral and burial in 1983.
Thomas Williams, as he was known before adopting the pen name Tennessee Williams in 1938, zattended Eugene Field Elementary School, Ben Blewett Junior High School, University City High School, and Soldan High School. His relationship with his father was bleak at best. Edwina once wrote: “Because Tom preferred to read, or write or to go to the movies rather than play baseball, his father contemptuously called him ‘Miss Nancy’”. Cornelius proved little better than the boys at school who taunted him with cries of ’siss’. Edwina saved her money to purchase a portable typewriter for Tom. By the age of 13, he was using this machine to turn out little stories and poems for school publications. While still in high school, he submitted a story called “The Vengeance of Nitocris” to Weird Tales magazine, marking his debut as a professional writer.
He graduated from high school in 1929, 53d out of a class of 83. From 1929 to 1932, he attended the University of Missouri at Columbia. His poor grades and family money problems resulted in Cornelius pulling him out of school and putting him to work in a shoe factory in St. Louis. The most important developments of his college years concerned his writing a number of plays performed by the campus English department. Despite these literary efforts, Williams’ talents were far from obvious. A classmate remembered: “There was absolutely no indication that Tom would become America’s greatest playwright. He was unremarkable in every way, and when he left he was imply doing what many had to do in the Depression.”
For the next three years, in between work at the shoe factory and night classes in typing and shorthand, Williams wrote poems–a number of which were published in magazines around the country. He also began to write short plays under the influence of Russian dramatist Anton checkhov and Swedish dramatist August Strindberg. He also became interested in the poetry of Hart Crane, an American poet who sommitted suicide in 1932 by jumping off a ship between key West and Havana. Like Walt Whitman, Crane used his own life as material for his art. As a poet, his life became “a usable past”–and Williams should increasingly turn to his own life and family as the material for his literary work.
Williams’ home life was a hotbed of dysfunctionality. Cornelius was increasingly brutal, alcoholic, and promiscuous. Edwina was supportive of young Tom’s art, but more and more of a domineering and suffocating influence. Rose, Tom’s older sister, was more and more subject to mental instability. Her mental problems led to a number of hospital stays. Finally, in 1937, Rose was given a prefrontal lobotomy. This decision was mainly made by Edwina. Dakin would later write: “My father was too involved with his drinking and golf-plyaing and poker games to be interested in Rose.” One of the main factors propelling Edwina to the decision to have her daughter lobotomized was rose’s accusation that a drunken Cornelius had made sexual advances at her.
Tom would never forgive his mother for her decision regarding his sister. He had returned to the University of Missouri in 1936 and in 1937 had transfered to the University of Iowa. He did not even know about the operation until he returned to St. Louis for a visit months later. The image of the rose, the name ‘Rose’, and characters modeled after Rose became staples of Williams’ later art. From 1937, until her death in 1996, Rose was institutionalized, and whenever asked her age, she would respond, “Twenty-eight.”.
Aug. 5, 1938 saw Thomas Lanier Williams graduate from the University of Iowa with a bachelor of arts degree in English. Within a few weeks he had journeyed to New Orleans, got work waiting tables, continued writing poems, plays, and short stories, and for the first time began to use the name Tennessee Williams. he would resiter in the cheap boardinghouses of the French Quarter as “Tennessee Williams, Writer.”
His first real break as a playwright came about in 1939 as a result of a lie. He learned that the Group Theatre in New York was sponsoring a play contest. The problem was that the entrants had to be younger than 25 years of age. Williams was 27. On his appliaction he gave his date of birth as March 26, 1914, and sent in four, one-act plays and two longer plays–”Not About Nightingales” and “Fugitive Kind”.
While he did not win first prize, the judges were impressed enough to give him a special award of $100. Moreover, one of the judges sent some of the plays to literary agent Audrey Wood. this woman took on the task of serving as the agent for Tennessee Williams. This was the job she would perform skillfully until 1971, when Williams would fire her in a rage after a theatrical failure. In the more than 30 years she had Tennessee Williams as a client, she was farm more than an agent. She managed his finances, answered his mail, and provided both emotional support–virtually becoming his surrogate mother. She even obtained warm clothing for him when he arrived in New York City in the Fall of 1939.
Audrey Wood arranged for the sale of the option of the one act plays to hume Cronyn. She also arranged for the sale of the option of a play “Battle of Angels” to the Theatre Guild. This play was described by Williams as “a mixture of super religiosity and hysterical sexuality co-existing in a central character.” It recounts the tale of a sexual triangle involving a poetic drifter, a sexually frustrated wife, and her dying husband. It takes place in a southern small town store operated by the husband and wife. The play opened on Dec. 20, 1940, at the Wilburn Theatre in Boston, with Miriam Hopkins playing the wife. The play ran for two weeks, during which time a member of the Boston city Council and the city police department protested. Largely because of this, the play did not move on to a New York run.
The next two years were lean times for Williams. Audrey Wood managed to place a poem or story here and there for him, but once again he was at times reduced to waiting tables. Finally, in Spring 1943, Wood managed to get Williams a short term contract from metro Goldwyn Mayer studios for screenplay work. He proved unsuccessful as a screenwriter but during this period he began a play based on his home life called “The Gentleman Caller”, which would later be called “The Glass Menagerie.” He also wrote a play called “You Touch Me,” based on a D.H. Lawrence short story. This play would be performed by the Pasadena Playhouse.
Williams finished “The Glass Menagerie” in the Summer of 1944. On Dec. 26, 1944, the play opened in Chicago at the Civic Theatre with Laurette Taylor playing Amanda Wingfield, a role modeled after Williams’ mother. Julie Haydon played Laura Wingfield, a role modeled after Rose. In fact, the epitaph of Rose’s tombstone in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis is the last line from this play: “Blow out your candles, Laura…”.
In his later years, Williams came to have an almost paranoid hatred of theater critics, believing that they conspired against him and wanted him to fail. But “The Glass Menagerie” was an example of a play which was truly saved by critics. Claudia Cassidy, critic for the Chicago Daily Tribune, and Ashton Stevens of the Herald American championed the play, attending performances night after night, each day printing new articles urging audiences to attend. Prior to these notices, the producers had been planning to close the play after the second night. Within three weeks, no tickets were available. On March 31, 1945, the play opened at the Playhouse Theatre in New York, at the end of this performance the cast took 25 curtain calls.
The entire fabric of the Williams family is present in the play. The mother is domineering, the daughter fragile and afflicted with a limp symbolic of Rose’s mental problems, and the narrator is a young poet named Tom who works in a shoe factory, and the absent father is actually described as “a telephone man who fell in love with long distance.” The play gave Williams financial independence and enabled him to provide lieftime support for his mother. She would no longer be dependent on Cornelius, who saw the play while on business in Chicago and saw no similarity between it and his family.
“The Glass Menagerie” was awarded the prize for best play of the year by the New York Drama Critics Circle, and Williams was given the Sidney Howard Memorial Prize by the Playwrights Company. Even while the play was still in Chicago, Williams was working on the play which would become “A Streetcar Named Desire.”
This new play would open on Dec. 3, 1947, at the Barrymore Theatre in New York with Jessica Tandy starring as the faded Southern belle Blanch DuBois, Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski, Kim Hunter as Stella Kowalski, and Karl Malden as Harold Mitchell. The director was Elia Kazan, who would later go on to Hollywood and direct the screen version of Streetcar along with 23-year old Brando, who again played the lead.
Death emerges in this play as an increasingly important peroccupation for Williams” “They told me to take a streetcar anemd Desire, then transfer to one called Cemeteries”–this is Blanch’s first line.
During the rehearsal for this play, Williams announced for the first of many times in his life that he was dying and this would be his last play. For this reason, he said, the script could not be changed because he did not have the energy. Nevertheless, despite his determination to die just before or during the opening of the play, he had enough faith in his helath to book passage on a Dec. 20 ship for Europe for an extended holiday.
The play was even better received than “The Glass Menagerie.” The sudience stood and applauded a full half hour at the end. While Williams was in Europe on his holiday, he learned that “Streetcar” had won the New York Drama Critics Circle award and the Pulitizer Prize for best play of the year.
The 1950s would be good to Tennessee Williams. On Broadway he turned out hit after hit, with most of them appearing on the Hollywood Screen. In 1955, he won a second Pulitzer Prize for “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”
However, in the 1960s, Williams began a relentless decline which would eventually end in his death. It was perhaps a matter of his plays, with their shocking themes of violence and sex, no longer standing out as attractions in a decade of war and sexual freedom. He continued to be praised, performed, and awarded honors, but he was no longer the toast of Broadway. Perhaps the signal for this came with the failure of his play “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.” One critic cruelly entitle his review: “Mistuh Williams–He Dead.” Moreover, Williams himself added to the impression that he was in decline with his heavy consumption of alcohol and drugs of various kinds. while he continued to work hard–rising at 5 A.M. to begin writing, regardless of the follies of the night before–he could still easily consume three bottles of wine, handsfull of pills, and quarts of coffee during a normal day’s work at the typewriter.
The Feb. 25, 1983, death of Tennessee Williams still swirls in controversy. Dakin Williams became convinced soon after he received word of the death that his brother had been murdered. Dakin eventually established a website offering $50,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the person responsible for his brother’s death: “…a strange eerie man who refused to identify himself, entered the lobby of my brother’s hotel. he pushed himself past the doorman and desk clerks and ran to the elevator. Before he could be stopped, he entered the elevator, despite demands that he identify himself and {objections that he} could not goup without being announced. Despite these demands, he took the levator up to the penthouse where Tennessee live. One half hour later, the stranger emerged and ran from the building.”
Some time after this, Williams was found dead. Dakin claims that the autopsy shows that the Visine bottle cap was part of a ruse: “Tennessee did not die from choking on the Visine bottle top, claimed to be in his larynx, and the bottle top was inserted in his mouth after death.” The body was not found in bed, but on the floor next to the bed.
The following excerpts from an offial report by the chief medical examiner of New York City dated Feb. 25, 1983 describe the scene in the hotel suite when the body was found:
“A bedspread and some sheets and blankets lie on the floor over the left foot by the club chair–adult white male lying on a gree carpeted floor between the club chair by a semi-circular night table with a lamp and a stool in front of the drapes; an attache case and black shoe beneath the club chair–the body is lying on its right side with the left leg bent–the right extended at the knee; the left upper extremity at the side and lying face down; the right arm is entended backward with the forearm bent at the elbow and elbow resting against mattress; the right hang lies above the floor. Beneath the night table is an open vial, two croks from wine bottles also lying beneath the night table.”
The official autopsy did highlight some of the marks on the body, which Dakin feels are bruises: “There is pronounced anterior lividity involving the head, the chest and the upper extremities. There are intense Tardieu-like hemorrhages about the face, about the chest and left arm. There is some subconjunctival congestion and hemorrhages as well. The tip of the tongue has a slight pinkish discoloration. The teeth are in good condition. there is lividity present on the medial aspect of the left thigh tending to be anterior and the left leg. There is anterior lividity on the lateral aspect of the right buttocks and blanched areas are noted over the right costal margin, the left knee and the lateral aspect of the right thigh and the right leg in areas in which the body was previously resting.”
The cap of the Visine bottle is noted in the autopsy: “The larynx is removed en bloc with the tongue and upon removal an orange, screw-on lid over-cap is lodged in the glottis, displacing the epiglottis anteriorly, with edema present in the left aryepiglottic fold and edema also present in the left aspect of the epiglottis. The trachea is removed en bloc as well as oesophagus for photography of the over-cap ensitu. The oesophagus is removed and the larynx and trachea opened posteriorly with the orange screw on over-cap still in place–there is edema of both aryepiglottic folds. The larynx beneath the epiglottis is unobstructed. Because of the ossifcation of the thyroid cartilage, the thyroid cartilage itself is not opened at this time. Lodge within the orange, screw-on over-cap for nasal or eye medication is some pink granular material (seconal?) measuring 1.8 cm x 0.4 cm; this lies on the inside of the cap directed inferiorly in the glottis; both the epiglottis and the eryepiglottis folds shoe (sic) edema wen the cap is removed; there is some abundant mucous just below the glottis. the orange over-cap measures 5/8 inches high; the flat tipped conical top measures 1/4 inch by 1/4 inch.”
Dakin Williams contends that someone smothered his brother with a pillow, causing bruises on the neck and chest. This person then allegedly deposited the bottle cap into the throat. Dakin alleges that certain people associated with or employed by his brother were responsible for this act. In 1968, Dakin had Tennessee Williams committed for a time to the Barnes Hosptial in St. Louis, a mental institution. this was in response to a period of extreme drug and alcohol consumption on the part of the playwright. When he came out of this hospital, Tennessee Williams dropped Dakin from his will. The sizable estate was inherited by certain perople associated with or employed by Tennessee Williams.
Also in 1968, before he was hospitalized, Tennessee Williams converted to Catholicism with his brother’s help. While he was not a churchgoer thereafter, the playwright was still a Catholic and was given a Catholic funeral.
Robert Hines, one of the pallbearers, quoted in a letter a comment by a friend about the religious aspects of the arrangements: “robert, tom was born and raised an Episcopalian, then later baptized and converted to Catholicism, and is now buried in a Jewish casket!” He goes on to describe the casket: “It’s true–the casket is oak, beautiful, but it has no handles! It’s very heavy and I don’t know how we are going to manage it. There are lots of steps and I’m going this afternoon to the cemetery to ‘case the joint’”.
According to Hines, the press was a concern to Dakin from the beginning: “Dakin has been perfectly lovely to me and my freinds, as wll as his wife Joyce–but has lambasted the press.” In press reports immediately after Williams death, there was much speculation about what the nature of the funeral arrangements would be. Dakin initially looked to the will as a guide: “If I had control over it, I would let them have their big show business funeral in New York and then bring him back to Calvary Cemetery to be buried next to our mother. But he is alwyas quoted as saying he wanted to be cremated, and if that is what is in his will, of course we will abide by his request,” Dakin was quoted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in its Feb. 27, 1983 edition.
However, the press had become aware of the fact that an entirely different disposal method had been envisioned: “In his Memoirs published in 1975, he stated that he wanted his body sewn up in a clean, white sack and dropped overboard 12 hours north of Havana, so that ‘my bones will rest not far from those of Hart Crane.’” the Post-dispatch later wrote. Williams even stated in a book that a codical to this effect had been added to his will. Neverhteless, no such codical or other instruction pertaining to burial or cremation was ever found in the will.
The services in New York were in the hands of those who inherited his $6 million estate (which as stated above did not include Dakin). However, the services in St. Louis were in the hands of Dakin.
In New York, visitation was held at the Campbell’s Funeral Home at 81st Street and Madison Avenue. On Tuesday, March 1, at 1 P.M., a Mass was celebrated at the funeral home by an Episcopal priest, the Rev. Sidney Lanier. Rev. Lanier was a cousin of Williams. Also in New York, a requiem Mass was held for Williams at thechurch of the Savior, a memorial service was held at Actors Studio, and a Catholic priest and a Russian Orthodox priest blessed the body at the funeral home. The Orthodox priest was brought in at the behest of the late Lady Maria St. Just, a former actress who had played a role in the management of Williams’ affair in his final year.
Dakin attended the wak in new York on Sunday, Feb. 27, and was upset that the casket was closed. “I was angry to see that the casket was closed. I had requested that it be open and I felt that people who had come all the way to see Tennessee should have been able to see him,” the Post -Dispatch wrote. On Thursday, March 3, the body arrived in St. Louis. the body lay in state at the Lupton Funeral Chapel at 7233 Delmar Blvd. in University City on thursday and Friday evenings. In St. Louis, Dakin saw to it that the casket was opened.
On Saturday at 10 A.M., with more than 1,200 people present, an hour and a half long funeral Mass was celebrated at the St. Louis Cathedral by the Rev. Jerome F. Wilkerson of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in University City. The Rev. Lanier, who had officiated at the service in new York, read a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes. Prior to the service, the Rev. Wilkerson spoke to the press about Williams. Wilkerson had met the playwright, as well as his mother Edwina, and then read the “The Glass Menagerie”.
“I admire him for his great compassion and senstivity. he led a very painful and very Christian life. he cared about lost, alienated, little people,.” the Post-dispatch quoted him as saying.
Wilkerson expressed simkilar sentiments in his homily at the Funeral Mass: “The tragedy of Tennessee seems to be that the revelatory sword of suffering that pierced his heart seemed to be so much more therapeutic to toehrs than to himself. he would seem to have remained all of his life among the walking wounded…He did a lot of dying and apparently had little difficulty in “hating his life in this world’”
Wilkerson noted that the universality of Williams’ work was indicated in the fact that on the day of the funeral three of his plays were playing in Moscow. Quoting from the deceased, he said: “Death is a moment. Life is many of them. (The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop here Anymore”)…Nothing human disgusts me–unless its unkind or violent…(”the Night of the Iguana”)…I have always depended on the kindness of strangers (Blanch DuBois’ final line in “A Streetcar Named Desire”)…Mornings, I love them so much–their triumph over night (from Williams’Memoirs).
As soon as the casket had arrived at the church, rain began falling. The rain continued throughout the funeral, and during the long funeral procession through neighborhoods Tennessee had grown up in, and at the graveside until the burial was over. True to Dakin’s wishes, the body was buried in Calvary Cemetery, in a space next to that of his mother (who had died on June 1, 1980). In 1996, Rosw was buried in an adjacent space. Dakin was pleased that Tennessee would be buried near the famed missionary Dr. Tom Dooley: “he also will be buried near Tom Dooley, so we’re in a good neighborhood. and we know that in St. Louis, it’s important to be in a good neighborhood,” Dakin told the Post-Dispatch. General William Tecumsah Sherman is also buried in the same cemetery.
On March 8, 1983, 1 8 P.M., the marquees of 20 theaters on Broadway darkened for one minute in memory of Williams. On March 26, in memory of what wold have been his 72 birthday, a special public ceremony was held in the Shubert Theatre in new York. Some 1,500 people filled the house. Lines had begun forming at 7 A.M. Maureen Stapleton, a longtime friend of Williams, commented to the crowd: “I think Tenn would be gla to know that he had a full house.” jessica Tandy performed a speech by Blanch DuBois from “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Geraldine Fitzgerald sang Williams’ favorite song, ‘Danny Boy’. At the end of the program, the crowd was held spellbound by a recording of Williams reading the opening monologue of the “The Glass Menagerie”: “He was a telephone man who fell in love with long distances…”
Eventually, at Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, a tall, pink granite monument was installed for Tennessee Williams. The granite itself is of Tennessee granite. On the side facing the roadway is:
“Tennessee Williams, 1911-1983, Poet Playwright
‘The violets in the mountains have broken the rocks’, Camino Real”
“Camino Real” is a Williams play from 1953. On the side facing the hill is “Thomas Lanier Williams, March 1911- 25 February 1983″
Also on the hillside of the monument is a rose and an Orthodox cross, which would seem to be the choice of Lady Maris St. Just, who selected the stone, and was in charge of many of Williams’ affairs in the final stage of his life. The rose reflects Williams sister, Rose. The public and private, the famous and family natures of the playwright are embodied by this double-sided monument.

(thanks to Prof. Richard Vowles, retired professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, for his help in writing this article)


11/20/2007 09:30 AM

The Funeral of Frank Lloyd Wright

By John H. Sime

Originally published in American Funeral Director magazine, 1993

The old man’s visitation was held in his home, and two black horses pulled this son of Wisconsin dairy farmers to the church and graveyard. However, this man was no farmer, although as a youth he had done his share of (as he said): “…pulling tits and shoveling…(manure)”. He was, at the time of his death, called “the world’s greatest architect”. In his 70-year career he designed 700 buildings. Several of these are masterpieces, photographs of which are immediately recognized the world over.

Frank Lloyd Wright’s life and career were unconventional, and so was his funeral. Moreover, he was a man of controversy in his life, and 26 years after his death a controversy erupted in Wisconsin when his body was disinterred, cremated, and the cremains carried to Arizona, following the wishes of his third wife.

Wright was born in Richland Center, Wisconsin, to William and Anna Lloyd (Jones) Wright on June 8, 1867. In his later years, he took to saying that he was born in 1869–evidently simply to give the impression that he was younger than he really was. Wright was a complex man whose childhood and adolescence had been marked by much psychological stress as a result of the deteriorating marriage of his parents. By the time of his death in 1959, Wright had constructed as many versions of his life as he had buildings.

William Wright was a sometimes preacher, lawyer, and music teacher. At the time of Frank’s birth, he was a Baptist minister in Richland Center. Anna Lloyd Jones was his second wife. His first wife, Permelia Holcomb (of Litchfield, N. Y.) had married Wright in 1851 in Utica, N.Y. The couple moved from New York, to Connecticut, to Iowa, to Wisconsin, where Permelia died in 1864, after the stillbirth of their fifth child. Anna Lloyd Jones was a boarder in the financially strapped Wright household prior to Permelia’s death. Anna had been a country school teacher. Within two years after the death of his first wife, Wright married Anna Lloyd Jones.

The Jones family was prominent in Iowa County, Wisconsin. They were industrious, strong-willed, freethinking farm people who originated in Wales. Neighbors nicknamed the family “the God-Almighty Joneses” for their aristocratic ways. They dominated a valley that opens onto the Wisconsin River, which was known as Jones Valley:

“My grandfather came to this region with his family when the Indians were still here about 125 years ago, and the valley they always called ‘the valley’, lovingly. It was a lovable place. And the valley was their’s by conquest. It was cleared by my grandfather and his sons.” Frank Lloyd Wright (in conversation with Hugh Downs), “The Future of Architecture”; 1953; pg. 16.

William Wright left far less of an impression on young Frank’s developing mind than did his mother and her family. From his mother he got the set of round, cylindrical, triangular, and square Froebel’s toy blocks–a trendy, European childcare innovation of the 19th century: “…The box is a Fascist symbol, and the architecture of freedom and democracy needed something basically better than the box. So I started out to destroy the box as a building,” said Wright in the interview with Hugh Downs.

From his mother, Wright also got the Welsh nationality, and the word “Taliesin”, a Welsh word meaning “Shining Brow,” the name he gave to the home he later built in Jones Valley, near Spring Green, Wisconsin. This is built, Wright said: “…Like a brow on the edge of the hill. If you build on top of the hill, you lose the hill. If you build one side at the top, you have the hill and the eminence that you desire. You see? Well, Taliesin is a brow like that.” And from his mother’s family, Wright also got the land for Taliesin, and probably some money, and definitely a couple of his early commissions.

The Rev. Wright moved his family from Wisconsin to Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and Weymouth, Massachusetts, before Frank was in school. However, Anna Wright resented the unwholesome influence that she saw the city had upon her son. he wore long curls and had mostly girl playmates. Eventually, the Wrights returned to Wisconsin. Anna cut off young Frank’s curls and saw to it that he was assigned to chores on the Jones family farm in Iowa County. He tired to run off two or three times, but in the end he stayed and adjusted, and he took root and flowered in Southwest Wisconsin all of his life.

“By the time I was 15 or 16, I was doing a man’s work on the farm. In the winters I went to Madison to school, matriculating in the state university at the age of 15.” Wisconsin State Journal, April 10, 1959, Wright’s obituary.

It was his mother’s determination that he become an architect. At the age of 15 (or perhaps 18, as stated in Brendan Gill’s “Many Masks, A Life of Frank Lloyd Wright”), he registered in the University of Wisconsin Engineering School. His father was, by this time, running a music school in Madison. His parents eventually divorced. At the age of 20, Wright moved on to the Chicago architectural firm of Adlar and Sullivan.

In 1887, as Wright began working for Dankmar Adlar and Louis Sullivan, the firm was in the midst of designing Chicago’s Auditorium Theater. Wright was hired as a draftsman and did much detail work for the elegant, leafy, intertwined murals, columns, and capitals of that structure.

Louis Sullivan was a great architect in his own right. Among his other designs were the Wainwright Building in St. Louis, the Chicago Stock Exchange, the Transportation Building at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, the Guaranty Building in Buffalo, N.Y., and the Bayard Building in New York City. His was the first distinctly American styled of architecture, as he broke with the previously dominant European Victorian, Gothic, and Romanesque styles.

His most famous work was in the skyscrapers then appearing on the American scene, however he also designed small-town banks and monuments throughout the Midwest. Wright would refer to Sullivan as “Lieber Meister”–beloved master. Wright learned much from Sullivan, and in fact telescoped Sullivan’s famous architectural dictum of “form follows function” into “form and function are one.”

Wright married Catherine Tobin in 1889. She was the daughter of a Chicago businessman, and he met her at a church social. They moved into the then conservative, religious, saloonless suburb of Oak Park. He received a five-year contract from Adlar and Sullivan as head draftsman, and borrowed money from them to build his first home. This 1889 structure is strikingly different from the typical Queen Anne, Victorian style suburban house of the time. It is in fact a huge triangle, with a minimum of ornamentation, sided with cedar shakes.

In 1893, he was dismissed from Adlar and Sullivan for designing several suburban homes on his own time. He may have been forced into these moonlighting jobs in order to support his rapidly growing family. The most important of these houses were the Charnley House (1891) and the Harlan House (1892–demolished), both in Chicago. The Winslow house (1893) was his first independent commission. This house is located in River Forest, Illinois, and was designed for the editor of House Beautiful magazine.

Wright was written up almost throughout his career in architectural magazines around the world, and as a result was more well known, even as a young man, in places like Germany, Holland, and Japan than in his own country.

He was smart from the start, and he didn’t mind if you knew it: “Early in life, I had to choose between honest arrogance and hypocritical humility. I chose honest arrogance and have seen no occasion to change.” Wisconsin State Journal, April 10, 1959.

But he was able to deliver. In 1904, he became the first architect to use poured concrete to make an entire public building–the Unity Temple in Oak park, Illinois. Wright was a member of this Unitarian congregation, and he was skillful at pulling all the right strings to get the contract to replace the burned-down, conventional New England-style church and steeple. Wright constructed a church like nobody had seen before–it has been compared to a library, a prison, a Mayan temple, a factory.

It is a monolithic concrete structure that is crowned by multiple levels of cantilevered roofs that project out in delicately ornamented poured concrete. It sweeps up out of the earth like the stump of a skyscraper, with heavy, ornamented, concrete foundations. By this time, Wright has built a couple of skyscrapers–the Larkin Comapny Administration Building (1903-demolished), Buffalo, N.Y., and the Abraham Lincoln Center (1903), Chicago.

Meanwhile, Wright was developing an architectural style called the Prairie School. This was a philosophy of several Midwestern architects operating in and around Chicago in the 1890s and 1900s. William Gary Purcell, George Elmslie, and George Maher were others who practiced this Wright-inspired effort to blend houses more into the natural surroundings by making them horizontal.

Flat roofs, stucco, ornamental rectilinear columns replaced Midwestern Queen Anne and Gothic fortresses being built by the contemporaries of Wright’s clients. Wright’s customers were just a bit different than the common herd, time after time. Innovative businessmen were a particularly favorite customer of Wright–Darwin D. Martin (owner of the Larkin Company), Herbert Johnson (owner of S.C. Johnson and Son Wax Company), and Harold Price Sr. (owner of the Phillips Oil Company) were among the people he served in his long career.

He also served his aunts, who ran a private school on a corner of the Jones family farm. He built for them the Hillside Home School I (1887) and II (1901). Nell and Jane Lloyd Jones were his mother’s sisters who ran this avante garde school which catered to the children of the Chicago elite. For them, he also built the Romeo and Juliet Windmill (1896), which provided water for the school and which was built despite protests of the local builder, named Cramer, who told the aunts that such a structure could never stand. It is a triangle enclosed by an octagon. This seemingly suggest the shape of two lovers in embrace. His worried aunts telegraphed him: “Cramer says windmill tower sure to fall. Are you sure it will stand?” He wrote back to his aunts: “…Neither could stand without the other. romeo, as you will see, will do all the work and Juliet cuddle alongside to support and exalt him. Romeo takes the side of the blast and Juliet will entertain the school children.”

He added: “Romeo and Juliet will stand 25 years, which is longer than the iron towers stand around here.” The windmill still overlooks the school, which has long since become Wright’s architecture school and now a shrine for tourists, along with nearby Taliesin.

Wright eventually served the Emperor of Japan–on a personal commission from 1916 to 1920 for the designing of the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. In 1923, a devastating earthquake destroyed Tokyo and Wright’s controversial design of a cantilevered structure supported by concrete and floated on a cushion of mud rode out the earthquake like a ship. it was the only undamaged structure in either Tokyo or Yokohama. It also survived World War II, only to fall victim to the wrecking ball in the 1960s.

In the meantime, Wright’s personal life had become very interesting. Today, we might call it a midlife crisis–except that his sexual escapades lasted into his senior years. It all started with an affair with a client’s wife, Mrs. E.H. Cheney (Martha “Mamah” Borthwick Cheney). Wright, in 1903, had built a house for the Cheneys in Oak Park. Edwin Cheney was an electrical engineer.

In typical Wright fashion, the house had been designed to open the rooms up to one another. Wright and Mrs. Cheney were easily observed by the Cheney children, embracing on the library sofa. The affair gradually became common knowledge. The result, in October, 1909, was a sudden, precipitous flight by the two lovers to Europe. They stayed for a while in Berlin, then moved on to Florence.

This left Catherine Wright to be hounded by the press in Chicago. She issued a poignant statement to the scandal mongers:

“My heart is with him now. He will come back as soon as he can. I have a faith in Frank Lloyd Wright that passeth understanding, perhaps, but I know him as no one else knows him. In this instance he is as innocent of wrongdoing as I am.” Catherine Wright said.

But he did not come back. Ever. Instead, he had two more wives, and Mrs. Cheney wasn’t one of them. She was murdered late on the night of August 14, 1914, in Taliesin by a crazed servant who killed six more victims–including the two Cheney children–and who torched Wright’s dwelling. Wright himself was attending a gala reception at the Midway Gardens (his 1913 design, demolished). The next day, he and Mr. Cheney took the same train out of Chicago to Spring Green.

The servant, Julian Carleton–a West Indian native, attempted suicide by drinking hydrochloric acid. He died seven weeks later in the Dodgeville, Wis. jail. Mrs. Cheney and her children were buried in Wright’s family cemetery at Unity Chapel, about 1 mile from Taliesin. Wright himself was buried there in 1959.

Soon after Mrs. Cheney’s death, Wright made the acquaintance of a Tennessee-born artist and sculptress–Mrs. Miriam Noel. She was also a wealthy divorcee and she contributed large amounts of money for the rebuilding of Taliesin. They would eventually marry. In the meantime, in December 1916, they both left by steamship for Tokyo. Wright spent much time in Japan between 1916 and 1921, overseeing the construction of the Imperial Hotel.

This work made him a great deal of money, and for a time, gave him financial independence. (However, Wright was always inclined to spend every penny he made and then some.) Meanwhile, his relationship with Miriam was collapsing, as was her physical and mental health. The years they spent together in Japan were to be a time of jealous violence (for both), breakups, and emotional reunions. Out of this period came the Imperial Hotel.

During this time, he wrote to his son, Lloyd, that dealing with the miseries of life was not unlike the creation of art. The end of his relationship with Miriam was a messy divorce wrangle that stretched on for years. Meanwhile, by the Fall of 1924, Wright had installed 26-year-old Olga Ivanova Milanov Hinzenberg (Olgivanna, for short) in Taliesin. She had been born in Montenegro, and had married a Russian architect named Hinzenberg who lived in Chicago. She had also been a follower of Russian philosopher/dance cultist Georgi Gurdjieff. Wright was now 57 years old.

Miriam saw to it that this new relationship was the target of her wrath, both before and after her divorce from Wright. She once had Wright and Olgivanna locked up in the Minneapolis jail on a Mann Act charge. In 1930, three years after granting Wright a divorce, she stormed into the home he was then maintaining with Olgivanna in California, where she destroyed hundreds of dollars worth of furniture. Miriam died in Milwaukee, in 1930, of what her death certificate termed “exhaustion following delirium.”

Wright entered his sixties with a young, pregnant wife–just in time for the stock market crash of 1929. His response to the dwindling numbers of commissions in the Depression was to go home to Taliesin and turn the now-abandoned school of his aunts into an architecture school. He created the Taliesin Fellowship, a combination of work and study for architecture students that still survives.

The program spends the Spring and Summer in Wisconsin, and the Fall and Winter in Scottsdale, Arizona, at Taliesin West, Wright’s winter home. The program awards the equivalent of a master’s degree in engineering to students from around the world.

At a time in life when many men are retiring, Wright embarked on one of his most productive periods. In 1935, he designed Fallingwater, the residence of Pittsburgh retailer Edgar J. Kaufmann, Jr. The famous home hangs over a waterfall near Ohiopyle, Pennsylvania. A group of architects from Pittsburgh informed Kaufmann that the structure could never be built since it violated numerous principles of engineering. Kaufmann passed on the criticism to Wright, who informed Kaufmann that if he would listen to such men he did not deserve to live in such a beautiful home. Kaufmann had to beg Wright to continue on with the project.

According to some reports, Wright executed the design in the hours it took Kaufmann to drive from the Milwaukee airport to Spring Green in western Wisconsin. Kaufmann had telephoned Wright from the airport to tell him that he was coming to see the plans. When he reached Taliesin, the plans were done.

In 1936, Wright designed the S.C. Johnson and Son Wax Building in Racine, Wisconsin. This building features an enormous central atrium, the ceiling supported by tall concrete columns. The Wisconsin State Industrial Commission balked at approving the plans for the building, because it believed the columns (which are 20 feet in diameter at the top, and narrow down to nine inches in diameter at the bottom) would not hold more than one ton of weight each. Wright had designed the columns each to hold 12 tons. On June 4, 1937, Wright staged a demonstration in which he piled without mishap 60 tons of weight on top of one of the sample columns. He had the whole thing pushed over and the column remained intact.

Throughout the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, Wright continued to turn out designs for houses, office buildings, churches, a college, even a gas station. One of his most famous buildings, the Guggenheim Museum in New York (1956, recently augmented by a controversial annex) is truly striking. It is a total attempt to destroy the box. It is, instead, a five-story tall spiral of concrete. Wright said: “A museum should be one extended expansive well-proportioned floor space from bottom to top–a wheel chair going around and up and down, throughout. No stops anywhere…”

The building permits viewers of the art exhibits to take elevators to the upper floors and leisurely walk through the structure, viewing the paintings on the way down. It anticipates by decades the standards seen in today’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), in terms of its handicapped access.

Wright literally did not care what he said to anyone. During World War II, friends arranged to introduce him to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in order to discuss Wright’s designing government housing. His informality with the president ended their relationship before it began:

“…So I took him to Washington and he wore a cloak over his shoulders and had a big cane and he never took his hat off in the Oval Room and he stopped at the door with great drama and said, so the President could hear, ‘You know, Carleton, I’ve always told you I would rather be Wright than President,’ and he wheeled around and came up to the president’s desk and shook hands with him and he said–and I will never know whether he thought this out in advance or whether it came naturally–he said, ‘Franklin’ or ‘Frank,’ he called him ‘Frank’, he said, ‘You ought to get up out of that chair and look around at what they’re doing to your city here, miles and miles of Ionic and Corinthian columns!” Carleton Smith, quoted in Gill, ibid, pg. 417.

Wright got no Federal contracts. He also got no contracts from the State of Wisconsin or his alma mater, the University of Wisconsin.

In fact, Wright received few government contracts at all. He prepared plans for “butterfly” bridges–ignored by the State of Wisconsin; the Mile High Illinois Building–ignored by the State of Illinois; and the Pro Bono Publico State Capitol building–ignored by the State of Arizona. One of his few government projects to be erected in his lifetime was the Marin County Civic Center (1957) in San Raphael, California.

For more than 30 years, a battle raged in Madison, Wis., over an auditorium plan called the Monona Terrace. Finally, in the late 1990s, the structure was built in true Wright style next to the brow of a hill.

However, if governments were not interested in Wright, he was interested in them, or at least in their potential to project a social vision. His philosophy of organic architecture encompassed a role for the architect as a social force:

“What we call organic architecture is no mere aesthetic nor cult nor fashion, but an actual movement based upon a profound idea of a new integrity of human life wherein art, religion, and science are one: form and function are seen as one, of such is democracy,” Wright wrote in the “Future of Architecture.

He designed his Usonian homes as a means of giving returning World War II veterans inexpensive, well-designed homes. He designed his model city plan, Broadacre City, to improve life in the 20th-century city. He had a social vision, but most of it never got off the drawing board.

Easter, 1959, was remembered by Olgivanna as one of her and Wright’s happiest times together.

“We walked out to greet our young people and guests. Balloons flew everywhere. tables were prepared with flowers. Babas rose from the circles of multi-colored eggs, the pascha cheese shimmered white in garlands of blossoms and leaves….We ate gaily and like children broke the eggs end to end. Happy and free we laughed, immersed in the purity of the spirit…,” Olgivanna Wright wrote in “Shining Brow.”

On April 4, 1959, just days after that Easter party, Wright was hospitalized in Phoenix with stomach pains caused by an intestinal blockage. After surgery, he died quietly on the night of April 9, 1959. On Friday, April 10, longtime Wright associate William Wesley Peters (who later married the daughter of Joseph Stalin, Svetlana, who defected to the U.S. in the 1960s) and an apprentice loaded the embalmed and casketed body of Frank Lloyd Wright into the back of a canvas-covered pickup truck and drove from Arizona to Wisconsin. The funeral was scheduled to be held on Sunday, April 12, at Taliesin.

Richardson Funeral Home of Spring Green was in charge of the arrangements at the Wisconsin end of things. Viola Richardson, widow of Bradley “Bert” Richardson (who died in 1990 at the age of 52 of a heart attack), reveals that her husband was in Milwaukee when Wright died. Richardson was still attending the Wisconsin Institute of Mortuary Science in Milwaukee and did not make it back to Spring Green until Sunday. The early arrangements were made by Helen Richardson, Bert’s mother, and Lee Roberts, a funeral director from nearby Arena, Wis. “We came home the day of the funeral. We didn’t have that much to do with it,” Viola says today.

Wright’s body lay in state in the living room of Taliesin as dozens of people in the Taliesin Fellowship, along with old friends from Spring Green and Madison filed past the casket. He was dressed in a light tan suit, white shirt, with a loosely knotted string tie, and his trademark flowing cape and pork pie hat. His casket was draped in a Cherokee red pall. The Wisconsin State Journal reported:

“His face was pale but seemed composed, and every familiar line of the features known throughout the world seemed sharply etched against the orange-red background of the drapery.”

The casket was loaded onto a grain wagon covered with pine boughs, and hauled behind two farm horses, on the one-mile trip from Taliesin to Unity Chapel. His wife, Olgivanna, his daughter Iovanna, and about 50 close friends made the slow, solemn, almost hour-long march to the chapel. As the procession left Taliesin, the bell at the chapel began tolling and continued until the procession reached there.

The Rev. Max Gaebler, minister of the First Unitarian Church in Madison (a 1947 Wright designed building) conducted the service. he described Wright as “a great man and a great artist, but more than that, a beloved husband and father.” He also quoted from Stephen Spender, John Donne, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the Bible.

An unusual grave marker made of painted metal rods and plates was later installed at his grave. Its design permits the visitor to see the plants and sky behind it, while the name “Frank Lloyd Wright” seems suspended in the air. Below are the dates and an epitaph: “Love of an idea is love of God.”

When Olgivanna died in 1985, she left a request that Wright be cremated and moved to Arizona. Numerous Wisconsin politicians protested. Wright’s granddaughter, actress Anne Baxter (whose 1986 death would later be memorialized by a stone in the Unity Chapel cemetery), expressed her dismay. Many in Wisconsin felt that this move was in response to the decades of ill-concealed contempt many in the Badger State held for this gifted, if controversial, and check-bouncing, and arrogant native son.

However, it seems likely that Olgivanna did not want to rest in a graveyard a few feet away from one of her husband’s old girlfriends–Mrs. Cheney. Whatever the reason, Richardson Funeral Home was again called into action. For weeks afterward, Bert Richardson had to field hostile calls from politicians and the press. However, all the paperwork was in order–Wright’s daughter signed the cremation permit.

Bert had to drive around Madison on the day of the cremation, trying to elude reporters, and making his scheduled meeting with the Dane County Coroner at the crematory–Sunset Memory Gardens on Mineral Point Road. “It was really a cat and mouse game,” reveals Viola Richardson today. Finally, Viola and Bert were able to board a plane in Madison and personally carried Wright’s cremains to Taliesin West in Arizona.

Visitors to the Unity Chapel can scarcely tell that the great man is no longer resting beneath his metal grave marker. A wedge-shaped piece of stone (vaguely reminiscent of the Guggenheim Museum and the columns of the Johnson Wax Building) stands next to it. Flowers grow all around, and rocks are arrange in a circle. Tourists come hour after hour to pay homage, while the tall corn stalks across the road dance and glisten in the sunshine.

11/11/2007 10:41 AM

10 Malians Die in New York City fire

malian-fire-hands-on-casket.jpgNY AND WORLD GRIEVE FOR 10 MALIANS KILLED IN FIRE

By John H. Sime

(also published in American Funeral Director magazine, June 2007)

Mamadou Soumare was trying to follow the American dream. Two decades ago he came to America from Mali in West Africa. He got a job, worked hard, and helped people from his homeland come to America. He also had helped the people back home with frequent donations.

On March 7, 2007, it was Mamadou’s time to receive the help of others. He was driving his taxi cab through Harlem when he got a frantic cell phone call from his wife at their apartment in the Bronx. The apartment house they shared with numerous other Malians who had immigrated to America was now engulfed in flames. Mamadou called 911 from his taxi and the NY Fire Department was on the scene within three minutes. Nevertheless, ten people died in the blaze, including Mamadou’s wife, Fatoumata, and four of their children. The five other victims were children of the Malian owner of the building, Moussa Magassa. The names of the dead are: Fatoumata Soumare, 42; her seven month old twins: Sisse and Harouna; Bilaly Magassa, 1; Diaba Magassa, 3; Djibril Soumare, 3; Adubuducary Magassa, 5,;; Hassime Soumare, , 7; Mamadou Magassa, 8; and Bandiogou Magassa, 11.

This was the largest fire fatality in a single fire in New York City since the September 11, 2001 tragedy at theWorld Trade Center. The city of New York was deeply moved by the sorrowful events and awed by the funeral services which followed. It was a rare opportunity for Americans to witness Moslem funeral customs and to relate to African Moslems as fellow grieving humans.

The bodies were taken to Francisco’s Funeraria in Manhatten. This forty year old business serves all faiths and handles the majority of the West African funerals in New York City. At the funeral home they were washed and wrapped in white cloth. They were then placed in simple, unpainted, wooden caskets and loaded into a line of hearses for transport to the Islamic Center.

The costs of the funeral expenses were paid by George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees. The burned apartment house is near Yankee Stadium. Steinbrenner also donated a personal check for $50,000 to the families.

The five members of the Soumare family were flown to Mali for internment in a cemetery in Bamako, Mali. Air France paid for the expenses of shipping for the Soumares to their homeland in Mali. The five Magassas were buried in a Moslem cemetery in New Jersey.

Eight black hearses lined up at Francisco’s Funeraria to transport the caskets to the Islamic Center in the Bronx. The names of the deceased were carefully attached to the window of each hearse. As the caskets were removed from the hearses the call of “Allah Akbar” (God is Great) went up from the crowd. Islamic spiritual leaders called Imams were on hand from all points of New York City. Imam Abdullah Bajaha was in charge of the overall services. Half of a block in front of the Islamic Center was cordoned off by police and blue tarp was spread on the street and sidewalk to facilitate the kneeling required in Moslem prayer. Among those who visited the mourners during the services at the Islamic Center were Sen. Hillary Clinton, NY Governor Eliot Spitzer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and Mali’s Foreign Minister Moctar Ouane who delivered the thanks of Malian President Amadou Toumani Toure to New Yorkers.

Both Malian fathers were united in their deep faith. Mamadou Soumare, at a prayer service in the Bronx Islamic Center, read appropriate verses from the Qur’an. In English the verses mean: “Be sure we shall test you, with something of fear, and hunger, some loss, in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil), but give glad tidings to those who patiently preserve-who say, when afflicted with calamity: “To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.”.

On Sunday, March 18, Mamadou buried his wife and children in Bamako. The following Tuesday he participated with family and friends in Mali for a ceremony called “the Sacrifice of the Dead”. It is an Islamic custom to commemorate those recently dead and all those who have died in general. A cow is sacrificed and dined upon by the crowd. Candy and sweets are passed out to represent the sweetness of life.

Later in the week, Mamadou journeyed to his native
village of Tafadiriga in western Mali near the city of Kayes. This proved to be a difficult trek over largely unpaved roads. After three flat tires he finally reached his village and greeted family he had not seen for years.

On April 2, 2007, 5 year old Hatouma and 6 year old Kadiatou Magassa, both of whom spent weeks in the hospital after the fire, returned to school. The girls were ready to get back to a normal life: “Everyday they came to me and said, ‘Dad let’s go (to school)’, their father reported. “I thank the Lord that everybody is rested and everybody is OK.” Moussa Magassa said, as he announced that the family planned to rebuild the house on the same site.

10/30/2007 09:15 AM

Grandstaff–His Wretched Life and Death

Wretched Life and Death of Andrew Grandstaff

By John Henry Sime

“This deprivation may have involved prolonged or recurrent absence of of one or both parents, a chaotic family life in which both parents were unknown, or an outright rejection of the child by one or both parents with the child being raised by other…relationships with others were of a shallow, cold nature, lending a quality of loneliness and isolation….Such individuals can be considered to be murder-prone in the sense of either carrying a surcharge of aggressive energy or having an unstable ego defense system that periodically allows the naked and archaic expression of such energy.”
Truman Capote
In Cold Blood, page 337

Such people might be around us every day–people whose lives are short fuses waiting for a match. Andrew Grandstaff lived and worked in the Kickapoo Valley, Wisconsin for most of his twenty-four years. He was no angel, but he was a hard worker and paid his debts. Nevertheless, he was given to moments of strange violence. Walking back to the valley after rafting logs to the Mississippi River, he and another local man spent a night in a haystack. Upon arising they noticed a young colt in a nearby field. Grandstaff, who always carried a gun, took aim and shot it. “I just wanted to kill something.” He explained.
In March 1888, Grandstaff made a grisly proposal to Dick Sutherland. He said that he knew that Reuben Drake, a Tenney Creek farmer, had been saving money to build a barn. The two of them could rob and murder the old man. Grandstaff went on to mention that he wanted to have Drake’s Winchester rifle to kill two other local men, Dan Coher and Dick Osborn. Sutherland brushed off the chilling plan, but he remembered it when on Friday, May 24, 1888, the bodies of Drake, his wife, and two grandchildren, a boy and a girl, were found murdered. The Winchester rifle was missing. The following Thursday, Ex-Sheriff E.S. Goodell and T.J. Farrell, a Pinkerton detective from Chicago, headed to Readstown to begin an investigation that would lead to the arrest of Andrew Grandstaff.
Grandstaff was born in the Township of Franklin, Vernon County, the illegitimate son of a fifteen-year-old daughter of a minister. She later married an older man named Pete Neeley, who lived in the Manning area. He died in an accident involving a runaway team. She married again and moved to Richland Center, later she moved to Kansas. Young Andrew was left to fend for himself. His formal education was almost nonexistent. He could not read and could only crudely sign his name. More often than not he just signed with an “X”. Oliver Munson, editor of the former Vernon County Censor, reported in a June 6, 1888 article that Grandstaff had stated to the officers that he had been kicked about so long that he cared not what became of him; that he wanted to get a good hand full of money, he cared not how, and leave the country forever.”
In Readstown, C.E. Morely and F.H. Rodgers met the investigators. The four men went on to the murder scene a few miles east of Readstown, north of the Sugar Grove Church of Christ. It was at the murder scene that Dick Sutherland’s story was reported. They also heard from a man named Bouker, who lived near Kickapoo Center, along what is now County Highway U. On the morning after the murder, Bouker had seen Andrew Grandstaff washing himself and some clothes in the Kickapoo River. He noticed that the clothes were covered with blood. “I’ve been doing some butchering.” Grandstaff explained. Bouker had his doubts. He had already heard about the murder of Reuben Drake and his family.
Reuben Drake was born in New Jersey in 1824. In 1846, he married Matilda Sanders and they began farming in Perry County, Ohio. In the Spring of 1855, he came to Wisconsin and began farming on Tenney Creek. In 1870, he built the house in which he would be murdered. He had nine children: Mary, Benjamin, Jessie, Epsey, Julia, Clarinda, Elmer, Cinthia, and Laura. Clarinda married James Dupee and they lived at North Clayton. At the time of the murder, Clarinda was pregnant, and so two of her children, Laura (age 7) and Denver (age 6) were sent to stay with their grandparents.
The investigators learned the Grandstaff was at the home of his uncle, Elbert Jennings, at Liberty. It was after dark on Thursday, May 30, when they reached the Jennings home. Grandstaff was upstairs asleep. A gun was found in the pocket of his coat. He was handcuffed and taken to Readstown where he was interrogated by the detective T.J. Farrell throughout the night. Editor Munson provides this glimpse of the man:
Farrell is a keen fellow and Grandstaff could not withstand his withering portrayal of the bloody deed without acknowledging the crime. He is the party who worked up the celebrated Democratic tallysheet forgeries at Columbus, Ohio.”

When asked where he was on May 24, Grandstaff said he had spent the day and night at the home of John Kanable, near Kickapoo Center. A rider was sent to check this out. It proved false. Grandstaff next maintained that he was crazed or out of his head on that day and night. This, he explained, was a condition that came over him from time to time since an injury last winter. If this was the beginning of an insanity defense on the part of Grandstaff, within 24 hours such a legal defense would be a moot point.
It is likely that the interrogation took place in the mill of which F.H. Rodgers was a part owner. This mill had been established by Daniel Read, the founder of the village, who erected a dam on Read’s Creek (which has since been diverted). The building stood on the south side of Mill Street, not far from today’s Highway 61. It would have been a perfect spot for an all night third degree session, being somewhat apart from the rest of the sleeping village.
Nevertheless, word leaked out. Wild rumors had raced through the area for the past week. Families had gone to bed barricaded in their homes night after night. The sight of Andrew Grandstaff being brought into Readstown in handcuffs had not gone unnoticed. Talk of lynching was already in the air.
By sunrise on the last day of his life, Grandstaff confessed to the murders and begged to be taken immediately to the state prison where he would be safe. He was taken instead to the hotel room of the Pinkerton detective in the Park Hotel (near the corner of Main and Terhune Sts. in Viroqua), where they arrived about 7:00 A.M. In the hotel room Grandstaff signed with an “X” a confession he had dictated. The District Attorney, Squire McMichael, C.E. Morely and five other people were present.
Grandstaff’s confession describes a twenty-four hour period of wandering through the hills and valleys from Liberty to Tenney Creek to Kickapoo Center. He left the house of his uncle, Elbert Jenning, at 8:00 A.M. on May 24. It was not until 4:00 P.M. that he arrived at the Drake house. He chose as a route the wooded hillsides and bottom land–perhaps wishing to avoid the roads and witnesses. He crossed the Kickapoo River at Manning (then called Newville). Then he went up into the wooded ridge east of the river. He waited until after dark to come down out of the hills to the Drake house. He took the precaution to observe through a window the old man sitting in his chair. After the murders, he went back up on the ridge and his Drake’s rifle in a log on the James Foreman farm. He returned to his uncle’s house and changed out of his bloody clothes. Taking the bloody clothes with him he went back up into the hills again, spending the rest of the night in a remote shanty on the George Wilder farm north of Kickapoo Center. It was then that he turned up at the John Kanable farm to mooch breakfast. Later he went down to the river, where he was seen by Bouker washing his bloodstained clothes.

At time, Grandstaff’s confession reads like the meandering of the fictional Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. He dwells at length on the exact location where he hid Reuben Drake’s rifle, but can’t remember whether or not he stabbed the boy. He concludes with an odd recitation of the people he met on the morning after the murder, mentioning who had heard of the murder:

“I met Wilder at James Cushman’s sawmill at Kickapoo Center; saw Mrs. Cushman there. Wilder told me about the murder. I stopped at Wilder’s; Mrs. Wilder was at home. She talked about the murder. Saw Bouker, stopped there; he had heard about the murder….”

Throughout the next week, Grandstaff would fiercely denounce the crime and the criminal to anyone who would listen.
The murder was more than just a robbery that got out of hand. Grandstaff was met at the door by Reuben Drake, whom he asked for a glass of water. He received water. Next he asked for money, and was told that there was none in the house. He drew his revolver and again demanded money. He was again told there was none. He immediately shot Reuben Drake. Meanwhile, Mrs. Drake was in the next room putting the grandchildren to bed. After hearing the shots, Mrs. Drake, true frontier wife, picked up the coveted rifle and came into the front room pointing it at Grandstaff. He immediately shot her. The grandchildren were visible in the next room. They had seen what had happened. Grandstaff moved to eliminate them as witnesses. He swiftly cut the little girl’s throat. The little boy posed more of a problem, as he struggled. However, Grandstaff soon overpowered the six year old and ended by stabbing him all the way through repeatedly.
As a robbery, the affair was a botched job. There indeed was no money in the old man’s cash drawer. Grandstaff only obtained the rifle he had coveted.
Ever before leaving the hotel with their prisoner, the authorities realized they had a bad situation on their hands. By 9:00 A.M., an outraged crowd had gathered outside the hotel. Sheriff Gosling considered smuggling Grandstaff out of Viroqua to LaCrosse. The crowd was alert to this plan and made it known to the sheriff that they would not permit it. With great difficulty, the Sheriff and his men transported their prisoner through the streets of Viroqua to the jail. They were followed the whole way by the growing, increasingly surly crowd.
As the hours passed more people came to Viroqua. The graduation ceremony for Viroqua High School was scheduled for the Park Bowl, just below the Sheriff’s Office and jail. Talk of a lynching filled the streets. The Sheriff telegraphed the Governor of Wisconsin, Viroqua’ own Jerimiah Rusk. he responded that he had “full faith in the conduct of the citizens of Vernon County”. In the evening, when the crowd had become an uncontrollable mob, the governor was again telegraphed but responded that no help would be possible until morning. As it turned out that would be too late.
At about 9:00 P.M., after a powerful speech by County Judge Col. C.M. Butt, the mob began to disperse. Some observers concluded that the crisis had passed. Instead, it had progressed to a new and more dangerous level. The mob reconvened elsewhere, elected a leader and acquired tools from a blacksmith shop. Next, they silently marched–300 strong–through the streets of Viroqua to the jail. When the guards rejected their demand for Grandstaff the mob overpowered them and battered down the jail door with a piece of iron pipe. They swarmed into the building and headed for Grandstaff’s cell on the second floor. The guards inside were also overpowered. Grandstaff was now on his own, but he did not go down without a fight. For almost an hour he held the mob off with a bed rail. Numerous cracked skulls and broken noses were dealt out by him before fatigue and the sheer size of the mob overwhelmed him.
He was tied up and a noose put around his neck. Just as the mob was about to exit the jail with him in tow, the Sheriff managed to convince them that Grandstaff deserved a last statement. What developed was a two-hour debate during which Grandstaff tried to implicate others, but the crowd would have none of that, as the confession was already common knowledge. For a time, the Sheriff seemed to have the mob convinced to give up on the lynching. But then the mob’s leader again stirred up the fever. Grandstaff was taken outside and hung by the mob from a small tree on the courthouse lawn. The tree is long since gone–many of its limbs and most of its bark became souvenirs of the night. The 30 feet long rope was also cut up and distributed. The Sheriff permitted all those who wished to view Grandstaff’s body, and over 2,000 people did this.
In the early 20th century–Dr. Porter, noted Viroqua historian placed a terse monument on the site of the hanging–it simply says: “June 1, 1888”, the date of the after midnight lynching of Andrew Grandstaff.
Grandstaff was buried in the Potter’s Field at the county farm. No one was ever prosecuted for the lynching. On the Tuesday after the lynching, Reuben Drake’s Winchester rifle was found by a search party. It was hidden in exactly the spot Grandstaff said it would be.

10/21/2007 09:47 AM

Embalming E.T.

Embalming ET

EMBALMING E.T.: a New Mexico practitioner’s close encounter
with a UFO and the Air Force.
By John H. Sime

In the summer of 1947, Glenn Dennis was a font of information
about embalming and embalming fluid, since he had just
graduated from San Francisco Mortuary College. A lifelong
Roswell, New Mexico, resident, Mr.Dennis, today 68 years old,
recalls that he began his 35 years in the funeral business by
going to work for the local funeral director as a car washer,
a “go-fer,” and, eventually, an apprentice. Mr. Dennis served
as chairman of the New Mexico State Board of Funeral Directors
and Embalmers for a time. It was during his tenure that New
Mexico first required college study as a requirement for
licensing in that state. Though just starting out in the
business, Mr. Dennis might have been just the right person to
answer the phone just after lunch on Tuesday, July 8, 1947,
because an older practitioner, for whom the textbooks were a
distant memory, would of have been able to answer the
questions about embalming and embalming fluid, and the
handling of deceased remains that the U.S.government asked
Glenn Dennis that day.

When the phone at Ballard Funeral Home rang, Mr. Dennis
found the mortuary officer at Roswell Army Air Base on the
other end of the line: “This is just a hypothetical situation,”
he began.”But do you have any three-foot or four-foot-long,
hermetically sealed caskets?”

“Yes,we have four feet,” Glenn Dennis answered.

“How many do you have?”


“How soon before you could get more?”

“If we called the warehouse in Amarillo,Texas, Before 3 p.m.
today, they can have them here tommorow morning. Is there some
kind of a problem?” Mr. Dennis asked.

The funeral home where he worked had the government contract
with the base to handle deaths, including air crashes.

“No, this is just for our information.”
The call ended. Mr. Dennis went back to work. About an hour
later, the same mortuary officer called back.

“How do you handle bodies that have been exposed out in the
desert for four or five days?” he asked, again assuring Glenn
there was no crash. This was just a “hypothetical” situation.
They were just gathering information for their files. The
man also wanted to know what embalming fluid did to tissue,
what embalming fluid was made of, what to do to close holes
in bodies made by predators, how best to pick up such remains.
Glenn answered all questions, and his performance was no doubt
impressive and a credit to his profession–right out of
embalming school! Nevertheless, Glenn’s curiousity was piqued.

“Just call us for a situation like that!” Mr. Dennis pointed
out to the officer. “Is there some kind of crash?”

“No,no, just gathering information for our files.”

Glenn’s firm had handled up to 20 bodies at a time in crashes
at the base. The firm had constructed an addition next to
the embalming room just for those situations. About an hour
after that strange call, an opportunity presented itself for
a trip to the base. A young airmen had injured his hand in a
motorcycle accident. Now, Glenn was called upon in the
capacity of his firm’s ambulance service to transport this
man back to base.

The airman was able to sit in the front seat of the hearse-
ambulance with Glenn. The guards at the gate, familiar with
Glenn, readily let the hearse through. Glenn was a familiar
figure at the base–even being an honorary member of its
Officers Club. He drove his ambulance to the base hospital
and backed up to the loading area, as was his customary
procedure. This time, however, he noted there were two field
ambulances in the spot he preferred, so he parked next to
them. He and the airman got out and started into the hospital.

As Glenn passed the field ambulances, which were guarded by
an MP, he looked into the open back end. Inside both
ambulances was an enormmous amount of a silvery, metallic-like
material, which seemed to be as thin as aluminum foil, but not
as flexible. Glenn particularly noticed two chunks, each of
which seemed to be between 3 feet and 2.5 feet high, and
“curved like the bottom of a canoe.”

Glenn also noticed odd markings, in some sort of
“hieroglyphic-like” script that was totally unfamiliar. Mr.
Dennis sauntered down the hall of the hospital, heading to
a soda machine — as was customary after bringing in a
patient. Here Glenn had a nasty encounter with an unfamiliar

“Looks like you’ve got an air crash. Should I go back to
town and get my equipment ready?” Glenn casually asked the
officer he saw in the hallway.

“Who the hell are you?” was the response. Glenn introduced
himself and explained his role in handling crash victims.
The response to this was an order to get out of the hospital
and off the base.

Glenn gladly complied and turned to head back down the hall.
He had not gone far when he heard someone scream after him.
“Bring that (man) back here!” And two MPs appeared from
somewhere, grabbed Glenn, and took him back to a red-haired

“Now don’t you go back to Roswell and start shooting off
your mouth about how there’s been a crash out here or…” A
series of threats followed. Glenn said, “You can’t talk to
me like that. I’m a civilian. You haven’t got any say over

“Listen, undertaker, sombody’s gonna be picking your bones
out of the sand.” And the officer ordered the MPs to
personally escort Glenn back to the funeral home, which they
did. On the way down the hall, however, Mr. Dennis had an
interesting encounter with a female nurse he knew. A door
opened to a supply room as Glenn and the MPs went down the
hallway. Out stepped the nurse, whom Glenn had dealt with
at the hospital. She carried a towel over the lower part of
her face. Glenn at first thought she had been crying.

“Glenn, what are you doing here? You’re going to get shot!”
she exclaimed.

“Well, I’m leaving.” He pointed meaningfully to his armed
escort, He noticed that the nurse was followed out of the
supply room by two unfamiliar men, both of whom also had
towels over their noses and mouths. Farther into the supply
room Glenn noticed gurneys.

The next day, that same nurse called Glenn at the funeral home.
The two of them arranged to meet at the Officers Club. It was
there that she unfolded for Glenn an extraordinary tale– a
flying saucer had crashed out in the desert and the Army had
recovered three dead aliens. Two of the bodies were badly
mangled, both by the crash and by predators. One body was in
fairly good condition. All the while, she kept becoming more
and more emotional. Finally, she was openly crying in the club.
Glenn thought it best to take her back to the nurses quarters
on base. After he dropped off the nurse, he never saw or heard
from her again. His later inquiries produced the information
that she was transferred to England. He obtained an address
in England, wrote to her, and received back the letters, which
were stamped “addressee deceased.” He heard that she was killed
in a plane crash.

Talking to Glenn that afternoon in the Officer’s Club, the
nurse provided anatomical details. She said that they were
little, smaller than an adult human. She said that the hands
were different, too, that they only had four fingers with the
middle two protruding longer than the others. She saw no
opposable thumb. She also said that the anatomy of the arm was
different. The bone from the shoulder to the elbow was shorter
than the bone from the elbow to the wrist. The heads were
larger than a human’s. The eyes were large and concave shape.
She said that all the features, the nose and the ears and the
eyes, were slightly concave.

The nurse went on to draw a small sketch of the alien bodies,
using the back of a prescription paper. It showed that the
bodies had four digits on each hand. The end of each digit
consisted of a sort of pad. Mr.Dennis eventually lost this
sketch, but has reproduced his own version.

The nurse also stated that the two men following her out of
the storage room were pathologists from Walter Reed hospital
in Washington, D.C. The nurse explaiined the towels over
their faces. “Until they got those bodies frozen, the smell
was so bad you couldn’t get within 100 feet of them without
gagging.” It was when the nurse stepped out of the room where
she had been assisting two doctors on the bodies, to get some
air, that she ran into Mr.Dennis.

She explained that even the doctors were getting sick, and
the smell was so bad they had to turn off the air conditioning
to keep it from spreading throughout the hospital. Soon, they
gave up trying to work under such conditions and completed the
preparation of the bodies in a hangar.

Stanton T. Friedman, a nuclear physicist who has written
several books and many articles on UFOs, first brought the
UFO crash at Roswell to the attention of the public. Since the
late 1960s, Mr.Friedman, now 59 years old and a resident of
New Brunswick, Canada, has been an active researcher, writer,
and lecturer on UFOs. He has spoken at over 600 colleges in
the United States, Canada, and Europe. He has been on
numerous radio and television shows, such as Sally Jessie
Raphael and Tom Snyder. He first heard about the Roswell
incident while in Louisiana for a radio interview. Someone
at the radio station told him about the late Jesse Marcel, who
then lived in nearby Houma, La.

Marcel told Mr. Friedman that he had been heavilly involved
in the initial retrieval of the wreckage and alien bodies at
Roswell. This information spurred Mr. Friedman to investigate
the incident and the result has been three books, numerous
articles, and a 1989 NBC TV feature on “Unsolved Mysteries.”
It was while he was in New Mexico to film that 1989 TV
episode that Mr. Friedman first met Glenn Dennis.

Mr. Dennis did not seek out Mr. Friedman, but rather Mr.
Friedman used his research skill to track him down. Mr.
Friedman reasoned that there must have been professional
mortuary knowledge used by someone if alien bodies were
recovered. Therefore, he asked sources whether military or
private morticians were used on the base in 1947. When told
that private morticians were used, he found out who– and that
led him to Glenn Dennis.

Mr. Dennis refused to appear of the “Unsolved Mysteries”
show, but he was very willing to speak with Mr. Friedman.

Today, Mr. Dennis is involved with the UFO Museum and
Research Center in Roswell. This facility opened last year
and has already been visited by more than 18,000 people.
The center has numerous books, Research materials, and
exhibit items.

Walter Haut, the 1957 press relations officer at Roswell
Air Base, is also involved in the museum. It was Mr. Haut
who released a press statement at about 11 a.m. on July 8,1947.

“The many rumors regarding the flying discs became a reality
yesterday when the intelligence office of the 509th Bomb Group
of the Eighth Air Force, Roswell Army Air Field, was fortunate
enough to gain possesion of a disc through the cooperation of
one of the local ranchers and the sheriff’s office of Chaves

“The flying object landed on a ranch near Roswell sometime
last week. Not having phone facilities, the rancher stored
the disc until such time as he was able to contact the
sheriff’s office, who in turn notified Major Jesse A. Marcel
of the 509th Bomb Group Intelligence Office.”

“Action was immediately taken and the disc was picked up at
the rancher’s home. It was inspected at the Roswell Army
Air Field and subsequently loaned by Major Marcel to higher

Mr.Haut today maintains that he issued this statement at the
request of the base commander, Col. William H. Blanchard.
Blanchard, according to Mr. Haut, was very interested in
maintaining good relations between the base and the Roswell
community. “If anything unusual happened, or anything he felt
the community should know about, he would call me and say,’Get
this thing out.’ He did that with many, many things.”

There is no doubt in Mr. Haut’s mind that Blanchard and Marcel
were convinced the debris found by the rancher came from
another planet. There is also no doubt in Mr. Haut’s mind
today that Blanchard did not originate the idea of contacting
the press:

“Do you think somebody was ordering Blanchard to
order you to issue the press release?”

“Yes, I do,” said Mr. Haut in a telephone interview on
January 28, 1994. He took the press release to radio station
KGFL and the Roswell Morning Dispatch, which in turn
communicated the story to the wire services. Within an hour,
telephone lines into Roswell and the base were jammed with
calls from all over the world.

Art McQuiddy, then editor of the Roswell Morning Dispatch,
reports that the reaction was almost immediate.

“By the time Haut had gotten to me it hadn’t been 10 minutes
and the phones starting ringing. I didn’t get off the phone
until late that afternoon. I had calls froom London and Paris
and Rome and Hong Kong that I can remember,”he said.

Within hours, an official retraction was released by the
government. Jesse Marcel was brought in to prop up the
official “cover story” that what was found was a weather
ballon. Marcel, in his later years, however, was very
willing to admit that he was ordered by military superiors to
make untrue statements.

The Roswell base was then key in the nuclear bomb strategy
of the U.S. government. The Cold War was just starting, and
World War II had just ended. In those days, when Uncle Sam
said shut up few people asked why. This was particularly the
case in New Mexico, where such sensitive military
installations as Los Alamos and White Sands were located.

The next morning at 6 o’clock, the sheriff went to Glenn’s
parents home and spoke to his father, saying that Glenn
“might” be in trouble. Glenn’s parents related that the
Chavez County sheriff reported that the military had interviewed
him. They became worried their son was in trouble.

The Roswell Daily Record of Tuesday, July 8, and Wednesday,
July 9, 1947, spans the course of the initial press flurry
turning to a cover story. “RAAF Captures Flying Saucer on
Ranch in Roswell Region,” trumpeted the Tuesday headline.
The story stated that Marcel’s recovery of a disc retrieved
“on a ranch in the Roswell vicinity, after an unidentified
rancher had notified Sheriff Geo. Wilcox, here, that he had
found the instrument on his premises.”

Mr. and Mrs. Dan Wilmmot of Roswell are also included in the
same story, recounting their sighting of an oval object that
was about 15 to 20 feet in diameter and about five feet thick,
traveling at 400 to 500 miles per hour in a northwesterly
direction. “In appearance it looked oval in shape like two
inverted saucers faced mouth to mouth, or like two old type
wash bowls placed together in the same fashion. The entire
body glowed as though light were showing through from inside,
though not like it would be if a light were merely underneath,”
they said.

Roswellians were surveyed by the paper as to their opinions
of the story and most thought it was some sort of secret
government craft. The next issue of the Daily Record gives
insight into the excitement stirred up worldwide by
Tuesday’s story. Sheriff Wilcox is photographed talking on
the phone to “a high English official.” However, the story
describes the incident as “the world comedy, which developed
over the purported finding of a flying saucer.”

“The numerous calls from reporters around the world are
mentioned. Wednesday’s headline sets the overall tone:

“Gen. Ramey Empties Roswell Saucer.” Brig. Gen. Roger M.
Ramey, head of the Eighth Air Force, called the remains a
weather balloon, the paper reported.

Weather experts were quoted to the effect that this was
the most likely explanation. A bizarrely written UFO
sighting from Iran is placed above Ramey’s explanation, as
if to ridicule the flying saucer story. The rancher who
found the object, W.W.”Mac” Brazel, is quoted saying, “If
I find anything else besides a bomb they are going to have
a hard time getting me to say anything about it.”

The object is described throughout the article as “a balloon.”
This, on the surface of it, seemed to put the matter to rest.
It is interesting to note a tiny item just above the Brazel
story, which mentions a meeting between U.S. Senator Carl A.
Hatch, of New Mexico, and Presicent Truman on July 9. While
it was described as being “just a personal visit,” a former
employee of the Roswell radio station who interviewed Mac
Brazel said that the station owner received a call from the
office of New Mexico’s other U.S.Senator, Dennis Chavez,
warning him not to broadcast the interview if he wanted his
license renewed.

It is now known that Lt. Gen. Nathan F. Twining, the
commander of Air Material Command, headquartered at Wright
Field in Ohio, made a sudden visit to Alamogordo Army Air
Field in New Mexico on July 7, 1947. This was a short drive
from Roswell. On the next day, Glenn Dennis received his
mysterious phone calls and made his visit to the base.

Twining later on became the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Neither Mr. Haut nor Co. Blanchard suffered any career
repercussions. Mr. Haut, prior to the incident, had already
decided to retire from the military and settle in Roswell,
which he did in 1948. Col. Blanchard went on to become a
general. Marcel went on to do research on the Soviet nuclear
program. When President Truman announced that the Soviet
Union had exploded a nuclear bomb, the report he read to
the public was written by Jesse Marcel.

As to where the bodies of the aliens are today, Stanton
Friedman says: “It is anybody’s guess.” The nurse who spoke
with Glenn in the Officer’s Club said she believed the
bodies ended up in Ohio. Numerous rumors have circulated
for years concerning the alleged presence of alien bodies
at Wright Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio.
Stanton Friedman believes the bodies may have been studied
for a time at a private clinic in Albuquerque, N.M.

It was also reported that the Fort Worth, Texas,
headquarters of the Eighth Air Force and Gen. Ramey, was
the first destination of the crate containing the bodies
after it left Roswell. The bombardier of the plane that
transported the crate reported the flight was met in Fort
Worth by, among others, a man the bombardier personally
knew to be a mortician. The identity of this mortician
is unknown.

However, the identity of the other mortician who played a
role in this event is well-known. Glenn Dennis has neither
sought notoriety nor tried to hide from researchers. He
has an interesting story to tell, as do others involved
in the same event now willing to talk about it in their
sunset years.

Would arterial embalming work on an extraterrestrial?
Embalming fluid uses formalin, which changes the chemical
composition of protein by acting on nitrogen. All life
forms on earth are protein-based organisms. If alien
bodies were recovered, and if they were protein-based
organisms, then preservation could have been achieved.

No funeral was held for the remains of these stranded
travelers. However, the book “The Roswell Incident” by
Charles Berlitz and William L. Moore, contains an account
of the government’s providing a private viewing for a
member of the clergy. This book includes a letter
allegedly written on April 19, 1954, which describes a
February 20, 1954, visit to Edwards Air Force Base in
California by President Eisenhower to view the bodies
of alien pilots of a crashed UFO. Bishop (later Cardinal)
James F.A. McIntyre of Los Angeles, Edward Nourse of the
Brookings Institute, and journalist Franklin Allen were
also permitted to view the bodies. The letter goes on to
say that Eisenhower was about to “go directly to the
people via radio and television” to spill the beans on
UFOs. Evidently, he changed his mind, or else the letter
is a fraud.

It should be mentioned that there is a point of
controversy within the community of UFO researchers as to
whether there were two or just one UFO crash in New Mexico
in July 1947. Stanton Friedman believes that another UFO
(with more alien bodies) was recovered on the plains of
San Agustin–about 150 miles to the west of Roswell, New
Mexico. It is thought that these two vehicles may have
collided. Other UFO researchers — specifically Donald
Schmidt — believe that the Roswell crash was the only such
incident to occur in New Mexico at that time.

Some also believe that after the Roswell crash, a
supersecret government group called Majestic 12 was
established to oversee all UFO-related events. Mr.
Friedman has done extensive research into the subject,
the results of which are found in his book “Crash at
Corona”. He has studied documents allegedly generated by
this secret group, and believes them genuine.

A made-for-TV movie, “Roswell,” was broadcast last July.
Mr. Haut was an advisor for the movie.


Thanks to Glenn Dennis, Walter Haut, and the UFO Museum in
Roswell,N.M.; Stanton Friedman, Fredericton, New Brunswick,
Canada; Richard Heiden, Milwaukee; Richard Nelson,
Mid-America College of Mortuary Science; Prof. John Salter,
University of North Dakota at Grand Forks; and Gary Sime,
Readstown, Wis.


Berlitz, Charles,and Moore, William L.,”The Roswell Incident”,
Berkley Books, New York, 1988.

Friedman, Stanton, and Berliner, Don, “Crash at Corona”,
Paragon House, New York.

Schmidt, Donald, and Randle, Kevin, “UFO Crash at Roswell”,
Avon Books, New York, 1992


10/19/2007 08:42 AM

The Bee Thing-Locally


By John H. Sime

(An edited version of this appeared in the Kickapoo Free Press newspaper in Viroqua, Wis. in June 2007)


Honey bee hives generally see a 20% winter die off each year. This year, however, 40%, 50% even 70% die offs are reported in the United States , nine European nations, and most recently
Taiwan. A new term has been created by scientists to describe this new phenomenon: “Colony Collapse Disorder”.

Vernon County Extension Agent Tim Rehbein acknowledges the existence of the bee die off in other parts of the nation, but has not heard of the condition in the Kickapoo area. He believes it is largely a phenomenon of stress caused by the transport of huge bee colonies in semi trucks throughout the nation to facilitate the pollination process as it develops throughout the year, throughout the nation.  When quoted the oft heard line of Albert Einstein that if honey bees were to become extinct that the human race would follow within four year he also points out that other insects beside honey bees facilitate pollination—sweat bees and wasps specifically. There are also plants that pollinate using the wind, rainwater, and birds. Nevertheless, he points out, honey bees pollinate about 1/3 of our crops.

            Charles and Karen Lorence of Auroa, Ill. and
Lynxville, Wis., are retired school teachers who started beekeeping in 1971.  Charles teaches courses on beekeeping and Karen writes articles for “Bee World” magazine.  Karen says that this is not the first year to see heavy die offs. While they have experienced no major loss this year, last year they lost 85 out of 126 hives. “This year the big migratory guys suffered so it becomes news.” Karen says. She believes that the culprit is a virus carried by varroa mites.

Harriet Behar, of Gays Mill,s can wax poetic about this amazing creature:  “Bees have a special thing in their brain that makes them go out to get pollin to make food for their young.  They only fly on sunny days, they follow the sun to get home to exactly the same hive.”  But she speak with concern about Colony Collapse Disorder: “ Now bees are not even coming home. They are getting lost and not coming home.”  In her opinion, the cause might be genetically modified corn. For the past eight years, farmers in the
U.S. have been planting genetically modified corn which contains a pesticide incorporated with the DNA of the plant. This pesticide contains a neuro-toxin—bacterus thurengensis—which might be brought back to the young bees in the hive, who then grow up without to ability to find their way back home.      

Linda Moulton Howe of reports however that the condition is appearing in countries such as
England which has banned the genetically modified crops. She says research done in a new type of pesticide called neo-nicotinoids indicates that bee memory may be affected by these chemicals first heavily used in the past four years. To the best of her knowledge this has not yet occurred in the southern hemisphere, including Australia and
New Zealand.

            At this point, it is perhaps too early to reach a conclusion on the cause of Colony Collapse Disorder. Nevertheless, while is probably does not presage the end of the world it will inevitably cause higher food prices for crops pollinated by bees.


News Headlines

Billy Graham


billy-graham.jpgarticle here

The Rev. Billy Graham, a North Carolina farmer’s son who preached to millions in stadium events he called crusades, becoming a pastor to presidents and the nation’s best-known Christian evangelist for more than 60 years, died on Wednesday at his home. He was 99.

Glen Campbell


buried in small town of Delight, Arkansas

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Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher die one day apart



“Carrie Fisher died Tuesday, at age 60, following a heart-related medical emergency on a flight from London to Los Angeles on Friday. Her death was followed almost immediately by Reynolds’ death from an apparent stroke on Wednesday while she was meeting with Todd to plan Carrie’s funeral.” from USA Today story

Hugh O’Brian dies at 91


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Merle Haggard


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Merle Haggard dies on 79th birthday


Patty Duke


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Patty Duke dies  in Idaho patty-duke.jpg

Yogi Berra


go here


Martin Milner


martin-milner.jpgGo here

In “Route 66,” which ran from 1960 to 1964, Milner played Tod Stiles, a restless young man who wandered the country with buddy Buz Murdock (later Lincoln Case) in a Corvette convertible, taking odd jobs and helping local people with their struggles.Inspired by Jack Kerouac’s novel “On the Road,” the show tackled social issues and filmed in locations all over the country, reflecting the rise of American car culture and the interstate highway system.

Betsy Palmer


 (November 1, 1926 – May 29, 2015)

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Elroy “Crazylegs” Hirsch dies


crazylegs-hirsch-photo.jpggo here