Monday, October 27, 2008

Undertaker Tries to Save a Young Man's Life
Here is an inpiring story of undertakers giving back to their community and trying to save a young man from a life of violence.- from the KansasCity Star
Morticians try to save a young man’s life by making him face death
By MARY SANCHEZ The Kansas City Star
Frank Harvey absently picks a speck of lint from the forehead of his childhood friend. A parting gesture for yet another familiar corpse.
His 16-year-old counterpart, one of two black teenagers killed by gunfire in Kansas City, is lying faceup on the embalming table at the Duane E. Harvey Funeral Home.
Frank is 18 and spends much of his time at the south Kansas City funeral home, his days carefully overseen through the tutelage of a cadre of older black men. So similar most of their lives, now the two teens couldn’t be more distant: One his chest splayed open post-autopsy, the other standing at the foot of the stainless-steel table in a white shirt, tie and suit vest.
“The young people who come through here,” Frank says, “I know the majority of who they were and what they were about.”
He’s not boasting. The adage that six degrees separates all people must be adjusted for Kansas City. More like three degrees here, a town where people seem less apt to move away. Winnow it to one degree among black people born to the city’s East Side.
Frank has just covered his friend’s body with a velvet maroon drape and ushered the young man’s father and other family members in for a viewing. Frank’s mother used to date the young man’s uncle.
If Sunday is the most racially segregated day of the week for church services, funeral homes are an extension of that separateness. The Harvey funeral home also marks a class division. This is where the vast majority of black murder victims are taken.
And Larry Love is the mortician who for nearly 20 years has seen to their final care. It used to be that Love prepared the bodies of former classmates from Southeast High School, crossing out their pictures in an old yearbook. Now he’s busy burying those people’s children.
Love, 40, is among the men attempting to keep Frank from winding up on the table. But don’t assume it’s the gore of embalming that Love is banking on. Autopsied murder victims don’t faze Frank — [He] has seen his share of blood and guts, some of it caused by his own hands. He was certified as an adult, served two years on an involuntary manslaughter charge and was released in July. A far-too-old-for-him girlfriend had bought a gun, and Frank’s cousin ended up dead.
No, something far less tangible is what Love and the other men at the funeral home are counting on to save Frank: their caring concern, displayed minute by minute through the day. They form a force field of admonishments, running commentary and, most importantly, geographic distance from the urban core. Frank stays with Duane Harvey at night in his Raytown home and has even begun using the Harvey last name.
And so a recent Monday began a familiar routine: Love preparing the bodies of two more young black men killed in violence, Frank as his assistant.
Embalming is hard physical labor. Formaldehyde comes in gel, powder (mixed with sawdust) and liquid forms. Love will use all of them that day.
Frank wheels the gurney carrying the body into the room. It is the 17-year-old whom his friend was near when he also got shot.
Love tosses off the remains of the heavy black body bag, talking to Frank as he fills the empty chest cavity with water from a half-inch hose. He has long wished that viewing the impact of gunshot blasts would affect young people. “Do you think seeing this would help?” he says, putting his index finger into bullet holes, counting, “One, two, three, four, five … .”
“Nah, they’d glorify it. Put it on their MySpace page or something,” Frank replies.
“Let’s just say this young man had some sort of job — would he be here?” Love asks as he forces a long metal wand through the corpse, injecting liquid embalming fluid.
Love believes in work for teenagers. Like the “Joy Jobs” he had as a youth, an old city program that gave him cash for cool clothes and kept him busy and out of trouble by hauling trash. Another urban connection: The husband of the woman who taught Love much of what he knows about embalming helped design that job program.
“ ‘If a man don’t work, he shouldn’t eat,’ that’s what my mother used to say,” Love says.
Willie Love, Larry’s uncle, pops his head into the room, just checking. He’s sharply dressed in a suit.
“If anything ever happened to Frank, it would kill us all,” the older man says, making sure he catches Frank’s eye. Then he reaches out and shakes Frank’s hand, a gesture he will do three times in the next five minutes. A gentleman’s love touch to a young man.
“Give me two more,” Love calls to Frank. Frank goes to the cabinet, retrieves the pint bottles and pours formaldehyde into what looks like a Crock-Pot atop a stainless base.
The talk turns to the lost generations in some black families; mothers teaching their daughters to be prostitutes, others sharing drugs with their kids, the adults telling the kids to retaliate when a family member is murdered. Frank pipes in with examples.
“I don’t care how bad your parents are, that should not make you want to go out and have the life of crime,” Love says.
Love scissors a long piece of linen cord from a spool and holds it high above his head as he double-threads it through a long, curved needle. He’s ready to sew up the body, taking long, carefully drawn-under stitches.
“The streets are calling him,” Love says of Frank. “They already took his father.”
Frank shrugs, looks to the floor, his easy grin gone. Frank was 8 when his father died, 1998’s 21st murder victim. “His father was a nice guy, but he was involved with the gangs, and it cost him his life,” Love says.
His eyes scanning the floor, Frank says he never really knew what happened. The cops never said.
The conversation shifts to drugs. Frank has examples there, too. Young kids popping Ecstasy, later graduating to other drugs.
The advent of crack cocaine in the mid-’80s coincided with the young people beginning to kill one another, Love says.
“Johnson County just thinks this is all Jackson County’s problem,” he says, his voice rising. “But it’s all our problem. If you come down here to get high, to get your drugs, you’re just as complicit. Ain’t no guns manufactured at 39th and Prospect, either.”
He is washing the body now, taking care to rinse thoroughly, then patting it dry with a cloth. He knows family soon will be hugging and kissing this young man at his funeral.
“I’ll never give up hope on my people,” Love says. “Us as a people, this stuff isn’t our nature. We could have quit in the hull of that ship coming over toward slavery, but we didn’t.”
Frank has taken the wrist portion of a rubber glove and made a band he plays with as he sways back and forth in a swivel chair. But he’s listening.
“When Frank makes it, it will be his job to reach back and save someone else,” Love says, looking toward his young charge. “That’s how you save a community, one person at a time.”
He nods to Frank, motions to a gurney in the hall and says, “I’m ready for the next one.”

And at the End, All the Comforts of the Carlyle

Even those of us who aren't socialites can learn a lot from this story from the New York Times. Spending your last days in a place where you feel alive and comfortable makes an enormous difference for the person dying and for their family. As a funeral director, I have heard many many times what a difference it made for a person to die in peace and dignity either at home or in an inpatient hospice facility. While $17,000.00 for a month at the Carlyle may seem expensive, spending your last days in a hospital would be more expensive and a lot less meaningful.

October 22, 2008
And at the End, All the Comforts of the Carlyle
Marie-Dennett McDill loved the Carlyle Hotel. She stayed there whenever she was in New York, and adored the regular entertainers like Bobby Short and Eartha Kitt at the Café Carlyle, and the pianist Loston Harris in the lively Bemelmans Bar. She loved the uniformed elevator men and bellmen and the family of longtime staff. She loved that Central Park was only a short block away.
So when Mrs. McDill, who grew up in society in Washington and was enjoying an outdoors life in South Woodstock, Vt., learned she had terminal cancer this summer, her family immediately booked her a suite on the eighth floor for an open-ended stay, but one they sadly knew would not be open-ended enough.
“The family came to me and said, ‘We want to check her in till the very end,’ ” said Alexandra E. Tscherne, director of residences at the Carlyle. “It was a unique request, one I’ve never had previously. They wanted her set up in one of her favorite places, and they didn’t know how long it would last.”
It lasted 10 weeks. Mrs. McDill died in her sleep in the Carlyle last Wednesday.
Mrs. McDill was youthful and full of energy at 71 and spent her days outdoors gardening and painting, so it was shocking to her three children when she learned at the beginning of August that she had a fast-spreading cancer.
“It wasn’t a fight for life anymore, but a matter of time,” said her son Thomas Gardner.
The family hired 24-hour hospice care, but Mrs. McDill, at least until the very end, was in sufficient mental and physical shape to enjoy her final stay at the Carlyle. The hotel, at Madison Avenue and 76th Street, is one of New York’s most luxurious, with a long list of celebrities, presidents and royalty who have stayed or lived there.
Even as she was dying, she would take walks in Central Park in the daytime, and in the evening sit in a back booth in Bemelmans Bar, looking at the whimsical illustrations of New York City on the wall by the artist Ludwig Bemelmans, best known for the Madeline children’s books, and listening to Mr. Harris play. She loved Cole Porter, and she would pass requests to the waiter.
The family hired Mr. Harris to play Mrs. McDill’s favorite songs at her memorial service at St. Bartholomew’s Church on Park Avenue on Saturday. It was a sophisticated, poignant and kick-up-your-heels affair, almost like something out of a Cole Porter song. Mr. Harris played “Just One of Those Things” and “I’ve Got You Under My Skin.”
Month-to-month suites at the Carlyle are always expensive, but less so during the summer months, when they cost about $17,000 a month.
The family hired two attendants from Brooklyn to care for Mrs. McDill: Rose Marie Moore and her sister Shirley Innis. In the evenings, Ms. Moore would sing spirituals for Mrs. McDill.
“She would put her head back and close her eyes and ask me to sing ‘Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.’ She’d say, ‘Give me the long version, Rose,’ ” said Ms. Moore, who took the subway from East New York to stay in the Carlyle with Mrs. McDill.

Ms. Moore sang “Swing Low” again at the memorial service on Saturday, and family members recalled Mrs. McDill as hardly the demure society type, but more like a Katharine Hepburn character.
After the memorial service, some of her friends said they were rethinking their own send-offs.
“People came up to me and said, ‘We’re changing our plans for our funeral — we want it to be fun,” Thomas Gardner said. “The only sad thing was that Mom wanted to keep living.”
-from the New York times. for the full article, visit

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Irish Wakes Online

IRISH WAKES have gone online. Ireland’s first online memorial site, launched in recent weeks, offers families and friends of dead people an opportunity to record the life stories and their memories of loved ones in words, pictures and video. The site is the brainchild of business partners Hugh O’Donnell and Joe McGuiggan.
Contributors can tell the story of their nearest and dearest by uploading anecdotes, shared memories, photos, music and video clips. Mr O’Donnell, a restaurant and bar owner in Killybegs, Co Donegal, said: “The site continues online the tradition of the Irish wake where stories are told and memories shared.”
Co-director Mr McGuiggan, a Derry-based Library Service Executive, said: “Irish people have a strong love for remembering their dead as seen by attendance at wakes, putting memorials into newspapers and by sending out memorial cards. “They now have the opportunity to tell the life story of their loved one in a very visual and interactive way, and record it for future generations to appreciate.”
The website allows the person who creates the tribute to have editorial control of all shared memories which come in from friends and family. Nothing can be added without being screened by the tribute controller. -from The Irish Times- for the full article visit
Here are some photos and memories that have been shared on the site
I remember Noble as my adventurous brother always ready for a laugh.He once scared me half to death driving me to meet my father in Grange and told me the car brakes weren't working. He enjoyed seeing me squirm the whole journey. He lived life to the full and packed so much into 38yrs. We all miss him so much. Lets all try and be like him and enjoy every moment we have.

It was a great night of celebration as Bernie treated all her friends to drinks galore as she watched her 5 numbers come up on the national Lottery. It was to her dismay on returning home to check her numbers to learn she hadn't done the lotto that particular week, but the week before. Always professional, she kept the sunny side up and accepted congratulations from all asunder on her good luck during the following weeks. Much missed and often thought of. x

One of my fondest memories of my father was the time he made me a weather cock. I was in 3rd class in Niall Mor N.S when one day we were doing a geography lesson which featured a picture of a weather cock in the textbook. At the end of the class the teacher announced that each of us was to bring in a weather cock the next day. At the time my father was very busy with lambing but he never complained when I told him what the teacher wanted. That night as I was going to bed he was out in the cold bottling shed measuring and hammering. The next morning there was a fully functional weather cock on the kitchen table. When I arrived at school I was the only one with a weather cock and it was given pride of place on a pillar in the school yard. I was so proud of my father. In later years I was in Boarding School in Ballyshannon. Whenever there was a concert or school play on where I was taking part he would always travel from Killybegs to support me. Sometimes I used to be embarrassed to see the old brown wolsley car arriving smelling of sheep dip and bits of hay sticking out the back. But now I have treasured memories of the sacrifices he made and the greatest love he showed me by giving of his time. Deirdra. x

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Obituaries of Note: Soer Emmanuelle

Soeur Emmanuelle - who became a chat show star late in life but spent much of it helping rubbish sweepers in the slums of Cairo - died on Sunday, less than a month before her 100th birthday.
Born Madeleine Cinquin in Brussels in 1908, she appeared in recent years alongside the likes of Zinedine Zidane and far more glamorous women as one of France's best-loved figures.
But she never let her fame get to her head: "They're not going to ask for my popularity ranking at the gates of heaven. No one is going to inscribe my score on my tombstone," she once said.
With Catholicism in free fall, the popularity of the bespectacled, hunched and wizened figure of Emmanuelle, who was often likened to Mother Theresa, has led to suggestions that the French are thirsty for philanthropic values in a consumer-obsessed society.
Renowned for her no-nonsense, maverick approach to religious orthodoxy, Emmanuelle approved contraception and the idea of priests marrying, and always kept her charity work independent of the church.
She raised puritanical eyebrows this summer by admitting to dancing into the night with dapper boys during the interwar years, falling in love with a man for his seductive intellect and lusting after the latest fashions.
"I'm no saint," she declared in a set of memoirs published this summer called I'm 100 Years Old and I'd Like to Tell You ...
Revealing the naughty nun behind her lifelong devotion to charity and Catholicism, she admitted to being torn early on between the desire for "immediate pleasure" and her religious calling. "I loved dancing, preferably with nice-looking boys. My mother used to say to me, 'You want boys to like you, to surround you, to admire you. And if you become a nun ... ' And I would tell her, 'For God, I will leave the boys alone'." -from the Telegraph

Cairo Slum

[I]n1929, after studying religion and philosophy at the Sorbonne, she entered the order of Notre-Dame de Sion.
These nuns ran several renowned French schools around the Mediterranean. Emmanuelle worked in Istanbul, Tunis and Alexandria. For nearly four decades she taught the daughters of wealthy families. This was a long way from her childhood dreams of helping the poor, or even martyrdom.
In fact it was retirement that enabled Emmanuelle to fulfil that dream. With the blessing of her superiors, she settled in Cairo at the age of 62, hoping to succour the lepers. When this proved impossible (too many official obstacles), she settled for the rag-pickers, and was soon living in a metal hut in the city slums at Ezbet el-Nakhl.
It was a squalid, brutal world of rats, lice and poverty, of cheap alcohol and of violence between children and against women. Sœur Emmanuelle, as she soon became known, taught the children to read, helped mothers to regain their footing and their pride, took children to see the Nile. She opened a dispensary and kindergarten. The countless examples of male negligence and brutality made her a staunch feminist. Her experience led her to the conclusion that has since been spread by so many organisations and experts: education and the liberation of women are the best hope of poor countries.
At first, the majority of her flock were Copts, but she was soon working with Muslims as well, and refused to let religion get in the way of human need. On her door was a cross and crescent moon, with the words “God is love”. She worked tirelessly to bring the religious communities together.
“Respect those who think differently,” was one of her favourite maxims. Later she would be one of the rare public figures to speak out against the French Government’s ban on wearing the veil, and on the creeping association of Islam with fanaticism:
“Today, if I were a Christian at school, I’d wear the veil simply out of a spirit of freedom,” she said.

Cairo Slum

Soeur Emmanuelle revieves the Legion d'Honneur in 1987

As her activities developed, in Egypt and across the world, she began travelling tirelessly to raise funds through her association, Les Amis de Sœur Emmanuelle. Obsequious she was not. At one meeting in Geneva, she told her smart audience: “If I can’t find the $30,000, I’ll just have to do a hold-up.”
Sœur Emmanuelle made her first appearance on French television in 1990, and her mixture of infectious enthusiasm, humour and the unquenched moral indignation with which she laid into bourgeois complacency and political corruption soon made her a firm favourite, identified by her uniform of grey blouse, grey headscarf and black trainers.
It may be her candour and unorthodox behaviour that prompted her superiors to put pressure on her to leave Egypt. She did so in 1993, with the greatest reluctance — “I wish I could have died surrounded by my rag-pickers”. She moved to a retirement home for nuns in Callian, Var, in south east France. However, even at 85, she continued to travel and to campaign against poverty.

She wrote several books about her experiences, her faith and her cause:
  • Richesse de la pauvreté (The Riches of Poverty, 2001)
  • Secrets de vie (Secrets of Life, 2000)
  • Yalla les jeunes (Come on, you young people!, 1997)
  • Le paradis, c'est les autres (Heaven is other people, 1995), and..
  • J’ai cent ans et je voudrais vous dire (I’m a hundred years old, and I want to tell you, August 2008).

A spokesman for the Asmae-Association said she was not suffering from any illness when she died, but was tired.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Behind the Collar: Funerals from the Vicar's perspective

David Keen is a vicar in Yeovil who also writes a blog. Here is his perspective on the funeral process.

Taking a funeral is one of the hardest things I do. Having two in one day on Tuesday all but wiped me out for the rest of the week. It starts with a phone call from the undertakers - we have some very good ones in Yeovil, and it's no reflection on them that my heart sinks every time they ring up. Taking someone's funeral is an immense privilege, but I'd be lying if I said it was my favourite part of being a vicar. A few details down the phone, then you ring the family to arrange to meet up. Having to ring someone you've never met, out of the blue, to express condolence and to fix a meeting normally means I put the call off for a day. I'd be hopeless in telesales, ringing people up isn't something I find very easy, never mind judging exactly what to say.

The Visit

Then we meet, and most of the time is spent scribbling down notes - often folk launch into their summary of the deceased persons life before you've even sat down, and it's vital to capture all of those words. I always breathe a sigh of relief if someone from the family offers to give the tribute, because if they don't then it's my job to stand up and tell the life story - usually a story of a person I've never known or met. Normally in the funeral service I'm very up front with the fact that I didn't know the person, and that I'm not going to pretend that I knew them. At one funeral, of the youngest of 6 brothers, each of the other 5 had written down their own words for the vicar to say, and my job was to edit all 5 accounts together and deliver the tribute. They bought me a pint afterwards, so it must have gone okay. I try to use the words that mourners themselves use, rather than try to read between the lines - this isn't a time for guessing games. At the funeral visit you're trying to gauge mood as well: emotions can range all over the place. Family splits come to the surface, and the occasional skeleton emerges from the closet. There's a whole mix of emotions: grief, relief, numbness, anger, exhilaration, guilt, you name it. And for the bereaved, questions. Did we do enough for them? Were we there at the moment of death? Is it ok to feel relieved that they're not suffering any more? Is it ok to feel relieved that we don't have to look after them 24/7 any more? And for the vicar, how do you reassure people truthfully when you don't really know the circumstances?

The Service

The funeral service is normally booked into a 30 minute slot at the crematorium. That actually means 20 minutes for the service itself. One of the first ones I took had so many mourners that we were still filling the building 10 minutes after the start time. There's normally both laughter and tears at a 'good' funeral - both are ways of releasing grief, and the incredible pressure and weight that can build up. Funny stories are great. It's a fine line - you want to celebrate the good things in someone's life, as well as recognise the deep grief and loss that people are feeling. Being remorselessly downbeat isn't helpful, being chirpy isn't helpful either. There are some standard Bible readings for funerals, but where possible I try to find something new, which linked to the persons life: for a man who had worked on trawlers at Grimsby, we had an encounter between Jesus and Peter the fisherman. If folk have asked for a vicar, and a Christian funeral, then I want to set everything in the context of the Christian faith. Old, familiar words (Psalm 23, the Lords Prayer) often help, but also how you say them. Sometimes it feels like you're having faith and hope on behalf of other people who haven't got them, but need someone to have more faith than they do. Over the years I've become more challenging - trying to pick out the things in the deceased's life that folk can be inspired by, trying to give some sense of hope or direction for the future. For many people a funeral reminds them of their own mortality, how long they might have left (especially at an untimely death), and how they're going to be remembered. What are people going to say about you at your funeral?

And then...

The service is a threshold, a final farewell, a marker post in the grief journey, and if you botch it then you can really mess people up. I'm all for children being in the service if they want to come - kids who are kept away when they wanted to be there will often feel a strong sense of unfinished business. And it's over in no time, people are filing out, shaking hands, looking at the messages on the flowers, wondering quite what to say to each other. And for the vicar it's back to the little office to take off your robes, pack everything away, and head off to the next thing. My journey home on Tuesday morning took me via the parent and toddler group - from one end of life to the other in 5 minutes

David Keen is a vicar in Yeovil with a brief to start new churches and explore 'new ways of being church'. visit his blog for the complete text of this post at

Monday, October 20, 2008

Obituaries of Note: Frank Rosenthal
Lefty Rosenthal, Kingpin in Las Vegas, Dies at 79
Published: October 18, 2008
On the evening of Oct. 4, 1982, Lefty Rosenthal, the talented professional gambler and gangster-when-necessary who had brought sports betting to casinos in Las Vegas and illicitly run an empire of four hotel casinos, walked out of Tony Roma’s on East Sahara Avenue with an order of takeout ribs. He had just finished dinner with some fellow handicappers, and he was bringing the food home for his two children. When he got into his car, it blew up.
Mr. Rosenthal survived the explosion — later he could not remember whether he had turned the ignition key — but the attempt on his life, for which no one was ever prosecuted, ended his career as one of the most powerful men in Las Vegas. He left the city early the next year and on Monday, at home in Miami Beach, he died. He was 79 and had lived in Florida since the late 1980s.
Mr. Rosenthal’s rise and fall in Las Vegas, which took place over a mere 14 years, was at the center of Nicholas Pileggi’s 1995 book “Casino,” and the subsequent film of the same name, directed by Martin Scorsese, though in the movie, the account was somewhat fictionalized. (Mr. Rosenthal’s character, played by Robert DeNiro, was named Ace Rothstein.) He began his career as a horse player, oddsmaker and studiously disciplined sports bettor in Chicago, where his nonviolent but illegal enterprises were protected by the mobsters he made money for.
After various run-ins with the law in Chicago and in Florida, he moved to Las Vegas in 1968. Six years later, he was working in a relatively unimportant position on the staff of the Stardust Hotel and Casino when he was placed, effectively, in control of it, and three other hotels owned by a company known as the Argent Corporation, by the mafiosi who controlled the pension fund for the Teamsters union, which had financed Argent’s purchase of the hotel.
Allen Glick, the man who owned Argent, was surprised to learn he had to take orders from one of his own employees, a discovery that came about in a conversation with Mr. Rosenthal in October 1974.
Mr. Glick recounted it to Mr. Pileggi this way:
“He said, ‘It is about time you become informed of what is going on here and where I am coming from and where you should be. I was placed in this position not for your benefit, but for the benefit of others, and I have been instructed not to tolerate any nonsense from you, nor do I have to listen to what you say, because you are not my boss.’ ”
Mr. Glick’s recollection continued: “He said, ‘When I say you don’t have a choice, I am just not talking of an administrative basis, but I am talking about one involving health. If you interfere with any of the casino operations or try to undermine anything I want to do here, I represent to you that you will never leave this corporation alive.’ ”
Frank Rosenthal was born in Chicago on June 12, 1929; his father was a produce wholesaler who also owned horses, and young Frank hung out at the track and devoured the Racing Form. He learned sports betting, he said, in the bleachers at Chicago’s baseball stadiums, Wrigley Field and Comiskey Park, where spectators bet on everything: “Every pitch. Every swing. Everything had a price.”
His nickname, from childhood, was of the simplest origin; he was left-handed. Nonetheless, the story persists that it resulted from his testimony in 1961 in front of a Congressional subcommittee on gambling and organized crime, during which he invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself 37 times, refusing to answer the simplest of questions, including whether he was left-handed.
He was a clothes horse whose closet was said to contain 200 pairs of pants; a whiz with numbers, especially savantlike in figuring odds; a notorious egomaniac who at one time wrote a subliterate gossip column for The Las Vegas Sun; and was host of a late-night talk show on local television, on which he interviewed celebrities like Frank Sinatra, Wayne Newton, O. J. Simpson and Minnesota Fats, and railed against the Nevada gaming commission.
He was an obsessively detail-oriented businessman who made sure that every blueberry muffin coming out of the Stardust kitchen had at least 10 blueberries in it, and, Mr. Pileggi said in an interview Friday, among other innovations, was the first casino operator to seek out and hire women as dealers.
And he was a sucker for pretty girls, especially a former show girl and topless dancer named Geri McGee, whom he married in 1969 and spent the next several years tormenting and being tormented by.
Their increasingly tempestuous marriage, marred by infidelities on both sides, ended in 1980. Ms. McGee’s affair with Tony (the Ant) Spilotro, a violent gangster who had been a boyhood friend of her husband’s, was among the many personal and professional tangles that brought Mr. Rosenthal down; it was a central plot element of the film “Casino,” in which Ms. McGee’s character, Ginger McKenna, was played by Sharon Stone and Mr. Spilotro’s, Nicky Santoro, by Joe Pesci. Ms. McGee died after a mysterious collapse in 1982, just weeks after the car bombing. She and Mr. Rosenthal had two children, Steven and Stephanie, who survive him.
Mr. Rosenthal struggled in vain to obtain the license that would have allowed him to run the Stardust and other casinos openly and legally; the gaming commission refused him because of suspected connections to the mob, which he always denied. He won one ruling in the mid-1970s, but it was eventually overturned, and in 1988 he was listed in the commission’s “black book,” barring him from casinos forever.
Still, there was no denying his impact on the city which, when he arrived, was barely interested in sports betting. The casinos did not handle it; sports books, as they are called, operated in free-standing buildings. But Mr. Rosenthal established the prototype at the Stardust in 1976, with plush seating and myriad television screens, bringing a comfort and glamour to the kind of betting that had always been treated as a little bit sleazy.
“He was a fascinating guy,” Mr. Pileggi said. “Really smart, a real ‘Rain Man’ type with numbers; he didn’t need an adding machine. He wasn’t a gangster, really, but he was part of a world where that was the means of control. I liked him a lot.”
He paused, perhaps reconsidering a bit.
“He really didn’t like the law,” Mr. Pileggi said. “He was always talking about how much he had to pay cops to leave him alone and then they’d arrest him anyway. He thought if they were bribed, they should stay bribed.”
Damien Cave contributed reporting. -from the New York times

Saturday, October 18, 2008

World's Oldest Cremation Site

Following is an excerpt from a Mainichi Daily News article about the discovery of an ancient cremation site in Syria. What I find most interesting is that the amount of wood required to accomplish the cremation, and the fact that non-cremated bodies were also found, indicate that cremation was a very expensive and thus high status method of disposition in the Neolithic age. Of course, today, many people choose cremation because it is seen as inexpensive and simple.
from the article-Human bones in the pit that was used for cremations at the Tell el-Kerkh complex in Syria, in this photograph provided courtesy of professor Akira Tsuneki. The characters at the top of the photograph read "other bones" and those at the bottom read "skull bones."
The Tell el-Kerkh find is believed to be the world's oldest cremation site with both cremated bones and the pits used for cremation.
Four pits measuring about 1 meter in diameter and 50 to 80 centimeters in depth were found, together with the remains of 47 people. Of those, about 20 had been cremated. In two locations that were investigated, the cremated remains of about five people had been buried. There were no remains in a third area that was investigated, but the earthen walls were burned and hardened, and there were cremated remains nearby.
"About a ton of wood was needed for cremation, and the fact that some people were cremated and others weren't suggested that it was people with a certain status who were cremated," Tsuneki said.
"The Neolithic age was a time when hierarchies started to appear and the elite emerged," Sato said. "These are extremely important archaeological sites."

Virtual Funeral Part 2

Since my first post on Virtual Funerals, I have come across several more. Here are some highlights: First is a tribute page for the virtual friends of a virtual character whose real life counterpart died. This site includes many links to places where 'The Sojourner" spent her time, and many shared memories and eulogies posted by her friends. This is very similar to the phenomenon of tribute pages that are posted for real people, and Myspace pages that perhaps began when a person was alive, but continue after death as memorial pages.
Next is a screen shot of a virtual anniversary memorial service, and a friend's thoughts upon the occasion:
Tonight in SL is the one year memorial service for Kelise Hailey, she was a young transsexual woman whose struggle became to much for her to bare. She committed suicide. She was my friend.
I owe my own life to Kelise. When she left us I was in a very dark place, torn between this world and something else. Losing her fixed my resolve to stay for good. No matter how low and depressed I feel, no matter what happens in my life. I made her a silent promise and I will keep it. I keep a candle lit for her in SL to remind me that no matter what happens, no matter how dark the days might seem for me or anyone else. You're never truly alone.
When I'm quiet and alone my thoughts often drift to her, a year on and I still can't hold back the tears. I miss you Kelise.

Finally, here are some thoughts shared on the passing of another SecondLifer, and his virtual memorial service:
Most of you out there will have probably known of an internet friend who passes away. Someone whom you never met but who you spoke to, argued with, laughed with and generally had some form of conversation with. You may not have known them other than a name on a board or you have have shared things with them about your real life. And when that person is not longer there are postings and comments about them and how they'll be missed. Today we learnt that the player behind the SecondLife avatar Shucks Valkyrie had died from a heart attack there was an impromptu memorial service held in the cemetery of the Tombstone, Arizona sim, his most recent place to be. I've never attended a virtual funeral service before. It was odd yet it worked. The sim manager said some words of remembrance and then someone started the words to Amazing Grace. Each line was delivered in chat, completely unprompted, yet there was no duplicating of lines as it was taken up by mourners. Someone even kicked in with a recorded audio version of it. I only met Shucks a handful of times but he was always having fun and making others laugh. He will be missed.
These online funeral services are powerful reminders of our need as humans to gather together to say goodbye. Together we share the burdens of sadness, and the gifts of memories whether we are in a funeral parlor, a church, a tavern, or in cyberspace. This is something we need to do together.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Veteran's Ship Burial

HMS Royal Oak
A war hero who survived a German U-boat attack that claimed 833 British lives has had his dying wish granted, after his ashes were laid to rest on the hull of his sunken ship.
Navy divers placed a casket containing Fernleigh Judge's remains 90ft beneath the North Sea on the wreck of HMS Royal Oak at Scapa Flow, Orkney, on Monday. The battleship went down after being torpedoed in 1939.
Mr Judge, 88, had wanted to return to the site, but was unable to make the journey from his home in Peterborough, Cambs.
Survivor Kenneth Toop, 85, carried his ashes: "I was honoured to fulfil his wishes."
-from the Mirror

At Novodevichy Cemetery, the Ordinary Trumps the Grand

Raisa Gorbachov Monument at Novodevichy Cemetery with Columbarium niches in background
Novodevichy Convent

Novodevichy Cemetery (Новодевичье кла́дбище) is Moscow's third most popular tourist site. It has a park-like ambience, dotted with small chapels and large sculpted monuments. The cemetery was built next to the Novodevichy Convent immediately upon the convent's completion.
The cemetery was first used primarily as a burial place for Moscow's feudal rulers and church officials. Later it came to be used for Russia's intellectuals and merchants, while in the 20th century, it was the burial place for many of the Soviet Union's most well-known citizens. Today, the cemetery holds the tombs of Russian authors, playwrights, and poets, as well as famous actors, political leaders, and scientists. More than 27,000 are buried at Novodevichy. -from

Nikita Kruschev monument at Nvodevichy cemetery in Moscow
The Grave of Nikita Kruschev "We will Bury You!"

While the monuments of the famous and powerful provide a wonderful history and art lesson, these photos of the niches of lesser known Russians, taken by Dedushka Nomto at Novodevichy Columbarium, are quite striking as well. The changes brought about by time and the elements give these portraits the haunting quality of distant memories. Perhaps this documentation of ordinary life can teach us more important lessons than the broad sweep of history.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Pyre: Will Open Air 'Natural' Cremations be Allowed in the UK?

I have been told half seriously by many people that they would like a 'Viking Funeral' where a person's body would drift off into a lake and be consumed by flames. This is a romantic idea and would be a very moving and symbolic ritual, but I have to tell these people "good luck getting away with that!" But what if being consumed on a funeral pyre in the water, or in the open air is a sacrament of your faith, and a strong tradition for you? You would want more than a 'Good Luck' chance of getting away with it, you'd want the assurance that it could legally be done.
In the UK, there is a movement to legalize open air or 'natural' cremation. The government must find a way to balance the religious rights of Hindus with the possible environmental consequences of allowing for such a practice.

The open-air burning of human corpses may be permitted across Britain after a religious charity won a significant victory in its campaign to legalise traditional Hindu funerals.
An attempt to establish the first approved site for the 4,000-year-old spiritual ceremony in northeast England was blocked last year after a local authority ruled that it would breach cremation laws.
The decision was challenged by Davender Kumar Ghai, a 68-year-old devout Hindu who is in poor health and is demanding the right, when he dies, to be cremated on an open-air pyre.
A High Court judge has now approved his bid to seek a judicial review of Newcastle City Council’s refusal to permit a funeral rite that Hindus regard as essential for the successful liberation of the soul.
Mr Justice Collins ruled that it was in the public interest to allow the application because the issue was “of some considerable importance to the Hindu community”. He also noted that rulings in 1884 and 1907 “may mean that the burning of dead bodies in the open air is not necessarily unlawful”.
Britain has 559,000 Hindus and many are expected to opt for an open-air cremation if such ceremonies are approved.
Mr Ghai, the founder and president of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society, created headlines last July when he arranged the first human funeral pyre in Britain since the Home Office authorised the outdoor cremation of Sumshere Jung, a Nepalese princess and the wife of the Napalese ambassador, in Woking in 1934.
“Hindus are Britain’s third largest faith group. We have proved to be a model migrant community and we feel hurt that other groups are allowed to undertake their funeral rites while we are left out. It is time for that to change,” he said.
-from the Times, for the full article visit

Blazing row -from The Good Funeral Guide Blog
"The Hindus of Britain have never asked for anything," says Mr Gai of the Anglo-Asian Friendship Society "but we're not asking for much, just to cremate our loved ones in the way our religion says it must be done."
The issue of open-air cremation is hotting up as Newcastle-based Mr Gai prepares to go the High Court next month to demand the right to have his body disposed of in accordance with his religious beliefs.
Mr Gai’s challenge will, doubtless, come down to an evaluation of both the aesthetic and environmental effects of outdoor cremation. It is not long since measures to control foot and mouth disease in the UK blackened the sun and cloaked the countryside with the smoke and stench of burning cattle carcases, so no problem there. But those innocent beasts did not have teeth filled with mercury amalgam, and vaporised mercury is particularly nasty emission.
Let us hope that Mr Gai will be successful and that the judgement will permit open-air cremation for anyone who opts for it. Does that mean that the derelict shipyards of the Tyne will be replaced by burning ghats?
No -- regrettably or otherwise. Open-air cremation is perceived to be a religious requirement only by some Hindus. And for a very few non-Hindus it is an elemental desire which cannot be reduced to a mere reason. It’s a tiny niche market, but one which nevertheless deserves to go the way of its choosing.
Let’s not forget that our ‘bonfire’ derives from the Middle English ‘bone fire’. for the full article, visit

Even as open air cremations are being considered in the UK, Concerns are being raised about their environmental consequences in India. Following is an excerpt from CBS
Varanasi, the holy city on the Ganges 395 miles southeast of New Delhi, attracts hundreds of thousands of people who cremate their dead and pour the ashes into the river to ensure "moksha," the final liberation of the soul from the endless cycle of reincarnation. The ashes of millions of dead have helped turn the water into a stinking, polluted swirl. Worse, since wood is scarce and expensive, bodies sometimes are thrown into the river half-burned. "Apart from the ashes, this is an even bigger environmental hazard for the Ganges River," said Sunita Narain, an activist with the Center for Science and Environment in New Delhi. Environmentalists prefer electric furnaces because they don't need wood and they reduce the body to a small urnful of powdery ash that does less harm to the rivers. Swami Agnivesh, a Hindu theologian and social activist, says the religion is flexible enough to accept technology. "Many Hindus would welcome the change, especially if they were made aware of the environmental consequences of wood cremation," for the full text, visit

A Viking Funeral as described in the Sagas
I'm inclined to agree with Mr. Cowling (The Good Funeral Guide), that this type of cremation, if allowed, would be only a niche market, and would not therefore, present much of an environmental issue. After all, how may cords of fire wood are consumed in fireplaces every year? I'm sure that if this is legalized in the UK (or the US for that matter), that regulations would not allow for partially consumed bodies to be left in public water ways. As for fully consumed cremated remains, their presence in water ways is not an issue because they are completely sterile. Unless tons of cremated remains are left in one place, as they are in the Ganges, the effect would be the same as sprinkling sand into the water.

OK, I just couldn't resist showing another Grecian Urn, this one depicting a funeral pyre.

March 2009 update:

Monday, October 13, 2008


[T]he other day I found this pic in my mum's bedroom. I didn't understand what was going on so I asked her about it. She told me that when I was 4 or 5 I found this pic in pieces in the trash bin (she didn't like herself in the photo and ripped it and threw it away) so I picked up the pieces and glued them together on a sheet of paper. -from Godiex' Flickr Page

Sunday, October 12, 2008

New Life Breathed into Graveyard in Scotland

Ladies Rock, Stirling Cemetery, Scotland
Cemeteries are treasures and need to be preserved. They are museums, parks, and as is pointed out in the following article from BBC News, 'pleasure gardens'. When people say that cemeteries are wasted space, I wonder what could possibly be a better use of space than a peaceful historic park filled with memories.
Tomb in Stirling Cemetery
New life breathed into graveyard
Work to restore the unique character of Stirling's ancient Old Town cemeteries is set to begin in August. It is hoped the individual character of burial grounds, which date from the 16th Century, can be reinstated. The £1.7m project, being steered by Stirling Council, is expected to be completed by July next year.
The work will include the restoration of the cemeteries' original "gardenesque" style as well as restoring stone and iron work. Records show that the area, which sits in the shadow of Stirling Castle, was used for many of the town's social gatherings in the 17th century.
The entrance to the site is also marked by the Church of the Holy Rude where James VI was crowned.
Pleasure garden
Local councillor Jim Thomson said it was vital the cemeteries were restored sympathetically.
He said: "The site bridges both the pre and post reformation periods in Scotland and, interestingly, the gardens were not laid out solely as a burial ground but also as a pleasure garden for local people." The project will form part of a vision to make Stirling's Old Town one of the most attractive urban heritage sites in Europe.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Ode on a Grecian Urn: Is Cremation Coming to Greece?
The approval of the law allowing cremation in Greece paves the way for the first incineration facilities to be built within two years

After a long campaign by community groups (mostly Muslim, Buddhist and Protestant) and humanitarian activists, the legislation allowing cremation in Greece was passed in March 2006. As a presidential decree, though, it required the approval of the country's highest administrative court to become law. That approval came on September 25 of this year.
Commenting on the approval of the presidential decree, Thanasis Kafezas, of the municipality's Cemeteries Department, said: "We find ourselves one step away from the establishment of cremation facilities. In around one-and-a-half years, after the environment and public works ministry has determined the last laws, the City of Athens will have its first crematorium."
Cremation is becoming increasingly accepted within this country, with up to 500 Greek Orthodox Christians opting for the practice despite the psychological trauma and costs associated with travelling abroad, mostly to Bulgaria and Germany.
Famously, Maria Callas was cremated in Paris and had her ashes scattered in the Aegean and, last year, renowned winemaker Yiannis Boutaris carried out his wife Athina's last wish to be cremated - an experience which, he said, left him feeling that the Church had treated his wife as if she had committed suicide.
After taking his wife's body to Bulgaria for the cremation, Boutaris struggled to find a Greek priest to carry out Orthodox burial rites and a blessing in this country, eventually finding one in Nymphaio (a village in northern Greece) who would "take the risk".
The hope for many Greeks is that the existence of a crematorium will soften the Church's to now staunch position against the practice for its followers. from Athens News, for full text visit

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Somnambulists: Photography of Joanna Kane

Everyone who attended Mortuary School will remember making a plaster mask of their face. I still have mine. Years ago, plaster masks were made during life, and after death for memorials and for scientific research. What is left behind in these masks speaks clearly of individuality, personality and humanity.
'The Somnambulists’ is a series of photographic digital prints based on photographs of early nineteenth century phrenological casts. The images are large format monochrome digital photographs with subtle digital adjustments which suggest an illusory sense of the original living subject of the cast. The project is called ‘The Somnambulists’, with refererence to mesmerism, current at the time that many of the casts originate from, as the resulting portraits appear to exist in an ambiguous suspended state between life, death and sleep.The images are created using layered digital techniques which are essentially photographic in nature to produce the illusion of skin, while still retaining the details and marks from the original plaster surface.
From Kane’s introduction to The Somnambulists:
“The life or death mask can be considered the sculptural analogue of the photographic portrait. Both suggest direct traces from life, involve positive and negative, and evoke a mysterious connection between living, breathing subject and captured image…
In creating the portraits, the aim has been to take these subjects out of the categories and hierarchies of the phrenological collection. My interest has been in transforming them from disembodied scientific specimens into photographically embodied images of individual men and women.”

somnambulist mask

'The Somnambulists', Dewi Lewis Publishing, 2008
for more information, visit 'Library' in the column to the right of this blog

Centquatre: From Municipal Undertaking Center to Artist Space

I am always pleased to learn about a historic building that is given new life and a new use while keeping it's history alive. In my town, there are old tobacco warehouses that have been put to new use as performing arts spaces and antique malls. In the Portland, Oregon area where I used to live, old schools, hotels and even sanitariums have been given new life and new purposes. There is always something special in a reused old building that cannot be replicated by a new one. In Paris, an enormous old building complex that was once the center of State operated undertaking operations has been transformed into artist residence, studio, performance and gallery space. Following are two accounts of the history and new promise of 104 La Traversee.
Publicity for 104
Paris state funeral parlour transformed into modern art centre
A state funeral parlour where all the coffins for the dead of Paris were once made has been transformed into a modern art centre.
By Matthew Moore Last Updated: 4:14PM BST 08 Oct 2008
The building will now play host to dozens of painters, film-makers and designers, as part of a plan to revive the city's moribund art scene. Centquatre, in north-east Paris in one of the city's roughest districts, was originally built as an abattoir, but in 1905 was taken over by the authorities and converted into the city's central funeral parlour. With the state claiming a monopoly on funerals, business was brisk. More than 1,000 staff were employed in the vast space to build all the city's coffins, stable the horses used to pull corteges, and arrange all elements of funeral processions. After a renovation, the building has been transformed into a cutting-edge art space.
Artists can set up their studios in the imposing building in return for allowing the public to wander around and inspect their work.
An interior view of the vast space

[This] huge new promises to become a major cultural hotspot for the city, and one of the main ones in Europe. Centquatre (104) is yet another conversion of a public space into an artistic project and boasts 26,000 m2 of art galleries, ateliers, two perfomance theatres, featuring 200 resident artists. Hosted in the former Municipal Undertaking Service headquarters, 104 is the latest addiction to an impressive series of projects that in the past years have succeeded to create exciting new performing arts and cultural centres all over Europe.
The plan was set about by Bertrand Delanoe, mayor of Paris, and Christophe Girard, of the Paris Arts Council, and artists Robert Cantarella and Frederic Fisbach have been appointed as directors.
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Funeral service faces a crisis of relevance, and I am passionate about keeping the best traditions of service alive while adapting to the changing needs of families. Feel free to contact me with questions, or to share your thoughts on funeral service, ritual, and memorialization.


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