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Putting the fun in funerals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What's your idea of a fun funeral?

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5 Things We Know About Stranger Things Season 2
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Stranger Things seemed to come out of nowhere to become one of television's standout new series in 2016. Netflix's sometimes scary, sometimes funny, and always exciting homage to '80s pop culture was a binge-worthy phenomenon when it debuted in July 2016. Of course, the streaming giant wasn't going to wait long to bring more Stranger Things to audiences, and a second season was announced a little over a month after its debut—and Netflix just announced that we'll be getting it a few days earlier than expected. Here are five key things we know about the show's sophomore season, which kicks off on October 27.


The first season of Stranger Things consisted of eight hour-long episodes, which proved to be a solid length for the story Matt and Ross Duffer wanted to tell. While season two won't increase in length dramatically, we will be getting at least one extra hour when the show returns in 2017 with nine episodes. Not much is known about any of these episodes, but we do know the titles:

"The Boy Who Came Back To Life"
"The Pumpkin Patch"
"The Palace"
"The Storm"
"The Pollywog"
"The Secret Cabin"
"The Brain"
"The Lost Brother"

There's a lot of speculation about what each title means and, as usual with Stranger Things, there's probably a reason for each one.


Stranger Things fans should gear up for plenty of new developments in season two, but that doesn't mean your favorite characters aren't returning. A November 4 photo sent out by the show's Twitter account revealed most of the kids from the first season will be back in 2017, including the enigmatic Eleven, played by Millie Bobby Brown (the #elevenisback hashtag used by series regular Finn Wolfhard should really drive the point home):


A year will have passed between the first and second seasons of the show, allowing the Duffer brothers to catch up with a familiar cast of characters that has matured since we last saw them. With the story taking place in 1984, the brothers are looking at the pop culture zeitgeist at the time for inspiration—most notably the darker tone of blockbusters like Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

"I actually really love Temple of Doom, I love that it gets a little darker and weirder from Raiders, I like that it feels very different than Raiders did," Matt Duffer told IGN. "Even though it was probably slammed at the time—obviously now people look back on it fondly, but it messed up a lot of kids, and I love that about that film—that it really traumatized some children. Not saying that we want to traumatize children, just that we want to get a little darker and weirder."


When you watch something like The Americans season two, it's almost impossible to catch on unless you've seen the previous episodes. Stranger Things season two will differ from the modern TV approach by being more of a sequel than a continuation of the first year. That means a more self-contained plot that doesn't leave viewers hanging at the end of nine episodes.

"There are lingering questions, but the idea with Season 2 is there's a new tension and the goal is can the characters resolve that tension by the end," Ross Duffer told IGN. "So it's going to be its own sort of complete little movie, very much in the way that Season 1 is."

Don't worry about the two seasons of Stranger Things being too similar or too different from the original, though, because when speaking with Entertainment Weekly about the influences on the show, Matt Duffer said, "I guess a lot of this is James Cameron. But he’s brilliant. And I think one of the reasons his sequels are as successful as they are is he makes them feel very different without losing what we loved about the original. So I think we kinda looked to him and what he does and tried to capture a little bit of the magic of his work.”


Everything about the new Stranger Things episodes will be kept secret until they finally debut later this year, but we do know one thing about the premiere: It won't take place entirely in the familiar town of Hawkins, Indiana. “We will venture a little bit outside of Hawkins,” Matt Duffer told Entertainment Weekly. “I will say the opening scene [of the premiere] does not take place in Hawkins.”

So, should we take "a little bit outside" as literally as it sounds? You certainly can, but in that same interview, the brothers also said they're both eager to explore the Upside Down, the alternate dimension from the first season. Whether the season kicks off just a few miles away, or a few worlds away, you'll get your answer when Stranger Things's second season debuts next month.

The Gooey History of the Fluffernutter Sandwich

Open any pantry in New England and chances are you’ll find at least one jar of Marshmallow Fluff. Not just any old marshmallow crème, but Fluff; the one manufactured by Durkee-Mower of Lynn, Massachusetts since 1920, and the preferred brand of the northeast. With its familiar red lid and classic blue label, it's long been a favorite guilty pleasure and a kitchen staple beloved throughout the region.

This gooey, spreadable, marshmallow-infused confection is used in countless recipes and found in a variety of baked goods—from whoopie pies and Rice Krispies Treats to chocolate fudge and beyond. And in the beyond lies perhaps the most treasured concoction of all: the Fluffernutter sandwich—a classic New England treat made with white bread, peanut butter, and, you guessed it, Fluff. No jelly required. Or wanted.

There are several claims to the origin of the sandwich. The first begins with Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere—or, not Paul exactly, but his great-great-great-grandchildren Emma and Amory Curtis of Melrose, Massachusetts. Both siblings were highly intelligent and forward-thinkers, and Amory was even accepted into MIT. But when the family couldn’t afford to send him, he founded a Boston-based company in the 1890s that specialized in soda fountain equipment.

He sold the business in 1901 and used the proceeds to buy the entire east side of Crystal Street in Melrose. Soon after he built a house and, in his basement, he created a marshmallow spread known as Snowflake Marshmallow Crème (later called SMAC), which actually predated Fluff. By the early 1910s, the Curtis Marshmallow Factory was established and Snowflake became the first commercially successful shelf-stable marshmallow crème.

Although other companies were manufacturing similar products, it was Emma who set the Curtis brand apart from the rest. She had a knack for marketing and thought up many different ways to popularize their marshmallow crème, including the creation of one-of-a-kind recipes, like sandwiches that featured nuts and marshmallow crème. She shared her culinary gems in a weekly newspaper column and radio show. By 1915, Snowflake was selling nationwide.

During World War I, when Americans were urged to sacrifice meat one day a week, Emma published a recipe for a peanut butter and marshmallow crème sandwich. She named her creation the "Liberty Sandwich," as a person could still obtain his or her daily nutrients while simultaneously supporting the wartime cause. Some have pointed to Emma’s 1918 published recipe as the earliest known example of a Fluffernutter, but the earliest recipe mental_floss can find comes from three years prior. In 1915, the confectioners trade journal Candy and Ice Cream published a list of lunch offerings that candy shops could advertise beyond hot soup. One of them was the "Mallonut Sandwich," which involved peanut butter and "marshmallow whip or mallo topping," spread on lightly toasted whole wheat bread.

Another origin story comes from Somerville, Massachusetts, home to entrepreneur Archibald Query. Query began making his own version of marshmallow crème and selling it door-to-door in 1917. Due to sugar shortages during World War I, his business began to fail. Query quickly sold the rights to his recipe to candy makers H. Allen Durkee and Fred Mower in 1920. The cost? A modest $500 for what would go on to become the Marshmallow Fluff empire.

Although the business partners promoted the sandwich treat early in the company’s history, the delicious snack wasn’t officially called the Fluffernutter until the 1960s, when Durkee-Mower hired a PR firm to help them market the sandwich, which resulted in a particularly catchy jingle explaining the recipe.

So who owns the bragging rights? While some anonymous candy shop owner was likely the first to actually put the two together, Emma Curtis created the early precursors and brought the concept to a national audience, and Durkee-Mower added the now-ubiquitous crème and catchy name. And the Fluffernutter has never lost its popularity.

In 2006, the Massachusetts state legislature spent a full week deliberating over whether or not the Fluffernutter should be named the official state sandwich. On one side, some argued that marshmallow crème and peanut butter added to the epidemic of childhood obesity. The history-bound fanatics that stood against them contended that the Fluffernutter was a proud culinary legacy. One state representative even proclaimed, "I’m going to fight to the death for Fluff." True dedication, but the bill has been stalled for more than a decade despite several revivals and subsequent petitions from loyal fans.

But Fluff lovers needn’t despair. There’s a National Fluffernutter Day (October 8) for hardcore fans, and the town of Somerville, Massachusetts still celebrates its Fluff pride with an annual What the Fluff? festival.

"Everyone feels like Fluff is part of their childhood," said self-proclaimed Fluff expert and the festival's executive director, Mimi Graney, in an interview with Boston Magazine. "Whether born in the 1940s or '50s, or '60s, or later—everyone feels nostalgic for Fluff. I think New Englanders in general have a particular fondness for it."

Today, the Fluffernutter sandwich is as much of a part of New England cuisine as baked beans or blueberry pie. While some people live and die by the traditional combination, the sandwich now comes in all shapes and sizes, with the addition of salty and savory toppings as a favorite twist. Wheat bread is as popular as white, and many like to grill their sandwiches for a touch of bistro flair. But don't ask a New Englander to swap out their favorite brand of marshmallow crème. That’s just asking too Fluffing much.


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