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25 Things Turning 25 This Year

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The year 1988 was a quarter-century ago. If you're turning 25 this year, good news—you can now rent a car in the US without paying a weird fee, and you're as old as the California Raisins. Read on, before your quarter-life crisis hits.

1. Zack Morris, Screech, Lisa Turtle, and Mr. Belding

Before Saved by the Bell, a little show called Good Morning, Miss Bliss introduced us to the gang from Bayside High School...except it was called John F. Kennedy Junior High, and it was in Indianapolis, not California.

Miss Bliss starred Hayley Mills as the eponymous teacher, and it ran on the Disney Channel for one 13-episode season. The cast of characters was impressive, including the core of the later Saved by the Bell group. Jaleel White, who would play Steve Urkel in 1989's Family Matters, and Brian Austin Green, who starred in Beverly Hills, 90210, also appeared in the pilot. The Disney Channel dropped Miss Bliss after its first season, NBC picked it up and re-tooled it, and Saved by the Bell became a Saturday morning mainstay starting in 1989.

2. A Brief History of Time

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On September 1, 1988, physicist Stephen Hawking unleashed the bestseller A Brief History of Time, exploring great questions about the universe in easily understandable language. While working on an early draft, Hawking was warned that for each equation in the text, the book's readership would be halved. So he compromised, including just one equation: Einstein's E = mc2.

The book went on to sell more than 10 million copies. In the tenth anniversary edition, Hawking wrote: "Nathan Myhrvold of Microsoft (a former post-doc of mine) remarked: I have sold more books on physics than Madonna has on sex." (To be fair, Madonna's Sex wasn't released until 1992.)

3. Photoshop

YouTube / j0han1

Before "Photoshop" became a verb, it was a piece of software designed by John Knoll to display grayscale images on a Macintosh computer's black-and-white screen. Knoll's brother John (who worked for Industrial Light & Magic, a division of Lucasfilm) suggested that the program could be an image editor, not just a viewer. So Knoll dutifully built Photoshop. The first 200-ish copies shipped in 1988, bundled with Barneyscan slide scanners. Adobe bought the rights, put the Knoll brothers to work, and the rest is history.

4. Sega Genesis

Sega ad courtesy of Fors Yard. See a larger version here.

Sega's two-year headstart on Nintendo in the 16-bit gaming wars began on October 29, 1988, when the Sega Genesis launched in the US and Japan. Though sales were initially dicey, the Genesis went on to become Sega's most successful console, largely thanks to a branding rework in 1991 that exchanged the original bundle game, Altered Beast, with the critically acclaimed new game Sonic the Hedgehog.

By the time Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) in 1991, the Genesis had already formed a solid reputation as "the cool console," and Nintendo had to compete against a lower price point, a much larger game library, and a Sega ad campaign claiming "Genesis does what Nintendon't." The two battled through the entire 16-bit era, with Sega inching out Nintendo for the lead (in hardware sales, at least) most years, excluding 1994, when Donkey Kong Country released.

5. Girl Talk

Not even Jewel Staite escaped childhood without playing Girl Talk, the very pink, all-girl version of Truth or Dare that launched in 1988. (That's the Firefly and Stargate Atlantis actress in 1995, kissing and telling.) Thanks to Girl Talk's overwhelming popularity, girl-only spin-offs popped up over the next several years, including Milton Bradley's Mall Madness, 1989's Barbie Just Us Girls ("a game of style and challenge," but mostly just spinning and collecting cards), 1990's Pretty, Pretty Princess, and 1991's Electric Dream Phone.

6. The Morris Worm (Computer Virus)

Wikipedia

On November 2, 1988, the first large-scale worm (a form of computer virus) struck the Internet. Written by Robert Tappan Morris (or RTM for short), the Morris worm was designed to figure out the size of the internet by aggressively spreading to Internet-connected computers. The worm had a design problem that made it overzealous in its attacks; the net effect was that the worm ran rampant over systems across the Internet, often repeatedly infecting the same computer until it slowed to a crawl. Sysadmins disconnected from the Internet, cleaned up the worm's damage, and RTM became the first man convicted under 1984's Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.

RTM later sold a startup to Yahoo! for tens of millions, received a Ph.D. from Harvard, and ultimately became a professor at MIT. So he's doing all right.

7. Dunk-a-Roos

How do you Dunk-a-Roos? The cookie-and-icing snack debuted in 1988, hot on the heels of Handi-Snacks (the cheese-and-pretzel version offered by Kraft) and remains on (most) supermarket shelves in the US. Though the cookies were all originally cinnamon-flavored and the icing only came in chocolate or vanilla, newer iterations include vanillla, graham or chocolate cookies with chocolate chip, rainbow sprinkle and various other limited-time icing flavors. The mascot was originally a Crocodile Dundee-esque kangaroo named Sydney, who was voiced by John Cameron Mitchell, the director of 2010's Rabbit Hole, for which Nicole Kidman scored an Oscar nomination. After a 1996 contest, the mascot became a different roo named Duncan.

8. Matilda

Roald Dahl's 1988 book introduced us to Matilda, the precocious daughter of sleazy car salesman Harry Wormwood and his unnamed wife, who find Matilda lacking in both charm and intelligence even though she's a genius and secret telekinetic. Matilda uses her powers (spoiler alert) to save beloved teacher Miss Honey from her overbearing aunt and tyrranical headmaster, Miss Trunchbull.

Dahl's story has been adapted for the screen (the 1996 film starred Danny DeVito, Rhea Perlman and Mrs. Doubtfire's Mara Wilson), the stage (in a musical written by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin), and the radio (by way of a two-part BBC broadcast). If you'd like to relive part of Matilda at home but think building your own Pokey is probably a bad idea (it is), then consider making a real-life version of the Trunchbull's chocolate cake — you'll find instructions in Roald Dahl's Revolting Recipes.

9. Prozac

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Eli Lilly & Co. introduced Prozac to treat depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bulimia, and a host of other psychiatric ills. It became one of the best-selling drugs in history, racking up tens of billions of sales by 2001, the year that generic versions hit the market in the US. It was such a commonly prescribed drug that references to popping Prozac flooded pop culture in the 90s, including the books Prozac Diary and Prozac Nation.

Prozac's possible side effects include nausea, insomnia, anorexia, and anorgasmia. On the bright side, recent research indicates that it might also be an antiviral.

10. Don't Panic

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Neil Gaiman was not a household name in 1988, when he released the book Don't Panic: Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Gaiman had previously written a biography of Duran Duran in 1984, a sort of joke book in 1985 featuring bad sci-fi quotes, and some early comics and short stories in 1987. But 1988 was Gaiman's year—Don't Panic was a biography of author Douglas Adams as well as a companion to Adams's work, and it marked the beginning of Gaiman's massive success as a writer (1989 would see his first Sandman comics).

Douglas Adams blurbed the book, saying "It's all devastatingly true—except the bits that are lies."

11. Music - The Traveling Wilburys

1988 saw the formation of a bunch of bands that would go on to rule the 90s: Boyz II Men, Barenaked Ladies, Blur, House of Pain, Mother Love Bone (featuring future members of Pearl Jam), Mudhoney, and Nine Inch Nails. But the biggest new group of the year was The Traveling Wilburys, a supergroup featuring Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison, and Tom Petty. Tragically, Orbison died two months after the Wilburys released their first album, and their second video (for "End of the Line") featured Orbison's lonely guitar in a rocking chair (he did live to participate in the "Handle With Care" video).

The term "Wilbury" came from George Harrison's recording sessions for Cloud Nine—he joked to the recording engineer that "we'll bury" recording mistakes in the mix. (To their credit, the Wilburys buried most of Dylan's vocals in the mix.)

Honorable mentions in the music category: Milli Vanilli, Mr. Big, and Crash Test Dummies were also formed in 1988. Rick Astley's single "Never Gonna Give You Up" was still topping American charts, despite being released the year before. (Nobody got the idea to perform a Rickroll until two decades later.) Guns 'n Roses had a string of hits, most notably "Sweet Child o' Mine." And as we mention elsewhere in this list, "Don't Worry, Be Happy" was a major hit.

12. Batman: The Killing Joke

Wikipedia

1988 brought us Batman: The Killing Joke, a graphic novel written by Alan Moore explaining the dark origin story of The Joker. Although Tim Burton didn't use Moore's story for his now-classic 1989 film Batman, the graphic novel was a huge motivator for the movie focusing on The Joker as Batman's primary enemy. Burton said:

"I was never a giant comic book fan, but I've always loved the image of Batman and the Joker. The reason I've never been a comic book fan—and I think it started when I was a child—is because I could never tell which box I was supposed to read. I don't know if it was dyslexia or whatever, but that's why I loved The Killing Joke, because for the first time I could tell which one to read. It's my favorite. It's the first comic I've ever loved. And the success of those graphic novels made our ideas more acceptable."

Heath Ledger was also given a copy of The Killing Joke as a character reference for his performance of The Joker in The Dark Knight.

13. Movies (Mostly Rain Man)


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Rain Man ruled the box office and the Academy Awards for 1988, winning four Oscars, including Best Picture. The film started shooting just before the 1988 Writers Guild of America Strike, so screenwriters Barry Morrow and Ronald Bass couldn't visit the set during production (they won Best Original Screenplay anyway).

But while Raymond Babbitt was watching Wapner on The People's Court, the rest of us were enjoying a string of 80s-tastic movies, including Beaches, Beetlejuice, Big, Big Top Pee-Wee, Coming to America, Die Hard, The Land Before Time, My Neighbor Totoro, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

An honorable mention for best 1988 film goes to The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, which featured a memorable (if slightly embellished) interview in which Ozzy Osbourne cooked breakfast and gave career advice to future rockers.

14. TV Shows

It was a great year for television... but not for criminals. America's Most Wanted aired for the first time on 7 FOX stations in February, 1988. Within 4 days, profiled fugitive David James Roberts was captured thanks to tips from sharp-eyed viewers. A few weeks later the show was picked up on all FOX stations, and in 2008 the AMW team announced their 1000th captured criminal: a New York realtor named Dwight Smith.

While Americans were on the lookout for wayward baddies, Kevin Arnold was crushing hard on Winnie Cooper in The Wonder Years, which debuted in January. To set the record straight, again: "Paul Pfeiffer" actor Josh Saviano is not Marilyn Manson. He's a merger and acquisitions lawyer in New York.

Other memorable shows that debuted in 1988: Roseanne, Murphy Brown, The Gong Show (syndicated weekday revival), Garfield and Friends, C.O.P.S., China Beach, and Yo! MTV Raps.

15. Oh, and MST3K!

In November, the first episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 aired on the Twin Cities UHF station KTMA-TV. The Satellite of Love (the name of the ship on which the show is set, inspired by a Lou Reed song) and the robots were all constructed in one night by the show's creator, Joel Hodgson, who built everything entirely of toys and Goodwill finds. The premise of the show changed quite a lot between the first and last episodes, but originally, Joel Robinson (played by Hodgson) was a janitor for Gizmonic Institute who was part of an evil experiment by mad scientists Dr. Clayton Forrester and Dr. Laurence Erhardt. Their diabolical plan was to force as many terrible B movies on Joel as possible until he finally snapped. The torture took a while, though, because Joel didn't escape until season 5, when he was replaced by unwitting successor Mike Nelson. Joel (and later Mike) and the bots made an average of 700 comments during each movie.

16. He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper

RON WOLFSON/Landov

Speaking of rap, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince released their second studio album in March. He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper was the first-ever double-vinyl hip hop album, the first to win a Grammy Award for Best Rap Performance (in 1989 for "Parents Just Don't Understand"), and led to Jeff Townes and Will Smith's first "serious" movie offers: they declined the lead roles in House Party, which were taken by Kid & Play.

It seems everyone loved "Parents Just Don't Understand," even Will's future wife, Jada Pinkett. Here she is in 1988 with fellow Baltimore School of the Arts alum and friend, Tupac Shakur:

(That clip is from the short-lived Keenan Ivory Wayans Show, which ran from August 1997 to March 1998.)

17. Koosh

Flickr user K Tempest Bradford/Wikimedia Commons

Developed in 1986 by Scott Stillinger for his kids, the Koosh ball was soon picked up by Hasbro. The rubbery toy took off when it was released in 1988, making its way onto the Christmas lists of thousands of kids in 1988. Each ball contains around 2,000 rubber filaments, and the name comes from the sound it makes when it lands.

18. Wild Cherry Pepsi

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In 1988, Pepsi decided to tinker with their Cherry Cola Slice formula. The result was good, but too different from the original product to continue selling it under the same name. Goodbye, Cherry Cola Slice—hello Wild Cherry Pepsi (which was rebranded Pepsi Wild Cherry in 1995).

19. The Flowbee

While Flowbee's website has been updated at least once since 1988, the haircutting/vacuum cleaner apparatus remains largely unchanged at 25 years old. Your desire for feathered bangs may have, however.

20. Battle Chess

Tired of playing the game of kings using physical pieces and your boring old "imagination"? In 1988, Battle Chess changed the game, adding animated battle sequences (several referencing Monty Python and the Holy Grail and Raiders of the Lost Ark), along with sound effects and artificial intelligence, so you could match wits with your Amiga. Of course, those of us who'd seen Star Wars still yearned for Holochess.

21. Shamu One

Southwest Airlines

Few aviation gimmicks are as exciting to children as Southwest Airlines and Sea World San Antonio's collaboration, a Boeing 737 Classic painted to look like Shamu, Sea World's main attraction. Within the next decade, two more aircraft would receive the orca paint job and then all three would be replaced with newer model planes. In December 2012, Shamu took off and landed for the last time. (Sea World's "Shamu" is actually many killer whales; currently there are six different orca in the rotation.)

22. World AIDS Day

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World AIDS Day was first held on December 1, 1988. Supporters wore the now-familiar red ribbon, and world leaders (including Pope John Paul II) marked the occasion with messages of support. In 2007, the Bush administration hung a two-story red ribbon from the North Portico of the White House to draw attention to the cause.

Each year, World AIDS Day has a theme, often focusing on a certain population, like men, women, or children living with AIDS. For the years 2011 to 2015, the theme is clear and aggressive: "Getting to Zero."

23. Pi Day

The first Pi Day was organized by physicist Larry Shaw of the San Francisco Exploratorium in 1988. On March 14, his colleagues and Exploratorium-goers were invited to march in circles and eat lots of pie. These days Pi Day is a somewhat bigger deal: In 2009, the House of Representatives passed HRES 224 recognizing March 14 as National Pi Day. (Get your 2014 Pi Day shopping done early in our store!)

24. Kids' Choice Awards

In 1988, Tony Danza hosted the first ever Kids' Choice Awards on Nickelodeon. Guest appearances included Debbie Gibson, Wil Wheaton, Marc Summers, Charles Barkley and Jeremy Miller, who played Ben Seaver on Growing Pains.

The first year's notable wins went to Beverly Hills Cop 2 (Favorite Movie) and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (for Favorite Cartoon). Les Lye of You Can't Do That on Television was the celebrity slime recipient.

{You can watch the 1988 show in full on YouTube.)

25. Michael Cera

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1988 was a good year for young actors: Michael Cera was born in Ontario, and went on to win our hearts in Arrested Development, Superbad, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. His birthday is June 7, so you still have time to get him a sweet card.

Other notable births in 1988:

  • Rupert Grint, aka Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter films
  • Haley Joel Osment, who famously saw dead people, but also played Forrest Gump's son in 1994
  • Sonny John Moore (aka Skrillex), who won three Grammys in 2011
  • Adele, whose age-themed albums (19 and 21) have led to record-breaking success in the music world (her full name is Adele Laurie Blue Adkins)

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See Also

30 Things Turning 30 This Year

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The Elements
9 Essential Facts About Carbon
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iStock / Collage by Jen Pinkowski

How well do you know the periodic table? Our series The Elements explores the fundamental building blocks of the observable universe—and their relevance to your life—one by one.
 
 
It can be glittering and hard. It can be soft and flaky. It can look like a soccer ball. Carbon is the backbone of every living thing—and yet it just might cause the end of life on Earth as we know it. How can a lump of coal and a shining diamond be composed of the same material? Here are eight things you probably didn't know about carbon.

1. IT'S THE "DUCT TAPE OF LIFE."

It's in every living thing, and in quite a few dead ones. "Water may be the solvent of the universe," writes Natalie Angier in her classic introduction to science, The Canon, "but carbon is the duct tape of life." Not only is carbon duct tape, it's one hell of a duct tape. It binds atoms to one another, forming humans, animals, plants and rocks. If we play around with it, we can coax it into plastics, paints, and all kinds of chemicals.

2. IT'S ONE OF THE MOST ABUNDANT ELEMENTS IN THE UNIVERSE.

It sits right at the top of the periodic table, wedged in between boron and nitrogen. Atomic number 6, chemical sign C. Six protons, six neutrons, six electrons. It is the fourth most abundant element in the universe after hydrogen, helium, and oxygen, and 15th in the Earth's crust. While its older cousins hydrogen and helium are believed to have been formed during the tumult of the Big Bang, carbon is thought to stem from a buildup of alpha particles in supernova explosions, a process called supernova nucleosynthesis.

3. IT'S NAMED AFTER COAL.

While humans have known carbon as coal and—after burning—soot for thousands of years, it was Antoine Lavoisier who, in 1772, showed that it was in fact a unique chemical entity. Lavoisier used an instrument that focused the Sun's rays using lenses which had a diameter of about four feet. He used the apparatus, called a solar furnace, to burn a diamond in a glass jar. By analyzing the residue found in the jar, he was able to show that diamond was comprised solely of carbon. Lavoisier first listed it as an element in his textbook Traité Élémentaire de Chimie, published in 1789. The name carbon derives from the French charbon, or coal.

4. IT LOVES TO BOND.

It can form four bonds, which it does with many other elements, creating hundreds of thousands of compounds, some of which we use daily. (Plastics! Drugs! Gasoline!) More importantly, those bonds are both strong and flexible.

5. NEARLY 20 PERCENT OF YOUR BODY IS CARBON.

May Nyman, a professor of inorganic chemistry at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon tells Mental Floss that carbon has an almost unbelievable range. "It makes up all life forms, and in the number of substances it makes, the fats, the sugars, there is a huge diversity," she says. It forms chains and rings, in a process chemists call catenation. Every living thing is built on a backbone of carbon (with nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen, and other elements). So animals, plants, every living cell, and of course humans are a product of catenation. Our bodies are 18.5 percent carbon, by weight.

And yet it can be inorganic as well, Nyman says. It teams up with oxygen and other substances to form large parts of the inanimate world, like rocks and minerals.

6. WE DISCOVERED TWO NEW FORMS OF IT ONLY RECENTLY.

Carbon is found in four major forms: graphite, diamonds, fullerenes, and graphene. "Structure controls carbon's properties," says Nyman.  Graphite ("the writing stone") is made up of loosely connected sheets of carbon formed like chicken wire. Penciling something in actually is just scratching layers of graphite onto paper. Diamonds, in contrast, are linked three-dimensionally. These exceptionally strong bonds can only be broken by a huge amount of energy. Because diamonds have many of these bonds, it makes them the hardest substance on Earth.

Fullerenes were discovered in 1985 when a group of scientists blasted graphite with a laser and the resulting carbon gas condensed to previously unknown spherical molecules with 60 and 70 atoms. They were named in honor of Buckminster Fuller, the eccentric inventor who famously created geodesic domes with this soccer ball–like composition. Robert Curl, Harold Kroto, and Richard Smalley won the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering this new form of carbon.

The youngest member of the carbon family is graphene, found by chance in 2004 by Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov in an impromptu research jam. The scientists used scotch tape—yes, really—to lift carbon sheets one atom thick from a lump of graphite. The new material is extremely thin and strong. The result: the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.

7. DIAMONDS AREN'T CALLED "ICE" BECAUSE OF THEIR APPEARANCE.

Diamonds are called "ice" because their ability to transport heat makes them cool to the touch—not because of their look. This makes them ideal for use as heat sinks in microchips. (Synthethic diamonds are mostly used.) Again, diamonds' three-dimensional lattice structure comes into play. Heat is turned into lattice vibrations, which are responsible for diamonds' very high thermal conductivity.

8. IT HELPS US DETERMINE THE AGE OF ARTIFACTS—AND PROVE SOME OF THEM FAKE.

American scientist Willard F. Libby won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1960 for developing a method for dating relics by analyzing the amount of a radioactive subspecies of carbon contained in them. Radiocarbon or C14 dating measures the decay of a radioactive form of carbon, C14, that accumulates in living things. It can be used for objects that are as much as 50,000 years old. Carbon dating help determine the age of Ötzi the Iceman, a 5300-year-old corpse found frozen in the Alps. It also established that Lancelot's Round Table in Winchester Cathedral was made hundreds of years after the supposed Arthurian Age.

9. TOO MUCH OF IT IS CHANGING OUR WORLD.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an important part of a gaseous blanket that is wrapped around our planet, making it warm enough to sustain life. But burning fossil fuels—which are built on a carbon backbone—releases more carbon dioxide, which is directly linked to global warming. A number of ways to remove and store carbon dioxide have been proposed, including bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, which involves planting large stands of trees, harvesting and burning them to create electricity, and capturing the CO2 created in the process and storing it underground. Yet another approach that is being discussed is to artificially make oceans more alkaline in order to let them to bind more CO2. Forests are natural carbon sinks, because trees capture CO2 during photosynthesis, but human activity in these forests counteracts and surpasses whatever CO2 capture gains we might get. In short, we don't have a solution yet to the overabundance of C02 we've created in the atmosphere.

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Nicole Garner
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History
How One Widow's Grief Turned a Small Town Into a Roadside Attraction
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Nicole Garner

Like many small towns, the southwest Missouri town of Nevada (pronounced not as the state, but as Nev-AY-duh) loves to tell tales. Incorporated in 1855, the 8000-person city was once a railroad hub and a former home to the outlaw Frank James, the elder brother of the more infamous Jesse James. But the one story Nevada residents love to tell above all others isn't about anyone famous. It's about an atypical above-ground grave in the town's oldest cemetery, the man who's interred there, and how he can't get any rest.

Scan of the Nevada Daily Mail from March 4, 1897.
Nevada Daily Mail; March 4, 1897.
Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.

On March 4, 1897, the body of a young man was found near Nevada, Missouri, apparently struck by lightning. The local newspaper, the Nevada Daily Mail, printed the story of his death that evening right next to the news that William McKinley had been sworn in as president that day; a bold-faced headline declared "Death Came Without Warning," and noted “His Clothing Torn From His Body." A reporter at the scene described how the body, which was found around 11 a.m., was unrecognizable at first. Eventually the young man's father identified him as Frederick Alonzo "Lon" Dorsa, and the coroner determined that an umbrella was the cause of Lon's electrocution.

Lon left behind a widow whose name was never mentioned in newspapers; to this day, other printed versions of the Dorsas' story omit her identity. But she had a name—Neva Dorsa—and her grief led her to commission a singularly peculiar grave for her husband—one that would open her up to years worth of ridicule and also make their small town a roadside attraction.

A funeral announcement in the Daily Mail noted that undertakers had prepared Lon's body in a "neat casket" before a funeral service set for March 7. A follow-up article the next day read that Lon's funeral was widely attended, with a large procession to the cemetery and burial with military honors. His widow—whose name was determined from a marriage license filed at the Vernon County courthouse showing that Lon married a Neva Gibson on February 12, 1895—had gone from a newlywed to a single mother in just two years.

But, Lon's first interment was temporary. Neva had arranged a grand resting place for her husband, which wasn't ready in the short time between his death and the funeral. Modern newspaper retellings of Lon and Neva's tale say she ordered a large, above-ground enclosure from the Brophy Monument Company in Nevada. A large piece of stone—some accounts say marble while others suggest limestone or granite—was shipped in via railroad car. When it arrived, the stone was too heavy to move, so a local stonecutter spent more than a month chiseling away before the piece was light enough to be pulled away by horses. A wire story described the stone tomb as being "12 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet high. Its weight at completion was 11,000 pounds."

Before Lon’s body was placed inside, Neva made a few key additions—specifically a hidden pane of glass that let her view her husband:

"A piece of stone, covered to represent a bible [sic], is the covering of the aperture. It can be lifted easily by the widow's hand and when Mrs. Dorsa's grief becomes unusually poignant, she goes to the cemetery and gazes for hours at a time upon the face of her dead husband."

The Daily Mail covered the second tomb's installation with morbid attention to detail on May 6, 1897, precisely two months after Lon was initially buried:

"When the grave was opened this morning the coffin looked as bright and new as when buried but it had water in it which had at one time nearly submerged the body. The remains looked perfectly natural and there were no evidences of decomposition having sat in—no odor whatover [sic]. A little mould [sic] had gathered about the roots of his hair and on the neck, otherwise the body looked as fresh as when buried."

The newspaper called the tomb a "stone sarcophagus" and noted that Neva was there to examine her husband's corpse and watch the reburial of his remains. There was likely no inkling from those present, or the community who read about it in that evening's paper, that Neva had designed the tomb with unexpected and usual features, like the pivoting stone Bible that would reveal Lon's face below when unlocked and moved.

Instead, the newspaper suggested that the "costly mousoleum [sic] provided for the reception of his remains is the tribute of her affection."

Lon Dorsa's grave.
Lon Dorsa's grave at Deepwood Cemetery in Nevada, Missouri.
Nicole Garner

Following Lon's re-interment, Neva managed her grief by visiting her deceased husband regularly. Her home was near his grave—the 1900 U.S. Census listed her as a 25-year-old widow living on south Washington Street in Nevada, the same street as the cemetery—and three years after her husband's death, she was employed as a dressmaker, working year-round to provide for their young children, Beatrice and Fred.

By 1905, a new wave of public scrutiny hit the Dorsa (sometimes spelled Dorsey) family when the details of Neva's specially designed, above-ground grave began circulating. It's not clear who reported the story first, but the Topeka Daily Capital, published across the Kansas border 150 miles from Nevada, published a piece, which eventually spread to The St. Louis Republic. Early that spring, the same story was printed in the Pittsburgh Press, a Chicago church publication called The Advance, and in the summer of 1906, a description of Lon Dorsa's crypt had made it nearly 1000 miles to the front page of the Staunton Spectator and Vindicator in Staunton, Virginia:

"The strangest tomb in America, if not in the world, is that which rest the remains of Lon Dorsa in Deepwood cemetery, Nevada, Mo. It is so constructed that the widow can look upon her deceased husband at will, by the turning of a key in a lock which holds a stone Bible just above the remains."

Articles at the time noted that Lon's remains were in an airtight tomb and that scientists supposedly told Mrs. Dorsa that her husband's body would be well-preserved in those conditions, but decomposition had already taken place: "It [the body] has turned almost black, but the general outline of the features remains unchanged."

According to a 1997 walking tour pamphlet of Deepwood Cemetery, it wasn't long before community members caught on that Neva visited the cemetery all too often: "Fascinated children hung about to watch the lady arrive in her buggy. If she saw them, she'd go after them with a whip, shrieking like a madwoman …" the guide stated. Eventually, "her family had the pivot removed and the Bible cemented down."

Local lore suggests that the publicity and Lon's deterioration drove Neva to insanity. Some say she ended up in an asylum and died soon after—a fairly believable tale, considering Nevada was home to one of the state's hospitals for mental illness. However, a list of Deepwood Cemetery lot owners, found at the Vernon County Historical Society, doesn't have a burial space for Neva.

A more likely explanation—based on a listing on Find a Grave, a website that indexes cemeteries and headstones, and which matches Neva's personal information—suggests she simply remarried and moved to California. The California Death Index, 1945-1997, shows that a Neva (Gibson) Simpson died Dec. 30, 1945 in Los Angeles. The birth date and place match those of Neva (Gibson) Dorsa.

Newspaper clipping featuring a picture of a skull.
Nevada Daily Mail, Nov. 30, 1987. Courtesy of the State Historical Society of Missouri.
State Historical Society of Missouri

Wherever Neva ended up, Lon's body didn't exactly rest in peace. In July 1986, vandals broke into the town's most famous tomb and stole his head. It was recovered the following year in a Nevada home, but law enforcement and cemetery caretakers noted that the stone Bible, which had been cemented down for some time, was periodically ripped off the tomb.

Talbot Wight, the Deepwood Cemetery Board’s president at the time, told the Daily Mail in 1987 that Lon's hair, skin, and clothing were well preserved until vandals broke the encasing glass. "Evidently, he was still in pretty good shape until July," Wight said.

But when Lon's skull was photographed for the newspaper's front page, it featured no hair or skin, both of which likely decomposed quickly after being stolen if not before. The skull was buried in an undisclosed location away from the body so as to not tempt new grave robbers, and the tomb was re-sealed with marble in an attempt to prevent further damage.

Still, the story of Neva Dorsa and her husband’s remains hasn't died away. It circulates through southwestern Missouri, drawing visitors to Deepwood Cemetery to gaze at the stone plot—just not in the same way Neva had intended.

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