12 Strange Funerals and Funeral Traditions

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Funerals don't necessarily have to be somber events. These memorials and traditions are heavy on quirk.

1. The last hurrah

Miriam Banks was the life of the party—even at her funeral. When she passed away in June, her daughters honored her memory by recreating a party scene familiar to friends and loved ones. Instead of a coffin, the deceased sat at a table with a cigarette in her hand and her favorite beer and whiskey in front of her. The service also included R&B music and spinning disco balls.

2. Highway to heaven

Billy Standley was so ride or die about his 1967 Electra Glide cruiser that he spent the last years of his life planning his burial on the motorcycle. The unusual last rites involved buying three cemetery plots and designing a custom-made Plexiglas casket. When the fateful day finally arrived last January, a team of five embalmers prepared Standley for his final ride, mounting his body on the bike and dressing him in leather biking gear and a helmet. He led the procession to the cemetery.

3. Go out with a bump and grind

You only die once, so why not have a good time at your funeral? In Taiwan, some people hire strippers to appease wandering spirits and liven up the occasion. The dancers don't usually strip down to their birthday suits, but they're not shy about jumping on caskets or giving mourners lap dances. If families want a more buttoned-up service without sacrificing fun, they can hire all-female marching bands that emulate the jazz funerals popular in New Orleans, albeit in miniskirts and go-go boots.

4. Dying in character

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Actor Bela Lugosi made a name for himself playing Count Dracula in the original 1931 film and several other horror movies. Alas, he struggled to get other parts, later saying, "I'd like to quit the supernatural roles and play just an interesting, down-to-earth person." Wish granted—well, maybe just the "down-to-earth" part. When Lugosi died of a heart attack in 1956, his son and third wife Lillian Arch buried him in the Dracula cape he used for appearances.

5. The end of the road

They say you can't take it with you, but that didn't stop George Swanson from being buried with his Corvette in 1994. Swanson's widow honored his long, wonderful life by driving his cremains to the cemetery in her own sports car, putting the urn in the driver's seat, and popping an Engelbert Humperdinck tape in the cassette player. Car enthusiasts might find the Corvette's death more tragic—the car only had 27,000 miles on its odometer.

6. #Funeral

Funeral selfies are almost universally considered tacky, but what about the funeral livetweet? When publicist and Twitter addict Michael O'Connor Clarke died of cancer in 2012, his friend Mathew Ingram decided to share an online play-by-play of the memorial service. Ingram lost a few followers along the way, but Clarke's family in Ireland appreciated the gesture. "I thought it would be fitting to livetweet Michael’s funeral because of his interest in such things, but I also thought he would have seen the humor in it if he had been alive," Ingram later blogged. "I didn’t count on seeing an additional benefit, however, which was the ability to share what was happening with others who couldn’t attend."

7. Game over

No one really knows if there's life after death, but football can be arranged. The family of Pittsburgh Steelers superfan James Henry Smith transformed the funeral home with a small stage and furniture from Smith's living room. The deceased was placed in his favorite recliner, remote control in hand and beer and cigarettes at his side, so he could comfortably watch a loop of Steelers football on TV.

8. Send in the clowns

Even if you ban black clothing and encourage a celebratory mood, funerals still tend to be sad. Some families in Europe call for reinforcements in the form of professional funeral clowns. The jokesters offer a menu of tricks—from squirting flowers to balloon animals—to respectfully lighten the mood. One Dutch clown can even be hired to break wind during particularly solemn or tedious parts of the memorial. Sounds fun ... unless you're scared to death of clowns.

9. Strike out

When Judy Sunday passed away in 2013, her family and friends preferred to bowl instead of bawl. They held a memorial at her favorite bowling alley, where they spelled "RIP Judy" in pins and then knocked them down with the dolly-mounted casket. And yes, they wore matching league shirts.

10. High and mighty

Tupac Shakur's 1996 murder is still a mystery. But in 2011, his former rap group, The Young Outlawz, came clean about his controversial memorial service. They claim that at a picnic for family and friends honoring the deceased rapper, they mixed Tupac's cremains with marijuana, rolled joints, and let their love and grief go up in smoke. Their inspiration: lyrics from Tupac's song "Black Jesus."

11. Keeping up with the bones

In some parts of Madagascar, it's a good thing when a deceased relative turns over in his or her grave. The Malagasy tradition of Famadihana, known as the turning of the bones, calls for regular unburying of the dead in order to change their clothes, walk them around the village, and dance with their surviving loved ones. The corpses are then swaddled in clean blankets and put back to rest until the next family reunion.

12. TKO

Amateur boxer Christopher Rivera Amaro of San Juan, Puerto Rico was tragically killed before he could become a champion. To honor his brave spirit and unrealized potential, his survivors planned a wake in a makeshift boxing ring. Amaro's body was dressed in boxing trunks, a robe, and blue gloves and placed in the corner of the ring, as if his fight were just beginning.

All images courtesy of iStock unless otherwise noted. 

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August 16, 2014 - 10:00am
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