CLOSE
istock
istock

12 Strange Funerals and Funeral Traditions

istock
istock

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

Getty Images

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. 

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
History
Alexander Hamilton’s Son Also Died in a Duel
Alexander Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

When Aaron Burr shot Alexander Hamilton on July 11, 1804, the scene must have been eerily familiar to the former Secretary of the Treasury. After all, his son died in a similar setting just three years earlier.

On November 20, 1801, 19-year-old Philip Hamilton and his friend Richard Price had a run-in with a young lawyer named George I. Eacker at Manhattan's Park Theatre. A supporter of Thomas Jefferson, Eacker had delivered a Fourth of July speech that harshly criticized the elder Hamilton, and his son was apparently determined to take revenge.

On that fateful day in November, according to biographer Ron Chernow, Price and the younger Hamilton "barged into a box where Eacker was enjoying the show ... [then] began taunting Eacker about his Fourth of July oration."

As onlookers started to stare, Eacker asked the two young men to go into the lobby, where he called the pair "damned rascals." Tempers rose, and although the trio went to a tavern in an attempt to settle their differences, they failed miserably. Later the same night, Eacker had a letter from Price challenging him to duel.

Customs of the time meant that Eacker had little choice but to accept or face social humiliation. He and Price met that Sunday in New Jersey, where the penalties for dueling were less severe than in New York. They exchanged four shots without injury—and considered the matter between them closed.

Philip Hamilton wasn't so lucky. Cooler heads tried to negotiate a truce with Eacker's second, but their efforts were also for naught. Once the duel had been scheduled for November 23 on a sandbar in today's Jersey City, the elder Hamilton advised his son to preserve his honor by wasting his first shot—by waiting until Eacker fired first or firing into the air, a move the French called the delope. The intent was to cut the duel short, and, if the other side fired to kill, plainly show they had blood on their hands.

Philip seemed to follow his father's advice. For about a minute after the duel officially began, neither man made a move. Then, Eacker raised his pistol, and Philip did too. Eacker fired, and Philip shot back, though it may have been an involuntary reaction to having been hit. The bullet tore through Philip's body and settled in his left arm. Despite being rushed to Manhattan, he died early the next morning.

On July 11, 1804, Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr also departed to New Jersey, this time Weehawken, to settle their infamous differences. This time, the elder Hamilton fired the first shot—and he aimed to miss. (According to his second, anyway.) Burr, on the other hand, seemed to have every intention of connecting with his target. He shot Hamilton in the stomach, and the bullet lodged in his spine.

Just like Philip, Hamilton died the next day.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.
arrow
History
Mütter Museum Showcases the Victorian Custom of Making Crafts From Human Hair
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Palette work from the collection of John Whitenight and Frederick LaValley
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

During the Victorian era, hair wasn’t simply for heads. People wove clipped locks into elaborate accessories, encased them in frames and lockets, and used them to make wreaths, paintings, and other items. "Woven Strands," a new exhibition at Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, explores this historical practice by featuring dozens of intricate works culled from five private collections.

According to Emily Snedden Yates, special projects manager at the Mütter Museum, hair work—as it’s called today—was common in England and America between the 17th and early 20th centuries. The popularity of the practice peaked in the 19th century, thanks in part to Queen Victoria’s prolonged public mourning after her husband Prince Albert’s death in 1861. People in both the UK and U.S. responded to her grief, with the latter country also facing staggering death tolls from the Civil War.

With loss of life at the forefront of public consciousness, elaborate mourning customs developed in both nations, and hair work became part of the culture of bereavement. "[The 19th century was] such a sentimental age, and hair is about sentiment," exhibition co-curator Evan Michelson tells Mental Floss. That sentimental quality made hair work fit for both mourning practices as well as for romantic or familiar displays of fondness.

Palette work culled from the collection of Evan Michelson and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Palette work from the collection of Evan Michelson
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Most hair artworks were made by women, and created solely for the domestic sphere or as wearable trinkets. Women relied on multiple techniques to create these objects, fashioning wreaths with hair-wrapped bendable wires—a process called gimp work—and dissolving ground hair into pigments used to paint images of weeping willows, urns, and grave sites. Watch fobs, necklaces, and bracelets were woven using an approach called table work, which involved anchoring hair filaments with lead weights onto a table and using tools to twist them into intricate patterns through a hole in the furniture’s surface. Yet another technique, palette work, involved stenciled sheets of hair that were cut into various shapes and patterns.

Hair work remained popular until World War I, according to Michelson, who co-owns New York City's quirky Obscura Antiques and Oddities shop and organized "Woven Strands" along with 19th century decorative arts expert John Whitenight.

“Women hit the workforce, and death occurred on such a huge scale that it really swept away the old way of mourning and the old way of doing things,” Michelson says. By the early 20th century, tastes and aesthetics had also changed, with hair work beginning to be viewed “as something grandma had,” she explains.

The Mütter’s exhibition aside, people typically won’t see hair work in major museums. Being a craft primarily performed by women at home, hair works were usually passed down in families and often viewed as worthless from a financial and artistic perspective.

“A lot of hair work was discarded,” Michelson says. Many owners repurposed the shadowbox frames often used to display hair work by removing and tossing the artworks within. Works stored in basements and attics also frequently succumbed to water damage and insects. Antique dealers today typically only see hair jewelry, which often featured semi-precious materials or was encased in a protective layer.

Sepia dissolved hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Sepia dissolved hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Yet examples of hair wreaths, palette work, and other delicate heirlooms do occasionally surface. They’re prized by a small group of avid collectors, even though other connoisseurs can be grossed out by them.

“People have this visceral reaction to it,” Michelson says. “They either gasp and adore it—like ‘I can’t get over how amazing it is’—or they just back away. There are very few other things where people are repulsed like this … In the 19th century no one batted an eyelash.”

“It’s a personal textile,” Snedden Yates explains. “It’s kind of like bone in that it doesn’t really decompose at the same rate as the rest of our bodies do. It’s not made of tissue, so if you keep it in the right environment it can be maintained indefinitely.”

Table work culled from the collection of Eden Daniels and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Table work from the collection of Eden Daniels
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

“Woven Strands” features examples of gimp work, palette work, table work, and dissolved hair work. It’s often hard to trace these types of artworks back to their original creators—they typically don’t bear signatures—but the curators “really wanted to find hair that you could connect to an actual human being,” Michelson says. “We chose pieces that have provenance. We know where they came from or when it was made, or who actually donated the hair in some cases, or what the family name was. We also picked out things that are unusual, that you don’t see often—oddities, if you will.”

Woven hair culled from the collection of Jennifer Berman and featured in the Mütter Museum's "Woven Strands" exhibition.
Woven hair from the collection of Jennifer Berman
Image courtesy of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia and the Mütter Museum. Photography by Evi Numen 2017.

Displayed in the Mütter Museum’s Thomson Gallery, “Woven Strands” opens on January 19, 2018, and runs through July 12, 2018. On April 7, 2018, master jeweler and art historian Karen Bachmann will lead a 19th century hair art workshop, followed by a day-long historical symposium on the art on Sunday, April 8.

Michelson hopes that “Woven Strands” will teach future generations about hair art, and open their minds to a craft they might have otherwise dismissed as parochial or, well, weird. “We hope that people see it and fall in love with it,” she says.

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios