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Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

10 Graves That Are Remarkably Secure

Stacy Conradt
Stacy Conradt

People go to great lengths to keep their deceased loved ones safe and secure. There are locked mausoleums, indoor burials, and stone walls with thick gates that only caretakers can access. And then there are the people who dump several tons of concrete into the grave and call it secure.

Here are 10 graves that are remarkably secure. Alternatively, here are 10 zombies that we’ll never have to worry about.

1. George Pullman

Thanks to job cuts, wage cuts, and working his employees to the bone in general, Chicago railroad industrialist George Pullman was not a popular man. When he died of a heart attack in 1897, his family was concerned that angry ex-employees would take vengeance. To protect Pullman, his heirs buried him in a pit that was eight feet deep and lined with steel-reinforced concrete. As a finishing touch, the casket was covered in asphalt, concrete, and steel.

2. Abraham Lincoln

Stacy Conradt

A decade after Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Chicago crime boss organized a team and attempted to steal his body for ransom while his tomb was under construction in Springfield, Illinois. They were thwarted by undercover Secret Service agents, but it was enough of a scare that surviving son Robert Todd Lincoln took drastic measures to ensure that his family would never be disturbed again. He shelled out $700 to have the coffin placed inside a steel cage and encased it in concrete, a move borrowed from his former boss, George Pullman.

3. Levi Leiter

As the co-founder of Marshall Field’s department store, Levi Leiter sold his half of the business to fellow co-founder, the eponymous Marshall Field. This made Leiter a very, very rich man. In 1876, he became worried about what would happen to his remains after he died, after the corpse of a fellow retail entrepreneur, Alexander Turney Stewart, was dug up and held for a $250,000 ransom. By the time Stewart’s widow paid up a portion of the cash ($20,000, reportedly), two years had passed and there was no guarantee that the bones she received were actually her husband’s. Vowing to prevent such a thing from happening to his family, Leiter gave specific instructions, asking that his casket be encased in a cage-like grid of steel beams, then covered in concrete upon his burial in Washington, D.C.

When it was reported that grave robbers were plotting to break into the grave three months after the funeral, extra security was hired, but the graveyard’s superintendent knew his remains weren't going anywhere, and they haven't.

4. Eva Peron

Although she died in 1952, Eva Peron’s body continued to travel for a good 20 years. In 1955, military officers stole her remains when they overthrew the Peronist government. Her body was hidden in Milan, and then eventually transferred to Spain to the estate where Juan Peron was living in exile. Her remains were finally returned to Argentina in 1974. The Argentine government took extreme measures to stop another theft from happening, and her tomb in Buenos Aires' Reloceta cemetery was designed by a bank vault manufacturer. Her body is buried twenty feet underground and her sister was given the tomb's only key.

5. Charlie Chaplin

On March 2, 1978, a few months after his death, Charlie Chaplin’s body disappeared from his grave in Corsier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland. Shortly thereafter, his widow received a call demanding $600,000 for the return of her husband’s corpse. Police launched an investigation and captured the two men responsible. They also found Chaplin's body, which was buried in a field. To ensure this never happened again, Chaplin’s reburial included a vault made of reinforced concrete. “You would need a pneumatic drill to open that vault," the village gravedigger later said. "And that is bound to make a lot of noise."

6. John Dillinger

Stacy Conradt

The answer to why Public Enemy Number One was buried underneath a three foot sheet of concrete in an Indianapolis cemetery depends on the person you ask. The standard story is that Dillinger was killed in a 1934 Chicago sting and his father ordered the concrete blanket to prevent grave robbery. Dillinger Sr. had received offers from unscrupulous businessmen who wanted to display his son’s body for profit.

On the other hand, those who believe that the man killed outside that Chicago theater was a decoy think that the extreme burial was intended to keep anyone from discovering the corpse's true identity.

7. H.H. Holmes

If you've read The Devil in the White City, you know that notorious serial killer H.H. Holmes did unspeakable things to the many victims he lured to his hotel near the site of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago, both before and after their deaths. But after he was executed for his crimes in 1896, Holmes wanted to make sure that his corpse remained untouched. He left specific orders for his burial to include a concrete-filled coffin. Any would-be grave robbers are going to have their work cut out for them in more ways than one, however: Holmes is buried in an unmarked grave near Philadelphia.

8. Ronnie Van Zant

After Lynyrd Skynyrd’s lead singer was killed in a plane crash in 1977, he was buried in a mausoleum in Orange Park, Florida. He rested there peacefully for 23 years, until a vandal broke into his tomb and the tomb of fellow bandmates Steve and Cassie Gaines. To protect Van Zant from future attempts, his family had him relocated to a cemetery in Jacksonville and buried in a concrete vault.

9. Ned Kelly

Australian bushranger Ned Kelly’s last wish was ignored. Though he wanted to be buried with his family, his remains were thrown into a mass grave at the Old Melbourne Gaol after his execution in 1880. It wasn’t until 2011 that Kelly finally got his wish: Most of his skeleton was exhumed from the pit at the Gaol and given to his descendants, who buried Kelly in the family plot. To ensure that no one disturbed him again, his family had the grave surrounded by concrete. Unfortunately, it's only a partial skeleton: His skull is still missing.

10. Leon Czolgosz

There is likely no hope of exhuming the body of anarchist Leon Czolgosz, the man who assassinated William McKinley. Though it’s rumored that his unmarked grave was encased in cement, it hardly seems necessary—there’s not much there. To deter Czolgosz supporters from making him a martyr, acid was poured into his coffin. It was estimated that his body would be completely liquefied 12 hours after the burial.

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The Only 4 Private Citizens to Lie in Honor at the U.S. Capitol
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Billy Graham, the most famous Christian preacher of the past century, died in his home on February 21 at age 99. As a noted spiritual advisor of U.S. presidents, he held a special position of influence in American history. Now, he's being granted another privilege extended to very few Americans: This week, his body will lay in honor in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda.

From February 28 to March 1, members of the public will be invited to visit the Capitol and pay their respects to the late reverend. It's an honor that has been bestowed upon only 33 Americans since the tradition began with Henry Clay in 1852. Of the distinguished citizens who have "lain in state," 11 were U.S. presidents. Several elected officials and military officials have also been commemorated under the rotunda, but only three private citizens—and with Graham, four—have their names among their ranks.

The first two private citizens to lie in honor were Capitol Police officers Jacob Chestnut and John Gibson. Both were killed in the line of duty during the Capitol shooting incident in 1998.

The third private citizen to receive the distinction was Rosa Parks. She died in 2005, 50 years after refusing to give up her seat on a bus for a white passenger, thus helping set the civil rights movement in motion. So far, she's the only woman whose body has lain in honor at the U.S. Capitol.

Congress chooses which individuals get to receive the honor, either by passing a resolution or having congressional leadership obtain permission from the surviving family. When Graham's body arrives at the Capitol this week, it will be displayed on the same platform used to support Lincoln's body and that of every person (except the two police officers) who has lain in the rotunda since 1865.

[h/t AL.com]

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17 Behind-the-Scenes Secrets of Funeral Directors
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iStock

Despite the fact that almost everyone will need the services of the "dismal trade" at some point in their lives, the specific job duties of funeral directors often remain shrouded in mystery. Mental Floss talked to several to learn some little-known facts about the profession, from what happens behind the doors of the embalming room to the real reason you might want to think twice about that “protective” casket.

1. THEY DRIVE MINIVANS.

“The reason you don't see the dead being picked up in your daily life is because we're stealth like that,” Jeff Jorgenson of Elemental Cremation & Burial in Seattle tells Mental Floss. “We are soccer moms and we are legion! Actually, we just use soccer-mom vehicles: Minivans are the transportation of the dead. We rarely drive hearses—those are ceremonial vehicles only.”

2. THAT SWEET LOOK ON THE DECEASED’S FACE TOOK SOME WORK.

Funeral directors say that the most important part of preparing a body for a viewing is the “setting of the features”—creating a peaceful facial expression with a pleasant smile. But while it might look nice at the end, the work creating that appearance can be grisly. Morticians stuff the throat and nose with cotton and then suture the mouth shut, either using a curved needle and thread to stitch between the jawbone and nasal cavity or using a needle injector machine to accomplish a similar job more quickly. Small spiked cups are also inserted under the eyelids to keep the lids closed and the eyes from caving in.

Of course, some bodies take more restoration than others. One mortician says that to prepare a decapitated corpse for an open-casket viewing, he uses a wooden dowel to rejoin the head and body, then sutures the neck back together.

3. THEY MIGHT MAKE A TRIP TO THE DRUGSTORE. 

In her best-selling book Smoke Gets In Your Eyes, mortician Caitlin Doughty says: “If the usual methods of setting the features aren’t sufficient to keep the eyes closed or the mouth shut, superglue is a secret weapon.” In Grave Matters, author Mark Harris points out that superglue can also be used to close up any puncture marks from needles on a corpse. Brooklyn funeral director Amy Cunningham of Fitting Tribute Funeral Services tells Mental Floss: “If you need to keep a deceased person’s hands folded neatly at their abdomen, but their arms keep falling down into the sides of the casket, you can gently bind their thumbs with a ponytail tie.”

4. COMPARISON SHOPPING IS KEY.

Sixth-generation funeral director Caleb Wilde, known for his popular blog Confessions of a Funeral Director, shares this story with us: “About a year ago, a husband and wife died about four months apart. The wife knew us, so we buried her, and the husband knew the funeral home in a neighboring town, so they buried him. They both had the same funeral, same casket, vault, etc. The family called us to let us know that the other funeral home charged $3000 more. Same value, different cost. Call around to different funeral homes. Shop. Ask for the GPL [General Price List]. Remember, cost doesn’t always equal value.”

5. YOU MIGHT WANT TO THINK TWICE ABOUT “PROTECTIVE” CASKETS.

Some caskets that have vacuum-seal rubber gaskets are marketed as “protective” or resistant to the “entry of outside elements.” As Harris details in Grave Matters, this creates conditions that encourage the growth of anaerobic bacteria, which break the body down by putrefying it, “turning soft body parts to mush and bloating the corpse with foul-smelling gas … Inside the sealed casket, the result is a funereal version of the decay that’s found in swamp bottoms and the bowels of unturned compost piles.”

6. SOMETIMES CASKETS EXPLODE.

In fact, the aforementioned buildup of methane gas can cause what people in the industry call “exploding casket syndrome,” where the gas will literally blow the lids off of caskets and doors off of crypts. Some casket makers have added Tupperware-style “burping” features to their sealer models to release the accumulated gases. Harris spoke with a former cemetery owner who told him that those “protective” sealer caskets are “routinely unsealed after the family leaves … to relieve the inevitable buildup of gases within the casket.” Staff may also just leave the caskets unlocked, not engaging the seal to begin with, in an attempt to avoid those “fetid conditions inside the casket.”

7. SOMETIMES PACEMAKERS EXPLODE, TOO.

If a pacemaker is left in a body when cremated, “it can explode and can cause upward of $10,000 of damage to the retort [cremation machine],” Wilde says. “So, pacemakers need to be removed before cremation. And don’t worry, the funeral directors/cremationists will do the removal for you.”

8. SOME FUNERAL DIRECTORS RARELY SEE THE DEAD.

Jorgenson says, “The bulk of what funeral directors do is paper-pushing—filing death certificates, getting permits, editing obituaries, and sending them to the paper. [Some] will only see a dead person when they are delivered for a service. In the case of some funeral homes, a [corporate] funeral director could literally go years without seeing a dead person.”

9. THEY SEE THINGS THROUGH ROSE-COLORED LIGHT BULBS.

While the formaldehyde embalmers use does contain a rosy dye to restore color to graying, lifeless flesh, it’s not always sufficient. According to Cunningham, “mortuary schools teach color theory and stage lighting—how to use colored gels over the ceiling lights.” Doughty also mentions that bodies are often set out for visitation displayed under rose-colored light bulbs.

10. IT ALL GOES RIGHT DOWN THE DRAIN.

You’d think all the chemicals and body fluids involved in embalming would be disposed of like biohazard, but it’s industry practice to just wash it all off the table, right into the drain. Harris points out that just one embalming can generate 120 gallons of “funeral waste”—blood, fecal matter, and the former contents of internal organs, in addition to any chemicals in the preservation fluid itself—and it all ends up in the public sewer system, to be eventually released into waterways. Although, as Wilde points out, “Blood isn’t any worse than the other things that go down the loo.”

11. FORMALDEHYDE MIGHT BE DYING A SLOW DEATH.

In addition to causing relatively minor problems, such as sinus issues and rashes (including one called “embalmer’s eczema”), formaldehyde is a carcinogen. The U.S. National Toxicology Program, among other groups, has said that people with high levels of exposure—such as embalmers—are at a higher risk for nasopharyngeal cancer, myeloid leukemia, and other forms of cancer.

Usually, criticism comes from outside the death-care industry, but that’s starting to change. In the May 2016 issue of The Director, the official publication of the National Funeral Directors Association, Carol Lynn Green, the NFDA’s environmental-compliance counsel, writes, “there is no dispute that formaldehyde poses a health risk.” She says that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is gearing up to make their workplace regulations stricter, and recommends that funeral homes start to transition to preservation products that don’t use the dangerous gas.

12. YOU CAN’T REALLY BE BURIED UNDER A TREE.

Some consumers who dislike the idea of embalming, or have environmental concerns, choose a “green” burial. Alongside that often comes a romantic idea about being buried beneath a favorite tree—perhaps a stately oak, for example. Sarah Wambold, an Austin funeral director and green burial expert, tells Mental Floss: “A body must be buried at least four feet from a tree to protect its root system. It’s a bit of an adjustment for people who are committed to the image of being buried under a tree, but that’s not always the most green option for the tree. Wouldn't they rather allow the tree to continue to live?” You can, however, plant new trees or shrubs atop a grave after a burial, and the roots will grow down over the body.

13. AT LEAST ONE FUNERAL DIRECTOR WANTS TO TEACH YOU TO PREPARE DEAD BODIES YOURSELF.

Caitlin Doughty

Doughty, who runs a funeral home called Undertaking LA, told WIRED“I’m a licensed mortician, but I want to teach people that they don’t need me.” She advocates people learning to take care of their own dead at home, and says she wants the public to become comfortable with the way death looks naturally: “A chemically preserved body looks like a wax replica of a person. Bodies are supposed to be drooping and turning very pale and sinking in while decomposing. Within a day or so after they’ve died, you should be able to see that this person has very much left the building. That’s the point. I think dead bodies should look dead. It helps with the grieving process.”

Doughty encourages the idea of home funerals, which are legal in all 50 states (although 10 states require the involvement of a funeral director). For more information, check out the Home Funeral Alliance.

14. IT’S HARD TO BE THEIR FRIEND.

Any friend might disappoint you once in a while, but funeral directors will probably do it more often, according to Wilde. “We might miss your birthday party; we might have to leave in the middle of dinner. Death has this way of keeping an untimely schedule, and as death’s minions, we’re tied to that schedule. Whether it be in the middle of the night, or in the middle of your wedding, when death calls, we have to respond.”

15. NO ONE WANTS TO PROFIT FROM THE DEATHS OF CHILDREN.

“It is a tradition in the funeral industry to provide funerals to the families of stillborn babies and very young infants at cost,” Cunningham says. “Funeral directors do not care to make a profit on the deaths of children, and in fact, the death of a young child saddens the whole firm more than almost anything else.”

The funeral industry also includes a number of charitable projects devoted to helping parents after a child’s death. A volunteer group called Little Angel Gowns makes burial garments for babies out of donated wedding dresses, and provides them at no cost to hospitals and funeral homes. The Tears Foundation assists grieving parents in paying for burial or cremation expenses after losing a baby. Eloise Woods, a natural burial ground in Texas, will bury infants at no charge.

16. YOUR GRANDFATHER’S HIP JOINT MIGHT BECOME A NEW ROAD SIGN.

According to Doughty, families can ask for replacement medical parts back after a cremation, but most do not. Hip and knee implants are often melted down and recycled for road signs and car parts, among other things. Unfortunately, she says, breast implants usually melt all over the cremation machine.

17. SOME FUNERAL HOMES EMPLOY THERAPY DOGS.

A large part of a funeral director’s job is comforting the bereaved. Some use grief-therapy dogs to give the families a furry shoulder to cry on. For one example, check out Lulu the golden doodle.

All photos courtesy iStock unless otherwise noted.

This story originally ran in 2016.

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