CLOSE
iStock
iStock

9 Unexpected Reuses for Coffins

iStock
iStock

While most of us think of a coffin as having a pretty singular purpose, there are plenty of inventive people out there who have reimagined what the coffin (or casket) can be. Here are some examples of alternative uses for coffins, both before and after death.

1. BOOKSHELF

 
Thinking about building your own coffin but not sure how to store it until your last exit? Just add some slats and set it on end, and you have an instant ominous bookshelf. Woodworker Chuck Lakin makes a more subtle bookcase coffin that is basically two shelves hinged together, ready to transition into a chest for burial. Phoenix Boatworks likewise creates canoe-shaped coffins that function as bookshelves until the "final voyage." Designer William Warren, meanwhile, has envisioned "Shelves for Life" with wooden parts for book storage that can be reconfigured into coffin parts in death.

2. FLOWER PLANTER

Back in 2013, a man in Northumberland, England, discovered that the garden trough he'd been using for three decades was in fact a rare Roman sarcophagus. That discovery followed a 2012 auction of a Roman marble coffin that had been found in a Dorset garden. Maybe your resting place will have an unexpected resurrection—it might if you’re buried in stone like a member of the Roman Empire.

3. COUCH

Coffin-Couch

Coffin Couches create their plush furniture from 18 gauge steel coffins obtained from California funeral homes. These aren't being recycled out of the cemetery. The coffins are models that have "slight cosmetic inconsistencies," have been scratched during shipment, or were bought by a family and held a body, but not used in cremation or burial.

4. COFFEE TABLE

 
Designer Charles Constantine's "Coffin Table" might seem like a bold modular choice for the living room with its pine wood angles. Made with open sides for storage, it's also an unusual bent shape. This hints at its future reuse as a coffin, in which the body is arranged in a fetal position facing the eastern sun, a sign of rebirth in some cultures.

5. POOL TABLE

 
Although this isn't exactly up to regulation billiards standards, the coffin pool table from Casket Furniture was envisioned as a source of entertainment in life before its final reuse as a tomb. Considering both a fine pool table and high-end coffin cost thousands of dollars, it makes sense to get some enjoyment from the object in the time you have.

6. TANNING BED

The slyly named "Sundead" was a 2012 conceptual project in which Argentine artist Luciano Podcaminsky built a tanning bed contained in a coffin. The piece contrasted the quest for physical perfection with the inevitability of that body’s decay.

7. BAR AND GRILL

 

This is best suited for a cookout where your friends are quite chill about their transience, as the roving Open Casket Bar and Grill from the Nightmare Cruisers Hearse Club is a combo hearse and coffin turned into a mobile grilling machine. And if you're in the Detroit area, it's rentable for parties.

8. BOAT

Last year, a mysterious "Lost Undertaker" was spotted paddling a coffin in Australia's Lake Burley Griffin. Chilean artist Sebastian Errazuriz was way ahead of him, exhibiting his 2009 "Boat Coffin" in the 2012 London Design Festival. The casket-shaped contraption has a working motor and keel, the idea being that a "sailor" could stage his or her own funeral, navigating the casket from shore, then pulling its plug when they're ready for the end.

9. HOT ROD

You'd think the data on traffic fatalities would make drivers superstitious, but hot rods made from coffins aren’t that uncommon. The most famous is likely the puntastic DRAG-U-LA from The Munsters, especially the 1965 episode “Hot Rod Herman,” in which Grandpa Munster competes in a drag race. That car was made from an actual fiberglass coffin. Classic and custom car fans, perhaps inspired by the eerie auto, are still building their own DIY vehicles—maybe for some grand theft grave digging.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
arrow
Weird
10 People Whose Hearts Were Buried Separately From the Rest of Them
Richard the Lionheart
Richard the Lionheart
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Though it may seem bizarre today, having your heart buried apart from the rest of your body wasn’t uncommon for European aristocracy of the Middle Ages and beyond. The practice arose in part during the Crusades, when high-ranking warriors had a tendency to die in “heathen” places that weren’t seen as desirable burial locations. But transporting a whole body back to Europe made things pretty stinky, so corpses were stripped of flesh and ferried back to Europe as skeletons, with the inner organs (including the heart) removed and buried where the Crusaders had died. By the 12th century, members of the English and French aristocracy also frequently had their hearts buried separately from the rest of them.

Heart burial became less practical and more symbolic by the 17th century, partly as a religious practice associated with the Jesuits and other Counter Reformation groups. (Some scholars think the heart’s powerful symbolism became particularly important while the Catholic Church was undergoing a moment of crisis.) In Western Europe, it became common for powerful individuals, such as kings and queens, to ask that their hearts be buried in a spot they'd favored during life. In more recent years, Romantic poets and other artists also picked up the practice, which has yet to be entirely abandoned. Read on for some examples.

1. RICHARD I

Richard I, a.k.a. “Richard the Lion-Heart,” ruled as King of England 1189-99 but spent most of his reign fighting abroad, which is how he earned his reputation for military prowess. (He also may or may not have eaten the heart of a lion.) He died after being struck by a crossbow while campaigning in Chalus, France, and while most of his body was buried at Fontevraud Abbey, his heart was interred in a lead box at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Rouen, France. The organ was rediscovered during excavations in the 1830s, and in 2012, forensic scientists examined it—now mostly reduced to a grayish-brown powder—to learn more about Richard’s precise cause of death (some think a poisoned arrow dealt the fatal blow). The crumbling heart was too decayed to tell them much about how Richard had died, but the scientists did learn about medieval burial rituals, noting the use of vegetables and spices “directly inspired by the ones used for the embalming of Christ.”

2. ROBERT THE BRUCE

Robert the Bruce, King of Scots 1306-29, asked for his heart to be buried in Jerusalem. But it didn't get all the way there—the knight he entrusted it to, Sir James Douglas, was killed in battle with the Moors while wearing the heart in a silver case around his neck. Other knights recovered the heart from the battlefield, and brought it back to Melrose Abbey in Scotland for burial. Archeologists rediscovered what they believed to be the heart in 1920 and reburied it in a modern container; it was exhumed again in 1996, and reburied beneath the abbey’s lawn in 1998.

3. ST. LAURENCE O’TOOLE

St. Laurence O’Toole, the second archbishop of Dublin and one of that city’s patron saints, died in 1180 in France. His heart was sent back to Dublin’s Christ Church Cathedral, where it rested inside a heart-shaped wooden box within an iron cage—at least until 2012, when it was stolen. The dean of Christ Church Cathedral has speculated that the heart might have been taken by some kind of religious fanatic, since it has little economic value, and much more valuable gold and silver objects were ignored. (Weirdly, the thief, or thieves, also lit candles on one of the altars before fleeing.) The item has yet to be recovered.

4. THE PRINCE-BISHOPS OF WÜRZBURG

The prince-bishops of Würzburg (part of modern Germany) practiced a three-part burial: their corpses were usually sent to Würzburg cathedral, their intestines to the castle church at Marienberg, and their hearts, embalmed in glass jars, to what is now Ebrach Abbey. The practice was common by the 15th century, though it may go back as far as the 12th. Their funerals at the Marienberg castle also featured what may be one of history’s worst jobs: a servant was required to hold the heads of the corpses upright during the funeral, which featured the body seated upright and impaled on a pole. The funerals lasted for several days. There were more than 80 prince-bishops; a German cardiologist who made a special study of heart burial says "about 30" of their hearts found their resting places in the abbey.

5. ANNE BOLEYN

According to legend, after Anne Boleyn’s beheading in 1536, her heart was removed from her body and taken to a rural church in Erwarton, Suffolk, where the queen is said to have spent some happy days during her youth. In 1837, excavations at the church uncovered a small, heart-shaped lead casket inside a wall. The only thing inside was a handful of dust (it’s not clear whether it was actually the heart), but the casket was reburied in a vault beneath the organ, where a plaque today marks the spot.

6. LOTS OF POPES

Twenty-two hearts from various popes—from Sixtus V in 1583 to Leo XIII in 1903—are kept in marble urns at Santi Vincenzo e Anastasio a Trevi in Rome. Traditionally, the hearts were removed with the rest of the organs as part of the postmortem preservation process, and kept as relics just in case the pope became a saint.

7. FRÉDÉRIC CHOPIN

Romantic composer Frédéric Chopin died in Paris in 1849, and most of him is buried in that city’s Pere Lachaise, but he asked for his heart to be buried in his native Poland. His sister carried it back to their home country, where it is preserved in alcohol (some say cognac) within a crystal urn inside a pillar at the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw. In 2014, scientists conducted a late-night examination of the heart to make sure the alcohol hadn’t evaporated, although their secrecy frustrated scientists who hope to one day examine the organ for clues about what killed the composer.

8. THOMAS HARDY

The burial place of Thomas Hardy's heart in Dorset
Visit Britain, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

The English poet and novelist Thomas Hardy wanted to be buried in his hometown of Stinsford, Dorset, but friends insisted that a burial in Westminster Abbey was the only appropriate choice for someone of Hardy’s literary prominence. But when town officials found out that Hardy’s body was destined for the abbey, they threw a fit, and so a compromise was reached—most of Hardy went to Westminster, but his heart was buried in Stinsford churchyard (where it has its own grave marker). A persistent, but unproven, story has it that a cat ate part of the heart when the doctor who was removing it got distracted; a gruesome addendum says the animal was killed and buried alongside the organ.

9. PERCY SHELLEY

When the poet Percy Shelley died sailing the Mediterranean in 1822, local quarantine regulations dictated that his body had to be cremated on the beach. But his heart allegedly refused to burn, and a friend, the adventurer Edward Trelawny, supposedly plucked it out of the flames. After a custody battle among Shelley’s friends, the heart was given to Percy’s wife Mary, who kept it until she died. Her children found it in a silk bag inside her desk, and it is now said to be buried with her at the family vault in Bournemouth, England.

10. OTTO VON HABSBURG

The powerful House of Habsburg practiced heart burial for centuries, with many of the organs buried in copper urns in Vienna's Augustiner Church. In 2011, Otto von Habsburg, the last heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire (which was dissolved in 1918), had his heart buried in the Benedictine Abbey in Pannonhalma, Hungary. The rest of him was buried in Vienna. The erstwhile crown prince said he wanted his heart buried in Hungary as a gesture of affection for the country—one half of his former empire.

Additional Sources: "Heart burial in medieval and early post-medieval central Europe"; Body Parts and Bodies Whole.

This story originally ran in 2015.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Medicine
Smoking Just 1 Cigarette a Day Can Significantly Damage Your Health, Study Finds
iStock
iStock

Cutting back on smoking is a noble goal, but simply decreasing the amount of cigarettes you smoke—rather than quitting entirely—isn't as helpful as you might think when it comes to the health risks of tobacco use. ABC News reports that new research published in the BMJ finds that smoking just one cigarette a day still increases the risks of heart disease and stroke significantly.

Led by researchers from University College London and King’s College London, the study found that compared to not smoking at all, smoking one cigarette a day resulted in a 46 percent greater risk of heart disease and a 25 percent greater risk of stroke for men, and for women, a 57 percent greater risk of heart disease and 31 percent greater risk of stroke. Even if a person cuts down from smoking 20 cigarettes a day to one, the study found, the risks of developing heart disease and stroke are only halved—not reduced by 95 percent, as would be proportional. (Previous research has found that lung cancer risk, by contrast, decreases proportionally depending on the number of cigarettes smoked per day.)

The researchers examined 141 previous studies, reported in 55 publications, analyzing the risks of heart disease and stroke among men and women who smoked. The studies each examined risks of light smoking (defined as one to five cigarettes a day) and the risks associated with heavy smoking, or 20 cigarettes per day. The researchers adjusted for whether the studies considered factors like age, cholesterol, and blood pressure, all of which can also impact a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.

The findings show that any amount of smoking carries high risks. While one cigarette a day might seem like nothing to a heavy smoker, its impacts on the body are significant, and shouldn't be underestimated, either by smokers or by their doctors.

[h/t ABC News]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios