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9 Unexpected Reuses for Coffins

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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.

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History
Doctor Weighs In on What May Have Killed Saladin, the 12th-Century Muslim Military Leader
Hulton Archive, Getty Images
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

Saladin, the 12th-century sultan of Egypt and Syria, was one fearless ruler. After unifying much of the Muslim world, he took on the Christian Franks at the Battle of Hattin and won, bringing Jerusalem back under Islamic rule and setting off the Third Crusade.

It wasn’t battle that did him in, though. Dr. Stephen Gluckman, a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, believes the cause of Saladin's death in 1193 was most likely typhoid, LiveScience reports.

Up until now, the circumstances of Saladin’s passing have largely remained a mystery, as is often the case with people who lived long before modern diagnostic tools were invented. Gluckman was able to reach a diagnosis by analyzing Saladin’s symptoms as they were recorded more than 800 years ago, and shared his medical opinion at this year’s Historical Clinicopathological Conference at the University of Maryland, which taps experts to diagnose a different deceased historical figure each year. In past years, some theorized that Charles Darwin’s cause of death was cyclic vomiting syndrome, and Edgar Allan Poe’s demise was attributed to either rabies or delirium tremens—“a severe form of alcohol withdrawal.”

As for Saladin, he suffered a “mysterious fever and two-week illness,” according to LiveScience. He died at age 55 or 56, despite efforts to revive him with bloodletting techniques and enemas.

Gluckman was able to rule out plague and smallpox because they tend to kill quickly, and tuberculosis and malaria didn’t fit the bill, either. Typhoid, however, was common at that time, and Saladin's symptoms seemed consistent with other cases. Caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhi, typhoid is spread through contaminated water or food. High fever is the main symptom, but weakness and loss of appetite are also typically observed.

Saladin was buried next to the sword he had carried during the Holy War, but otherwise, his burial rites were “as simple as a pauper’s funeral,” according to author Stanley Lane-Poole in Saladin and the Fall of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The money for his funeral had to be borrowed because he had given away all his riches.

[h/t LiveScience]

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The Curse on Shakespeare's Grave
Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images
Ben Pruchnie, Getty Images

It's a pretty good practice to avoid incurring the wrath of the dead in general, but if there's a ghost you really don't want to upset, it's probably William Shakespeare's. Just think of the many inventive ways he killed people in his plays. That's why the curse on his grave at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Stratford-Upon-Avon should be taken seriously:

"Good friend for Jesus sake forbeare, To dig the dust enclosed here. Blessed be the man that spares these stones, And cursed be he that moves my bones."

It's thought that the warning was penned by Shakespeare himself. In his day, it was common for bodies to be exhumed for research purposes or even just to make room for more burials, and the Bard did not want that to happen to his remains. So far, his warning seems to have worked. Even when the grave received some repairs in 2008, workers said the stones would not actually be moved and the bones certainly would not be disturbed. 

It has recently been suggested that Shakespeare's remains be exhumed and studied using the same techniques that allowed us to learn more about King Richard III, so we may soon find out how effective that curse really is. Professor Francis Thackeray from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, who wants to exhume the bones, seems to be pushing his luck. "We could possibly get around [the curse] by at least exposing the bones and doing high-resolution, non-destructive laser surface scanning for forensic analyses without moving a single bone," he said. "Besides, Shakespeare said nothing about teeth in that epitaph."

Will it be enough to avoid the Bard's wrath? Only time will tell.

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