CEMETERY STORIES: Creepy Graveyards, Embalming Secrets, and the Life of a Corpse After Death

Katherine M. Ramsland, Author . HarperEntertainment $13 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-018518-3

The recent success of HBO's funeral home comedy Six Feet Under proves the power of the macabre over public imagination. "[A]mused, disturbed, and delighted by the range of human behavior surrounding the subject of death," Ramsland (Ghost, Forecasts, Aug. 20; etc.) undertook a pop-anthropological survey of "cemetery culture" by interviewing graveyard caretakers, "death-care" consultants, funeral directors, grave diggers, monument dealers and mortuary assistants. This rambling, anecdotal account traces burial traditions such as embalming, cremation (30% of all funerals), corpse preparation, restorative techniques, cadaver cosmetics and unconventional funerals like the one attended by the deceased's fellow nudists. At Houston's National Museum of Funeral History and the annual National Funeral Directors Association's convention, Ramsland, a Rutgers professor, learns about mortuary schools and entrepreneurial schemes like hologram tombstones, the $65,000 mummification procedure and cemetery kiosks with touch-screen biographies of the deceased. Along with instructions on gravestone rubbing, artistic grave markers and unusual epitaphs, the book introduces "taphophiles," who visit cemeteries as a hobby. The book's closing section recounts ghastly tales of ghouls, corpse abuse, necrophilia and people buried alive, and fascinating interviews with people who grew up in funeral homes. Although it's "the corpseless soul that inspires the most fear," those with weak stomachs might want to skip the graphic description of autopsy procedures, botched reinterments and adipocere ("body cheese"). A bibliography and list of Web sites provide further resources. (Oct.)

Forecast:This should see a brief spike in sales at Halloween (aided by promotion at Grim Rides, an elegant online bookstore specializing in death-related volumes [www.geocities.com/grimrides].

Reviewed on: 09/17/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
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