History teaches us that every disaster is also a great opportunity.
Starting in grade school, we were taught to regard failure as a “teachable moment,” and every fiasco was a chance to grow and mature. Boy have we been growing lately.
And it’s true, that a real catastrophe can stimulate reform, societal progress, repentance, and all that kinda stuff.
For example, without the bubonic plague of the 1300’s, The Black Death, which led to much greater freedom of movement for the peasants, we might still be mired in the Dark Ages.
We’d be subject to deadly epidemics, bizarre and ineffective eye-of-newt cures, fickle and thoughtless leaders, chronic conflicts and massed armies, endless labor to erect crenelated walls, crumbling infrastructure, superstitions running rife, distrust of science, …
hey…wait a minute…
Well anyway, suppose for the sake of argument, that we’ve progressed.
But let’s not talk about disasters’ silver linings.
Let’s talk commercial applications.
Let’s talk how to profit from all this.
This train of thought started with an old-time Milwaukee mayor,
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of him. A businessman/politician/crook, the kind we’re all so very, very familiar with nowadays.
Scandals, schemes & scams – but none too sensational, or clever, so there’s nothing to imitate. Pretty honest, about all the bribes he passed out, and yet was never jailed. He helped start the city’s “Bridge War,” by making sure the streets in “his” part of town, didn’t line up to connect with the other neighborhoods.
He was Mayor of Milwaukee, back in the 1800’s, and a big-time real estate promoter. But a whole lot of his investors lost their shirts, and finally, late one night, he thought he’d better develop arthritis and move to Florida, where he raised some oranges and died, in 1870. And he never came back. For quite a while.
Back in Milwaukee, a century or so later, he was missed.
The history buffs here, picked three early mayors to be The Three Founders. The first two were still around town, buried somewhere, but the absent Byron bugged the buffs — without #3, they didn’t have the complete set – the Fab Founding Fathers, the troika, the Merry Milwaukee Musketeers.
So in 1999, a guy named Frank Matusinec, in Milwaukee’s Historical Society, called up a lady in Jacksonville’s Historical Society, and asked if Milwaukee could have Byron back. Since he wasn’t famous, or a Confederate, she said sure, and they dug him up.
But…he was in a ½-ton cast-iron coffin, and Northwest Air didn’t want to fly him. A trucking company, and then UPS declined (this is all true). So, Road Trip!
Frank flew down to Florida, rented a U-Haul van, and drove back north, keeping the windows cracked open, got a flat tire, etc. but eventually, he and Byron got back to Milwaukee.
The locals popped the lid, like you would, if you bought an old used car at auction, took a few snapshots, some guys played “Amazing Grace” on bagpipes, etc…. and Byron Was Back in Town! just shy of 129 years after his first funeral.
So, that’s not much of a travel story, really, just one postmortem outing, 1,157.6 miles.
He was kind of a jerk, but he did get the city a working harbor, started a newspaper, founded a railroad, etc
Basically, he got some things moving. And then continued to move, after he was dead.
And that started me thinking, and that’s never good.
As soon as you start thinking about it, wow, so many dead people, have logged so many miles.
Look at this next restless soul:
(Better know as Evita, as in “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina.”) Died in 1952, only 33, but was at least spared from seeing herself played by Madonna in the movie. After she died, her body was displayed in the Ministry of Labour Building, then the Congress Building, then she was wheeled over to her office in the trade unions’ building.
And there she stayed, in her office, on display, for roughly two years.
Juan Perón believed he had some English ancestors, and thought the British custom of keeping dead, or near-dead, people in office (professors, bureaucrats, politicians, etc.) was charming.
He did plan on a huge monument, bigger than the Statue of Liberty, where Eva could be kept in the base, like hiding a house key under a candlestick. Oh crap, I shouldn’t have said that, now I have to find another place. But when he fled after a coup, he not only left all the lights on in the Presidential Palace, but he forgot to pack Eva.
The generals who took over, turned off the lights, and the body disappeared, for sixteen years. In 1971, she was located in a crypt in Milan, Italy, under a different name, due to some sort of paperwork issue. These things happen.
Perón had her shipped to Spain, where he was exiling, and kept her in the dining room (seriously?)(and again, this is all true). He eventually returned to power, and after he died, in office, his 3rd wife had Eva shipped back home, displayed with Juan for a time, and then finally stashed Juan & Wife #1 in a special tomb, under a trapdoor.
And there, as far as I can tell, Eva remains at peace, except of course, for rolling over when they cast Madonna. By a conservative estimate, that’s 13,931 postmortem miles, and of course that’s just air travel, and doesn’t include parades, side trips, and excursions.
Gene Roddenberry (Star Trek) must have set some sort of record, because he, or at least, a sample of his cremated remains, went into space twice. The space shuttle Columbia took him for a spin in 1992, and then in 1997, a Pegasus rocket took him up into space again, and he circled Earth, every 96 minutes, for over five years. The Pegasus spacecraft burned up on re-entry, May 20, 2002, somewhere over Australia (where they figured, what’s a little more dust). Probably something like 17,000 mph, so way above 122 million miles for Mr. Roddenberry.
(I checked, and that’s = the total mileage clocked by the Space Shuttle Endeavour, and the yearly mileage estimated for Santa Claus to complete his rounds. Coincidence? I don’t think so.)
I’m just not sure how to count the mileage for Dr. Eugene Shoemaker. Some portion of whom was aboard the Lunar Prospector in 1998, when NASA crashed it into the Moon (on purpose, or so they said). OK, that’s roughly 239,000 miles to get there, but…the Moon, and I hope I’m not offending anyone’s beliefs by saying this, is generally believed to revolve around the Earth, so do we count those orbits as travel time? Or just the miles to get to the Moon, where Shoemaker is presumably firmly planted, dust to dust, and not moving.
I’ll just mention Abe Lincoln, whose legendary funeral train covered 1,654 miles. His remains were the object of an attempted kidnapping in 1874, and were famously moved and concealed seventeen times before finally coming to a halt in 1901. However, this was all in the Springfield, Illinois area, and one of the 17 moves was no more than eighteen inches.
Russell Shorto, in his excellent book Descartes’ Bones, details the complex travels and travails of the skull and bones of René Descartes, but he didn’t include a rule-book on how to score the mileage for people like that. Heads, etc. off traveling on their own, I mean. Do we credit the mileage, or pay it no mind. The Headless Society includes Haydn, Mozart, Mata Hari, and the Marquis de Sade. Do we credit Albert Einstein with 2892.8 miles, when his stolen brain was removed from a beer cooler, and driven cross-country in a Tupperware bowl?? **
Well anyway, you don’t have to be a genius, to know there’s money to be made here.
So here’s the money-making idea. All these vacant planes, tour buses and cruise ships companies, could be booking Departures for the Departed.
We can revive the travel industry, without spreading the epidemic, by sending dead people on trips.
It’s a lovely gesture, and expired tickets are so much cheaper than regular fares. The tour groups can really pack ’em in, don’t have to worry about long lines for the buffet or food poisoning, finding clean restrooms, or getting a room with a view. You can run the whole operation with a skeleton crew.
And it’s not some passing fancy, cultures have been doing stuff like this for millennia. The Pharaohs always had some boats tucked into their tombs, to go cruisin’ in the afterlife. Canoes were used in funeral rites by ancient Polynesians, some Native Americans, Sarawak islanders, etc. The British general Pakenham, killed at the Battle of New Orleans, and Admiral Lord Nelson, shot down at Trafalgar, were shipped home in barrels of rum or brandy, 5,060 & 1,300 miles, respectively. In more recent times, lots of famous people – JFK, H.G. Wells, Neil Armstrong, Robin Williams – and countless others have been scattered at sea.
The Anglo-Saxons and Vikings practiced ship burials, and funeral pyres.
Although, apparently what they didn’t do, is set funeral ships on fire, and then send them out to sea, like they show in the movies.
Too bad. When I was a kid, I remember asking my grandfather why they stopped doing that, sending people off in ships, it seemed pretty cool.
He said, during the Depression, when he was a kid in the Bronx, there were always guys seeing people off at the pier. People who were dead to them. But there were no boats, just a washtub full of concrete. Farshteyn? Ya get me?
So we’ve got Tradition, and Hollywood, Vikings, Good Fellas, and the Almighty Buck, what else do we need?
Folks in the U.S. have always been restless, a people in motion.
Movement, of all kinds, defines us, like the Beach Boys, hotdogs, or a rotten healthcare system, Americans Are On The Move.
So…why should a catastrophic pandemic mean you have to settle? Why should dying mean you have to just lay around?
Before you even get started with objections – – how you hated “Weekend at Bernie’s II” etc. or how the local DMV told you letting dead people drive is a misdemeanor and non-moving violation, etc. — let’s just settle down, take a deep breath, get the historical perspective. Release the deep breath now, while counting to ten. Times like this, pard, you want to keep a cool head. Even if you have to stick the head in a beer cooler, to do that.
This is in the worst possible taste?
Oh yeah? Really? After the last 3 years, 5 months, and 28 days, in a pig’s eye, comrade, good luck with that “good taste” argument. And incidentally, Liberace and Jeffrey Dahmer were from Milwaukee, so we know a thing or two about good taste. And if you didn’t take a deep breath, shame on you, do it now. Count to ten while breathing out. It helps somehow, and think of the all people we’re going to be discussing, that can’t enjoy this kind of thing, so just do it.
My goodness, tut-tut, you’ll see that you’ve known about, and accepted, postmortem travel all your life.
Just think for one sec. One word. Mummies.
(Maybe with mummies, I should’ve said extra-dry or brut, instead of sec?)
I’m sure some of you think I’m “not wrapped too tight,” well, styx and stones – – you must’ve seen a few well-traveled mummies, right? Pretty much every old museum or art gallery I’ve ever visited has a couple. The Met in NYC has thirteen, the British Museum has 140, for pete’s sake. Even the college library near my hometown, kept one in the bottom of a stairwell – when I was a kid, I’d stop by to visit the mummy, all the time. If I remember right, her toes were sticking out.
I calculate the body in the library stairwell, traveled at least 6,211.18 miles, figuring Abydos necropolis > Cairo > NYC > Geneva, NY.*
The University of Manchester recently sent 8 dead people out to cover thousands of miles. The “Golden Mummies of Egypt” made it to Buffalo (in February! brrr, better stay wrapped up!) but I imagine this tour unraveled as things shut down for the epidemic. They were looking forward to swinging by Raleigh, North Carolina, before returning to the damp gloom of Manchester. 7,829 miles, not bad for dead guys. And people say my posts wander!
OK, I see I’ve run long again, so, as the ancient Pharaohs used to say, let’s wrap it up. Spirit Airlines in Miami has expressed interest, and I’ll let you know when I’ve got Greyhound or a cruise line onboard with the concept.
P.S. About the name for my new business.
What do you think of Charon’s Ferry? I think it sounds pretty upscale. Don’t think I could get away with Grateful Dead on Tour, so I’m also considering Sic Gloria Transit.
That phrase is based on an incident from the ’60’s, that would’ve been forgotten, if Van Morrison hadn’t written that tribute song. Gloria was a street musician, with a cardboard sign “Sic. Any $$ Helps” When she finally passed away, some of NYC’s finest couldn’t be bothered to drive her to the coroner’s office, so they just snuck her onto a bus. Where she rode for several days, before anyone noticed.
No one knew her last name, so the transit authority buried her in the Hart Island potter’s field, under the name “Gloria Transit.” I think it would’ve been nicer to have her cremated, and send her urn traveling on the bus in perpetuity. Maybe the S78 route on Staten Island, that always seems interminable.
* The mummy in the Geneva, NY library died around 320 B.C., during the days of the Ptolemaic Kingdom. Did you know the ancient Greeks, who were running things in those days, didn’t have “silent letters?”
I thought they were supposed to be pretty advanced in science and art and philosophy, and stuff, and were aware of the concept of zero… and yet they hadn’t figured out how great silent letters are?? It’s true, and so without knowing better, they pronounced the “P” in words like “pneumonia” and “pterodactyl,” and “Ptolemy,” and when this Egyptian lady, the mummy in the stairwell, was introduced & tried to say “Ptolemy, Pharoah & Highest-Praised Priest of Ptah,” she got the giggles, and was executed.
** The preserved body of the philosopher Jeremy Bentham, of course, is displayed at a college in London. His head was severed from the body, and the preservation process was not cosmetically successful, so they put a lifelike wax head in it’s place, and the real head sits on the floor, like a butternut squash gone bad. But he’s of no interest to us, because neither he, nor his head, ever get out and about, they’re not a traveling exhibit.
49 thoughts on “A New Concept in Cruise Lines. Charon’s Ferry”
This made me laugh out loud at least three times. I guess that means I have a morbid or macabre sense of humor. Also in 1984 I was in Buenos Aires and came across Evita’s tomb in the Recoleta cemetery. There were fresh flowers put on the front of the tomb. Red roses.
Oh that’s neat – I bet people are still leaving flowers, she seems to have won some really devoted followers.
The way the words in your comment lined up reveals that dropping the first o and l from followers turns the word into flowers.
Right from that very first caption, with it reference to swabbing, you hit your stride (or whatever the rowing equivalent of striding is called). And soon after came that tie-in to today. And later Departures for the Departed.
You mentioned Perón and the Statue of Liberty. It seems Frank Matusinec may have had grander visions, too, hopefully not for Byron Kilbourn:
Not recognizing the “chicken soupy Nile,” I looked it up and found the words are by Maurice Sendak, set to music by Carole King.
Speaking of Staten Island, did you know that people who live in that somewhat remote borough of New York City are eligible to pay less to cross the Narrows Bridge to and from Brooklyn than people who don’t live on Staten Island? They might’ve been eligible for a similar deal on the Staten Island Ferry except that’s been made free for everyone. On the other hand, because Staten Island is the most conservative of the five boroughs, de Blasio may opt to charge residents $1000 each time they take the ferry. That’ll teach ’em to be against rioting.
Charon’s Ferry is a good name, but people who aren’t up on their Greek mythology might think it’s a typo for Sharon, or maybe Karen.
Thanks, Steve – – we could use song titles, instead, “Ramblin’ Man,” “Midnight Train,” “On The Road Again,” etc. would all work. I had heard when they dropped the fare for Staten Island, but didn’t know they also got a break on the bridge. The Geo. Washington is $16 now!
I recently looked up the fares, which is how I learned about the discount for Staten Islanders. When I was a kid the George Washington Bridge cost 50¢ in either direction. At least the $16 is for eastbound only, with westbound being free, for an average of $8 each way. Still, that’s 16 times the price in 1960, which is almost twice what inflation would account for.
Good luck with your new cruise company, whatever the name will be. 😀
Good god, all the gags in here. The sec one was not lost on me. And I like the little one about the candlestick and your key, all this so terribly clever, you! Barbed, too.
Thanks, Bill, this is what happens when you hole up in an apartment for months, and write posts at 3 AM.
I get that. “Compression.” One side of that Frank Lloyd Wright style, just lacking the “expansion” option to offset it. Poorly put but it’s hard drinking coffee through a mask. I need a tube.
That’s a cool concept, the architecture of this, I like it!
“ . . . but was at least spared from seeing herself played by Madonna in the movie.” Robert, I’m going to get Madonna on the phone and tell her that you said this!
Uh-oh. That movie did get decent ratings, didn’t it. And I think she’d have loved Patti LuPone’s singing.
Every time I see the Millais Ophelia painting, I think of the poor model who had to float in a bathtub full of cooling water for hours and hours.
It’s a wonderful painting, but I think the model should’ve stepped, or swum, out of character long enough, to point out that she in danger of dying from hypothermia! Thank you for the link, I’m glad Millais paid for the doctor.
Thoroughly entertaining, Robert. And just a little weird. 🙂
(Love the ship/ferry wanting to be a bus, too)
Thank you, Bruce. It’s a weird business, no doubt. I didn’t even mention the firm selling glass pendants, for people to wear as jewelry, that are made using people’s ashes. No end to the options, freeze-drying, or the stories.
I believe there is (or was) a company offering to press your loved one’s ashes into a vinyl record. Something to treasure, right there.
Wow, I kinda hope Paul McCartney does that (“many years from now” of course) first think I’d do is play it backwards
You have a million dollar idea, and more weird and funny but true stories about dead people than I knew possible. Fascinating stuff. You should write books.
Thank you, Kristen, I appreciate the nice compliment.
Yes–and with time, someone might invent Haunted Departures for the Departed–an adventurous twist of sorts.
Oh, I like that idea, well done! or maybe I should say, Mediums! The Fox Sisters lived about twenty miles from my hometown, and there’s still a community of Spiritualists, in Lily Dale, not far from Fredonia, NY. Thanks Cecilia.
Another gloriously entertaining and informative post. I didn’t know the story that inspired Van Morrison’s Gloria, and I think you’re on to a winner with the cruises for cadavers idea. I must pull you up on one factual inaccuracy, though. Jeremy Bentham’s body has travelled. Not to the moon and back admittedly, but allegedly, at least one group of students has kidnapped him and taken him on a pub crawl. He may have lost his head, but apparently he did avoid getting legless.
Thank you, George, and I’m happy to stand, corrected, on Jerry’s perambulations! I sold him short, and I’m delighted to learn he gets out & about once in a while, just a quick one to settle the dust.
I’m dizzy….but you really got me by mentioning that Staten Island bus ride. I lived on Staten Island for – what? – 4 or 5 years. Near the ferry, which has been free for a really long time now. I took it to work in lower Manhattan, then walked or took the subway. I had a car parked outside my St. Marks Place apartment that had to moved even when there was 3 feet of snow, for alternate side of the street cleaning, you know. So I had no need for the buses, except when I didn’t feel like walking to the ferry, but that was a far shorter ride than the one you’re talking about. Did you ever do that? I mean, what am I supposed to believe? But seriously, I’m glad you pitched this to the appropriate airlines. I think there are more possibilities once you include cremated remains, maybe divided into one-gram portions. Oh, The Places You’ll Go!!
No, I never rode that bus line the whole way, I’ve spent very little time on Staten Island. I have a good friend from there, but my relatives are in Queens, and nobody in the family lives in the Bronx or Brooklyn anymore. I think my longest bus ride was in Chicago, when I was woolgathering, and only came out of it, when the bus parked at the terminal, it was freezing, so I just stayed on for the new driver, and rode all the way back
This post was one of those ideas that seemed really excellent at 3AM but it ran too long. I really do think it’s weird and interesting, how people keep moving remains around, I saw Dorothy Parker mentioned the other day, the NAACP had her at their HQ in Baltimore, but they’re moving, and debating where she’ll go next, I’m not sure why they don’t want her to come along to the new building in Wash, D.C..
There’s an odd but really excellent book by Heather Pringle “The Mummy Congress,” about the scientists around the world, doing really worthwhile research, it’s interesting and leads to all sorts of complicated pathways. One of my aunts is an epidemiologist, and totally understands what a useful resource these remains can be.
Yes, Dr. Seuss had his ashes scattered, and someone who loves nature, could make a quest of it, to fertilize gardens and woods all over the place, in one gram doses! Interesting idea!
Wow. Although the subject matter was rather macabre, it had a certain rhythm to it – you took us for quite a ride. Apt, for an audience of of dead beats.
The Dead Poet/Beat Generation/The Beat Goes On. Thanks, Dave, this was kind of a strange topic, but it’s really a pretty common thing. Personally, I don’t drive around with dead people in the trunk. And the whole point of Tupperware, is that it’s reusable, but it you had Einstein’s brain in it, personally I wouldn’t use it for macaroni salad, no matter how much I rinsed it.
So THAT’S why it is impossible to navigate Milwaukee?! Mystery solved. You really cracked me up with your thoughts on an immersive experience. What’s that song? “O O Ophelia-a-a…” I’ve always loved that painting. Gruesomely wonderful. And speaking of gruesome, I had the same thought that the two nymphs didn’t appear to be nearly as surprised as I would be to see a head floating there.
Personally I’d run screaming, but these nymphs are pretty cool & collected. I think Simon & Garfunkel changed that song to “‘Cecilia”?
😊 thank you
I don’t know where to begin with this one (really good) so I’ll just touch on Roddenberry for a moment since our family has been on a Star Trek tear the past several weeks. Last weekend we watched The Wrath of Kahn which was tough at first having finished the reboots recently but it got better. Maybe the best part is Ricardo Montalban reciting Melville while things are exploding around him left and right, sadly I read Moby Dick last winter but I thought he was reciting Shakespeare, took some pretty bad flak for that. At any rate, Roddenberry got credits for the film but by and large he was asked to step aside on creative control since the films before that weren’t particularly well-received.
is that mummy at home under the stairwell in a display case, at least? The proverbial “under the stairs” lol. I used to be really scared of under the stairs, to our our basement, when I was growing up. There was a creepy painting on the wall of an abstract self-portrait my mom did and the face followed me
Yep, The mummy is in a glass case, like a museum. they must’ve shipped thousands of them over here. “The Mummy Congress” is a really good read, about the people all around the world who are interested in these things. I love that movie. I didn’t know what he was quoting, but somebody told me, that part was great. “I spit my last breath at thee!”. One of my grandads, before I was born, had a couple of Chrysler Córdobas, and they showed me Montalban’s ads for that car – I wish he could’ve slipped in somewhere “rich Corinthian leather” in the movie.
When we got to Eva Peron, I was put in mind of Jeremy Bentham; I was glad to see the footnote about him, and the mention that he did get out and about occasionally. I’ve always thought of him as rather interesting, and maybe even more lively than some of the dinner partners I’ve had.
You may not drive around with dead people in the trunk, but I have. Before my mother died, she decided to be cremated rather than buried, because of the complexities of getting her from Texas to Iowa otherwise. After her death in July, my aunt and I decided that October would be a fine time for a funeral, and so it was. A friend and I hit the road with Mom in the trunk, and had a nice, relaxed trip up to Iowa, with a few side trips on the way.
We had a number of decisions to make, of course. For example, when we stopped for the night, did we leave Mom outside, or bring her into the hotel? It would have been churlish to leave her outside, so in she came, and we had more than a few conversations that would fit your blog perfectly. Of course Mom wasn’t a Mummy, but it still was pretty interesting.
Your idea about the cruise ships is brilliant. What I’m wondering is what’s happened to all the old folks who decided to retire aboard those ships. I know of one woman who said ‘phooey’ to assisted living, and took up life on the water. As she said, you get your meals, someone else does your laundry, and there’s bridge every afternoon in the salon. It actually was cheaper than where she’d been living — but things certainly have changed.
I’d make some comment about the Ship of State, but I think I’ll pass on that one, except to say maybe someone should check on the ferryman.
I’m glad you had a friend along, to take that trip to Iowa.
Yeah, I think the Coast Guard could issue some tickets for BUI-E boating under the influence of egomania.
Maybe your business could be called “Mr. Bones’ Wild Ride” because this post certainly was that. Wow, I had no idea so many people toured the hinterlands and beyond after death. I don’t travel much at all so the idea that so many corpses, cadaver, bottles of ashes, and spirits do is mind boggling. An idea for your next post could be cryogenic heads. Start with Ted Williams. 🙂
Thanks, Steve, it’s amazing how often this happens. When we went to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin home/workshop in Wisconsin, they mentioned that when he died in 1959, in Arizona, his staff loaded the body in a station wagon, and drove all the way to Wisconsin for burial at the family chapel. Then 26 years later, the body was exhumed, cremated, and the ashes taken back to Taliesin West, in Arizona.
This winter I’ll read up on the deep freeze thing! 🙂
Robert, I just discovered to my great dismay that WordPress or myself by some fluke disconnected me from receiving notices from your interesting blog. I will correct this immediately. Greetings from hot, hot Canada!
That’s happened to me, too, Peter, don’t know why. We had a hot July but things are easing up now, and cool at night, which feels great after all that muggy weather.
Interesting thoughts. As a descendant of the vikings I would of course vouch for ship burials.
Thank you, Otto. I was thrilled to visit, five years ago, the Viking Ship Museum near Oslo. They are incredibly beautiful ships. I hope to come back some day, and see what they’ve found at the Gjellestad excavation.
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