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.
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.