Friday, May 17, 2013

Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses by Bess Lovejoy

“. . . while death troubles us, it also intrigues us. Death is the ultimate mystery, and contemplating does us good,” offers Lovejoy in her introduction to this fascinating book.

Death is a sensitive topic, yet death means something different to so many people, and death is not always the end.

Dead is dead, but some celebrities’ corpses have had pretty active and interesting afterlives. Part trivia and part history, Lovejoy shares these accounts in a factual and practical tone with just enough humor to make it an engaging and, at times, entertaining read. The book is organized by categories, with sources provided for each celebrity, and an introduction that lets readers know how this book came about. More than just a memory, these famous corpses are symbols of some sort and still possess meaning to the living, going beyond friends and family to include followers, admirers, institutions, and even enemies. Looking at the dead and their part in history lets readers know not just about the celebrity but the history surrounding that figure, information about the time and place, and changing attitudes toward death and mourning

Here are some tidbits:

-Of course, there is an Elvis sighting. Elvis Presley gets his own section, with Lovejoy documenting the facts surrounding his death and burial at Graceland Mansion, acknowledging the challenges and hoax claims made.

-Santa Claus has a section, which may sound silly, except Lovejoy focuses on Saint Nicholas, the saint he is based on and elaborates on the spread of his myth and legend.

-Percy Bysshe Shelley, Romantic poet and Mary Shelley‘s husband, tragically drowned and was subsequently cremated. A friend plucked his heart out of the flames (believed to be), another friend preserved it in wine before returning it to Mary. An interestingly fitting end when the heart’s final resting place had special meaning to figures in the Romantic Era.

-Eva Perón (Evita)’s corpse had one of the strangest and longest journeys before resting. Her body was embalmed when she died in 1952 and secretly buried. With constant political upheavals, her body was moved and re-buried several times before finally coming back to Buenos Aires to rest in 1976

Look for Rest in Pieces in the VBPL Catalog. For more chronicles of corpses’ afterlife journeys, try Body of Work by Christine Montross and Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach.

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