Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Momento Mori

In the interest of getting out of the house occasionally, I've joined a photography group. My first event was a visit to the Nation Museum of Funeral History.

There is all sorts of information about death rituals in various cultures, an entire installment on the invention of embalming, and another (huge) display detailing all the rituals that take place when they inter the Pope.  Did you know he gets three coffins, like an Egyptian pharaoh?  And they smash his ring with a hammer?  

detail of an English hearse
It would be a great place for a car nut. There is an impressive collection of hearses from all over the world, (including sleighs and the only hearse-bus) and the coffins are incredible. There is a glass coffin, a coffin built for three (long story) and the fantasy coffins from Ghana – which are carved and painted to look like whatever you want. You want to be laid to rest in a representation of your favorite vegetable?  They can do that. They had coffins shaped like leeks, crabs, lions, and an outboard motor (it even said Yamaha on the side). The Lucite coffin is like the tackiest Vegas souvenir ever. It has money imbedded in patterns in the plastic – so you can take it with you.

I was the only one in the group to take pictures of the gift shop.  What would they have in a Funeral Museum gift shop you may ask? skulls, death themed jewelry, chocolate-covered coffin candies, Dia de los Muertos stuff, and my personal favorite – undertaker Christmas tree ornaments. They are very nice, blown glass, dressed in black with a shovel in one hand and a scroll inscribed “Death Certificate” in the other. 

I'm in a contest with myself to find the tackiest souvenir ever made. (It's an excuse to prowl gift shops, really.) No winners here, unfortunately.  The miniature outhouse inscribed "Abandon all hope ye who enter here" was tacky, but a little too pedestrian. The undertaker ornament was actually too cute. A really tacky souvenir has to make you do a double take. Like the  wedding-themed toilet plunger I found a few years ago. I am not making this up. I'm not that creative. 

Years ago I went to a combination Graduation from Mortuary School/Sex Toy party - Official theme: "This Stiff Needs a Stiffie" (I have some very uninhibited friends.)  These might be the people who would appreciate an undertaker Christmas tree ornament, particularly if I got one with extra glitter.

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