Meet MMM: Trish Biers — Mors Mortis Museum

More about Mors Mortis Museum this week! Read more about my amazing co-conspirator in all things death, museums, and human remains – Dr. Trish Biers!

I remember the night so vividly, my father and I stood behind a burgundy velvet rope waiting to go into the cinema. I didn’t know what to expect, it was quite a grown-up movie for me and the excitement around opening night was a big deal for a little girl. Seeing Raiders of the Lost […]

via Meet MMM: Trish Biers — Mors Mortis Museum

Meet MMM: Katie Clary — Mors Mortis Museum

Hey, it’s me! Read more about my work with Trish Biers and Mors Mortis Museum here. How did I get into death studies? What are my research goals? Maybe this blog will answer some of those questions. MMM has some great things coming up, and we are excited to get together again in the UK this fall at the Association for Death and Society conference at University of Bath.

This post introduces MMM co-founder Dr. Katie Clary and her entry into death studies as a museum professional. Be on the lookout for more blogs from Dr. Clary and Dr. Biers this summer! In 2015 I was on the job market after leaving a position of Executive Director of a Historic House Museum in Tennessee, USA. […]

via Meet MMM: Katie Clary — Mors Mortis Museum

DaCNet 2: Day 2

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Day 2 opened with, “Corpses in Cabinets,” my own panel, which included fantastic women scholars from around the world, but also FROM MY HOME STATE!

Imagine my surprise when I realized the first speaker, Melissa Schrift, was from East Tennessee State University, 2 hours from my hometown. How cool to travel all the way to England to meet someone from home who is doing super cool, and in some ways similar work, to my own. Melissa spoke on, “Race, bodies and spectacle in 19th century living exhibitions,” which was super exciting for me, since a large part of my dissertation and previous work was on freakshows and exhibitions of people with disabilities or difference. One of her case studies was that of Charles Byrne, “The Irish Giant,” whose body is still on display and causing controversy at the Hunterian in London. I spoke next on human remains in museums, then Jenny Bergman and Kicki Eldh presented “Death –a concern?” about human remains in Swedish museums.

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Last, but certainly not least, curators Katherine Baxter and Ruth Martin from Leeds Museums and Galleries presented, “Displaying the dead: public reactions to human skeletons in museums.” I loved this one! They shared the museum’s human remains policy as well as photography policies. Leeds Museums have also integrated these big questions of museums displaying and photographing the dead into their exhibitions to involve the museum stakeholders and visitors in the process. Note to self: I have GOT to get myself to the Leeds Museums and want to chat more with Katherine and Ruth on their work.

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I am not exaggerating when I say this conference was basically made for me. The next session I attended was “Bodies on View,” which included a paper on TLC and other television programming (which I’ve written about before as the modern freakshow) and reliquaries and “bone churches.” First up, Agata Korecka tackled “Death, dying and light entertainment” through medical reality television. Shows in the UK like Embarassing Bodies, or US-based shows like My 600 Pound Life, and a variety of other programs depict people with medical issues for entertainment or education. Sometimes, the subjects of those shows die, such as in the case of Robert Buchel, who died soon after filming. Korecka examined public reactions to the show during the airing, and then after the announcement of his death during the program. Kelsey Perreault ended the session with, “The Church of Bones and the human rights of the dead.” She explored a church in that displays the bones of various individuals in patterns across the chapel, and the treatment of these bones as a dark tourist destination. One audience question was about the gift shop offerings and commodification of the dead. Perreault also addressed questions about “protecting the dignity of the dead.” So good!!

20180907_161715My last session of the day was “Digital Reimaginings” with Kelly Richards and Matt Coward. Kelly did an amazing job discussing “Reimagining the personification of Death in popular culture” with a talk that included comics, movies, and other popular culture and their depictions of death. Her multimedia presentation included some fantastic video clips (Bill and Ted! Mighty Boosh!!) and she even finished the session with a great rebuttal of some quite strange questions.. Wonderful job, Kelly! Matt ended the conference with a bang, discussing death and video games. I learned about some new games I want to play (Graveyard Keeper!) and now have a different perspective of seeing death spaces in video games, as well (not cool to ransack graves, God of War).

And just like that, DaCNet 2 was done. I hope to see a lot of the same folks at the14th International Conference on the Social Context of Death, Dying and Disposal in Bath next year. Until then…

DaCNet 2: Day 1

img_8ac6ph.jpgAfter such a great night at the pub with the DaCNet people, I was excited to head over to University of York the next morning for the conference. I had a beautiful one mile walk through allotments and a park before coming to campus. My only complaint about this conference, and I’m not sure how it could be fixed, is that there were so many great papers in each session. I wanted to try to hop from room to room for different papers in different sessions, but rooms were always packed (yay!) and it wasn’t really feasible. That said here are some highlights from Day 1;

20180906_115908.jpgHeather Conway and Ruth Penfold-Mounce, “The evil dead: the law and disposing of the criminal corpse.” – Wow. Something I had never given much thought, but now I can’t stop thinking about it! Who cares for the criminal dead, such as Ian Brady or the Manchester concert bomber? The morgue that took their remains has been dubbed “Monster Morgue.”  Similar to this talk was, “(Dis)posing of monsters: justice and the ‘inhuman’ dead” by Daniel Robins and Rosie Smith. I’m still thinking through these issues and trying to decide what rights the dead have, and if those supersede those of the living. Best example: Ian Brady (who murdered children and buried them on the moors) wanted his ashes spread across those same moors; he was denied and instead his ashes were buried at sea, at night, and in secret. So thought-provoking!

tess-margollesAnother one that has really stuck with me: Julia Banwell’s, “Echoes of the absent: Teresa Margolles’ work with afterlives of bodies, objects and spaces.” Art and the dead. Artist Teresa Margolles has some great work addressing. Some of her best-known work is the details of murder victims of the cartels on marquees in Mexican towns and cities. The only thing I learned in this conference that truly bothered me was the piece, En El Aire (In the Air) (2003) which was a room filled with water vapor… from the water used to wash corpses at a morgue. Read more about her work here.

In the afternoon, I attended Claire Wood’s “Ordering meaning in the Victorian memorial card” which looked in depth at these wonderful primary sources used to commemorate the dead. They are beautiful pieces of art, too! Last, Helen Frisby presented on, “Representing gravediggers in nineteenth and twentieth century popular culture” which included some great references to popular culture gravediggers.

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Our evening concluded with a keynote address from Joanna Burke titled, “Carved into the body: forensic science, truth, and the female corpse.” Professor Burke talked about the gendered nature of death and forensics through the story of one of the early forensic mannequins used for training in England. From there, we were treated to a reception and dinner, which included a book launch and celebration by Emerald Publishing’s Death Studies series. Congrats to the new authors! I walked back to the guesthouse, excited for day 2 of DacNet and my own presentation in the morning…

Auld Reekie: Murder, Cemeteries, & Plague… again.

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View of the Royal Mile from our AirBnB Flat

The death theme continued once we got to Scotland, which was perfect for kicking off my new research agenda.

We arrived in Auld Reekie, known as Edinburgh in the modern age, and checked in to our 17th Century AirBnB rental off the Royal Mile. Once we got settled in, I read in the guestbook about the history of this close and the courtyard behind our flat.

Tweedale Court, it turns out, is the site of one of the most notorious and infamous murders in Edinburgh’s history (and there have been a LOT of murders there). The close was home to the British Linen bank, and according the the stories, “on the evening of 13th November a girl went out to a well to get the evening’s water. On her way stumbled across something lying in the entrance to the court. It was the body of bank messenger William Begbie, lying in a pool of blood and with a knife stuck in his chest. Earlier that evening he had set out to deliver a package of £4,000 in banknotes to a branch in Leith. Despite a major search for the culprit no one was ever arrested for the crime, although months later most of the money was discovered hidden in an old wall, roughly where Drummond Place is today.”

Dun dun dun! We never saw anything spooky in our time in the close, and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the beautiful flat if you’re ever in Edinburgh! Just be aware of the spiral staircase to the top of the building…

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Greyfriar’s Kirkyard

While in Edinburgh, we had to visit a few of our favorite spots: Greyfriar’s Kirkyard and the Frankenstein Pub (in an adaptive reuse church, of course!) nearby! After the last Scotland trip, while listening to the Lore podcast (seriously listen to this if you love spooky and history), we learned all kinds of folklore about the Greyfriar’s cemetery, so we had to revisit it. I love a good cemetery, and Greyfriar’s is one of the best. Supposedly, it’s one of the most haunted in the world, with “Body snatchers, violent ghosts, a loyal dog, and Harry Potter characters.” Don’t forget all the plague bodies, too.

 

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In front of the Mackenzie Mausoleum

One of the best stories about Greyfriar’s was told in the Lore podcast mentioned above. According to the tales, the Mackenzie tomb is the most haunted. The “Bluidy Mackenzie,” a real jerk while alive, is supposedly still seen wandering near his mausoleum, knocking people over, making them faint, and generally wreaking havoc. Things get really gruesome in 1998, when (supposedly, apocryphally, i.e.: I can’t find many sources on this) a homeless man broke into the mausoleum seeking shelter from the elements. As he sheltered from the storm, the floor beneath him gave way, dumping him into a plague pit below of the mausoleum. Regardless of the truth of this tale, we still had to see the famous tomb. It was gorgeous, and we did not suffer any ill effects.

Oh and the beautiful, sloping landscape in the cemetery? It’s not a natural slope. It’s the thousands of bodies (possibly up to half a million) underfoot, buried on top of each other than create the terrain.

Later in the day, we ventured to see some corpses that were even older – Egyptian mummies at the National Museum….