As most people know, I am a little bit off. I like to do things such as browse Wikipedia, take on eating challenges, and eat disgusting cupcakes. I have another interest that I have actually never discussed on this blog before. Get ready to add another tally to my weird column.
When I was young, I learned about the saints. I just didn’t learn about who they were, I also learned about the process to become canonized as one. When educated on this long process, I became familiar with a concept called incorruptibility. To check the holiness of prospective saints, church officials would sometimes exhume the body and examine it to see if it had decomposed. If the body had not decayed, the person was said to be incorruptible. As a young kid, the thought of men digging up someone’s grave and opening up the coffin made an impression on me.
This impression has stayed with me throughout my life. While at first I felt a little disturbed about someone’s final resting place being disturbed, that feeling of uneasiness has actually turned to a mild fascination over the years. As my well-documented interest in cemeteries grew, so did my interest in the state of physical bodies after death. As I walk on the grounds of graveyards I constantly think about the caskets I am walking above of. What is the contents of those boxes? Corpses? Bones? Dust? A combination of the three?
When I watch the reruns of “Forensic Files” I am always intrigued when they exhume a body for evidence. The image of big machinery lifting a casket out of the earth is eerie but interesting. I always think about what must go through the DNA specialist’s mind when doing work on the remains. What about the horror of family members seeing a loved one ripped out of the ground? The other day I was watching an episode where they had to exhume a body in New Orleans. Because of the wet climate, the coffin had sunk in the middle but not at the end where the lady’s head was at. While everywhere from below the neck was gone, the head was intact. Remarkably, the head is what they needed to test.
To me, I have just always believed that once the casket is closed during the funeral service, it will stay that way for eternity. The physical contents will sit underground forever. Thus, when the very rare occurrence happens where a body is exhumed, it just seems very unnatural but also remarkable. It reminds me exactly of a time capsule that was never meant to be open.
I decided to write about this for tonight’s post when I did some reading on Abraham Lincoln yesterday evening. As a U.S. Presidents nerd combined with my interest in this blog topic, I became very interested when I learned that Abraham Lincoln’s body was exhumed. Needing to make sure that Chicago gangsters didn’t steal his corpse, Lincoln’s body was exhumed around 30 years after his assassination in 1901. What they found blew my mind…
When his casket was opened, an overpowering choking smell flowed out. However, Lincoln’s body was completely intact! His beard, hair, and mole all looked the same as it did three decades prior. I get a kick out of it though that his suit was covered in yellow mold and his gloves had completely rotted away. You could see red fragments mixed in with the mold. Do you know where those fragments came from? It was the remains from the American flag that he was buried in.
Whether for religious, DNA, historical, or identification purposes, I am a little drawn to the practice of exhuming bodies. While I hate to see the dead unearthed for no reason, if it is for a good/necessary cause I am going to pay attention. Don’t Blink.