“Stoneman Willie”, Reading’s Posthumous Celebrity

I ran across this item while checking my news feed today (Monday, October 2, 2023).

Pennsylvania mummy ‘Stoneman Willie’ to receive proper burial after 128 years
Kia Johnson, Reuters (October 2, 2023)

“A mummified man known as Stoneman Willie will receive a proper burial after being on display at a funeral home in Reading, Pennsylvania, for 128 years.

“The unidentified man was an alcoholic who died of kidney failure in a local jail on Nov. 19, 1895. He was accidentally mummified by a mortician experimenting with new embalming techniques, according to Auman’s Funeral Home.

“Dressed in a suit with a bow tie, the gaunt man is displayed in a coffin with a red sash across his chest. His hair and teeth remain intact, and his skin has taken on a leathery appearance….”

A couple of things jumped out at me.

First, how could someone be “accidentally mummified”?! Although on second thought, maybe the experimental embalming technique wasn’t supposed to have that effect.

Second, how could someone be “unidentified” and “an alcoholic”? Unless an alcoholism diagnosis could be made without knowledge of a subject’s personal history back in 1895.

Finding answers to those and other questions would very likely take more time than I’m willing to spend. A quick check showed that I’d have to dig deep to find specifics about “Stoneman Willie”.

He’s apparently famous in and around Reading, Pennsylvania: but has a next-to-nonexistent digital footprint.

So I’ll be talking about something else for this week’s ‘Saturday’ post: at least two somethings, the way things are shaping up, and that’s another topic.

Anyway, that Reuters article says that “Stoneman Willie” was arrested for pick-pocketing back in 1895. He gave authorities a fake name, which probably accounts for his “anonymous” status: that, and his being known as one of those Irishmen.

One of my ancestral homelands is Ireland: so it’s nice, seeing a fellow-landsman being treated with a measure of dignity. Perhaps a bit delayed. But then, “Stoneman Willie” arguably had no pressing engagements during those 128 years. His body didn’t at any rate.

That said, a somewhat less leisurely timetable for his burial would have been nice. On the other hand, this way he’s getting as find a send-off as any son of the sod might expect. Or hope for, when it comes to that.

Seriously, Though

Since this is A Catholic Citizen in America, the posthumous career of “Stoneman Willie” brought a few points about being human to mind.

First off, human life is special, sacred. That’s “…because from its beginning it involves the creative action of God and it remains for ever in a special relationship with the Creator, who is its sole end….” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2258)

That’s all human life. We’re all people: no matter who we are, who our ancestors are, or what we’ve done. (Genesis 1:2627, 2:7; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 355-357, 361, 369-370, 1700, 1730, 2268-2269, 1929, 2273-2274, 2276-2279)

I’ve said that before, and probably will again.

I don’t know whether “Stoneman Willie” was caught picking someone’s pocket, or if he was just the first Irishman who turned up after a citizen noticed something missing.

At this time of day, it probably doesn’t matter. My guess is that the statute of limitations has long since passed, everyone involved is dead, and descendants of the pick-pocketed person are not overly fervent in their desire for restitution. I could be wrong about that, however.

One more thing, and I’m done.

Giving “Stoneman Willie” what Reuters called a “proper burial” strikes me as a good idea.

That’s because respect for human life and dignity matters. (Catechism, 2258ff)

That includes respect for the dead and dying. (Catechism, 2299-2301)

There’s a great deal more I could say, but instead I’ll wrap this up with the usual sort-of-related links:

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About Brian H. Gill

I was born in 1951. I'm a husband, father and grandfather. One of the kids graduated from college in December, 2008, and is helping her husband run businesses and raise my granddaughter; another is a cartoonist and artist; #3 daughter is a writer; my son is developing a digital game with #3 and #1 daughters. I'm also a writer and artist.
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