ONCE, we commemorated the dead, left out offerings to feed them and lamps to guide them home. These days, Halloween has drifted far from its roots in pagan and Catholic festivals, and the spirits we appease are no longer those of the dead: needy ghosts have been replaced by costumed children demanding treats.
Over the last century, as Europeans and North Americans began sequestering the dying and dead away from everyday life, our society has been pushing death to the margins. We tune in to television shows about serial killers, but real bodies are hidden from view, edited out of news coverage, secreted behind hospital curtains. The result, as Michael Lesy wrote in his 1987 book The Forbidden Zone, is that when death does occur, “it reverberates like a handclap in an empty auditorium.”
It wasn’t always this way. Death once occurred at home, with friends and family gathered around. Local women were responsible for washing the body and sewing the shroud. People sometimes slept in the same room as corpses, because there was nowhere else to go. In the Middle Ages, cemeteries often acted as the public square: you didn’t just walk on the graves, you ate, drank, traded and sometimes even sang and danced on top of them...
--"The Dead Have Something to Tell You," Bess Lovejoy, The New York TimesA modern day Halloween-inspired Memento Mori in yesterday's New York Times by well-missed friend-of-Morbid-Anatomy Bess Lovejoy, author of the forthcoming book Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses. We hope she will come give a lecture at Observatory as part of her book tour?!?
You can read the entire article by clicking here, and can find out more about the book here.
Image: From The Burns Archive.
Thanks so much, Pam, for bringing this to my attention!