Hello, loyal readers and everyone coming over for Mental Floss! I’m on a very tight deadline (my second science fiction novel is due February 2), so I’m not blogging about cemeteries as much as I would like right now.
However, the announcement of the next two Death Salons came out. Did you see it? These are absolutely amazing events that explore death and our relationship to it from every angle: from exploring cemeteries, assisting the dying, after-death rituals, art, music, and much more. You will be amazed! Here’s the link to the announcement: http://deathsalon.org/future-events/
The Jewish cemeteries in what is now Dolores Park, San Francisco
I’m going to miss another Cemetery of the Week tonight because I’ve been working on my speech for next weekend’s Death Salon here in my hometown. Want to come and hear it in person? There are still some tickets left. Here’s the link.
The line up of speakers varies from my historical view of cemeteries in San Francisco to Jill Tracy talking about writing music in the Mutter Museum after hours to Caitlin Doughty (Ask a Mortician) talking about her new book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes. There will be talks about working as a death doula, postmortem facial reconstruction, Santa Muerte, and funeral food traditions — and much, much more.
I missed the Death Salon in London earlier this year, but I was lucky enough to attend the initial Death Salon in Los Angeles last October. I blogged about it for days on Morbid Is as Morbid Does. Check it out here, if you’re interested.
In the meantime, the thought of the day as I researched my lecture: the first “official” city graveyard in San Francisco was really small. Bounded by what we now call Filbert and Greenwich Streets and bisected by what is now Powell Street, the graveyard had as many as 900 people buried in it between 1846 and 1850. They must have been packed in pretty tight.
Shop window above the old graveyard
To call the space a cemetery is to be generous. It had no fence. Sheep grazed on the property.Without laws regarding the depths of graves, many were shallow and, unsurprisingly, the smell was bad. In 1850, the Daily Alta California reported, “A visit to this place of sepulture is sufficient to shock the sensibilities of men inured even to the battlefield rude burial of the dead.”
After the Gold Rush began in earnest in 1849, the graveyard’s land was suddenly more valuable. Its owner stepped forward and demanded the bodies be cleared away so that he could develop his property. It has been commercial ever since.
We’re bringing our first ever one-day Death Salon event to San Francisco October 11, 2014. Deathlings will be taking over the Fleet Room at the Fort Mason Center. Just like our other Death Salon events, we’ll have speakers and performers from various disciplines informing and entertaining you all day and evening on diverse topics related to the culture of mortality and mourning. There are three ticket options:
Combo ticket for day & night sessions (best price, limited quantity)
Day Session only ticket
Night Session only ticket
Please Note: This event will be filmed, upon purchasing a ticket, you are consenting to being filmed. Questions? Email us at info at deathsalon dot org. Below is the tentative lineup of speakers and performers.
***LINEUP SUBJECT TO CHANGE***
DAY SESSION emceed by Death Salon co-founder, mortician Caitlin Doughty of The Order of the Good Death
Doors at 9am, session begins at 10am
Loren Rhoads – Where Have All the Graveyards Gone: the Pioneer Burial Grounds in San Francisco and the Grave Migration to Colma
Beyond the remnants of the Mission Dolores churchyard, the National Cemetery, and the San Francisco Columbarium, relics of San Francisco’s pioneers continue to lie beneath many of the city’s neighborhoods, parks, and museums. If the last of the dead were supposed to have been removed from San Francisco in the 1940s, why do bodies and gravestones keep turning up?
Betsy Trapasso – Death Runs in My Family
Betsy knew that she was predestined to work in the end-of-life world ever since her mother gave her the nickname “Spooky” when she was only two months old, and it’s stuck with her ever since. She tells the tale of a familial connection to the history of hospice care in the US that showed her working with and advocating for the dying is in her blood as well as in her soul.
Jordan Posamentier, Esq. – Why California Should Be the Next State to Pass a Death With Dignity Law & What You Can Do to Help
Five states in the nation currently have death with dignity laws on the books, but California is not one of them. Compassion & Choices’ goal is to make aid in dying an open, accessible, and legitimate medical practice for all Californians. Currently, too many Californians suffer needlessly or endure unrelenting pain at the end of life and too many turn to violent means at the end of life when medical aid can help them die peacefully. A majority of Californians supports Death with Dignity, and Compassion & Choices has a five year grassroots plan to get there. As the boomer generation increasingly faces end-of-life choices, they’re making sure the last great civil rights battle of their lives will be won in our state.
Andrew Chesnut – Santa Muerte: The Saint For All Seasons
While the mass media in both Mexico and the United States almost exclusively portrays Santa Muerte as a narco-saint, for most devotees on both sides of the border she is an omnipotent miracle-worker who grants favors far removed from the world of drug trafficking. We’ll explore a few of her most important roles, such as curandera, love doctor, and agent of prosperity, in addition to the most recent developments in this the fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.
1-hour lunch break on your own, 12-1pm
Paa Joe & the Lion – a Death Salon exclusive clip from the forthcoming feature film documentary chronicling the life of Ghana’s greatest living fantasy coffin maker.
Melissa Cooper – Forensic Facial Reconstruction: Reading the Skull of a 9,000-Year-Old Los Angeles Native
While reconstructing a face, the skull holds an impressive amount of clues. I’ll be discussing the techniques used to achieve the final depiction based solely on the skull in addition to the surprising reactions a simple rendering of a face has the power to inflict. Whether it is to assist in solving a cold-case or to obtain new information about our ancient past, the purpose of these reconstructions all come down to one major common denominator: utilize the given clues to solve a mystery. However, as we all have likely experienced, solving one mystery has the potential to only make the plot thicken.
Rachel James – Transcending the East vs. West Suicide Paradox: Netting the Bridge and Walling up the Volcano
By comparing Mount Mihara and the Golden Gate Bridge, we’ll look at the conflicting ideologies surrounding suicide in Asia and the US, using these popular suicide locations and their prevention solutions in each locale as focal points to examine not only the opposing cultural attitudes, but how they are evolving from opposite sides of the philosophy spectrum and beginning to “meet in the middle” with concern and compassion.
Elizabeth Harper – The Public Corpse: Exploring Death Rituals and the Spaces Dedicated to Them in Rome
Death is not the end of the road for Catholics in Italy. Though the public display of corpses and bones may seem macabre, these traditions illustrate a spiritual and physical journey that begins at death. It’s a journey that takes us through the liminal space between here and the afterlife and between flesh and bone; where the impermanence and even embarrassment of the human body and it’s functions only underscores the permanence and dignity of the soul. In this illustrated talk, we’ll take a virtual walking-tour of Rome through its crypts, purgatorial societies, tombs and shrines and find this message of life hidden in places devoted to death.
Jill Tracy – Whispers Behind Glass: After Dark in the Mutter Museum
Composer/storyteller Jill Tracy presents songs she composed alone at night inside Philadelphia’s famed Mutter Museum, and spellbinding tales of the collection including Harry Eastlack (The Ossified Man), renowned Siamese Twins Chang and Eng, The Mermaid Baby, and eccentric laryngologist Chevalier Jackson.
END OF DAY SESSION
Death Salon official banner logo, designed by Jenelle Campbell of andshedesigns.net
NIGHT SESSION emceed by Death Salon: SF Curators Annetta Black (Odd Salon) and Death Salon director Megan Rosenbloom
Starts promptly at 6pm, ends at 9pm
Cara Rose DeFabio – After the Tone: Performing Grief
Through this humorous performance art piece, Cara comments on death in the age of the funeral selfie, with clever insights about the intersection of death and technology.
Beza Merid – Stand-up Comedy and the Popular Culture of Cancer
This talk will address the popular culture of cancer, and how cultural venues like marches for hope as well as the restrictive languages of illness proliferate the idea that there is a right attitude to survive disease. Beza explores how and where post-diagnosis individuals challenge this idea, and why stand-up comedy is such an apt space to explore anxieties about health, illness, and death.
Annetta Black – Dead Soldiers & Utopian Dreams: The Vernian Visions of Dr. Benjamin Lyford, Civil War Embalmer
On the battlefields of the divided Union, Dr. Benjamin Lyford was part of a new generation of death professionals, developing new (and secret) techniques for embalming in order to send bodies of fallen soldiers home for burial. Later, he brought his practice here to San Francisco – and across the water in Tiburon, he sought to create “Hygeia”, a health-obsessed Utopian village designed to keep death at bay. Remnants of his legacy speak to the lasting impact of the atrocities of war, the cult of health that sprung up in post-Civil War America, and our evolving relationship with the preservation of the dead.
Megan Rosenbloom – Books of the Dead: Death Imagery from the Library Vaults
While researching her book in libraries across the U.S. and abroad, Megan has collected examples of interesting death images and objects safely kept in the best research libraries’ special collections. Take a tour of some beautiful and macabre illustrations, photos, and objects that the public rarely get to see.
Paul Koudounaris – Sex in the Netherworld: Postmortem Erotic Spiritual Encounters
Does eroticism survive the grave? The idea that the dead might return to satisfy their carnal desires has historically been considered so uncomfortable that such reports have been hidden way or lampooned as wild delusions. But in fact, such accounts are voluminous, and Dr. Paul Koudounaris will discuss the murky and fascinating history of ghostly sexual encounters.
Sarah Troop – Nourishing Death: How the World Honors Death With Food
Since ancient eras human beings have incorporated food into their observances of death in diverse and often macabre ways. We will explore some of these rituals, practices and traditions of the past and present.
Caitlin Doughty – Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory
A gritty behind-the-scenes look at the death industry accompanied by reading from her newly-published memoir: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory.
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