Digging Up the Dead: A History of Notable American Reburials by Michael Kammen
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I wanted to love this book more than I did. It is written in a very dry way, so I wasn’t surprised to discover that the author is a professor emeritus at Cornell. Bess Lovejoy’s Rest in Pieces is a much more fun text on the same subject, although both books don’t really cover the same ground.
This book is exhaustive when it comes to American war heroes who were recovered from forgotten graves and reburied with more attention. In fact, if the Revolutionary War fascinates you, you will appreciate the “Siting and Reciting of Patriotism” chapter.
I wish the chapter on “Problematic Graves” had been longer. I hadn’t considered the tourist value of famous people’s graves beyond Jim Morrison and Hollywood Forever, so I was fascinated by the process of moving gravesites to be more accessible, along with the struggles cities went to in order to hang on to their favored sons.
In fact, the book is thick with dead white men. I wish the author had cast a wider net. I was excited when the African Burial Ground in Manhattan was mentioned. Jimi Hendrix could have been, too, or Martin Luther King Jr. or Hattie McDaniel (who wasn’t moved, in the end). The graves removed from Manzanar might have rated some attention, or the Chinese history of moving the bones back home during the Gold Rush…
I suppose it’s telling that the blurbs on the book come from historians, not from cemetery aficionados.
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