Tag Archives: museum

Cemetery of the Week #129: the Graves of Jesse James

Zerelda Samuels, Jesse James's mother, stands by his original grave

Zerelda Samuel, Jesse James’s mother, stands by his original grave

The James Farm
21216 James Farm Road
Kearney, Missouri 64060
Telephone: (816) 736-8500
Grave in use: 1882-1902
The farm and museum is open: October until April: Monday to Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday from Noon to 4 p.m.
May-September: Monday to Sunday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Admission: $8 Adults, $7 Seniors (62 and over), $4.50 Children (8-15), Children under 8: Free

Mount Olivet Cemetery
101 Missouri 92 (West 6th Street)
Kearney, Missouri 64060
GPS coordinates to James’s second grave: Lat: 39° 22′ 03″N, Lon: 94° 21′ 53″W
Founded: 1868

Jesse James was 16 when he followed his brother Frank into fighting the Civil War.  After their side lost, Jesse, Frank, and several other veterans spent 20 years robbing banks and trains and getting famous through dime novels.

On April 3, 1882, Jesse was shot dead by Robert Ford in his home in St. Joseph, Missouri (now a museum).  The surviving members of the gang, including his brother Frank, packed his body in ice and brought it back to his childhood home in Excelsior Springs (now called Kearney).  His mother Zerelda had Jesse buried near the house, where she could keep an eye on his body.  She feared grave robbers would dig him up and put his remains on display in a traveling show, as was common in those days.

Zerelda wasn’t above making a little money off her son’s notoriety.  She  sold rocks from his grave for 25 cents.  The postcard above shows a picture of her standing beside his obelisk.  The right sleeve of her dress covers the stump of her amputated hand, which she lost after Pinkerton detectives threw a turpentine flare into her home.

The Kansas City Star dates this card to 1907.  Apparently, there was a whole set of postcards featuring James’s homestead.  It also is a museum now.

The back of the photo reads, “Here is the picture of Hiram on Jesse James grave. My picture was no good so I did not get any of these. But this is a good resemblance of old Hi. And the old Tomb Stone also.”

The back of the photo reads, “Here is the picture of Hiram on Jesse James grave. My picture was no good so I did not get any of these. But this is a good resemblance of old Hi. And the old Tomb Stone also.”

After 20 years in the grave outside his mother’s farmhouse, Jesse James’s body was exhumed in 1902 and reburied in the family plot in Mt. Olivet Cemetery.  His wife Zee (short for Zerelda: she was a first cousin who had been named for his mother) had died in November 1900 and was already buried in the plot.  Jesse’s half brother Archie Payton Samuel is also buried there.  He was killed by the Pinkerton bomb that took Mother Zerelda’s hand. 

Zerelda herself died in 1911 and was buried in the plot with her boys.

That tall marble tombstone has since been replaced by a government-issued military headstone.  It details the outfits with which Jesse fought in the Civil War.  A large granite marker, flush with the ground, names Jesse and Zerelda.

In 1995, forensic experts apparently proved that Jesse’s remains were in fact in his grave, so that all the men who claimed that Jesse had escaped and grown old peacefully were proved to be imposters.  Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses gives a pretty good rundown of the exhumation and analysis.

Useful links:

Photos of Jesse James and Zerelda Samuel’s gravestones at Mount Olivet

Map to Jesse’s grave

A biography of Jesse James’ wife Zee

A history of Kearney, Missouri

Things to do in Kearney, Missouri

A 1995 story about the exhumation of Jesse James, from the Chicago Tribune

A round-up of the Jesse James impostors

Cemetery of the Week #80: the Mütter Museum

The Museum at is appeared in the 1880s.

The Mütter Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia
19 S 22nd Street
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19103
Phone: (215) 563-3737
Founded: 1858
Number of interments: several hundred
Open: 7 days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed: Thanksgiving, December 24, December 25, and January 1
Admission: General $15, Military and Senior (with ID) $13, Student (with ID) and 6-17 years $10. Children under 5 are free.

What makes a place a graveyard? Is it bodies interred in dirt? If that’s the case, then the USS Arizona Memorial isn’t a cemetery, despite what the National Park Service says. Is it the presences of markers standing over graves? The African Burial Ground didn’t cease to be a graveyard simply because it was forgotten and covered over. Is it a graveyard if it contains the residue of dead humans – like the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum or Westminster Abbey? Do the bodies have to be whole? Are the Paris Ossuary or the Capuchin Catacombs of Rome or the Bone Church of Kunta Hora graveyards? What about places that used to house bodies — like the Catacomb of St. Sebastian or the Atrium of St. Maclou — where all the bodies have been removed? Do they stop being cemeteries once they’re empty?

Everything on the list above has been featured as a Cemetery of the Week here on Cemetery Travel. As you can see, my definition of a graveyard is broad. The way I define cemeteries or graveyards, people or bits of people or the cremains or mummies of people must rest – or have rested – on the site for a period of time. A murder site is not a graveyard, unless, like the garden in Rouen where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake, it becomes a permanent shrine.

With this broad definition of Cemetery of the Week in mind, we turn to Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum, which has been described as “America’s finest museum of medical history.”

The Museum after remodeling in 1986. Photograph by Jack Ramsdale. From a postcard sold at the museum.

The Mütter is the legacy of Dr. Thomas Dent Mütter, a fellow at the College of Physicians in Philadelphia. In the 19th century, medicine wasn’t taught as it is now, with every budding young doctor able to dissect a donated cadaver. Body snatchers – and medical students themselves – did provide a limited number of practice corpses, even in the US, but since embalming would not become widely spread until the decades after the Civil War, bodies were dissected by the professor at the front of the room while students looked on from theater seats. Dr. Mütter made it his mission to collect preserved body parts and wax models that could be used again and again to teach medicine.

When Dr. Mütter passed on, he left his collection to the College with the stipulation they provide a museum building, hire a curator, and continue to add to the collection.

The Museum has acquired 23 adult skeletons since 1863. Only seven of these were on display in 2002 when the Mütter Museum book by Gretchen Worden was published. The others were kept in the storerooms to be studied.

Photograph by Jack Ramsdale, from a photo postcard sold in the museum.

Among those on display are a 7’6” giant who stands beside a 3’6” dwarf. At her feet in this postcard photograph is the skull of her child, whose head was too big to pass through her pelvis. Even though the doctor crushed it before the child could be born, it could not be delivered the usual way and a cesarean was performed. The mother died three days later.

Mary Ashberry had lived in a house of prostitution. Perhaps there was no one to claim her body. The giant who accompanies her came to the Museum with the stipulation that “no questions be asked” that might identify him, which leads me to wonder if his family didn’t know he was missing.

In 1973, the skeleton of Harry Eastlack came to the Museum as a donation after his death. He’d suffered since childhood with a condition that made bone grow in his muscles and other connective tissue. He’d hoped that the study of his skeleton would lead to a cure for the disease, which afflicts as few at 300 people worldwide.

The Museum purchased the skull collection of Dr. Joseph Hyrtl, which arrived in Philadelphia in 1874. The 70 skulls included representatives of “all the tribes of Eastern Europe” as well as two Hollanders, Pacific Islanders, and more. Hyrtl’s catalog claimed, “It is easier to get the skulls of Islanders of the Pacific than those of Moslems, Jews, and all the semi-savage tribes of the Balkan and Karpathien valleys. Risking his life, the gravestealer must be largely bribed.”

This casual attitude toward the theft of these skulls – many of which are marked with names, birthplaces, occupations, and causes of death – inclines me to treat them with reverence, to consider the Mütter Museum their grave.  It’s an honor to be able to visit them, so one should show proper respect.

Useful links:

The Mütter Museum homepage

The Mütter Museum’s youtube channel

Events at the Mütter Museum:

Coming up on Saturday, October 27: The Mütter Museum’s Annual Day of the Dead Festival. Come celebrate this traditional Mexican holiday with an all-day event at the Mütter Museum! Decorate sugar skulls, enjoy traditional food and drink, and visit the Museum!

Roadside America’s Mütter page

Follow the museum on Twitter.

Cemetery of the Week #78: Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

The columns of the Egyptian Museum

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
1660 Park Avenue
San Jose, California 95191
Museum Main Line: (408) 947-3635
Founded: 1927
Number of interments: 4 are currently on display
Open: Wednesday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.
Admission: $9 ($1 discount for members of AAA, AAM, KQED, and Military). Seniors 55 and older and students with I.D.: $7. Children ages 5 – 10 are $5. Children under 5 are free.

San Jose, California’s Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is housed in a breathtaking replica of the temple of Amon at Karnak, complete with a row of sphinxlike rams leading to its front steps. The museum’s website claims it is the only Egyptian-style building in the world to house Egyptian artifacts. Even the Egyptian Museum in Cairo is a modern Western-style building.

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum has the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on exhibit west of the Mississippi. Over 4000 pieces are on display. Among those items – charms, musical instruments, toys, and other everyday items – lay 4 human mummies.

Cat mummies

With the help of Stanford University and Silicon Graphics, among others, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum made detailed high-res scans of a 2000-year-old mummy without disturbing her wrappings. She turned out to be a girl, no more than five years old, who belonged to an affluent family. Since her mummy shows no signs of disease, researchers believe she died unexpectedly. The Museum nicknamed her Sherit, which means “little one” in Egyptian. The examination process is shown on a video near her mummy, which rests in a glass case.

The museum also contains a life-sized walk-through replica of a rock-cut tomb beneath a pyramid. The tomb is open only for guided tours, but it gives a good sense of what it’s like to wedge into the secret, sacred space, surrounded by murals that depict the life and afterlife of the tomb’s occupant. In this case, the tomb waits empty, as if looted. (An interesting choice, since the names – and provenance – of the mummies in the museum’s collection are not always known.) Since the mummy cases stand just outside, you can assemble the pieces in your mind.

Also on display are mummified domestic cats, several species of birds, baby crocodiles, a baboon, and the head of a sacred bull.

The emblem of the AMORC

The AMORC (the Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis or Rosy Cross) is the American incarnation of a mystery school that traces its roots back to ancient Egypt, although the fraternity as such descends more directly from a possibly mythical Christian Rosenkreutz in the Germany of the late middle ages. Rosicrucian practices include spiritual alchemy and meditation, without any overt religion involved. At any rate, the AMORC was founded in the US in 1915 by Dr. H. Spencer Lewis. Lewis then came west and established the Rosicrucian Park in San Jose. His son ran the organization after his father’s death and oversaw the expansion of the order’s public museum.

The museum has been rebuilt several times over the years, as it outgrew its previous space. The current museum, purpose-built to house artifacts collected by members of the order, opened in 1966.

Rosicrucian Park in San Jose, California

Famous modern Rosicrucians have included Walt Disney and Gene Roddenberry. The Order also claims Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante (although that would have been a stretch from Germany in 1313 to Florence in 1321, when Dante died), Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and Napoleon. It’s related to the Masonic Order, which was founded after Rosicrucianism and includes a level called the Rose Cross, and to the Temple of the Golden Dawn, which conducted spiritual warfare against the Nazis in World War II. The AMORC now has a Facebook group and conducts their classes online.

Useful links:

The museum’s homepage

A map and some good photographs

Information on mummification

A postcard with a photo of a mummy and the mummy cases