Funeral Museum Gets Coffin, Dumps Skeleton

The Museum of Funeral Customs in Springfield, Illinois, calls itself the second-largest funeral museum in America (trailing only the Museum of Funeral History in Houston, Texas.) In mid-October its curator was delighted to learn that a rare casket -- an 1870s-vintage model with a full-length glass top for viewing the body -- had been discovered in nearby Litchfield. The coffin had been hidden in a secret cupboard in an old building, and the Museum wanted it for its collection.

There was, however, a catch.

Inside the coffin, clearly visible through its glass top, was a human skeleton.

Awkward, said the Museum. But not a problem.

The skeleton was probably not the coffin's original occupant, although no one knows for sure. The casket had been the property of a long-defunct chapter of the Independent Order of Odd Fellows, whose lodge members evidently used it in secret initiation rites. It had been painted bright orange, leading the Museum to speculate that it, and its occupant, had also been props in Odd Fellows lodge Halloween shenanigans.

The skeleton, which was wired in such a way that its jaw could move, was estimated by a Litchfield doctor to have been a young man who died around 1900.

The Museum of Funeral Customs has arranged with the Illinois State Museum, also in Springfield, to take the skeleton, while it takes the casket. The State Museum promises to make good use of the bones, although probably not nearly as good as the Odd Fellows.

[11/04/2006]
Directions:
Was SE of Illinois State Fairgrounds, at the entrance to Oak Ridge Cemetery where Abraham Lincoln is buried.
Hours:
Closed in early 2009.

July 31, 2014

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