Death Mask Of Pretty Boy Floyd
East Liverpool, Ohio
East Liverpool sits in a weird border notch, only a stone's throw from West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Unfortunately for the stature of those states, Pretty Boy Floyd, Public Enemy #1, was in Ohio when he was gunned down by FBI agents on October 22, 1934, on a farm only a few miles north of town. All three gunshot wounds were in his back.
We know that last fact because Pretty Boy was brought to East Liverpool, the nearest town with a mortician, to be embalmed. The procedure took place in the morgue of the Sturgis Funeral Home. It's now the basement laundry room of the Sturgis House, a bed & breakfast, and Pretty Boy's death mask hangs over the washer and dryer.
Susan Anderson, who manages the place, leads us to the small Mortuary Museum in the laundry room and gives a low-key tour. Low-key because upstairs at this moment is one of the many celebrities who stay at Sturgis House, and she doesn't want anyone to know that "he" is here. What kind of quirky celebrity would want to stay in funeral-parlor-turned-bed & breakfast, we wonder? John Waters? Johnny Depp? Rob Zombie? Well, no, it turns out to be a college football coach. He may not know, or care, that Pretty Boy's pretty face is in the basement, and neither do most of the other people who stay here. To them, the Sturgis House is just a nice bed & breakfast. That, of course, would not motivate us to stay here at all.
According to Susan, a man named Frank Dawson, the embalmer of Pretty Boy and the father of the man who now owns the place, made Pretty Boy's death mask out of "slip," which is normally used to make pottery. (A conflicting account attributes the mask to Jack Owen, a local potter; this region was once a pottery-making center). The idea that Pretty Boy could be set on his nose and used as a cereal bowl is intriguing, but we sense that Susan would probably not be receptive to it.
She earnestly shows us the embalming equipment, the little metal sling that propped up Pretty Boy's head, and the graduation photo of Frank Dawson's embalming class. She tells us that after Pretty Boy was pumped full of formaldehyde he was dragged upstairs and laid out in a bed in the dining room. Thousands of people came to see his corpse, with many getting back in line to see it again and again.
Susan makes the point that everyone associated with Pretty Boy Floyd is either dead or almost dead. His son is already gone, and his last surviving sister just went at age 100. We reflect that celebrityhood isn't forever. Interest in Pretty Boy may be lagging. After all, how many people do YOU know who know who Pretty Boy Floyd is?
We hope, however, that the folks in the Ohio/West Virginia/Pennsylvania triangle are still hep to Pretty Boy, and will keep making pilgrimages to the Sturgis House laundry room. Susan's excitement is certainly unflagging.