Violation of graves, tombstones or associated buildings is considered a serious offence, because cemeteries are extremely respected places. If there’s a chapel and/or a crematorium at the cemetery there may be a memorial garden or wall of remembrance decorated with plaques containing the names of those who chose to be cremated.
In many cultures cemeteries are places of superstition, and over the ages they’ve been the venue for many stories and legends. Most burial ceremonies are conducted during the day; it’s at night time when the cemetery becomes the ideal setting for a horror story. Black magic ceremonies usually take place at night, which is the time preferred by grave robbers. Another example of sinister activities is attributed to Haiti’s Voudun religion, where a zombie is created after the selected victim is fed a drug made from the poisonous puffer fish. The dosage given slows the heart so that the victim appears dead. After his burial in a coffin in a shallow grave the newly created zombie is dug up and forced into some form of service as payback for some crime he may have committed or a promise he failed to keep.
One of the earliest known surgical procedures known to man is the art of embalming, the preservation of the human body. This is different from taxidermy, which recreates an animal’s body using its skin. Historically there were some practical reasons for this practice – the Inca’s of Peru had a climate that made embalming a necessity. During the Crusades the soldiers’ bodies would be preserved to ensure they could be buried closer to home, and this practice has been used in different wars since that time. The Egyptians, probably the most renowned embalmers, mummified a body to empower the soul after death, believing the soul would return to the preserved corpse. Embalming is also used for presentation, to make the body suitable for display at a funeral. It should be noted that embalming does not stop decay – it simply delays the process. A few interesting cases:
When Eva Peron died her husband had her embalmed, and 16 years after her death Eva’s body was found to be in perfect condition. This led to some Argentineans to call for her canonisation.
Abraham Lincoln’s body was exhumed 100 years after his death, and displayed no signs of decomposition, apart from his skin, which had been oxidised by chemicals and turned black.
Pope Pius XII’s embalmer managed to botch the embalming process, and speed up the rate of decomposition. The odour was so bad the guards were changed every 15 minutes to prevent them from passing out. The embalmer had taken photographs of the Pope as he died, but no tabloid would touch them. This happened in 1958, and he’d become pope in 1939. His attitude towards the atrocities of the Second World War, especially the Holocaust, made him a controversial figure.
Conversely Pope John XXIII, who died in 1963, is on public display at the basilica of Saint Peter. His body is in an extremely well preserved state, thanks to the embalming process applied.
Human rights activist Medgar Evers was so well embalmed an autopsy performed 30 years after his death revealed enough evidence to secure a conviction of his murderer.
Mummies have featured prominently in horror films, with special attention paid to the rather disturbing techniques used for mummification. Sometime a person is mummified alive as a punishment for angering the king or committing some crime or sin.
** Image ID #1176347 Unavailable **