Friday, July 31, 2015

NOLA Museum of Death – Not For the Faint of Heart

Twenty years ago the Museum of Death opened in Hollywood. Now, another branch has opened in … where else …the Big Easy. What a perfect location for some fairly graphic exhibits that might make you queasy, but intrigued.

Kevorkian's Thanatron
Located in the French Quarter of New Orleans, this macabre museum has hundreds of exhibits including crime scene photos, funeral garments, letters written by serial killers, items that belonged to Nicole Brown Simpson, and the Thanatron; the suicide machine constructed by Dr. Jack Kevorkian to assist those who wished to die. The machine was used over 130 times.

Co-founders Cathee Shult and J.D. Healy first started the museum in California in 1995 for the purpose of bringing those fears about death that we Americans have, out in the open. Other cultures see dying as simply part of the cycle of life, but we fear it, and avoid thinking about it, for the most part. This is our wake-up call.

The Museum of Death is an in-your-face reminder that “this too, shall pass” and it offers up many examples of just how death can occur. While there are no age limits at the museum, they strongly recommend that "Mature Audiences" only attend.

Charles Manson
The NOLA Museum of Death has numerous exhibits including Manson Family photos, morgue photos, body bags, coffins, skulls, and execution items along with an exhibit on cannibalism, and the Theatre of Death, where you can watch programs about all kinds of death.

The NOLA museum is much larger than the one in Hollywood, and many exhibits here are in keeping with murders and events that have occurred in the state and southeast region. The Museum of Death in New Orleans had its officialgrand opening on June 1, 2015. It is open Wednesday through Monday, 10 am to 6 pm and closed on Tuesdays; admission is $15 per person.

Many are not prepared for what they’ll see at the museum. Several patrons have given the museum a “Falling Ovation.” (In other words, they passed out.) This action warrants a Museum of Death T-Shirt as a souvenir to remember them by.

Once you step out into the bright daylight, you’ll be glad that you’re alive, and that, according to the owners, is the whole point of the museum.


If You Go:
227 Dauphine Street
New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 593-3968

Other NOLA Attractions to see:
724 Dumaine St
New Orleans, LA 70116
(504) 680-0128

Basin at St. Louis St.
New Orleans, LA 70112
(504) 482-5065

Friday, July 24, 2015

Remembering The SS Eastland Tragedy 100 Years Later

It was a cool Saturday morning as employees from the Western Electric Company began boarding the SS Eastland, anchored in the Chicago River, for a company outing. The day’s itinerary included a trip up the river for a refreshing escape to Michigan City, Indiana and a company picnic in Washington Park. Instead, the day is remembered as the worst nautical disaster to occur on any of the Great Lakes. The date was July 24, 1915.

SS Eastland
The Eastland first set sail as a passenger ship in May of 1903, but appears to have been burdened with troubles from the beginning. During a public reception that spring, the ship began to list uncontrollably from side to side. The reason? Too many people had congregated on the upper decks. The steam ship was divested of passengers and the problem corrected, but many felt that the Eastland had a dangerous design flaw, and that things would only get worse.

Eastland Ready To Board
One year later, with 3,000 people on board, the ship again began to tilt port to starboard. Passengers panicked, but the crew regained control of the Eastland with no harm done. The listing problem resurfaced again in 1906 with 2,500 people on board, and again in 1912 with 2,400 passengers aboard.

Court Proceedings
In March 1915, the federal Seaman’s Act was enacted in order to increase the safety and security of US seamen; it included the caveat that a ship must carry enough lifeboats to hold all passengers and crew. The law came about because of the RSS Titanic disaster, which had occurred three years before.

Listing Ship
The Eastland complied with the ruling, but the added weight of the additional lifeboats made the passenger ship even more top heavy. Many feared that because of this additional weight ships would become ungainly and there would be more problems.

Excitement was in the air that July morning as over 5,000 men, women and children, many Polish and Czech immigrants, boarded five boats that had been chartered for their daylong adventure. Among the ships ready to sail was the “Speed Queen of the Great Lakes:” the Eastland. 

On Her Side
Reports indicated that the ship, still tied to the dock, began easing away about 7:10 a.m. with 2,572 passengers on board. It slowly slipped about 40 feet out into the river, listing slightly. Then, at 7:28 it lurched to port (left) and capsized, rolling on it's side and coming to rest in 20 feet of water at 7:30 a.m.

Mayhem ensued as passengers above deck were thrown into the river. Those below were struck by heavy, careening furniture - a piano, bookcases and tables, which slammed into passengers, crushing them amid the rushing waters. Others suffocated when people were thrown on top of one another and they could not regain their footing. (Those desperately fought for life vests and boats were of no use here - there had not been enough warning for passengers and crew to use them.)

A Victim
The river was teaming with people trying to escape. Eyewitnesses said that the screams were what they remembered the most vividly. A total of 844 passengers died, including 22 families that were wiped out; four crew members were also killed in the disaster. Many died from their injuries; many more because they couldn’t swim.

The Morgue
The bodies were taken to several temporary morgues set up around the river. Hundreds of bodies were laid out in the Second Regiment Armory where families lined up to identify their loved ones. Some bodies were never identified; officials said that these may have been more families that all died together with no one was left to claim their remains.

New Memorial
Bohemian National Cemetery
The largest number of the dead; 134 were buried in Bohemian National Cemetery, on Chicago’s northwest side. The stones can be identified by the date: July 24, 1915 and/or the words “obet Eastland” or “Victim of the Eastland.” A granite memorial dedicated to the victims was unveiled here two weeks ago and can be found in section 16. Details concerning the disaster, and information about the gravesites are included on a plaque located next to the memorial

Grand Jury
A grand jury ruled the cause of the disaster to be “conditions of instability” due to “an overloading of passengers, mishandling of water ballasts or construction of the ship.” The ship’s captain and engineer were charged with criminal carelessness, and the ship’s company president and three officers were indicted for manslaughter. The presiding judge then changed the charges to “conspiracy to operate an unsafe ship.

USS Wilmette
In Memory
The ship was raised later that year. It was recommissioned in 1918 and named the USS Wilmette; it served in both world wars. In 1945, the Wilmette was decommissioned, and scrapped out in 1947. The ship's largest loss of life: July 24, 1915 when 844 people lost their lives in the Chicago River ...

~ Joy

Friday, July 10, 2015

Funeral Webcasts: Virtual Funerals Allow Closure

Today, it seems that our lives are so scheduled there is little leeway for an abrupt need for time away. That’s why online funerals are becoming more popular, and more accepted.

While we might desire to attend a service in person, many times that isn’t an option, but attending virtually permits others a chance to participate and mourn.

Attending a service via a private webcast allows family and friends from far away the ability to see and hear the service in the privacy of their own homes. An online funeral also lets the elderly, those in hospitals, or serving in the military, an opportunity to still be a part of the remembrance service.

So how does it work? A tiny unobtrusive camera mounted at the rear of the chapel films the funeral service. The camera is linked to a computer with software that allows the video to be streamed live. Those attending virtually sign in with a password to attend the services. Memorial programs are available online, and a printed version can be made later. When mourners arrive at the cemetery, GPS can locate the gravesite, and others who wish to visit can use these coordinates later.

One caveat to a virtual funeral is that the service can be viewed at the attendee’s convenience, not necessarily when it is actually being held. In fact, research indicates that family and friends who physically attended the service also view it online, many watching numerous times. Death is a distracting and numbing event, but by recording the service, family members can revisit it, giving them a chance to remember happenings they might have missed. Funeral homes may archive the service and make it accessible for viewing for up to six months.

Most people who have utilized webcast funerals expressed satisfaction at being able to have those far away join the family at the funerals - making it a true family experience. 

But does this sound the death keel for funeral homes and traditional services? Most funeral directors think not. After all, a funeral service is for remembering and sharing. It is about the human experience, remembering the deceased and supporting the loved ones left behind.

A virtual funeral just opens up another way for those who could not have attended in person to also have closure, allowing “the sorrows of one to become the sorrows of many.”

~ Joy