The mummified remains of a petty thief nicknamed Stoneman Willie have been laid to rest in Pennsylvania, concluding a fascinating and somewhat macabre episode stretching back 128 years.
Willie, whose real name was revealed to be James Murphy at his burial in Reading, 60 miles north-west of Philadelphia, on Saturday. He was embalmed shortly after his death in 1895 by a mortician experimenting with new preservation techniques.
His almost unblemished body remained on display in an open casket at a funeral home in the city for almost 13 decades until authorities decided to give him a final, respectful sendoff.
“He’s been gawked at enough,” Kyle Blankenbiller, director of the Theo C Auman funeral home, said.
“We don’t refer to him as a mummy. We refer to him as our friend Willie. He has just become such an icon, such a storied part of not only Reading’s past but certainly its present.”
Staff at the funeral home worked with local historians to establish Willie’s real identity in time for his funeral, having determined he gave a false name when he was arrested for pickpocketing. Jail and hospital records revealed he was James Murphy, from New York of Irish descent, who suffered from alcoholism and whose cause of death was given as kidney failure.
A cellmate recorded that Willie adopted the name James Penn in custody in an effort to avoid shaming his father, a wealthy businessman.
With no known relatives to claim him or pay for a burial, Willie was sent to a mortician and his body used in an experimental embalming technique that left him with leathery skin and a gaunt appearance, but with his hair and teeth intact. His adoptive name, Stoneman Willie, came from the post-preservation hardness of his skin.
The funeral home successfully appealed to state authorities to be allowed to keep the remains instead of burying them in order to monitor any rate of decomposition. As a result, Willie became something of an attraction, right up to the days before his funeral when he was honored with a parade through Reading in a motorcycle hearse.
He was laid to rest in a period tuxedo with bow tie and red sash, buried beneath a tombstone engraved with both of his names. “Stoneman Willie at one time may have been a beloved friend and family member,” Robert Whitmire, a Reading pastor, told mourners.
The service was held as part of the 275th birthday celebrations for the city of Reading, and was, according to Blankenbiller, “the reverent, respectful thing to do”.
https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/oct/09/stoneman-willie-mummified-man-reading-pennsylvania Mummified US man finally given proper burial after 128 years on display | Pennsylvania