Forever Yours

Move Over, ALCOR. Phoenix-based Preserve A Life wants to make sure the dearly departed are ready for their close-ups.

"Freeze-drying eliminates all that. First, we freeze the body as hard as a block of ice; then this baby [the freeze-dryer] sucks out 86.8 percent of the body's frozen moisture, leaving an almost completely desiccated replicant that's only a fraction of the original weight. If you think about it, the human body is mostly water, so a 250-pound man will weigh less than 50 pounds after an eight-month treatment. That's the rub. It takes too long, and people want immediate gratification. Regular humidermy only takes about four or five weeks, by comparison."

But there are drawbacks to both procedures. With freeze-drying, it's difficult to do realistic enhancements afterward, like breast or penile enlargement, because the implants cannot survive the freeze-drying process. Also, with freeze-drying, if the individual in question is obese, there may be some leakage of fat once the replication process is complete. And finally, because the skin is not "tanned" the old-fashioned way, vermin have been known to lay eggs in the dried flesh. "For some pests, like moths or cockroaches, a freeze-dried corpse is like a big hunk of beef jerky," admits Cunningham.

With humidermy, the process is more laborious and expensive. One average humidermied male can cost anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000, mainly because of the amount of time skilled craftsmen have to spend re-creating the individual. Freeze-drying takes longer, but machines do most of the hard work, with only a technician or two to oversee the process. So a child, infant or small dog can be freeze-dried for as little as $6,000, and an adult for $10,000. But you get what you pay for, Cunningham says. With humidermy, if you so choose, all the benefits of plastic surgery are possible to make your loved one look better than he or she did when alive.

Marvin Singer's replication as it appears today.
Marvin Singer's replication as it appears today.
For $250, Perserve A Life will affix a chemically treated 
swatch of your loved one's skin to a pillow.
For $250, Perserve A Life will affix a chemically treated swatch of your loved one's skin to a pillow.

For those who can't afford to have the entire body preserved, Preserve A Life offers a plethora of less expensive options. For $1,750 (discounts are sometimes available), you can have just the individual's head mounted on a plaque, and for $750, the limb of your choice. (One lady actually had her husband's right arm taxidermied, with the hand holding a removable ashtray.) A swatch of your loved one's skin can be treated and affixed to a pillowcase or a blanket, so that you can always have him or her next to you -- which Cunningham considers a bargain at $250. And ears, toes and fingers are dead cheap, from $50 to $100 to preserve. Cunningham says the most popular use of these "leftovers" is as key-chain fobs, which, he asserts, "make great conversation pieces."

Always the cheerleader for his and Crittenden's enterprise, Cunningham says, "We say Preserve A Life -- whose acronym is PAL -- because we preserve your PAL for life. Because now, death never means having to say goodbye. For years, people here in the States have been taxidermying and freeze-drying their pets. Finally, they can enjoy the same results with their lost human loved ones."

In a survey of all of Preserve A Life's clientele, garnered from a list provided by the East Vancouver and Maricopa County health departments and from the company itself, New Times discovered only one family that was unhappy with its decision to preserve a loved one for personal use.

That family resides in Ottawa, Ontario, where its patriarch once owned a popular French restaurant. The restaurateur's children had thought a humidermied version of their dead papa might soothe customers accustomed to seeing his smiling face greeting them as they entered to dine. Indeed, when he wasn't up front, Henri Clemenceau would go from table to table taking care of his regulars, pouring wine refills himself and telling what the wait staff lovingly referred to as his "joke du soir."

But when the family installed the humidermied Henri at the front of the eatery in his familiar pose, hand out as if ready to shake, customers weren't as pleased as the Clemenceaus had thought they would be. In fact, business seemed to dwindle with the return of Henri from Preserve A Life's then-laboratory in East Vancouver, and the Clemenceau children wanted to return the replicant of their father to the company for a complete refund.

Cunningham recalls that Preserve A Life didn't have a money-back guarantee at that time (it has since instituted one). Although the Clemenceaus sued, Preserve A Life's barristers prevailed, since Canadian national law prohibits anyone unrelated to a dead person from owning his or her remains. Even though the firm won, Cunningham and his colleagues decided it would be good for business to give the Clemenceaus their money back, but the family had to keep Henri under Canadian law.

"From what I hear, he's in a public storage vault somewhere in the Ottawa suburbs," Cunningham says. "They didn't even bother to bury or cremate him. It's a shame, because he was one of our finest early representations. If we could have kept him legally, we would have him greeting people here in the lobby of our new company headquarters in Phoenix."

The rest of the firm's customers contacted by New Times expressed positive sentiments similar to those of the Braswells.

Take Margaret Singer, a Mesa woman who works as a nurse practitioner at the Mayo Clinic in north Scottsdale. Her 7-year-old, Marvin, had been a lively, rambunctious little boy who, in defiance of his babysitter, one day licked his finger and stuck it into a live electrical outlet. The teenage sitter knocked Marvin clear of the current with a wooden chair before major damage was done to the boy's features by the electrical charge, but not in time to save his life. Singer, a single mother whose husband was killed when he was washed overboard during a deep-sea fishing trip off Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, was beside herself with grief. When the funeral director suggested Preserve A Life, she thought it was a sick joke.

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