Forever Yours

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

Preserve A Life could one day do Madame Tussaud's wax museum one better by having political leaders, artists, pop stars and other celebrities enshrined as humidermied replicants. Imagine the children of the future walking down a series of dioramas where the bodies of John Kerry and President Bush reenact their debate at ASU's Gammage Auditorium (this could be an exhibit that tours the nation re-creating all three debates; as previously stated, replicants can be made to adjust with ease). Why, perhaps even Osama bin Laden, the evil mastermind of 9/11, will appear as he has in so many videos broadcast over al-Jazeera, seated on a Persian rug with a rocket launcher or AK-47 to one side, denouncing the American infidels who eventually tracked him down and killed him (this may be wishful thinking, but if he is ever captured, and our government sees fit to have him humidermied, this would be educational for schoolchildren).

None of this is all that far-fetched. Since the Egyptians mummified their dead for their journeys into the afterlife, human beings have been trying their hand at preserving the dead. There are references in the New Testament to the intended mummification of Christ's body, and, since that time, the Roman Catholic Church has used the mummified remains of saints to inspire the faithful.

Modern embalming actually began during the Civil War in order to preserve bodies on their trip from the battlefields back home to loved ones. Since then, it has become common practice to embalm bodies so as to chemically suspend the decomposition of human tissue, and thus allow for public or private viewings.

At an office in downtown Tempe, the mounted heads of 
a businessman's son and daughter, killed in an auto 
accident.
At an office in downtown Tempe, the mounted heads of a businessman's son and daughter, killed in an auto accident.
The Braswell family with Sparky and the deceased Granny 
Dunlop.
Jeff Newton
The Braswell family with Sparky and the deceased Granny Dunlop.

World leaders such as Eva Perón, V.I. Lenin, Mao Tse-tung and Ho Chi Minh have been embalmed and put on indefinite display. Indeed, Lenin remains on display, despite the desire of many Russians to bury his corpse along with the corpse of communism. And in the early 1900s, carnivals would take the mummified remains of outlaws like bank robber Elmer McCurdy with them as they toured through the country. Just this past July, the much-written-about Body Worlds exhibition arrived at the California Science Center in Los Angeles (www.californiasciencecenter.org), where it displayed more than 200 real human specimens that have been preserved through a process called "plastination" (which replaces body fluids and fat with reactive polymers). The show has toured both Europe and Asia, and will remain in L.A. through January 23, 2005.

Private attempts at body preservation for extended use or viewing are by no means confined to Preserve A Life. Aside from ALCOR in Scottsdale, there's Summum (www.summum.us), which offers mummification of both pets and humans according to the religious and scientific precepts of the ancient Egyptians. Corpses of animals or humans are sealed in weighty sarcophagi and can be kept at home or in Summum's pyramid headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah. As Summum states on its Web site, "Because of the beauty of the Mummiform and the sacredness of the body it holds, you may want it to be enshrined in a mausoleum sanctuary or placed inside a family sanctuary room where it may be viewed behind glass."

Also in L.A., Carl Crew, owner of the infamous North Hollywood nightclub and sideshow museum California Institute of Abnormal Arts (www.ciabnormalarts.com), currently has in his safekeeping the mummified remains of circus clown Achile Chatouilleu (1866-1912) preserved under glass, still wearing his clown outfit as well as emblems of his Masonic faith. Crew obtained the body, embalmed as it is with deadly arsenic, from a group of Gypsies living in northern California. Apparently it was Chatouilleu's wish to be permanently on display in his clown makeup. The corpse is part of an exhibition that includes the mummified arm of French nobleman Claude de Lorrainne, as well as other curiosities. Crew has had Chatouilleu's remains for several years now, and it's safe to say that thousands of people have seen the circus comedian's lifeless body.

Himself a former mortician's assistant, Crew has contacted Cunningham in the hopes of owning Preserve A Life's first franchise.

"Californians and Angelenos especially will love the whole Preserve A Life concept," he says. "Especially when we add improvements such as animatronics and push-button voice recordings so that you can hear your loved one talk. So I'm more interested in the humidermy part of it for the time being. Freeze-drying, as I understand it, would not allow for the kind of mechanized movement we want to include."

Crew points out that so many people in the Hollywood community see themselves as immortal already. "This would be the logical next step," he says.

Of course, despite the recent interest of entrepreneurs like Crew in preserving humans in the home and marketplace, freeze-drying and taxidermying pets has been going on for years, witnessed by the work of Anthony Eddy's Wildlife Studio in Slater, Missouri (www.pet-animalpreservation.com), which boasts that it offers "the comforting alternative to pet cremation or burial." But there has been at least one documented case nationally of the freeze-drying postmortem of a human body, and it happened in the Valley. As reported by the Associated Press in 1999 and recounted in Christine Quigley's comprehensive treatment of the subject in her tome Modern Mummies: The Preservation of the Human Body in the Twentieth Century (McFarland & Co., 1998), 80-year-old Lambert Hultz was freeze-dried by Fountain Hills taxidermist Harold Pavett, after Hultz's death 10 years ago on October 28, 1994. According to the AP, Pavett showed photos of Hultz's body two years after his demise, and Hultz's corpse still looked very well preserved. New Times was unable to reach Pavett for comment.

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