I checked out a bunch of books about death and cemeteries last night and read through one of them, Cemetery Stories, by Katherine Ramsland, quickly. Riding the mainstreaming of Goth lite, Ramsland skims over the death trade [coroners, embalmers, morticians, gravediggers, etc.], ghost stories and sick stuff people do with dead bodies. Rant below about the supposed connections between people who take pictures of gravestones and people who screw corpses. Her entire tone seems to be incredulous and amused, no matter what the subject.
Gravedigger: “We use backhoes now to dig the bulk of the grave. Takes less time.”
Ramsland: “Oh my God, hah hah hah, a backhoe? How weird!”
Mortuary technician: “We put make-up on the deceased because we think it’s important to give the family a last chance to see the dead person at peace.”
Ramsland: “Make-up for dead people? Gross. That’s ironic.”
Necrophile: “I’m sexually attracted to dead people.”
Ramsland: “That’s revolting! Tell me the pornographic details.”
Taphophile: “I like walking around cemeteries looking for treestones [stones that are carved to resemble tree stumps].”
Ramsland: “You’re off your gourd. Who’d want to willingly hang out in a cemetery? I tried it and I couldn’t get into it. You must be abnormal.”
Ramsland’s overall squeamishness lumps everyone she discusses into the category of “disgusting pervert.” Despite the fact that most of the people she talks to are either doing their jobs or pursuing their hobbies, the majority of her subjects seem to be on the same level of threatening, disgusting deviance as the criminals. In her sliding scale, cremation [a societally accepted means of dealing respectfully with dead bodies] is very close to corpse abuse [unlawful mutilation, sexual acts or opening a coffin with intent to commit same]. In fact, anyone in her book who deals directly with death, dead bodies and/or cemeteries seems revolting to her.
Cemetery Stories’ cheerfully grossed-out tone epitomizes the disjointed attitude that we middle-class, white, U.S. citizens have toward death. We don’t want to look at it, think about it or deal with it. We remove it so far from our daily existence that we see it as a sudden, unnatural occurrence when, in fact, it is a time-consuming, natural and inevitable process that happens to everyone. We can’t go around fearing it all the time, but neither can we go around laughing dismissively at it the way the Cemetery Stories does. Actually, dismissive laughter is just another manifestation of thanatophobia, which is, of course, fear of death. Therefore, Cemetery Stories may give you some interesting bits of information, but I don’t recommend it. Spending 15 minutes in your local cemetery is much less painless and much more interesting than reading this book.