Postscript

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Lawrence Sterne, after a lifetime of peculiarities, and becoming notorious as an eccentric, curious and able writer, at his death was buried in a graveyard near Tyburn, belonging to the Parish of Mary-le-bone, and the ‘resurrection man’ disinterred his corpse and conveyed it to the professor of anatomy at Cambridge where being laid upon the dissecting table, was at once recognized by one of those present who knew him well while living.

Bizarre Notes & Queries, February 1886

Cold Case

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A son of William the Conqueror, William II of England is remembered mostly for the curious manner of his death. In August 1100, William organized a hunting expedition in the New Forest. In sharing arrows with the Anglo-Norman nobleman Walter Tirel, he said, “It is only right that the sharpest be given to the man who knows how to shoot the deadliest shots.” That was tempting fate, apparently: The king did not return after the hunt, and his body was discovered the next day with an arrow piercing his lungs.

Walter fled to France, but chroniclers generally don’t consider him a murderer. He was a skilled bowman, unlikely to fire impetuously, and the abbot who sheltered him in France heard him swear repeatedly that he had not been in the part of the forest where the king was hunting. On the other hand, William’s brother Henry was also in the hunting party, and he stood to gain (and did) from William’s death.

So what really happened? We’ll never know.

In Memoriam

Epitaph of John Laird McCaffery (1940-1995), who lies in Montreal’s Mount Royal Cemetery:

John:

Free your body
Unfold your powerful wings
Climb up the highest mountains
Kick your feet up in the air
You may now live forever
Or return to this earth
Unless you feel good where you are!

It was composed jointly by his ex-wife and mistress.

Read the first letter of each line.

Hic Jacet

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Unfortunate grave inscriptions, collected by Susan Darling Safford in Quaint Epitaphs (1895):

The little hero that lies here
Was conquered by the diarrhoea.
(Portland, Maine)

JOHN PHILLIPS
Accidentally shot as a mark of affection by his brother.
(Maine)

Our little Jacob has been taken away to bloom in a superior flower pot above.
(Vermont)

Beneath this stone our baby lays,
He neither crys nor hollers.
He lived just one and twenty days,
And cost us forty dollars.
(Vermont)

Grim death took little Jerry,
The son of Joseph and Sereno Howells,
Seven days he wrestled with the dysentery
And then he perished in his little bowels.
(Vermont)

Here lies the body of Dr. Hayward,
A man who never voted.
Of such is the kingdom of Heaven.
(Wayland, Massachusetts)

“In Event of Moon Disaster”

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On July 18, 1969, two days before the first lunar landing, presidential speechwriter William Safire composed the following text to be read by President Nixon if astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin were stranded on the moon:

Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind’s most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by the nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at the stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man’s search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

Safire also suggested that Nixon call the “widows-to-be” before the speech, and that a clergyman should commend the astronauts’ souls to the “deepest of the deep” when communications ended.

Careful!

Before conductors used batons, they kept time by banging a long staff against the floor. In January 1687, Jean-Baptiste Lully was conducting a Te Deum in this way when he struck his toe. The wound turned gangrenous, the gangrene spread — and he died.

Do Us Part

Unfortunate marital grave inscriptions, collected by Susan Darling Safford in Quaint Epitaphs (1895):

Sacred to the memory of Anthony Drake,
Who died for peace and quietness sake.
His wife was constantly scolding and scoffing,
So he sought repose in a twelve dollar coffin.

Here lies my wife a sad slatterned shrew
If I said I regretted her I should lie too.

Within this grave do lie
Back to back my wife and I.
When the last trump the air shall fill,
If she gets up I’ll just lie still.

Here lies the body of Obadiah Wilkinson
And Ruth, his wife.
Their warfare is accomplished.

Here lies the body of Sarah Sexton
She was a wife that never vexed one.
But I can’t say as much for the one at the next stone.

And:

Here lies Jane Smith,
Wife of Thomas Smith, Marble Cutter.
This monument was erected by her husband as a tribute
to her memory and a specimen of his work.
Monuments of this same style are two hundred and fifty dollars.

Home for Good

A weird story clings to the ruins of Minster Lovel Manor House, Oxfordshire, the ancient seat of the Lords Lovel. After the battle of Stoke, Francis, the last Viscount, who had sided with the cause of Simnel against King Henry VII., fled back to his house in disguise, but from the night of his return was never seen or heard of again, and for nearly two centuries his disappearance remained a mystery. In the meantime the manor house had been dismantled and the remains tenanted by a farmer; but a strange discovery was made in the year 1708. A concealed vault was found, and in it, seated before a table, with a prayer-book lying open upon it, was the entire skeleton of a man. In the secret chamber were certain barrels and jars which had contained food sufficient to last perhaps some weeks; but the mansion having been seized by the King, soon after the unfortunate Lord Lovel is supposed to have concealed himself, the probability is that, unable to regain his liberty, the neglect or treachery of a servant or tenant brought about this tragic end.

— Allan Fea, Secret Chambers and Hiding-Places, 1908