Rest In Pieces – Post-Mortem Adventures of the Famous

by M-Gillies

Bess Lovejoy is the author of "Rest In Pieces", a new book that chronicles the curious fates of famous corpses.

Bess Lovejoy has been — since her early teen years — a self-described macabre kid, a personality trait that could be blamed on or inspired by the darkly imaginative sounds of goth music. As a writer, researcher, editor, and a tweeter of Seattle, history and death, Lovejoy is no stranger to the narration of death literature when it comes to thanatology. She’s been called an enthusiastic stalker of oddities, and has written about dead people for the New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Stranger and many other publications, penning articles about the rise in exhumations, the afterlives of dictators and some of the unique objects celebrities have been buried with.

While most people will cringe with apprehension at the thought of death, Lovejoy has developed a unique curiosity toward the end-of-life journey we all will inevitably take. But her intrigue didn’t begin when the death of an individual occurred and ended at the burial site, but rather it was the journey some of our famous deceased have embarked upon that has inspired her newest book Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses, available from Simon & Schuster.

In her offering, Lovejoy catalogs the strange-but-true tales of post-mortem adventures of some of the world’s most famous corpses as they are stolen, burned, sold, pickled, frozen, stuffed, impersonated and even filed away in a lawyer’s office. From their fingers to their toes; their arms and legs; teeth and toes; hearts and lungs; and even their nether regions, Rest in Pieces is compendium of deliciously macabre delights for those daring adventurers eager to expand their knowledge in the obscure.

For Lovejoy, these kind of anecdotal tales have been a long-time interest of hers, much like her passion for forgotten history. But it was in December 2008 when the conception of the book came to fruition after she read two articles about famous last wishes.

“One was about André Tchaikowsky who willed his skull to London’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre Company for use in Hamlet,” Lovejoy said. “The other was about the painter Francis Bacon, whose body was photographed and used in a piece of art by his friend Catherine Shakespeare Lane. I thought it might be interesting to research the last wishes of famous writers, artists and musicians, as a way of getting to know them better.”

And getting to know them better is what Lovejoy did. Even as she began to research, she soon discovered that the final wishes of what people wanted post-mortem were secondary to the stories of what actually happened after their deaths.

“I began to realize that corpses were highly contested objects — frequently fought over by family, political interests, fans, etc — and that was intriguing to me.”

While Rest in Pieces uses humor as an undercurrent to leaven the seriousness of the subject matter, Lovejoy never saw humor as a primary goal for her book. Instead, she uses humor as a means of easing the reader into the fascinating stories in order to see beyond the stark shadow mortality and death have upon western culture.

“I hope that readers can expect to enjoy themselves, to learn something, to possibly find some fodder for reflection and to come away with some good dinner party anecdotes.”

And while perspectives toward death have often been approached with a timid stagger in the opposite direction, Lovejoy has found that there are many people interested in this kind of subject matter. Even if the idea of death and the confrontation with mortality is one that terrifies the most unflinching person, Rest in Pieces offers a healthy dose of historical facts to appeal to those with a keen interest in past cultural perspectives.

“There’s a sizeable portion of the world with an interest in history, a morbid sense of humor and a willingness to confront mortality — which are probably the required ingredients for reading this book. Having at least two of the three helps,” Lovejoy said.

In fact, what Rest in Pieces does is traces the evolution of cultural attitudes toward death and further connects the lives of famous deceased to the hilarious and horrifying adventures of their corpses.

But even with our death denying culture, the topic of death over the years has only grown to become a more mainstream discussion with the likes of Caitlin Doughty of The Order of the Good Death, Joanna Ebenstein of Morbid Anatomy and Katherine Crouch of Morbid Curiosity, among many others.

“Cultural attitudes toward death ebb and flow constantly,” Lovejoy explained, “but it does seem that over the past few decades there has been more willingness to explore the topic. I know that for some academics in this area, that issue of death can even be considered a taboo is an open question. I often tend to think about generational shifts, and I think that once the boomers started dying off they invigorated new ways of approaching this topic. Now their children — with all of our fabulous access to social media — are once again broadening the discussion. I’m so thankful for the work that Caitlin, Joanna and Katherine and others are doing.”

With the conversation of death finding wider recognition, Rest in Pieces: The Curious Fates of Famous Corpses offers its own means of easing the conversation with a unique glimpse into the post-mortem journeys many famous individuals have embarked upon over the years. With its March 12, 2013, release, Rest in Pieces is available for purchase at your local book retailer.

To learn more about the book, please visit the website or visit Bess Lovejoy’s website

Fans of Rest in Pieces can also follow Lovejoy’s twitter: @besslovejoy.

Bess Lovejoy is a writer, researcher, and editor based in Seattle. She worked on the Schott’s Almanac series for five years, and her writing has also appeared in The New York Times, The Believer, The Boston Globe, and elsewhere.

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