Marty's Blog

Mexico City running out of cemeteries Drastic Measures could end strong traditions to honour the Dead

 could Mexicos celebration of the Day of the Dead honouring their deceased loved ones become a thing of the past ?

Expanding Mexico City running out of cemeteries

AP  10/28/2014  By OLGA R. RODRIGUEZ

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Edgardo Galvan watched as two gravediggers shoveled muddy soil from his father's grave until they reached a set of bones mixed with wood chips, the remnants of the coffin he was buried in seven years earlier.
The gravediggers placed the bones in a black plastic bag and handed them to Galvan, who planned to cremate them and put the ashes in a small crypt the family bought in a church.
"I've had to go through two difficult moments, first burying him and now unburying him," the 42-year-old carpenter said as he stood in the San Isidro cemetery in the Mexico City borough of Azcapotzalco.
Mexico's capital is rapidly running out of gravesites and many residents of this growing metropolis of 9 million people have to exhume the remains of their loved ones once the burial rights expire to make room for new bodies. Officials say there is no public land available for new cemeteries.
The lack of cemetery space has prompted the city's legislative assembly to propose a law that would reduce the time a body can remain in a grave and encourage people to cremate the bodies of their love ones, a move that critics say will threaten Mexico's long and rich traditions surrounding burying and celebrating the dead.
Assemblywoman Polimnia Sierra, who proposed the law, said the city's 119 cemeteries only have 71,000 gravesites available and that each year about 30,000 people die in the capital.
"In less than three years (the cemeteries) will be completely filled," said Sierra in defense of the law which was passed by the assembly this summer but sent back by Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera who wanted changes to its language. A vote on the revised law is expected soon.
It would require that the city government educate people about cremation as an option and build more crematoriums — there are currently just two public crematoriums. It would also lower the maximum gravesite tenure from 21 years to 15 years, as long as cemetery rights are paid.
Complicating matters is that the regulations aren't applied consistently, with borough officials administering and sometimes setting their own grave time limits in the cemeteries in their areas. Sierra said there have been cases of cemeteries exhuming graves to bury someone else in as little as one year.
Once exhumed, families commonly put the remains in above-ground niches offered by the cemetery, cremate them, bury them in a different cemetery or if no one claims the remains, they are re-buried at the same grave but underneath the coffin and tombstone of the new body.
While other countries around the world reuse graves, it is a sensitive issue in Mexico where celebrating the dead is still a living part of the culture.
The law has become a tug-of-war between government officials in the center of this sprawling metropolis, which is increasingly growing vertically, and residents of its outer, more rural boroughs who preserve pre-Columbian traditions.
The law's opponents say above-ground mausoleums and crypts don't allow for the traditional Day of the Dead celebrations on Nov. 1 and 2, when Mexicans honor the dead by building elaborate altars on their tombstones, laden with candles, flowers, colorful sugar skulls and the favorite food and drink of the departed. Entire families gather in cemeteries brightened by flickering candles to pray and share memories of their loved ones, whose photos sit on the graves.
Jesus Guzman, a member of the Autonomous Union of Native Towns and Neighborhoods of the Federal District, said many indigenous Mexicans prefer burial and are reluctant to accept cremation.
"Their worldview is not the same as ours," said Guzman of city officials backing the law. "Can you imagine that with the stroke of a pen they can erase All Saints Day and the Day of the Dead? They have no idea what they are doing."
In June, his group blocked a major avenue to protest the law.
In Mexico City's outer boroughs it's still common to see a nightlong wake being held on the patio of a home, then mourners carrying the coffin on their shoulders through traffic-clogged streets toward the cemetery. The processions are often accompanied by brass bands or mariachis.
"What really bothers us is that they don't respect our loved ones. They come a year or two after we bury them, take them out of the grave and bury whoever is next," said Jose Jimenez, who helps administer the San Francisco cemetery in the borough of Magdalena Contreras. "We won't allow them to take away our resources, our cemetery."
At the Azcapotzalco cemetery where Galvan's father was buried, 63,000 older gravesites are sold in perpetuity — burial time limits were established in 1984. Another 22,000 have limited tenure. Some graves have fresh flowers, but many others are overgrown with weeds. Records are kept in old ledgers, some barely legible, and officials say it's unclear how many graves have been abandoned.
Like many Mexicans, Galvan says mausoleums and crypts still seem like a foreign option to him.
His family has bought a crypt in a church in Mexico City's Tlatelolco neighborhood. Galvan said his mother wants her ashes, her husband's ashes, and two of her children's ashes, including his, to be in the same crypt.
"I told her that's fine, my ashes can be in that crypt but first I want to be buried, I want to be in the ground for at least a year," he said.
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Custom urns courtesy of company's 3-D printer

Custom urns courtesy of company's 3-D printer

October 25th 2014

EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. (AP) — A Minnesota startup is using a 3-D printer to create custom urns shaped like objects that were important to the person whose remains they hold.

The Eden Prairie-based Foreverence offers urns that are made with a ceramic material that looks different than the plastic material typically produced by a 3-D printer. The process takes nearly an entire day, starting with about nine hours of printing, and then followed by several hours of touchups, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported ( ).

Each urn is unique and can take the form of just about anything, including ballet slippers, cars and instruments.

"I'm fascinated by the endless possibilities," company CEO Pete Saari said.

It has even made an urn shaped like the signature hats worn by rock band Devo when co-founder Bob Casale died earlier this year. Foreverence offered Casale's family the urn and ended up making two for them. Casale's family told the company that it was "the first joyous moment in a dark period of time for them," Saari said.

Foreverence sells its urns, which typically cost thousands of dollars, through funeral directors.

"We want funeral directors to keep conversations focused on legacy," said Saari, whose privately held company launched five months ago. "What was important to the deceased? What was symbolic of a life, a dream, the pursuit of a passion?"

The urn is created by a ceramic-composite material that's fed into the 3-D printer in a powdered form. Its shape gradually takes form with coloring that bonds each layer together, and staff members put the final touches on the urns.

Information from: St. Paul Pioneer Press,

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Licking County Jail Ghost Tour October 25th

The Old Licking County Jail opens its doors for a Halloween Haunted Ghost Walk Tour all over the Jail. You meet some of the Infamous Murderers of the past face to face.... And get to meet some of the Jails Suicide Victims just before they end their lives. And of course a jail wouldn't be a real jail without the Spirits of some Psychotic Inmates. This is not for the feint of heart. Can you make it through the 1 hour tour without running for the door? Ha ha, we will see. 

Two Dates Set For Halloween Ghost Walks at the 

Old Haunted Licking County Jail for October 2014 

Sat. October 18th & Sat. October 25th

Read Everything Before Buying Ticket

Tours are approximately 1 hour long. You may show up anytime between 7:00PM and 11:30PM. Bring a small flashlight with you. New groups will start about every 10 minutes. The last group in will be at 11:30PM, so nobody will be admitted after 11:30PM. Kids 17 and Under must be accompanied by their parent(s) or legal guardian(s). No Exceptions!

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Hart Island, New York One of The Strangest & Largest American Potter's Fields/Cemeteries

Hart Island, New York One of The Strangest & Largest American Potter's Fields/Cemeteries

Hart Island Bronx New York is one of the strangest potters fields in America and has an interesting history of being used as a dumping ground for the unwanted living and the dead for New York for over a hundred years. Check out the link to see even more about it here   and to visit an extremely cool site for long forgotten places and pictures  

The primary focus of Hart Island has been being a potter's field for the city from 1869 to the present day. The first burial was that of Louisa Van Slyke, a 24-year old orphan who died at Charity Hospital and with no one to claim her body. The island has since become the largest tax-funded cemetery in the world, with over 1 million bodies interred over 101 acres. Along with the unknown and indigent, the people buried here also may not have been able to afford a private funeral. A burial on Hart Island is vaguely defined as a "City Burial" on official paperwork. Unknown adults are buried in single plots, and are the most often disinterred and identified using medical data from surviving relatives. Identified adults are in 3-sectioned trenches of 48 bodies for easier disinterment; their caskets are stacked three high and two across. Children (mostly stillborn / infants) are buried in trenches of 1,000 bodies, as they are very rarely disinterred. Their caskets stack five high and usually twenty across, depending on the size. The first child to die of AIDS in NYC was buried in isolation on the southern tip of the island, and was given a special grave stone marked "SC-B1, 1985" (SP = special child, B1 = Baby 1). Amputated body parts are also buried on the island, in boxes labeled "limbs."

The island takes in about 1,500 bodies a year, and there is a constant struggle to find more burial space. In the past, the trenches were re-used after 25-50 years of decomposition; workers would dig up the decayed remains and toss aside any remaining bones to make room for the pine boxes. This practice has ended, but now there's less room, and the abandoned but historic buildings are being torn down to make more space for new burials. The grisly work of the trenching is performed by Rikers Island inmates, given a 50-cent an hour wage, and under close supervision by DOC officers. A single ferry operated by the NYC Department of Transportation services the island, departing from Fordham St. on City Island where a morgue truck carries the bodies to be buried in simple pine boxes.

Accessing records is an arduous and sometimes impossible task. Trench numbers were bizarrely duplicated and changed over the years, making identifying the plots difficult. Records were stored on hand-written ledgers, many of which had been destroyed in a 1977 fire where about 25,000 people were forgotten. Even after the fire, records were still kept on one hand-written ledger on the island, until recently. The paperwork is often illegible or improperly photocopied, which obliterates access to thousands of burial records. Melinda Hunt, an artist who started photographing the toppled grave markers in the early 1990s, started amassing a database that is considered more complete than official records, made through a Freedom of Information Act request. She has also published a book called Hart Island and produced a film called Hart Island: An American Cemetery; these and the database all can be found at the Hart Island Project website.

Access to the island is extremely restricted; relatives can visit but must be accompanied by a corrections officer, and are very restricted to where they are able to go. Cell phones, cameras and the press are banned from the island. Getting caught on Hart Island is considered trespassing on prison property, and carries a sentence of 2 years in prison. Efforts are being made to transfer the property from the Department of Corrections to the Parks Department, and possibly loosen some of the visitor restrictions.

The island is home to an estimated 900,000 bodies as of 2012. For more information be sure to check out the New York Correction History Society, and of course, The Hart Island Project.

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Woman Says She Dug Up Dad's Grave 'with respect'

Woman Says She Dug Up Dad's Grave 'with respect'

Oct 3rd 2014
The Caledonian-Record

LANCASTER, N.H. (AP) — A lawyer for a woman accused of ransacking the New Hampshire grave of her father in search of his "real will" wants a judge to suppress her written statement to police that she dug it up "with respect" and he "would be OK with it."

Prosecutors allege Melanie Nash, 52, conspired with others to remove her father's remains from the Colebrook Village Cemetery in May. The vault of businessman Eddie Nash, who died in 2004, was found cracked with the casket opened and his remains searched through.

The Caledonian Record reports Melanie Nash's lawyer, William Albrecht, filed a motion last month arguing statements made after her arrest and before she was advised of her Miranda rights should be excluded because they violate her right against self-incrimination.

Coos County Attorney John McCormick said Nash showed her "free will" in coming to police and waiving her Miranda rights.

Police believe the casket was pulled out after Melanie Nash commented about her father being buried with "the real will." A police affidavit said she didn't find a will, only a pack of cigarettes in her father's hand.

Nash told police she did not receive anything when her father died and had been thinking of digging up the grave for years to prove her sister, Susie Nash, "hid the will." Susie Nash has said there was only one will when her father's estate plan was done in 1995 and everyone involved knew about it.

In her June 11 written statement to police, Melanie Nash wrote that she met up with others to go to the cemetery to go dig up her father's grave. Four people have been indicted in the case.

She wrote: "All this was done for the right reasons and I know my father would be OK with it."

She ended her statement with: "What we all did was to dig up my father's coffin, Eddie Nash, looking for documents. We did it with respect."

Nash, who died of a heart attack at 68, started an equipment business in 1979 still run by his family. He's since been reburied.

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Long Beach Mortician Shares Funny Funeral Industry Stories In New Book

Long Beach mortician shares funny funeral industry stories in new book

By Brianna Sacks
LA Times
AUG 19TH 2014

Original Article:

When it comes to death, mortician Ken McKenzie says people are far too serious. 

After creating a "Men of Mortuaries" calendar featuring buff, shirtless morticians wielding shovels in 2007 and releasing "Mortuary Confidential" in 2010, the Long Beach mortuary owner has a new book out. "Over Our Dead Bodies: Undertakers Lift The Lid" a collection of his own stories, as well as experiences from funeral directors across the country. 

"It's like life, there's a heavy side and the next chapter will make you laugh your ass off," he said of the book, published in May by Citadel Press. 

McKenzie, 48, said he found his calling after his father committed suicide when he was 12 years old. McKenzie remembers how the funeral director, Pauline Bergman, used humor to quell family tensions. 

"She was able to stop my grandmother and mother from arguing, and make me and 12 other kids laugh in 40 seconds," he chuckled. "I wanted to do that."

McKenzie started directing funerals in 1989 and then opened McKenzie Mortuary in 1994, one of the last privately owned funeral homes in the area. He specializes in themed memorial services designed to celebrate a person's life and what they loved. 

"I choose to step out of the box of what everyone else does and not tiptoe around [death]," said McKenzie. "My industry is very old, slow and doesn't do well with change." 

He held one memorial service for a cancer-stricken race-car driver at a car dealership. McKenzie called it "his last pit stop," complete with the driver's crew, race car and two workers waving red-checkered flags. 

Another commemorated an older woman who adored gambling. McKenzie and her family designed the ceremony as if she had just stepped away from a game. A blinking slot machine stood ready, a dealer sat at a craps table next to a smoking cigarette and an empty chair, slightly askew. 

"That's what death is," he said of the scene next to the casket. "It's just like you left for a moment." 

The book, which he co-wrote with Todd Harra, a funeral director based in Delaware, contains 18 stories showing a different side of death and the funeral industry. Like when a squirrel made its way into an open casket before a Northern California funeral.

In his 25 years in the business, McKenzie said more people are loosening strict, religiously affiliated traditions when planning burials. 

He credits the lighter outlook to a longer lifespan, which is pushing people to be more open and comfortable talking about death. Americans are living longer than ever before, to almost 80 years old, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

An April study from the University of Michigan and the Veterans Affairs Ann Arbor Healthcare System showed that more elderly Americans are completing living wills, which experts attribute to an increasingly relaxed attitude toward death.

McKenzie taps into his own mourning experience when helping customers. He recalls his family's first Thanksgiving after his father passed--the empty chair and heavy, painful silence that amplified his father's absence as his family attempted to avoid discussing him. 

"If you asked him to pass the bread, my father was the type of guy who would throw it at you," laughed McKenzie. So when he prodded the table to talk about his father as if he was there, they fully obliged.

"My grandfather threw a bread roll at me and I started laughing," he said.

And that's how the mortician chooses to run his funeral business: happily. 

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'Evil Eye' Box and Other Ancient Treasures Found in Nile River Cemetery

'Evil Eye' Box and Other Ancient Treasures Found in Nile River Cemetery

By: Owen Jarus
Live Science 
Aug. 13th 2014

Original Article:

A 2,000-year-old cemetery with several underground tombs has been discovered near the Nile River in Sudan.

Archaeologists excavated several of the underground tombs, finding artifacts such as a silver ring, engraved with an image of a god, and a faience box, decorated with large eyes, which a researcher believes protected against the evil eye.

Villagers discovered the cemetery accidently in 2002 while digging a ditch near the modern-day village of Dangeil, and archaeological excavations have been ongoing since then. The finds were reported recently in a new book.

The cemetery dates back to a time when a kingdom called Kush flourished in Sudan. Based in the ancient city of Meroe (just south of Dangeil) Kush controlled a vast territory; its northern border stretched to Roman-controlled Egypt. At times, it was ruled by a queen.

Although the Kushites built hundreds of pyramids, this particular cemetery contains no structures on the surface; the tombs are underground.

"As of now, we don't know exactly the size of the cemetery," Mahmoud Suliman Bashir, an archaeologist with Sudan's National Corporation for Antiquities and Museums (NCAM), said in an interview with Live Science.

NCAM has been working with the British Museum to excavate the cemetery, and the two organizations recently published an online book, called "Excavations in the Meroitic Cemetery of Dangeil, Sudan" (Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project, 2014), describing their findings.

"The funerary tradition of the Kushites demonstrates a widespread belief in life after death. This is why goods and foods usually accompanied the corpse," Bashir and Julie Anderson, an assistant keeper at the British Museum, wrote in their book. "These items were needed to sustain and provide for the individual in the afterlife."

Treasures for the afterlife

The team has discovered a wide range of goods meant to aid the deceased in the afterlife, including several large jars that originally contained beer made of sorghum.

In one tomb, they found a silver ring with an image of a horned deity. The ring was conserved and cleaned at the British Museum, and its scholars believe the ring depicts the god Amun, who, in the kingdom of Kush, was often shown with a head that looks like a ram. A temple to Amun dating to the same time period as the cemetery is located in Dangeil.

Ancient officials used rings like this to create seal impressions in pottery, Bashir said, adding that examples made of silver are rare.

The tombs in the cemetery yielded other treasures, including a faience box, decorated with what the ancient Kushites and Egyptians called "udjat" eyes — "a well-known tradition in Egypt," Bashir said, noting that the Kushites also made use of them. "It had a kind of ritual role to [protect] from the evil eye," Bashir said.

In the cemetery archaeologists also found an interesting "party tray," which consists of seven bowls attached together; six of the bowls surround another bowl in the middle. "It's very unique, and we don't have any kind of similar object found anywhere else," Bashir said. "It can be used for food. You can put seven different items in one place."

An archer's burial

One tomb yielded arrowheads and the remains of a man wearing a stone ring (also called an archer's loose) on his thumb. "Thumb rings are well-known objects associated with archery, being used to draw back the bowstring," Bashir and Anderson wrote in their book.

In Kush, archery played an important role in society, with its kings and queens depicted wearing stone rings on their thumbs, Bashir and Anderson wrote. The Kushite god Apedemak, the lion-headed "god of war," was also depicted as an archer, Bashir said.

Dangeil is located south of the fifth cataract of the Nile River. Excavations at the cemetery are being carried out by the Berber-Abidiya Archaeological Project, a collaboration between NCAM and the British Museum.

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Pennsylvania Museum Finds 6,500-year-old Skeleton In Its Cellar

Pennsylvania museum says finds 6,500-year-old skeleton in its cellar

By Daniel Kelley

Aug. 6th 2014

Original Article:

PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - A Philadelphia archaeology museum said on Tuesday its researchers have discovered an extremely rare 6,500-year-old human skeleton in its own basement, where it had been in storage for 85 years.

The Penn Museum, affiliated with the University of Pennsylvania, said it had lost track of all documentation for the skeleton which dates to roughly 4500 BC.

But the paperwork turned up this summer, as part of a project to digitize old records from a 1922-1934 joint expedition by the British Museum and the Penn Museum to modern-day Iraq.

Researchers were able to determine that the skeleton was unearthed around 1930 as part of an excavation into the Royal Cemetery of Ur led by Sir Leonard Woolley.

Woolley's records indicated that he had shipped a skeleton over, and the team digitizing his records had uncovered pictures of the excavation, which showed the skeleton being removed from its grave. A researcher on the digitization project, William Hafford, mentioned the records to Janet Monge, the museum' chief curator.

Woolley's team uncovered the remains 40 feet (12 meters) below the ground, beneath the remains from the cemetery itself, which dates to 2500 BC. The body was found in a deep layer of silt that archaeologists believe was left over from a massive flood.

The remains indicate they are those of a well-muscled man who died at 50 and would have stood approximately 5-feet, 10-inches (1.78 meters) tall. The museum has named him Noah.

The museum said the discovery has important implications for current research. Scientific techniques that were not available at the time of the expedition could give scholars new insights into diet, ancestral origins, trauma, stress and disease from the time period, which the museum says is poorly understood.  

Intact skeletons from this era are rare. While the museum has other remains from ancient Ur, about 10 miles (16 km) from Nassiriya in southern Iraq, "Noah" is about 2,000 years older than any remains uncovered during the excavation at the site, it said.

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Cursed Mansion Looking for Latest Ill-fated Owners to Inflict Misery Upon

Are some places truely cursed or does the misfortune upon misfortune of their owners simply acrue over long periods of time naturally and then come to the attention of the public to be overly remarked upon? Todays article is one history of a place that would seem to carry such a curse, or not . see what you think.

"Cursed " mansion once owned by Leona Helmsley is listed at $65 million

by Jennifer Karmon
Yahoo Homes 

Will the Dunnellen curse strike again?   Has it already?

Dunnellen Hall, at 521 Round Hill Road in Greenwich, is "among the most famous of the back country's 13 [great] estates," the New York Times has said. It's the "ultimate" location on "the most famous street" in the "best town in Connecticut," or so the marketing materials would have it. Bombshell Lana Turner once lived there; so did figure skater Sonja Henie.

It's also notorious for the misfortunes that have befallen its onetime occupants over more than half a century.

"It devours the people who buy it," one local told a Connecticut gossip columnist.

Mystery owners and a 'change of plans'

The current owners -- undisclosed -- bought Dunnellen Hall in 2010 from the estate of Leona Helmsley, the late hotelier and ex-con who seems destined to be known for all eternity as the "Queen of Mean." They must have been hoping to snap a tradition of misfortune that has been likened to another infamous curse, as recounted in the New York Times decades ago:

"When Louis Duff handled the sale of Dunnellen Hall in 1974, he had a conversation with the seller, Lynda Dick, whose 46-year-old husband had died of a heart attack while being driven home by his chauffeur.

"Mr. Duff, president of Duff Associates Inc., recalled that Mrs. Dick said: '"This house is like the Hope Diamond. It has brought bad luck to everyone who owned it."'

"At the time, Mr. Duff disagreed. But as he talked now about the troubles of the estate's other owners, he said, 'I wouldn't argue the point with her today.'"

Perhaps the current owners considered it a stroke of good luck when they managed to acquire the estate for less than half the asking price -- after it had suffered the ignominy of perhaps "the biggest cut ever on a U.S. house," according to the Wall Street Journal.


But they kept it for less than a year before relisting it. They'd had "a change of plans," listing agent Jane Howard Basham told the Wall Street Journal rather cryptically in a recent article.

It did not sell.

So they took the estate off the market to launch a three-year renovation that involved making the home smaller by "removing some wings of the house," Basham, of David Ogilvy & Associates (an affiliate of Christie's International Real Estate), told the Journal.

One of the elements that's gone, Yahoo Homes has learned: the infamous million-dollar marble dance floor that Leona Helmsley had installed over the pool. The dance floor -- and the home itself -- figured prominently in her 1988 trial, as one of the extravagant items she and her husband, Harry, were accused of fraudulently claiming as business expenses of their real estate and hotel empires. At age 80, he was found mentally unfit for trial, but she was convicted of tax evasion and sentenced to prison. She served about a year and a half.

The downsized Dunnellen Hall is now about 17,000 square feet, on the market for $65 million. It's considerably simplified and streamlined -- more graceful and tasteful, some would say. (Click here or on a photo for a slideshow of the home, with details about its surviving and new elements.)

"It is essentially an entirely new house, yet with the character of a bygone era,” David Ogilvy said.

The beginning of Dunnellen Hall

That bygone area began in 1918, when Daniel G. Reid spent $1 million to build the estate as a wedding gift for his daughter, Rhea, and her groom, Henry J. Topping.


Nowadays, people call Reid a "banking and steel magnate," but his contemporaries called him "tin plate king." He was a self-made man who by the age of 11 had left school to be a messenger at his hometown Indiana bank, working his way up to vice president, according to his 1925 New York Times obituary.

He saved up to buy a small Indiana tin plate mill -- and in just three years had merged every tin plate company in the country into the American Tin Plate Company, making a fortune. He organized steel companies to ensure tin plate supplies, then eventually traded tin plate holdings for steel stock.

He took control of the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific Railroad in 1901.

In 1915 he resigned after being "charged with watering the stock of the road and looting it of millions," the obituary said. Congress investigated him, and the railroad faced bankruptcy.

In the stock market, he was "known as one of the 'big insiders,' and was credited with manipulating the market in huge stock movements."

Although Reid's obituary said he "died in possession of a fortune estimated at from $40,000,000 to $50,000,000," the Times reported on its front page in 1927 that in fact he left behind just $4,668,679.

He had almost a quarter-million dollars in debts, the Times said -- not including a $25,000 claim against the estate by James Savage, his attendant. Savage said that the job was dangerous "because Mr. Reid occasionally shot at him," and that the only reason Savage didn't quit was Reid's promise to bequeath him $25,000.

The Reid/Topping wild streak

Reid was married three times: to childhood sweetheart Ella Dunn, namesake of Dunnellen, who died at age 35 after 19 years of marriage; then to an actress who died four years later; then to a comedian who divorced him.

Numerous tales of "'wild parties' and other events" attached to his name as his wealth accumulated.

His family's residency at Dunnellen lasted until the middle of the century. And like Daniel Reid, his grandsons were known for a wild streak. A 1968 Times story about Greenwich described Rhea Reid Topping as "the tinplate heiress and the mother of the sportsmen-playboys" and said the home "was the scene of many extravagant parties." A newcomers guide to Greenwich claims that the boys would ride motorcycles "up and down the grand staircase."

One of those playboy sons, Bob, was married five times -- including a yearlong union to brother Dan's ex-wife Arline Judge, a B-movie actress (and mother of Dan's son Dan Jr.). He was also married to actress-bombshell Lana Turner, one of his three four-year marriages to end in divorce. (Turner was one of many Topping relatives to live at Dunnellen. A few years after she moved out, her daughter stabbed to death Turner's abusive lover, Johnny Stompanato.)

Bob's final marriage, to a ski instructor, stuck until his death at age 54.

Bob's brother Dan was married six times, once to figure skater Sonja Henie. Dan died at age 61, a couple of years before his son Robert was stabbed to death in Miami.

House leaves the family

In 1950, after Rhea Topping died, Dunnellen was sold for the first time: to Loring Washburn, the president of a company that made steel window frames, and his wife, insurance heiress Mary Buckner Royall.

Those were happy days for a time, the newcomers guide says: She loved to entertain lavishly, with her party favors coming from Cartier jewelers.

If so, then perhaps it's not surprising that money problems plagued Washburn "almost immediately," as the 2004 book "Cursed in New England" relates.

Eventually, in 1963, a finance company seized the house. It sat vacant for several years, and locals started saying it was haunted, the book claims.

Then in 1966, the land was purchased and subdivided, and in 1967 Gregg Sherwood Dodge Moran bought it. The former model-actress had been married to automobile heir Horace Dodge and "spent Dodge’s multimillion dollar fortune freely until, in 1961, he filed for divorce, telling friends, 'I can’t afford that woman anymore,'" the Palm Beach (Fla.) Daily News wrote in her obituary. (Horace Dodge died before the divorce went through -- and "although he had excluded her in his will and essentially died penniless, she successfully sued his mother for millions," the Daily News said.)

She moved in with her young new husband, a Bronx policeman and bodyguard (reportedly once to Nikita Khrushchev). They didn't stay long, selling the place for $1.3 million in 1968 to cattleman Jack R. Dick.

The sale was a record-breaking amount, and one of the few bits of good luck for the Morans. Every business venture thereafter was a failure, according to acquaintances quoted in contemporary news accounts. They were arrested in June 1978 on charges of grand larceny, and in July 1978 were declared bankrupt. He fatally shot himself that year. She pleaded guilty to stealing from her son's trust fund.

'It was not a peaceful retreat'

Meanwhile, Dunnellen Hall had passed on to Dick, a "gentleman farmer" who made his fortune in cattle and intended to retire to the Greenwich mansion, which he'd made into a virtual museum for his collection of sporting paintings.

"It was not a peaceful retreat," wrote Ray Kennedy in a 1974 Sports Illustrated profile of Dick. The company that bought his went bankrupt in 1971 and sued him. Then he was indicted on charges of falsifying financial and art documents. Forced to sell the beloved art collection, "he strolled the vaulted marble halls [of Dunnellen] like some latter-day Citizen Kane," SI wrote, "his eyes never lingering on the acres of blank walls that once held his paintings." He also listed Dunnellen for sale.

But before the art sales were complete, before Dunnellen sold, before his legal entanglements were resolved, Dick was dead at 46. On a January day in 1974, he'd complained of a headache and taken two Bufferin. Later, on the way home in his limo, he'd clutched his chest and gasped, "Oh, that hurts," SI wrote. He was whisked to Greenwich Hospital and pronounced dead minutes later.

It was then that his widow, who was in the limo with him, began comparing Dunnellen to the Hope Diamond and its curse.

The next owner was Ravi Tikkoo, an Indian oil-tanker magnate who reportedly paid the Dick estate $2 million for it (and $1 million for the furnishings) in 1974. Less than two years later, he'd listed it; his "fortune has since run aground," the New York Times said in a 1974 article on hard times in Greenwich. Offered at $2.75 million, it had attracted "no serious offers," and in 1980 he was still living there, throwing parties that even the posh attendees called Gatsby-esque.

Tikkoo was forced into bankruptcy in 1980-81 and sold to Harry Helmsley and his wife, Leona, in 1983. (He seems to have recovered nicely after the bankruptcy, however.)

The Helmsley era and beyond

The Helmsleys, the home's most notorious residents, paid $8 million for the house and $3 million for the furnishings. They quickly began pouring money into the property, ultimately spending another $8 million on renovations. A million went toward enclosing one of the two pools and installing their infamous pooltop dance floor. More than $100,000 bought an indoor/outdoor remote-controlled stereo system that was reportedly modeled on something Leona had seen at Disney World.

As the world now knows, the renovations -- billed fraudulently as business expenses -- caught up with them, culminating in a splashy trial in which Leona's own lawyer called her a "tough bitch." It closed out the "greed is good" 1980s with a verdict that some called poetic justice -- though neighbors weren't so sanguine, "whispering like Transylvanian peasants" that she was "just the latest victim" of the Dunnellen curse, as Connecticut's gossip columnist Richard Johnson colorfully wrote.

"It hasn't been a very happy house," Marjorie Rowe told the Times back then. She handled two sales of the estate (though, it should be said, she pooh-poohed the idea of a curse).

After Leona Helmsley was released from prison, she returned to her frail husband and cared for him until he died in 1997. He left her his billion-dollar fortune, which she lived on until her own death at Dunnellen Hall in 2007, at age 87.

That brings us to today, with the latest Dunnellen chapter written only faintly. Who bought the Helmsley estate, and what caused those owners' abrupt "change of plans" not even a year after they'd bought it?

And who will buy it next? Because curse or no, someone certainly will. As Duff told the Times back in 1988, "There is nothing else like it. There will always be somebody who will want that house."

The future owners might just want to bear in mind one last odd bit of Dunnellen history. Separate from its illustrious residents, the house took a star turn of its own in a 1968 movie starring Kirk Douglas.

It was called "A Lovely Way to Die."

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Authorities Identify Mummified Remains of Woman in Detroit Suburb

Today's blog article is about another long-forgotten person found mummified in their dwelling as America's plague of apathy and uncaring continues.  

Authorities Identify Mummified Remains of Woman in Detroit Suburb

(Reporting by David Bailey; Editing by Eric Beech)

Original Article:

(Reuters) - A woman whose mummified remains were found in her garage in a Detroit suburb up to five years after her death has been identified through DNA tests, an official said on Friday.

Pia Farrenkopf had set up her bills to be paid automatically through a bank account, a neighbor cut her grass and her mail was sent to a nearby post office while her body sat for years in the back seat of a vehicle in her Pontiac, Michigan, garage.

Her body was finally found in March when someone was sent to check on the house, which had fallen into foreclosure after the account ran down and mortgage payments stopped.

Robert Gerds, administrator for the Oakland County medical examiner's office, said Farrenkopf's family was notified Tuesday of the positive identification and her body has been released.

A cause of death has not been determined, nor when she died, though investigators were able to confirm that she was seen alive as recently as early 2009, Gerds said.

"This has brought some closure for our family, knowing we may finally lay Pia to rest," a posting on a Facebook page dedicated to her by a niece said Tuesday.

Farrenkopf stopped working in 2008 and the last withdrawal from the account was in March 2013, Oakland County Sheriff Michael Bouchard said in March. He said her mail went to a post office, a neighbor cut her lawn, and she had no nearby family.

For a look into other long forgotten places don't forget to check out our photo galleries

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