Adventure Time

It’s been an exciting few months. Just to prove that I have actually left the house, here are some photos from recent travels:

At the end of April, I spoke at several Rest in Pieces-related events in New York. The first was at Observatory in Brooklyn, co-presented by the wonderful women of Morbid Anatomy and Phantasmaphile. I took advantage of the Morbid Anatomy space to snap a few pictures with some very early–or very late?–guests. Thanks to all who showed up!

I was lucky enough to speak at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery the following night. Yes, that Sleepy Hollow, the one with the headless horseman. (He was sadly absent.) Keys to the Sleepy Hollow mausoleums:

sleepy hollow keys

Burial registers at the cemetery–you can bet I was itching to pour through these:

Burial registers

Afterward, Jim of Sleepy Hollow invited us to join one of their “Murder and Mayhem” tours through the cemetery, which I highly recommend. Wandering through a cemetery with lanterns at dusk was one of the lovelier experiences of my recent memory. Unfortunately, it was hard to take good pictures with my iPhone, although this captures some of the experience (the grave is of a famous abortionist):

sleepy hollow tour

My favorite stop was the Bronze Lady, a sculpture who supposedly figures in some complicated local high school graduation rituals:

Bronze Lady

The last event in NYC was a reading at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The place was just gorgeous, with fruit trees all in bloom around the graves. Driving up to the chapel in full sun was a sight to remember. Of course, the only good photos I got were inside. Here’s me with Carrie Schaff, a friend and editor type from Feral House/Process Media:


Here’s the one good photo from outside Green-Wood. Do I look bored? I definitely was not bored. That’s just my face.


A few weeks later I flew to San Francisco, where I was delighted to appear with the singer/songwriter Jill Tracy at an event for Obscura Society SF. (I also did a fun interview with Atlas Obscura to promote the event here). It was such a pleasure to meet Jill, Annetta from Atlas Obscura, and many others. Jill played a few songs that she composed while spending the night at the Mütter Museum, which I can’t even imagine doing. Here she is performing with the museum projected over her:

Jill Tracy performing

Judging from the audience response, the highlight of my talk was the part about Rasputin’s penis. I won’t post that picture, but here’s one of Rasputin’s daughter on a Wheaties box. (This is stolen from an eBay listing that has since sold.)

RasputinDaughterWheatiesAnother highlight of the San Francisco trip was exploring the giant necropolis of Colma with Colin Dickey and his wife Nicole Antebi. (I’m not sure why I look like I’m running away here.)

Colin and I

Hours before our visit, I discovered that I have a relative buried in Colma, a sea captain named Simeon Bartlett Kinney. Here he is:

Photo courtesy my dad James Lovejoy
Simeon Bartlett Kinney. Photo courtesy my dad James Lovejoy. Year unknown.

I’m thinking his beard would be an inspiration to the young men of Brooklyn.

Simeon B was buried in San Francisco’s Masonic cemetery, which was dug up at some point and the graves moved to Colma. (All of San Francisco’s graves were dug up and moved to Colma when the city ran out of room for graves in the early 20th century.) My father had researched Kinney and discovered that his grave had been moved to Woodlawn Memorial Park in Colma, conveniently enough the first cemetery we came across in the city. I braved the records office, where three helpful young ladies in black suits informed me that all the bodies from the Masonic cemetery had been buried in a mass grave at the back of the cemetery. They were relieved at how calmly I received the news, and I wanted to say “Hey, some of the most famous people in history ended up in mass graves!” Nevertheless, I may have shouted “mass grave!” with a little too much glee when I left the office to share the news with Colin.


Two strange big cats were flanking the monument, so of course I made friends. These guys didn’t look like normal cemetery art to me. Perhaps they’re rejects from a Disneyland ride?


Thanks to all who came out, let me crash at their house, showed me around, and cared about my odd little book! Let’s do it again soon, huh?

The Madam Who Turned to Stone

Statue at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle, where Madame Damnable is buried. By Steve Mohundro on Flickr, Creative Commons license.
Statue at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle, where Madame Damnable is buried. By Steve Mohundro on Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I wrote a few articles in preparation for the release of Rest in Pieces, but the one I most enjoyed was about a nineteenth century Seattle madame, Mother Damnable, whose corpse is said to have turned to stone. Mother D (also known as Mary Ann Boyer or Mary Ann Conklin) has been fascinating me for a few years, and I’m glad to have had a chance to tell some of her story. Read it at The Stranger.

I’d like to thank John LaMont, Special Collections librarian at the Seattle Public Library, for his help tracking down key documents for the story. John provided me with the 1884 article that describes the discovery of Mother Damnable’s corpse, which I’m including below.

“Removing the Dead.” August 22, 1884. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

A reporter of the Post-Intelligencer called upon Mr. O.C. Shorey, the contractor for removing bodies, monuments and stone work from the old city cemetery to the new burying ground, adjoining the Masonic cemetery, and asked him for anything of interest in connection therewith that has so far come under his observation. Mr. Shorey said: “I have been at work about three weeks, and have removed so far 120 bodies together with most of the monuments and stone work, and have, I think, over half of the work done. I have been laying off for a few days, waiting for the Catholics to get their grounds in readiness for the reception of the bodies of those of that faith. I have also delayed some in order to give all friends of deceased persons an opportunity to select new lots, and to give all such friends an opportunity to be present during the removal of the remains of their friends and loved ones.

“Last week among the remains taken up and removed were those of Mrs. Mary Conklin, who died and was buried eleven years ago, at the age of 70 years and 10 months. During her life she was known by the old settlers as ‘Mother Damnable,’ and many will remember her by that name. We discovered that the coffin was very heavy, weighing at least 400 pounds and it took six men to lift it out of the grave. On removing the lid to the coffin we found that she had turned to stone. Her form was full sized and perfect, the ears, finger nails and hair being all intact. Her features were, however, somewhat disfigured. Covering the body was a dark dust, but after that was removed the form was as white as marble and as hard as stone.

When we took up the coffin under the headstone marked “William Carnes,” who will be remembered as a large butcher, who died some ten years ago, we found the form of a small, delicate woman, with her clothing on and watchchain about her neck. The way I account for this is as follows: Some time after Carnes died, his friends had a stone made to mark his grave, and the parties employed to set the stone placed it over the wrong grave.

When the remains of James McKay, the tanner, who died ten or eleven years ago, were taken up, they were found well preserved, though the features were unrecognizable. All the graves, at certain seasons of the year, are full of water and the coffins float in their boxes. The action of the water has turned most of the bodies black. In a greater number of the coffins there is nothing but a few bones. The coffins are mostly sound, and before removing them we place them in new cedar boxes. So far we have found nothing of an offensive nature so far as smell is concerned, most of the bodies having been buried so long that the flesh has either all turned to dust or been eaten by the worms. I shall take up and remove all the bodies that can be found, including those who sleep in unmarked graves within the Pottersfield, but shall not interfere with the Chinese graves, as the Chinamen desire to take up the bones of their dead and ship them to the Flowery Kingdom.

Many graves have been sadly neglected, and I fear that some will be consequently overlooked. I wish you would tell the people again that I am anxious to hear from all those who have friends buried in the old cemetery, and have them point out the graves to me, especially those that are unmarked. A forest fire ran through the cemetery two years ago, and burned up a number of wooden grave marks, which adds to the difficulty of finding some of the graves. The new cemetery is located on a fine site between the two lakes, and can be made a beautiful burying ground with proper care and attention.”

Rest in Pieces Arrives

Look what my friendly UPS man delivered this morning!

Front cover



Illustrations are by the amazing Mark Stutzman.


For those who’ve been asking, the book comes out on March 12. A pretty little website is being buffed and shined, but for now there’s plenty of information on the publisher’s page and on Amazon. To stay up to date on the book and related events (coming to Seattle, NYC, and San Francisco this Spring), like the book’s page on Facebook. Thanks so much for all your love and support, deathlings!

An Overdue Update

New York City sunset
Times Square electronic sunset

I’ve recently been chastised for my absence from this blog (I won’t name names), and just when I thought no one was paying attention! I think all internet-enabled writers know the difficulty of juggling their paid work, creative projects, and social media efforts, which ideally overlap and cross-pollinate, but also distract from one another. Also, it’s hard to sit in a chair for more than ten hours a day. Nevertheless, I’ve been remiss in keeping all of you updated. Here’s a bit about what I’ve been up to:

The Order is about making death a part of your life. That means committing to staring down your death fears–whether it be your own death, the death of those you love, the pain of dying, the afterlife (or lack thereof), grief, corpses, bodily decomposition, or all of the above. Accepting that death itself is natural, but the death anxiety and terror of modern culture are not.

  • I’ve been working on editing a few projects for the Port Townsend publishers Feral House, including a fantastic forthcoming encyclopedia of black metal by Dayal Patterson. It’s got everything you want to know about the controversial genre, from the origin of corpse paint to the 70s glam metal band that inspired most of the Norwegian second wave. Feral House, of course, are the same folks who previously published Lords of Chaos, which both disturbed and fascinated the 18-year-old me.
  • Last but not least, congratulations to the curious and wondrous Atlas Obscura, the world’s most awesome travel-related website, on their re-design! You can see my spotlight on Einstein’s brain in their “Objects of Intrigue” series.

If you made it to the end of that, you get a gold star. Or maybe a skull in a jar, like the beautiful one (made of netting?) I saw at ABC Carpet & Home during the trip. More news, and skulls, soon!

Skull from ABC Carpet & Home (artist unknown)
Skull from ABC Carpet & Home (artist unknown)