After more than a century of terrible mystery, the American city of Reading, Pennsylvania finally closing the coffin of its strangest inhabitant: a man mummified in the accident that he will finally be buried this Saturday after 128 years.
Crowds lined up all weekend to pay their respects, take photos or gaze in awe at a sight that will likely never be repeated in the United States.
“Goodbye, Stoneman. God bless you. rest in peace”said Suzanne Schrum, 74, as she stroked the forehead and copper hair of the dead, more than six decades after first seeing the mummy.
“Stoneman Willie” was the nickname once given to a suspected thief who died in prison in 1895 and was transferred to Theo C. Auman Funeral Home when no one claimed his body, before the mummified accident of the undertakers.
“We fasted for 128 years and he’s still here,” the funeral director, Kyle Blankenbiller, told AFP.
The man gave a false name when he was imprisoned, but his true identity will finally be revealed during Saturday’s ceremony, a fitting end to his life… and his strange existence after death.
“We’re 99 percent sure we know who it is,” Blankenbiller said during funeral preparations, which saw Willie’s remains take part in a recent parade to mark the 275 anniversary of Reading.
“We are doing the right thing, but it will be bitter,” he emphasized. The body remained sad in an open casket for almost its entire stay at the funeral home.
The appeal of “Stoneman Willie”
Its leathery skin and soft, sunken facial features have been the subject of fascination for thousands of people, including countless curious locals, researchers and, in recent decades, students on field trips. .
Willie became a unique element in the history of Reading, “our friend” who now receives a well-deserved farewell, Blankenbiller said.
According to Willie’s cellmate, the man caught stealing adopted the fictitious name James Penn because he didn’t want to embarrass his wealthy Irish father. When he died, no family members were found and the body was sent to Auman.
Blankenbiller explained that, when embalming was still a new science, Auman experimented with a new formula.
Now, “it’s been looked at enough,” Blankenbiller said. bury “Stoneman Willie” during the anniversary of the city the commemoration is “respectful and respectful,” he added.
Among them, Berks County resident Michael Klein, was fascinated by the “mystery of who this man really is,” told AFP.
The burial will be dignified: a ceremony, the identity revealed, a tombstone in a local cemetery, all with “Stoneman Willie” wearing a black tuxedo from the 1890s.