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After more than a century the town of Reading, Pennsylvania closed the casket on Saturday on its oddest-ever resident – a mummified man who was finally buried, 128 years after his death.

Crowds of people began to line up in recent days to pay their respects, snap photos or gaze with bewilderment at the macabre mystery in a scene unlikely to ever be repeated in the United States.

‘Stoneman Willie’ was the nickname bestowed long ago on an alleged thief who died in 1895 in jail and was taken to the Theo C. Auman Funeral Home when no one claimed the body, before being accidentally mummified by undertakers.

‘Fast-forward 128 years and he’s still here,’ funeral home director Kyle Blankenbiller told explained ahead of the burial.

At his interment, a crowd gathered under overcast skies, circling around Willie’s black tombstone at a local cemetery for one final farewell.

Reverend Robert Whitmer visits ‘Stoneman Willie’ during his funeral service in Reading, Pennsylvania, on October 7, 2023

Reading’s local legend, ‘Stoneman Willie’. Willie  was a convict in the local jail, arrested in 1895 for petty theft

Employees and volunteers load the casket of ‘Stoneman Willie’ into a hearse during his funeral service in Reading, Pennsylvania

The body of ‘Stoneman Willie’, a jailed thief that died in a Pennsylvania prison in 1895 and was accidentally mummified by undertakers, is carried in a motorcycle hearse

James Stilianos holds his hat over his heart as he visits the body of ‘Stoneman Willie’ for one final time

Revered Robert Whitmer conducts the funeral for ‘Stoneman Willie’ (James Murphy) on Saturday

 A group of funeral home employees and well-wishers, said in unison, ‘Rest in peace, James,’ as they unveiled his tombstone, with his real name in small letters below large type reading, ‘Stoneman Willie.’

He got his nickname Stoneman from his hard-as-stone leathery skin. 

The man who became known as Willie gave a false name when he was jailed, but his true identity was tracked down and finally revealed during Saturday’s ceremony, a fitting end to his life – and bizarre afterlife.

He was revealed to have been named James Murphy as his gravestone was unveiled at the climax of funeral events, which also included his remains, joining a recent parade commemorating Reading’s 275th anniversary.

Both names are etched on his tombstone, though his real name only in small print at the bottom.

The corpse has been in an open casket for almost his entire stay at the funeral home, until being loaded into a motorcycle-drawn hearse Saturday.

His send off included a colorful procession with a motorcycle hearse carrying his casket. 

People look at a headstone for ‘Stoneman Willie’ during his funeral service

The man only known as ‘Stoneman Willie’ had been on display in a Pennsylvania funeral home since he died in 1895

The man’s true identity was unknown because he gave a fake name when he was arrested more than a century ago for pickpocketing

The gaunt man dons a black suit and bowtie as he lays inside a coffin in the funeral home

He was accidentally mummified by a mortician experimenting with new embalming techniques 

Auman Funeral Home Director Kyle Blankenbiller speaks to visitors before closing the casket of ‘Stoneman Willie’ during his funeral service in Reading, Pennsylvania, on Saturday

James Murphy, a man accidentally mummified and known publicly by the name ‘Stoneman Willie’, lies on display at a local funeral home that has been his resting place for 128 years

 Upon his arrest, he gave a fake name, later dying of kidney failure at the Berks County Prison

His leathery skin and smooth sunken facial features have been the object of fascination for thousands, including countless curious locals, researchers and, in decades past, schoolchildren on class trips.

Dressed in a suit with a bow tie, the gaunt man was displayed in a coffin with a red sash across his chest. His hair and teeth remain intact.

Willie had become a quirky fixture of Reading history, ‘our friend’ who now got a well-deserved sendoff, Blankenbiller said.

Murphy was of Irish descent, an alcoholic, and was in Reading at a firefighters’ convention when he died in the local jailhouse of kidney failure on November 19, 1895, said Kyle Blankenbiller, the director of the Theo C. Auman Inc. Funeral Home where Murphy’s remains had resided. 

The 37-year-old died after battling gastritis, which worsened into acute uremia or end-stage kidney disease.

According to Willie’s cellmate, the man arrested for pickpocketing adopted the fictitious name James Penn because he did not want to shame his wealthy Irish father.

The body has been on display to visitors since 1895, but after an investigation of his mummified remains, he has finally been identified

Auman funeral home employees and volunteers carry the casket of ‘Stoneman Willie’ (James Murphy), during his funeral service

The body of “Stoneman Willie” is carried in a coffin to take part in a parade commemorating the 275th anniversary of the incorporation of the municipality of Reading, Pennsylvania

People attend the funeral for ‘Stoneman Willie’ – surely Reading’s oddest-ever resident – a mummified man who was finally buried, 128 years after his death

The gravestone of James Murphy, a man who was accidentally mummified and known publicly by the name “Stoneman Willie”, is seen after he was publicly identified and buried after being on display at a local funeral home that has been his resting place for 128 years

On his death, local officials were unable to locate relatives, and the body was sent to Auman’s.

‘Weeks passed, months passed, years passed and no one claimed the remains,’ said local historian George Meiser said during Saturday’s service. 

Pastor Robert Whitmire told the gatherers that to those who may have known him, ‘Stoneman Willie…at one time may have been a beloved friend and family member.’ 

With embalming still an emerging science, Blankenbiller said, Theodor Auman, a mortician, experimented with a new formula with innovative arterial embalming – a technique still relatively new in the late 19th century.

Before this, corpses were stored on ice until the burial.

The process entails injecting the embalming fluid into an artery, which displaces the blood, and a drain tube facilitates the ejection of blood from the vein.

‘The intensity of the concoction that he used’ led to Stoneman Willie’s mummification, a moisture removal process that forestalls decomposition. The excessive amount essentially petrified the man’s body

Crowds of people have lined up in recent days to pay their respects to ‘Stoneman Willie’

His hair and teeth remain intact, and his skin has become leathery

His body received its final rites, carried by a procession to the nearby Forest Hills Memorial Park to be buried

Now, ‘he’s been gawked at enough,’ Blankenbiller said. Burying Stoneman Willie during anniversary commemorations for the city was the ‘reverent, respectful thing to do.

‘We don’t refer to him as a mummy. We refer to him as our friend Willie,’ Blankenbiller explained. ‘He has just been become such an icon, such a storied part of not only Reading’s past but certainly its present.’ 

It took some historic sleuthing by local historians to unearth his real name through records from the prison, funeral home and other documents to find the truth.

The funeral home was eventually granted permission by the state to keep the body instead of burying it to monitor the experimental embalming process.

Among those saying goodbye in recent days was Berks County resident Michael Klein, who was fascinated by the ‘mystery of who this guy really was.’ 

Stoneman Willie was buried in a vintage black tuxedo, fittingly from the 1890s.

‘Everyone comes to America to live the American dream. Nobody comes to die in a prison unknown,’ Klein said.

Content source – www.soundhealthandlastingwealth.com

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