If Only The Dead Could Talk

Published on: 2/15/2011

Regular readers know that I frequent graveyards.  There is much to be learned about the lives of the deceased by reading a headstone or two and doing a bit of research. 

And speaking with the departed.

The Reiss-Engelhorn Museum in Mannheim, Germany is home to The German Mummy Project.

And a large collection of their desiccated members are presently visiting the Milwaukee Public Museum.

I recently took an afternoon away from the day job to visit with the dead and listen to their stories.

You are totally gross!  Gawking at a bunch of dead people.  And listening to them?  Is there no end to your tasteless endeavors?

As long as you keep in mind that these are real people who walked the earth just like you and me and lived real lives it's actually quite dignified.  After all, it's only their remains that are on display.  The essence of their being is probably somewhere else.  And even though they cannot speak directly to me or you – modern scientific research speaks for them.

Take for example the remains of Veronica Orlovitz. She died in 1807 in Hungary at the age of 38.  Last December, Columbia St. Mary’s Hospital performed a CT scan to see if they could determine her cause of death.  While the CT was inconclusive - DNA analysis revealed an advanced case of tuberculosis.

At the mummy exhibit you can expect plenty of Egyptian mummies to visit with.  You know - the type that had all sorts of elaborate embalming techniques performed on themselves to prolong their shelf-life.  But most of the dead were preserved by the simple process of dehydration.  By mere coincidence and circumstance the departed were left in the cool, dry crypt of a castle or church or a cairn of rocks in the Andes where nature simply caused them to dry out. 

Just like making jerky.

The mummy of Baron Von Holz is a good example.  He still sports his tall leather boots.

He and Baroness Schenk von Geiern were laid to rest in a 14th century castle in Sommersdorf, Germany.  If you visit the Milwaukee Museum you’ll find them together.

The Baron and Baroness are on loan from a living relative - Dr. Manfred Baron von Crailsheim.  Schloss Sommersdorf has been his ancestral home since Wolf von Crailsheim acquired the castle in 1550.  Crailsheim is the current owner of the castle which he operates as an inn.  I checked it out on the web and it’s a cool 26-room Bavarian castle – complete with a moat.  Should you visit as a guest you might be able to talk the Baron into taking you to the castle’s crypt where you will find Julius Wilhelm Freiherr Baron von Crailsheim who died in a hunting accident in the 18th century. 

All of these dead Crailsheims gave me a bit of a jolt.  And a case of the heebie jeebies too.  When I and my folks lived in Germany we lived in the town of Crailsheim.  I wonder if there is a connection.  This tidbit is deserving of more research.

Getting back to the late Baron - it is believed that he perished in Sommersdorf during the Thirty Year War.  He has been subjected to CT-scans and several detailed examinations from which much has been learned.  There is no evidence of wounds from the war.  He is 26 to 32 years of age.  At 6 feet he was tall for a man of his time. With the exception of a small nodule of tuberculosis in one of his lungs he appears to have been perfectly fit.  

A reconstruction of his appearance looks like this:

I'd give almost anything to speak with him and learn about his story. 

If you’re looking for something interesting to do you should visit with the mummies from Africa, Asia, South America, Europe and the Pacific islands and learn their stories.

Check-out the Mummies of the World exhibit.  It’s here through the end of May.