On Sunday, April 28th, the staff of West Laurel Hill Cemetery welcomed Death Party Philadelphia for an amazing behind the scenes tour of the funerary facilities housed on their nearly 200-acre property in Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania.
Despite celebrating their 150th anniversary, the Cemetery is anything but archaic; West Laurel Hill is leading the charge for green burial (including a pet aquamation- body disposal via alkaline hydrolosis) and creating a forward-thinking culture for the future of death care.
Death Party Philadelphia’s members were treated to an unforgettable tour, with the nicest guides and funeral home staff we could have hoped for; we can’t wait to return to the grounds for a more casual tour of their space.
If you’d like to find out more about West Laurel Hill Cemetery, click here to visit their website.
In keeping with February’s DPP meeting facilitated by Beth Savastana about the importance of morbid curiosity in museums, DPP member Shawn Porter spent the morning at The Mütter Museum for the unveiling of the skeleton of Carol Orzel- a South Philadelphia native with fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP) who bequeathed her remains to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.
More information can be found on Philly.com: https://www.philly.com/health/fop-fibrodysplasia-ossificans-progressiva-mutter-museum-exhibit-philadelphia-20190228.html
Morbid Curiosity in Museums and Historic Sites
Join Death Party Philadelphia on Sunday, February 24th, as we welcome Beth Savastana, Program and Volunteer Coordinator at Laurel Hill Cemetery! Drawing from her years of academic and professional experience, Beth will make the case for museum and historic sites using the display of human remains and other “morbid” content to generate interest and revenue. While acknowledging the valuable educational and cultural benefits associated with putting death on display, Beth will also examine the ethical debates that continue to surround these types of exhibitions. This meet is a must for any card-carrying Laurel Hill and Mütter Museum member, so don’t miss it!
Beth Savastana has embraced death starting at a young age with an obsession of mummies and archaeology. This led her to receive a B.A. in Archaeology from Lycoming College. Two years later she continued her education with an M.A. in Museum Studies from The University of Leicester in England. While there she chose her dissertation topic on museums derived from former medical collections and the educational and financial benefits that can come from displaying them today. Serendipitously, she began working at Laurel Hill Cemetery in 2014 and has been living her thesis since by helping the public get pumped about death in Victorian times and encouraging all to view cemeteries as beautiful museums…not places of fear and dread.
Death Imitates Art: the Mortal/Immortal Body of Elizabeth Siddall
Join Death Party Philadelphia for our very first meeting of 2019, where Kelly Crodian-Shuff will recount a true gothic tale of close encounters with artistic temperaments, doomed romance, and a tragic muse disturbed from her grave. This highly illustrated and immersive presentation will examine the enigmatic figure of Elizabeth Siddall, model and muse to the Pre-Raphaelite artists of the Victorian era and famously dead wife of painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Siddall was idealized in paint and poetry by Rossetti both before and after her death and was notoriously depicted as Ophelia in John Everett Millais’ iconic painting of Hamlet’s doomed lover. Although an artist and poet in her own right, Siddall’s own voice has long been eclipsed by the uncanny way in which her own story seems to blend with those of the withering maidens she embodied on the canvasses of male artists. However, unlike Ophelia or Dante’s Beatrice, Elizabeth Siddall was a very real person; one whose true self has been irrevocably lost to time, even as she continues to inspire art, music, and poetry 157 years after her death.
Our discussion of the Tale of Elizabeth Siddall will explore what happens to a person’s image once it has passed permanently outside of their control. Is it possible for the dead to have agency? How does the objectification of certain bodies in life lead to exploitation in death? And most importantly, is the work of a muse ever really done?
Kelly Crodian-Shuff is a longtime Death Party Philadelphia contributor with a background in Women’s and Gender Studies who really likes Kate Bush. She currently works as a nonprofit administrator and lives in West Philly with her spouse and cat.
We’ve buried 2018 and are looking forward to a smooth ride into the new year! Thanks to everyone who’s come out to our monthly Death Parties, who’s interacted with us on social media and all of y’all fighting the good fight for death positivity. Let’s make 2019 a great one!
Do you folks follow our Death Party Twitter account? How about our Instagram? You should! We post all sorts of Death Positive stuff, pictures from our monthly meetings, re-tweets of death and death adjacent content and much, much more!
The Twitter: https://twitter.com/deathpartyph
We had an amazing year of programming at Death Party Philadelphia in 2018, with our monthly meetings covering diverse topics that span the death positivity community. We’ve discussed Death and Disability, Compassion Fatigue, Cemetery Semiotics, Human Taxidermy with tattooed skin, Dying (legislation) in Pennsylvania and even a screening of the feature documentary The Nurse with the Purple Hair (with exclusive introduction by iconic director Sean S. Cunningham and a Q&A with the film’s subject Michelle Lasota) and we still have one more Death Party Party of the year!
On Sunday, December 16th we’ll be meeting at our regular spot to bid farewell to 2018 with our annual holiday party and Secret Skeleton gift exchange- but that’s not all! We’ll be discussing 2019 programming and we’d love to round table topics and presenters for next year’s schedule.
If there’s a subject or presenter you think would fit our model, or if you’d like to speak at one of our monthly meetings, please join us and pitch the idea! We’re nothing without the voices of the Death Positive community, and we’d love to add your voice to our sometimes off key choir.
We can’t promise that we’ll have time in our calendar for every suggested topic but we’re ready to listen.
Ho ho ho!
It’s almost December, which means it’s almost time for SECRET SKELETON! Do you want to talk about death with a lively group of Death Positive folks? Do you want to exchange presents? Join us at DEATH PARTY PHILADELPHIA!
Sunday, 18th November 2018
Full information/RSVP: https://www.facebook.com/events/2336546189960204
Hobart Frolley is an artist and Vet Nurse at the Philadelphia SPCA who has been working in animal welfare since 2003. Throughout their years of experience they have become aware of the condition known in the animal care world as Compassion Fatigue, which is sometimes referred to in other fields as “Secondary Traumatic Stress.” This presentation will cover what Compassion Fatigue is, its warning signs, and ways to prevent and/or manage it. Due to the large number of people in the Death Positive community working in direct care fields, this is a vitally important topic to discuss and explore.
If there’s one thing we know with absolute certainty here at Death Party Philadelphia, it’s that try as you might, you can’t outrun death. But we’re certainly willing to try!
We’re at Laurel Hill Cemetery for their RIP5k tonight! Our plan is to get through our 3.11m or die trying. Soul Effigies unite!