"...we should pass over all biographies of 'the good and the great,' while we search carefully the slight records of wretches who died in prison, in Bedlam, or upon the gallows."
~Edgar Allan Poe

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Newspaper Clipping of the Day

Vintage photo of a prehistoric petrified body.

This charming little tale of a corpse who became his own grave monument comes from the "Philadelphia Inquirer," February 24, 1890.

Cassville, Mo., Feb. 11.--Great interest is manifested here over a remarkable circumstance which has just come to light. It's happening on Off Davis, near Buzzard Roost. When old man Clayback came out of the late war he was a physical wreck, but like many others of the State militia, was too independent to ask for a pension, even if he could have secured one, and made his living in the best way he could until his six boys and seven girls got old enough to help him.

About five years ago the old man began to get very bad with rheumatism, as he thought, and, although he used the entire crop of spicewood berries which grew on the creek, he continued to get worse. Two years ago he got so stiff as to be confined to his house and called in a physician, who, after carefully diagnosing the case, gave as his opinion that instead of rheumatism ailing the man it was a true case of ossification. Nothing could be done, and he advised his patient to make ready for the end, although he might live some time. The old man took the doctor's advice and did not seem to have any fears of death, but dreaded the yawning grave and the cold, clammy earth. To make his thoughts more pleasant and relieve him of his only terror, a friend suggested cremation as an avenue of escape from the grave, a plan which he hailed with joy, and gave directions accordingly.

The disease continued, complete ossification took place, and the old man died. How to carry out the wishes of the deceased at first troubled the bereaved family, until they learned that Stephen Symphony was burning lime in his kiln which had been fired three days and was reaching a white heat. Desiring to save the ashes, they procured a large evaporating pan belonging to a molasses mill. Placing the remains in this, they carefully shoved the whole into the kiln, which was an open one on top, and being built in the side of the hill, was easily accessible. The sorrowing family gathered around, expecting the rapid incineration and disintegration of the departed. In a few minutes the winding sheet was gone and the naked body was exposed to the intense heat. From the ears, nostrils and mouth came jets of steam, broken at first, then solid, and in an hour had ceased, but no change was perceivable in the silent form. More wood was fed to the flowing furnace to make the vigil of the bereaved briefer, but still no change. More wood was pitched in and hotter still the fire raged. Hour after hour passed, and from a glowing red to an opaque white the body turned, while on the countenance seemed to rest an expression of infinite peace and satisfaction. So three days wore away, and the fire must be drawn or the lime spoiled. Twenty-four hours later by means of grappling hooks the pan and body were raised, and to the surprise of every one the body was still intact and glowing. A greater and more pleasant surprise, however, awaited the family, for when the body became cold it was ascertained that the intense heat acting upon the ossified body had changed it to perfect marble, a little lighter in color than the natural body, but retained its natural shape, except on the back, which is a little flattened. The only defects are where there was a bullet wound and in the left foot, which is broken in two. In 1870 Mr. Clayback cut his foot very severely, splitting it between the second and third toes, and following this wound a rupture appeared, which caused the loss as above stated. Where a small blood vessel had burst in his leg there appeared a delicate tracing of the circulation. The family are having a pedestal cut out of native limestone, and will mount the "statue," but at present they are using a black gum block for the purpose.

I am--as you are--very anxious to know more about the well-roasted Mr. Clayback, but, alas, I could not find any published sequels to this story.


  1. I think this story could only have occurred in one of the southern U.S. states. For one thing, the names: Off Davis, Buzzrd Roost. These aren't towns in the Hudson Valley. The surname of Symphony is wonderful. Then there is the reference to 'old man' Clayback in a newspaper. And the roasting of a relative in a kiln... But then, country folk are practical people.

    But seriously, how could this scientifically happen?

    1. In the world of 19th century newspapers, ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN.

      And it usually did.

  2. That was some furnace if it could transform carbon into calcium.


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