Dead Spread

In the olden days, performers would literally sing for their supper. I got a nice lunch on Tuesday and all I had to do for it was crack a few jokes about blowflies and crematories.

Dr. Bill Bass was at Grace Lutheran Church to give a talk. Knowing he would be there, I stopped by to pick up a copy of an academic paper that he wants me to read. While I was there, Susan Seals of the Bone Zones team asked if I wanted to facilitate the question-and-answer session after the lecture. When I said yes, she told me that the presentation would begin after lunch and that I could help myself to the buffet.

The Seasoned Adults group had invited Dr. Bass to speak at their monthly luncheon. They had salad, steamed vegetables, lasagna and a layered Cool Whip and Jell-O dessert that you would expect to find on a list of “You Might Be a Lutheran If…” jokes.

Because we were at a Lutheran church, Dr. Bass delivered a lecture he entitled “German Lutherans I Have Known.” Of course the Lutherans in question were dead. In the 1970s, Dr. Bass and his students excavated a 19th century German Lutheran cemetery in Wartburg. The graves needed to be moved prior to an expansion of Route 27. The bodies, which were buried between 1830 and 1890 in pine boxes, had completely decomposed in the Wartburg soil. The only things left in the graves were coffin nails and shirt buttons.

By contrast, Colonel William Shy was embalmed with arsenic and buried in a steel coffin. He was killed in the Battle of Nashville, near the end of the Civil War. Colonel Shy’s casket had a glass window just in case he wasn’t quite dead, which was unlikely since he had been shot in the middle of his forehead. When grave-robbers disturbed his corpse in 1977, Dr. Bass was called in to investigate.

Col. Shy’s body resembled a much fresher corpse. The experience with the decomposed Lutherans led Dr. Bass to initially think that Shy was a recent victim dumped in the disturbed grave. When he realized that the beheaded body was indeed Col. Shy, Dr. Bass set about creating a program to study human decomposition.

http://www.tennessee-scv.org/Camp854/shy.html
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