Stoneman Willie, the mummified man, laid to rest in Pennsylvania after 128 years | World News - Hindustan Times
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After 128 years on display, mummified American ‘friend’ receives a proper burial in Reading, Pennsylvania

Oct 10, 2023 08:19 AM IST

A mummified US man, known as Stoneman Willie was finally buried after over a century as a local legend in Pennsylvania.

A man who died in 1895 and became a mummified curiosity for over a century has finally been buried with dignity in Pennsylvania. His real name was James Murphy, but he was known as Stoneman Willie for his preserved skin.

James Murphy, a man who was 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, before being buried in Reading, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 7, 2023. REUTERS/Julio-Cesar Chavez(REUTERS)
James Murphy, a man who was 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, before being buried in Reading, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 7, 2023. REUTERS/Julio-Cesar Chavez(REUTERS)

Murphy was a petty thief who went by the alias James Penn when he was caught pickpocketing in Reading, 60 miles northwest of Philadelphia. He died of kidney failure in jail, and his body was embalmed by a mortician who experimented with new techniques.

The gravestone of James Murphy, a man who was accidentally mummified and known publicly by the name "Stoneman Willie", in Reading, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 7, 2023. REUTERS/Julio-Cesar Chavez(REUTERS)
The gravestone of James Murphy, a man who was accidentally mummified and known publicly by the name "Stoneman Willie", in Reading, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 7, 2023. REUTERS/Julio-Cesar Chavez(REUTERS)

His body was kept in an open casket at a funeral home in Reading for 128 years, where he attracted visitors and became a local legend. He was nicknamed Stoneman Willie because his skin felt like stone, but his hair and teeth remained intact.

The staff at the funeral home treated him as their friend Willie, and worked with historians to discover his true identity before his burial on Saturday.

They found out that he was from New York, of Irish descent, and an alcoholic. He used a fake name to avoid disgracing his father, a wealthy businessman.

No one claimed his body or paid for his funeral, so he was left in the care of the funeral home, which obtained permission from the state to monitor his body for any signs of decay.

He was honoured with a parade through Reading in a motorcycle hearse before his funeral, part of the city’s 275th birthday celebrations.

Willie was buried in a tuxedo with a bow tie and a red sash, under a tombstone that bore both names.

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“Stoneman Willie at one time may have been a beloved friend and family member,” Robert Whitmire, a Reading pastor, said at the service.

“We don’t refer to him as a mummy. We refer to him as our friend Willie. He has just become such an icon, such a storied part of not only Reading’s past but certainly its present,” Kyle Blankenbiller, director of the Theo C Auman funeral home, said.

“He’s been gawked at enough,” Blankenbiller added.

“We thought it was the reverent, respectful thing to do.”

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