The accidentally mummified corpse of a thief who died in a Reading, Pennsylvania, jail in 1895 will be laid to rest later this week after more than a century on display.
The burial, planned for Saturday, coincides with Reading’s 275th anniversary. The mummy, known to locals as Stoneman Willie, had been displayed at the Theo C. Auman Funeral Home and Crematory ever since the eponymous Auman accidentally mummified him while experimenting with the then-new art of embalming.
“The formula was just too high octane, and certainly nothing we’d use today,” Theo C. Auman Inc. Director Kyle Blankenbiller told The Philadelphia Inquirer, adding that Auman “was curious about how long the body would remain preserved in that condition,” leading to Stoneman Willie’s 128 years on public display.
In that time, Stoneman Willie became a local icon and a part of the lives of multiple generations of Reading residents.
“He has just become such an icon, such a storied part of not only Reading’s past, but certainly its present in the sense that, back in the day, you know, they used to bring school groups here. You can only imagine going to fourth grade one day and you go home and you go out on a field trip to a funeral home to see this mummy,” Mr. Blankenbiller told Reuters.
Local historian Charles Adams III will be providing the eulogy, having first seen the mummy on display as a child.
“When I was a kid growing up, he was a sideshow freak that people craved to go see. I saw Stoneman Willie, you know, and when I first saw him, I came out saying, ‘I saw Stoneman Willie.’ Now, to be a part of the laying to rest. And you used the word man. I’m very, very particular about that in my eulogy,” Mr. Adams III told Reuters.
Stoneman Willie’s actual name will also be revealed on his headstone Saturday. At the time of his 1895 arrest, he provided a pseudonym, using the surname Penn. After his death from kidney failure, the man’s cellmate said that he had been an Irishman worried about besmirching his family’s good name.
That theory was confirmed as the funeral home looked into finally burying the mummy.
“It was shame,” Mr. Blankenbiller told The Inquirer.