News by email Donate


Top Stories

Most Read

Popular Videos

World News

Mummified Pennsylvania man identified and buried after 128 years on display

by Reuters Journalist

A leather-skinned mummified man lying in an open coffin in Reading, Pennsylvania, known only as "Stoneman Willie” to the public got two things Saturday he went without for 128 years - a burial and his real name.

Dressed in a period tuxedo, his generations-long public afterlife as the stuff of city lore and ghost stories ended when he was introduced to the world as James Murphy of New York at a funeral in Reading.

A group of funeral home employees and well-wishers, said in unison, "Rest in peace, James," as they unveiled his tombstone, with his real name in small letters below large type reading, "Stoneman Willie."

His send-off included a colorful procession with a motorcycle hearse carrying his casket.

Murphy was of Irish descent, an alcoholic, and was in Reading at a firefighters' convention when he died in the local jailhouse of kidney failure on Nov. 19, 1895, said Kyle Blankenbiller, the director of the Theo C. Auman Inc. Funeral Home where Murphy's remains had resided.

Blankenbiller said at the funeral that Murphy’s real name was known to the original Theo Auman, director of the funeral home in 1895. Murphy’s real name had been passed down within the funeral home over the past 128 years, but it was not until the latest decision to give him a proper burial that the research was done to conclusively confirm his identity as James Murphy.

The once unidentified man was in jail accused of being a thief, and he was accidentally mummified by a mortician experimenting with new embalming techniques.

Local officials were unable to locate relatives, said local historian George Meiser.

"Weeks passed, months passed, years passed and no one claimed the remains," Meiser said at the service.

It took some historic sleuthing by local historians to unearth his real name through records from the prison, funeral home and other documents to find the truth.

The funeral home was eventually granted permission by the state to keep the body instead of burying it to monitor the experimental embalming process.

He got his nickname Stoneman from his hard-as-stone leathery skin.

Pastor Robert Whitmire told the gatherers that to those who may have known him, "Stoneman one time may have been a beloved friend and family member."


A Monthly Gift Of $11 Makes A World Of Difference

In a world of fake news there’s never been a greater need for quality Christian journalism. Premier’s mission is to provide the Church with the most up to date and relevant news, told from a Christian perspective. But we can’t do it without you.

Unlike many websites we haven't put up a paywall — we want to keep our journalism free at the point of need and as open as we can. Premier’s news output takes a lot of time, money and hard work to produce. No one in the USA is sharing news like we are across radio, magazines and online so please help us to continue that today.

For a monthly gift of $11 or more we’d also be able to send you a free copy of the brand new Premier Bible, a wonderful Anglicised version of the NLT packed with exclusive bonus content, reading plan and resources to help you get the most out of scripture.

Your monthly support will make a world of difference. Thank you.

Support Us
Continue the conversation on our Facebook page

Related Articles

Sign up to our newsletter to stay informed with news from a Christian perspective.

News by email