Stoneman Willie Finally Buried

( – A man whose body was on display in a funeral home for 128 years has finally been buried. Known as Stoneman Willie by locals in Reading, Pennsylvania, the mummified man was finally laid to rest when his true identity became known.

He was James Murphy, who died in a local jail and was “accidentally” mummified by funeral directors experimenting with what was then the latest in embalming technology. The funeral home successfully petitioned state officials to leave the body unburied so it could observe the embalming process. More than a century later, Mr. Murphy’s teeth and hair remained intact, and his skin had hardened to a marble-like appearance, prompting his Stoneman Willie nickname.

The same embalming process would not be used today.

At the funeral in a nearby cemetery in December, Kyle Blankenbiller, director of the Theo C Auman funeral home, said, “We don’t refer to him as a mummy. We refer to him as our friend Willie. He has just become such an icon.”

Local historian George Meiser gathered details on Mr. Murphy’s life and said he was a 37-year-old petty criminal who suffered from numerous health problems, including end-stage kidney disease, which would eventually cause his death.

Murphy traveled to Reading in 1895 and was quickly arrested for pickpocketing. According to reports from the time, his cellmate would later say that he adopted the false name of James Penn because he didn’t want to embarrass his wealthy Irish father.

When he died in jail, no relatives or friends came forward. “Weeks passed, months passed, years passed, and no one claimed the remains,” Meiser said.

Officials passed Murphy’s body to a funeral home that was conducting experimental embalming procedures at the time. The mortician injected embalming fluid into the arteries, removing and displacing blood. Blankebiller explained that the amount used and its “intensity” is what caused the body to harden to such an extent. “The excessive amount essentially petrified the man’s body,” he said.

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