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Death on the World Wide Web

By Devin D. O'Leary

SEPTEMBER 22, 1997:  All this hoo-ha over the recent deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa has got me to thinking (like most people on the planet) about life, death, celebrity, journalism and the Internet. OK, maybe I'm one of the few thinking about that last one; but believe me, it fits. Not surprisingly, there are dozens of Web sites and chat rooms overflowing with information, commiseration and conspiracy theories about these two high-profile deaths. When the mountain of flowers and cards started choking the streets around Buckingham palace, the Royal Family even suggested sending condolences via e-mail to the Royal Web site (www.royal.gov.uk). But believe me, folks on the Internet were thinking about death long before this tragic month came along.

Find-A-Grave (www.orci.com/personal/jim/index.html)--Police in England have sealed off the roads surrounding Diana's gravesite to fend off the thousands of mourners stampeding past. If you really want to check out a celebrity's grave, however, here's the surest route to it. This magnificent little page has got it all. You can track down a grave by name, location or claim to fame. Dial up your state and find out where all the famous folks are buried. Ever wondered where Lizzy Borden is pushing up daises? She's in the Oak Grove, Massachusetts Cemetery (there are even photos and a detailed map on how to get to it). Bruce Lee? Napoleon Bonaparte? Jim Baccus? They're all here.

The Lee Atwater Invitational Dead Pool (stiff.com)--Clint Eastwood made a movie about it, so it makes sense that somebody would do it for real sooner or later. There are, in fact, dozens of "dead pools" on the Internet in which morbid folks bet on which celebrity will be the next to snuff it. Much to my surprise, I found several that had shut down "out of respect for Princess Diana." The sick puppies at Lee Atwater are still cranking along, though. Basically, you pick 10 famous names and kick in some dough. Whoever gets the most right snags the pot. The '97 pool is obviously well underway right now. Out of the 141 current participants, Lari is in first place with five confirmed stiffs (Mother Teresa was worth a whopping eight bonus points). You can check out the progress and, if you really want to get involved, stick around for the '98 game.

World Wide Web of Death (www.nettaxi.com/citizens/sinople/index.htm)--Here's the kind of site you'll need an afternoon to peruse. There are no snide comments here, no rubbernecking sense of morbidity--just a healthy interest in all things unliving. The credo states that this site is "an attempt to offer readers resources on the topic of death and dying." Certainly whoever designed this page is covering all the bases. A master list of topics ranges from assassinations to burial detail, from capital punishment to genocide, from homicide to natural death and dying. Dig into the categories, and you'll find detailed historical or factual accounts on, for example, the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand--which, in case you didn't know, started World War II. Crack open the "Burial Details" file and you'll unearth stuff like "Embalming Tips" and "Gravesites of U.S. Presidents." Did you know that the Vatican prohibited the practice of cremation up until 30 years ago? You do now.

Summum Mummification (www.summum.org/mummification)--Does the idea of being buried bother you? Well, there are alternate routes you can follow. Take, for example, this organization which offers you the opportunity for "eternal memorialization through mummification." Yes, when it's time for the old dirt nap, these folks will actually turn you into a traditional Egyptian mummy for a hefty fee (they don't quote prices here, but it ain't cheap). Order your own sarcophagus, and you can be proudly displayed in the lobby of your local museum or in the living room of a loved one. If you can't afford to get yourself wrapped, you can always have your beloved pet mummified (no, I'm not kidding). There are pictures and everything, along with plenty of very reverent talk about mummifying your dog.

--Devin D. O'Leary

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