Public health and spiritually related imperatives for burial begin this volume in KidHaven’s Mysterious Encounters series. From medieval rituals to superstitions about the dead, all manner of burials are described, including pet cemeteries, military cemeteries and the Alaskan practice of freezing corpses over the winter in anticipation of the spring thaw.
Since the bodies in question "are somebody’s somebodies" (p.38), as a funeral home director describes at one point in the text, the presentation of the treatment of corpses is a sensitive subject. Lynette manages to strike a tone that is respectful without being sentimental or superstitious, much like a kid-friendly version of Thomas Lynch’s memoir, "The Undertaking: Life Studies from the Dismal Trade".
A chapter on ancient burials includes descriptions of the 8,000-strong army of life-size terra cotta statues guarding the tomb of Chinese Emperor Shih Huang Ti. In addition to the warriors, the Emperor’s tomb included "all the country’s streams" represented in quicksilver that, through some mechanical means, flowed into an ocean. In an attempt at preservation of the site, archaeologists have not fully excavated it, but the volume suggests would-be grave robbers might actually be at risk of fatal mercury poisoning.
While the dark, macabre content matter will appeal to students with an interest in the paranormal, Lynette manages to maintain a healthy tone of rationalism throughout. For example, the deadly curse traditionally associated with violating King Tutankhamen’s Egyptian tomb is demonstrated as probably attributable to an allergic reaction to ancient mold.
A chapter on hauntings describes some of the most notorious ghost sightings in a tongue-in-cheek manner, including tales of a girl in white known as Mary outside Chicago’s Resurrection Cemetery; sightings of voodoo priestess Marie Laveau in the vicinity of New Orleans’ St. Louis Cemetery No. 1; and multiple ghostly beings associated with Greenwood Cemetery in Decatur, Illinois. Photographic evidence of these disturbances will be particularly interesting for students well-acquainted with today’s digital-image manipulation technologies.
Also fascinating are present-day images of the eighteenth-century, bone-lined catacombs of Paris, a city where the dead outnumber the above-ground living by three to one. A chapter on disturbing the dead looks at exhuming bodies for forensic purposes and the use of body farms to study decomposition. Also interesting is the existence of a U.S. Government Task Force, the Disaster Mortuary Operations Response Team (DMORT), responsible for identifying the mingled remains of a flooded cemetery after a hurricane in Orange, Texas.
Citations throughout are documented in endnote form, additional books and Web sites are provided for more specific information. The book will prove accessible for most secondary students. There is a glossary for the unfamiliar vocabulary indicated by bold text throughout. In the first three pages epitaph, cremated and contagious appear in bold text, though they are also explained contextually. Recommended for school libraries.