Click here to read the Atlas Obscura’s excellent account as to why the New York City skyline is currently lacking an enormous owl-shaped mausoleum. The early 20th century French architect Maurice Guillemot described Andrew O’Connor’s monumental design in these terms: This gigantic bird of night looms up from its pedestal, a startling apparition, enigmatic and … Read moreThe Might-Have-Been 200-Ft. Tall Owl Mausoleum in New York City
By Tony Wolf The evocative yin-yang juxtaposition of flowers and skulls has a curious artistic history encompassing Catholic reliquary, 17th century Dutch vanitas painting, Mexican folk-art, Edwardian art nouveau and ’60s psychedelia. In combination, they offer a startling and provocative alternative to the black-cloaked, scythe-wielding figure of the Grim Reaper, whose imagery is inextricably tied … Read moreThe Skull and the Flower
Here’s a colorful and cheerful website devoted to El Dia de (los) Muertos, perhaps the world’s most colorful and cheerful thanatocentric celebration. As a child in Wellington, New Zealand during the 1970s, I was hardly aware of Latin American culture other than via Spanish-language segments on Sesame Street. That said, I seem to recall first … Read moreThe Day of the Dead
The practice of thanatocentric pilgrimage is too often reduced to tacky “ghost tours” and their “true-crime” equivalent. Fortunately, the Atlas Obscura offers this open-ended list of alternative, off-the-beaten-track memento mori destinations, from Harry Houdini’s grave in Queens, NYC to the Shah-i-Zinda Necropolis in Uzbekistan.
Click here to read Ed Simon’s Order of the Good Death essay on how the dawn of the Scientific Age forced thinkers to re-evaluate their notions of mortality: Anxiety has always surrounded death, but in the seventeenth-century there was perhaps a new fear – of Nothingness. These writers deployed Ars Moriendi and Memento mori to approach death in a century … Read more“Every Word of the Sepulchre: How the Seventeenth Century Teaches Us to Die”
The Adventures of Memento Mori is host D.S. Moss’s ongoing podcast exploration of what death means, why that matters and what we can do about it while we’re still alive. With a thoroughly and refreshingly skeptical take on all matters woo, Moss has examined life- and death-affirming topics including spiritualism, creating death plans, diverse concepts … Read more“The Adventures of Memento Mori”
In this short video, visualization artist Martin Janoušek evokes French architect Etienne-Louis Boullée’s imagined cenotaph for Sir Isaac Newton. Boullée designed the “Temple of Death” in 1785 and while it was never built, his pioneering vision has inspired generations of architects. Here’s further commentary on Boullée’s epic notion of memorial from Professor Erika Naginski of … Read moreEtienne-Louis Boullée’s “Temple of Death”
In July 2020 Joanna Ebenstein will be offering an 8-hour online course in the history, mystery and art of the memento mori: Death is the great mystery of human life. Each of us – barring some medical miracle – will die. Foreknowledge of our own death is a defining characteristic of humanity; the ancient Greeks … Read moreMake Your Own Memento Mori: Befriending Death with Art, History and the Imagination with Morbid Anatomy Founder Joanna Ebenstein
The 2016 TV series Houdini and Doyle teamed these two very famous figures, together with pioneering female police constable Adelaide Stratton, in investigating apparently supernatural mysteries in early Edwardian London. Obviously, the series was a work of fiction inspired by some historically real characters and situations, with a lot of creative license applied. For example, whereas the real Harry … Read moreDid Houdini and Doyle Really Investigate Supernatural Mysteries?
by Tony Wolf (originally published via the Atlas Obscura on October 9, 2017) After my father died in mid-2016, the family was faced with a daunting question: “What to do with the collection?” Dad had been acquiring and restoring all manner of curious antiques since the 1960s. His vast collection filled “the studio”—a huge, barn-like building … Read moreDiscovering a Vintage “Spook Show” in my Dad’s Antique Collection