Saturday, October 23, 2010

Fisk funeral

There is a funeral being conducted today - and everyone at the local Historical Society is very excited about it. "You don't get to throw those words together every day," writes Wright, the reader who told me about the event and will be present. "It is even more rare these days to boast of attending a burial for a genuine Revolutionary War hero." Lt. Col. John McIntosh (1748-1826), who commanded Georgia's Fort Morris, reemerged from his grave 4 years ago. The metal burial container (1st image) that surfaced near the Sapelo River was at first mistaken for a fuel tank, but was soon identified as a Fisk coffin (2nd image, examples). Named for its inventor, Almond D. Fisk of New York City, the Fisk coffin (3rd image, patent) is known for its mummiform shape, its viewing window, and its tight seal - which sometimes preserves 19th c. remains intact to this day. An anthropologist at Colonial Williamsburg writes, "The intent was to preserve the remains of people who died far from home more or less intact until such time as they could be brought back home for the family funeral. And it worked, as I was to discover one afternoon....Called by Colonial Williamsburg security to a trench being dug behind the site of the Public Hospital, I was shown one of Fisk's patent cases hanging half out of the side of the excavation. A backhoe had snapped off its feet. The operator had sent his assistant into the ditch to see what had fallen out. He was last seen heading for Newport News." Preservation is not a certainty, however. When a Fisk casket was found already occupying a newly dug grave in Lexington, Kentucky, in 2007, the remains of the occupant consisted of "mostly bones, with some teeth, hair, fingernails and pieces of clothes." But a Fisk coffin found at a construction site in Washington, D.C., in 2005 revealed the shrouded body of a 13-year-old boy in hand-sewn clothes with enough soft tissue to determine from adhesions on the lung and calcifications of the lymph nodes that he had an infection and likely died of pneumonia.

The Fisk coffin containing the body of Col. McIntosh had rolled out of the riverbank onto the edge of the marsh in 2006 due to the natural erosion of the soil. It was turned over to the McIntosh Co. Coroner's Office and stored at Darien Funeral Home, where the soldier's body has been examined and analyzed. "The body inside was somewhat preserved having been buried with charcoal, a burial practice to absorb bodily fluids and perhaps control odor," explained Matthew Williamson of Georgia Southern University, who excavated several members of the McIntosh family - generations of whom have resided near where the Colonel made his reappearance - to prevent them from suffering the same fate. As I finish this post, the committal has just gotten underway at Mallow Plantation to rebury Col. McIntosh and 3 of his grandchildren: 30-year-old Maria, 25-year-old Maizie, and Catherine, who died in infancy. They will be laid to rest (again) after a ceremony including bagpipes, a color guard, and traditional Scottish last rites.

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