19. A museum dedicated to funerals
In Vienna, Austria, visitors may enjoy exploring the Funeral Museum, dedicated to death, funerals, and the funerary arts. Opening in 1967, the museum displayed changes to Viennese funerals and customs over the years. Undertakers’ practices and artifacts, coffins, hearses, pallbearers’ uniforms, and other exhibits sure to create a cheerful mood were prominently displayed. In 1784, Emperor Joseph II ordered the use of reusable coffins. Fitted with a trap door, the coffins allowed the body of the deceased to be dumped into the grave once the mourners had turned away. The emperor believed the device would help conserve wood. The Viennese rebelled against the Imperial conservation edict, and the law remained in effect for just a few months. One reason the Viennese rebelled was the commonly held fear of premature burial. Several methods were adopted to ensure the dead were, in fact, dead.
One was a device which placed a cord in the deceased’s hand. The other end of the cord, which penetrated the coffin and ran above ground, attached to a bell. Should the buried arouse and find themselves buried, they simply rang the bell to summon assistance. In another, well-to-do Viennese had a clause in their will which required a physician to pierce their heart after declaring them dead, just to make sure. All such devices and requirements are presented in the Funeral Museum, making it a decidedly uplifting place to visit. To add to the cheerful atmosphere, several historic funerals may be viewed on monitors, including that of Emperor Franz Joseph in 1916. Funeral dirges and songs play on the audio system. Located in Vienna’s Central Cemetery, visitors may be fortunate enough to espy a modern funeral as they depart the grounds. Truly a joyous place to visit.