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Lying in coffin too lame for some Puerto Ricans

posted 6/3/2010 10:27:53 PM |
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tagged: news, people, death, straddle

Would you consider this latest fad for YOUR wake?

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - At 6, Angel Luis Pantojas saw his murdered father lying in a casket and decided: Not me. At my wake, people will see me on my feet.

So when he was shot 11 times and tossed over a bridge in his underwear 18 years later, Pantojas got his wish. Pantojas' family tethered his corpse to the wall, where streams of strangers came from throughout Puerto Rico to see the latest curiosity they dubbed el muerto parao - dead man standing.

"You couldn't fit another soul in this room," his aunt, Ana Delia Pantojas, recalled, showing the holes in the housing-project living-room wall where the corpse was bound the summer of '08. "All sorts of people came here to see him - lawyers, judges. Everyone was talking, saying things like, 'For my wake, I want to be in my recliner with a cup of coffee.'"

The buzz eventually faded, until last month, when David Morales Colon, another young neighborhood murder victim, was embalmed hunched over on his motorcycle. Both were members of San Juan's growing urban youth subculture in which guns are rampant and lives are short. Their "exotic wakes" caused such a sensation that everyone from the Department of Health to the state attorney started poring through the penal code.

Puerto Rico's House of Representatives had special hearings. The association of funeral-home owners had an emergency board meeting.

But even as the funeral directors decry the wakes as sacrilegious offenses to tradition, this much is certain: The practice is legal. And when a third Puerto Rican man was embalmed on a motorcycle in Philadelphia last week, experts scratched their heads as they watched a childhood wish become the latest fad.

"I see it as a challenge to the authorities: 'You killed me, but you didn't knock me down,'" said Jorge Lugo Ramirez, president of the Puerto Rico Funeral Home Association. "These kinds of people are surrounded by easy money and guns. We can't be promoting that."

The association asked the Department of Health to make a rule prohibiting such wakes, requiring that viewings be conducted in a coffin, horizontally. Although the burials were normal, morticians fear exotic wakes will become such a hit that funeral homes that prepare the most-outrageous cadavers will steal business from traditional competitors.

But Lugo acknowledges that people have been abuzz, requesting funerals on bikes, cars and even buses. "I guess then we'd have to conduct the wake in the parking lot," he said with a laugh.

Cultural anthropologist Melba Sanchez, author of the Spanish-language book Death: Social Aspects and Contemporary Ethics, said the funeral directors shouldn't be in such a tizzy. They should know that funeral traditions change with the years and have been tweaked more and more to individual tastes.

If anything, the trend shows that in parts of Puerto Rico, death is so common that young men are fearless about expressing how they want to be viewed, said University of Puerto Rico sociologist Jose Mendez.

People in the Quintana public-housing complex where the victims lived said everyone has been discussing how they want their wakes.

"I already told my wife that for my wake I want to be posed doing what I like to do most: dance," said Irving Figueroa, 34, a street vendor and former hip-hop dancer.

"At most wakes, everyone is standing around looking and thinking, 'Poor guy. Look at him,'" Figueroa said. "I want everyone to look at me, and say, 'Damn, he looks good!'"

The Columbus Dispatch

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Jun 3 @ 11:06PM  
Very interesting but kind of a "so what" issue. If the deceased wants it to be that way, why not? Besides if they are cremated, isn't the urn standing up?

Jun 3 @ 11:08PM  
Besides if they are cremated, isn't the urn standing up?
Not as creepy as a corpse standing or sitting up...

Jun 3 @ 11:22PM  

I guess, then, if I can be presented as performance art, I want to be mourned while
I'm, er, "in the act". But, that being the case, I guess I'll need an, um, "accomplice".

Any takers...?!?

Jun 3 @ 11:47PM  
Not as creepy as a corpse standing or sitting up..

Do you mean like this account on IMDB about actor John Barrymore?

After Barrymore's death, his friends - including Errol Flynn and Raoul Walsh - gathered at a bar to commiserate on John's passing. Walsh, claiming he was too upset, pretended to go home. Instead, he and two friends went to the funeral home and bribed the caretaker to lend them Barrymore's body. Transporting it to Flynn's house, it was propped up in Errol's favorite living room chair. Flynn arrived and described his reaction in his autobiography: "As I opened the door I pressed the button. The lights went on and - I stared into the face of Barrymore... They hadn't embalmed him yet. I let out a delirious scream... I went back in, still shaking. I retired to my room upstairs shaken and sober. My heart pounded. I couldn't sleep the rest of the night."

Jun 4 @ 2:17AM  
While I find it slightly odd, I like the guy's attitude.

Jun 4 @ 8:05AM  
This is really no different than what they do in some SE Asian countries and in some tribes in Africa, but that's people's culture.

Jun 4 @ 8:33AM  
I wanna' be like the guy who played Bernie
Let's just party all weekend

Jun 4 @ 12:03PM  

Sorry I always lay in my coffin, accept when I get up to get some I mean a glass of Wine.

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Lying in coffin too lame for some Puerto Ricans