Abhorrent Bodies: Burying Evil

Rudolf Hess' grave was the scene of neo-Nazi pilgrimages until it was moved from this plot in 2011 .

Rudolf Hess’ grave was the scene of neo-Nazi pilgrimages until it was moved from this plot in 2011.

The Wal-Hamdu-Lillah Cemetery hails itself as California’s first Islamic cemetery, a 20-acre mortuary and burial ground established in 1998.  The cemetery adheres to Sharia burial rites, which include the ritual washing of the corpse, shrouding of the body, and burial without a casket, usually with little or no burial markers.  In January it was confirmed that the more than 1000 people buried in Wal-Hamdu-Lillah include Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, fundamentalist extremists who killed 14 people in a December 2015 attack in San Bernadino.  The two were themselves killed hours after their attack, and it apparently took a week to find an Islamic cemetery that would accept their remains.  Local observers soon suspected that the killers were interred in the cemetery in Rosamond, and the Mayor of neighboring Lancaster theatrically directed his City Attorney to prepare legislation that would outlaw the local burial of participants in terrorist acts.  The anxiety sparked by the couple’s burial reflects their status among the most repugnant of the dead, people so evil that their physical remains threaten our common values after their death.  Such figures’ literal corporeal remains hold a persistent grip on our collective anxiety, their memories firmly planted in heritage discourses even as we attempt to efface their human remains from the landscape.

Many of history’s darkest figures were denied a formal burial place primarily to prevent their graves from becoming pilgrimage sites.  For instance, nearly all Nazi war criminals were committed to anonymous resting places to suppress lingering Nazi sympathies. SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler killed himself after his capture by the British, and he was buried at Luneburg Heath, in northern Germany.  Allies were already wary of the potential that the graves of people like Himmler could become rallying places for extremists.  A British soldier who helped bury Himmler was instructed that the location “`was not to be told to anyone for if some fanatical Germans got to hear about it they would have dug up the coffin and made a big parade with his body and made a martyr and worshipped (sic) him like a God.’”  The Lancaster, California Mayor said much the same about Farook and Malik’s burial, worrying that it would become “an attraction for martyrdom.”

After Spandau Prison's final prisoner Rudolf Hess died, the jail was torn down and its structural remains pulverized.

After Spandau Prison’s final prisoner Rudolf Hess died, the jail was torn down and its structural remains pulverized (image Bauamt Süd).

There is genuine evidence that graves can become such rallying points for extremists.  For instance, Rudolf Hess died in Spandau Prison in 1987 after receiving a life sentence in the Nuremberg trials.  Spandau itself was demolished after Hess’ death so it could not become a neo-Nazi shrine (offers of up to 100 marks were made for bricks from the prison—and one appeared on the British Antiques Roadshow–but the debris was reportedly pulverized).  Hess was accorded a burial in the southern German town of Wunsiedel, and his grave rapidly became a pilgrimage site for contemporary neo-Nazis, with over 9000 people visiting for a 2004 march.  In 2011 Hess’ body was removed for cremation, and his ashes scattered at sea.  A year later the graves of Hitler’s parents had their markers removed to end extremists’ vigils in the cemetery in Leonding, Austria.

Evil figures have often been denied identifiable resting places to defuse contemporary extremists who might be galvanized by pilgrimage to such a resting place.  Journeys of spiritual consequence extend beyond formal faith to civil religions, heritage tourism, and even popular cultural fandoms (e.g., compare visitation to Jim Morrison’s grave in Paris).  The remains of revered figures often become one of the key places followers visit on journeys that fortify deeply held values and provide spiritual inspiration.  The distinction between pilgrimage and tourism is certainly fluid, but it perhaps revolves around the degree to which the emotional experience of pilgrimage and visitation shapes the visitor’s subsequent social and political activity; that is, a sacred journey binds us to a collective that shares and acts upon deeply held values.

In the wake of World War II the Allies were wary that places like grave sites could sustain or ignite future political extremism, so the most prominent Nazi war criminals’ remains were not accorded formal burial places.  When Berlin fell in 1945, the Soviets collected the remains of Hitler, Eva Braun, Joseph Goebbels, and Goebbels’ six children and wife; by most accounts their collective remains were eventually cremated in about 1970 and scattered in the Biederitz River, though fragments of Hitler’s skull are rumored to remain in Russian hands.  The 10 Nazis executed October 16, 1946 following the Nuremberg trials (and Herman Goring, who killed himself the night before) were cremated and their ashes scattered in a river.

A memorial to Kamizake pilots at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo.

A memorial to Kamizake pilots at the Yasukuni Shrine in Tokyo (image Takashi Ueki).

However, other war criminals’ remains have been placed at rest in politically charged places.  Japanese Prime Minister and Imperial Army General Hideki Tōjō directed the attack on Pearl Harbor, and at war’s end he was taken prisoner by American forces after an unsuccessful suicide attempt.  A military tribunal found Tōjō guilty of war crimes and sentenced him to death in 1948.  Tōjō and six others were executed on the same day, and a portion of their cremated remains were spirited away by sympathetic Japanese observers who eventually buried the ashes in 1960 at a “grave of the seven martyrs” on Mt. Sangane in Aichi Prefecture.  Tōjō is also memorialized at Tokyo’s Yasukuni Shrine, one of 14 Class A war criminals (that is, a “crime against peace”) whose souls are honored in the Shinto shrine.  State visits to the shrine have continually been the source of tension to those who see the shrine as a symbol of Japanese wartime aggression, the nation’s post-war disinterest in critical heritage, and an unapologetic right-wing Japanese victimhood narrative.

Wholesale removal of Nazi landscapes is practically impossible, but there have been consistent efforts to efface the mortal remains of war criminals and ideological martyrs.  Nazi graves that had revered symbolic status during the war were instantly destroyed or had their party symbols removed at war’s end.  For instance, in December, 1926 Horst Wessel joined the National Socialist German Workers’ Party and the paramilitary Sturmabteilung (also known as the SA or the “brownshirts”).  During the formative years of the party, Wessel worked closely with the Berlin regional party leader, Joseph Goebbels.  In January, 1930 Wessel was murdered by a Communist party member, and after his death Wessel’s Berlin gravesite became the scene of Nazi propaganda events.  After the war, Wessel’s grave was defaced to remove its party references, and his body may also have been removed (the final remnants of the memorial, which also marked his father’s grave, were finally removed in 2013).  Nevertheless, visitors to the former burial site continue to leave flowers, its effacement insufficient to erase the symbolism of the place.

Reinhard Heydrich's burial memorial was removed after the war.

Reinhard Heydrich’s burial memorial was removed after the war.

Likewise, Berlin’s Invalid Cemetery (Invalidenfriedhof) lay in East Berlin along the Berlin Wall, and over a third of the post-1748 military cemetery was destroyed in the immediate wake of the war for guard tower and road access construction.  Among the wartime burials in the cemetery was SS-Obergruppenführer Reinhard Heydrich, who chaired the 1942 Wannsee Conference that articulated the concrete plans for the “Final Solution” for Jewish genocide.  Reich-Protector of Bohemia and Moravia (now the Czech Republic), Heydrich was attacked in Prague in May, 1942 and died a week later.  Heydrich was accorded a lavish funeral in Prague and then buried in a second ceremony in Berlin, where Himmler delivered the eulogy at a funeral at which Hitler presented Heydrich with the German Order, the highest award of the Third Reich.  Heydrich was buried in the Invalids Cemetery, but the war ended before an impressive memorial by Nazi sculptor Arno Breker and architect Wilhelm Kreis could be constructed.  The exact location of Heydrich’s grave is not clearly documented, and there is suggestive evidence that Heydrich’s remains were removed at war’s end by his widow.  Yet as at Wessel’s grave, neo-Nazis continue to herald Heydrich’s ideological zealotry for the Nazi cause and leave flowers and offerings at the grave site.

The abhorrent dead are defined by their death in service to an evil cause that we worry will live on or be revived after their deaths.  That may distinguish the likes of Timothy McVeigh, Reinhard Heydrich, and the San Bernadino murderers from Jeffrey Dahmer, whose reprehensible acts were driven by mental illness rather than ideology (Dahmer’s cremated remains were divided between his parents).  All of these figures capture our attention because they did unimaginable things, and effacing their bodies attempts to deny them the dignity and mourning we theoretically accord to even our most humble peer.

Dark tourism acknowledges our fascination with the concrete sites of perpetration, like Wannsee, the Nuremberg rally grounds, or concentration camps.  However, it somewhat uneasily views the literal bodies of perpetrators because acknowledging their humanity hazards failing to distinguish between perpetrators and victims.  The corporeal remains of such figures risks separating them from their victims, providing a place for mourning an evil person in ways that humanize them outside the unimaginable acts that now define them.  Effacing these graves or denying evil people identifiable burials does not efface them from heritage or even from material space, but it aspires to place them beyond the pale of place and separate their bodies and acts from our own.



Ken Butigan

2003 Pilgrimage Through a Burning World: Spiritual Practice and Nonviolent Protest at the Nevada Test Site.  SUNY Press, Albany.


Jose Eduardo de Andrade Chemin Filho

2011 Pilgrimage in a Secular Age: Religious & Consumer Landscapes of Late–Modernity.  PhD dissertation, University of Exeter.


John Lennon and Malcolm Foley

2000 Dark Tourism: The Attraction of Death and Disaster.  Thomson, London.


Peter Jan Margry

2008 The Pilgrimage to Jim Morison’s Grave at Pere Lachaise Cemetery: The Social Construction of Sacred Space.  In Shrines and Pilgrimage in the Modern World: New Itineraries Into the Sacred, edited by Peter Jan Margry, pp.143-171.  Amsterdam University Press, Amsterdam.


Sharon Macdonald

2009 Difficult Heritage: Negotiating the Nazi Past in Nuremberg and Beyond.  Routledge, New York.


Mike M. Mochizuki

2010 The Yasukuni Shrine Conundrum: Japan’s Contested Identity and Memory.  In Northeast Asia’s Difficult Past: Essays in Collective Memory, edited by Mikyoung Kim and Barry Schwartz, pp.31-52.  Palgrave Macmillan, New York.


Yuki Miyamoto

2011 Beyond the Mushroom Cloud: Commemoration, Religion, and Responsibility after Hiroshima.  Fordham University Press, New York.


A.V. Seaton

1996 Guided by the dark: From thanatopsis to thanatourism.  International Journal of Heritage Studies 2:4, 234-244.  (subscription access)


Daniel Siemens

2013 The Making of a Nazi Hero: The Murder and Myth of Horst Wessel.  I.B.Tauris, London.


Philip R. Stone

2006 A dark tourism spectrum: Towards a typology of death and macabre related tourist sites, attractions and exhibitionsTourism 54(2):145-160.


Spandau Demolition image from Bauamt Süd, Einofski – Herr Einofski wikipedia

Yasukuni Kamizake Memorial image from Takashi Ueki  wikipedia

African-American Heritage in the Post-Renewal City

Bethel AME Church

Bethel AME Church

In the wake of World War II planners, developers, and elected officials spearheaded urban renewal projects that transformed Indianapolis, Indiana’s material landscape and depopulated its central core.  Yet over the last 20 years the descendants of those ideologues have been gradually repopulating the Indiana capital city’s core and constructing a historicized landscape on the ruins of the post-renewal city.  A relatively similar story could be told in nearly all of postwar America, where urban renewal, the “war on poverty,” and a host of local schemes displaced legions of poor and working-class people.  Some creatively re-purposed structures have survived urban renewal in Indianapolis, but much of the near-Westside’s historical landscape has been erased, remains under fire, or only survives in radically new forms.  It may be pragmatic (or unavoidable) to accept such a transformation of the historical landscape, but urban renewal’s material effacement of the African-American near-Westside—and the way it is now reconstructed or evoked on the contemporary landscape–inevitably will transform how that heritage is experienced.

The Bethel AME interior features a massive pipe organ.

The Bethel AME interior features a massive pipe organ.

The most recent target in Indianapolis is Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church, which has sat on West Vermont Street since the congregation purchased the lot in 1869.  The congregation’s origins in Indianapolis reach to 1836, and the church members were vocal abolition supporters and orchestrated movement through Indianapolis on the Underground Railroad.  Bethel was among the African-American city’s most prominent institutions, hosting myriad people for worship, leisure, education, and activism alike: in 1870, residents gathered in the church to celebrate the passing of the 15th Amendment (securing African-American voting rights); in 1904 the first meeting of Indiana’s Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs was held at Bethel; in 1926 African Americans gathered at Bethel to protest a wave of segregation laws reaching from racist neighborhood covenants to high school segregation; and neighborhood residents gathered at Bethel throughout the civil rights movement. Read the rest of this entry

Race and the River: Swimming, Sewers, and Segregation

Belmont Beach Aug 8 1936

In August 1936 the Indianapolis Recorder included these images of the newly opened Belmont Park beach.

Last week Indianapolis’ tourism agency Visit Indy proposed building a beach along the White River, the waterway that meanders through the heart of Indiana’s capital city.  The idea modeled on temporary beaches in Paris (where swimming is not allowed in the Seine) was greeted with some skepticism: today, much of the river has a well-deserved reputation for pollution reaching back over the last century.  The river and its urban tributaries have long been fouled by combined sewer overflows, industrial discharges, and upriver farm wastes, and many stretches of the river are inaccessible and unappealing.  The Indianapolis press seem unable to imagine the White River as a tourist spot with something akin to a beach, but the river has a rich history of waterfront leisure that has included beaches from Ravenswood and Broad Ripple south to the edges of present-day downtown.  Some of the most polluted stretches of the White River also wind through predominately African-American neighborhoods and attest to how segregation shaped African Americans’ experience of the river.

In 1916 the Indianapolis News delivered an alarming report that the White River from Washington Street south “is devoid of natural fish life and birds.”  Below the West Washington Street bridge the State Board of Health’s John C. Diggs pronounced the river “a malodorous, septic stream, bearing on its surface floating matter of sewage origin,” concluding that the river “was of the same character as ordinary household sewage.”  Two years before he told the American Chemical Society conference that “White River is a comparatively small stream, yet it is used as a source of public water supply and sewage disposal for over 300,000 people.”  The 1916 study had already recognized that certain stretches of the river were more polluted than others.  At Broad Ripple “the river is free from floating matter or objectionable odor”; at Crow’s Nest just south of Broad Ripple “water is clear, free from floating matter”; and at Emrichsville Bridge (just south of the present-day 16th Street Bridge) the “water is clean but has a slightly weedy odor.” However, the African-American near Westside lay directly north of the industrial pollution wreaked by companies like the Kingan and Company meat packing plant, near which “the surface is a black scum” and “bubbles of gas rise to the surface.”  Their neighbors Van Camps were responsible for “pieces of tomatoes…on the surface of the water.” Read the rest of this entry

The Archaeology of Nothing: Grand Challenges and Everyday Life

Seinfeld and the "Grand Challenges" project both illuminate how we narrate human experience.

Seinfeld and the “Grand Challenges” project both illuminate how we narrate human experience.

In 2014 a panel of 25 senior scholars developed an ambitious array of “grand challenges” for archaeology (PDF), the “most important scientific challenges” that the discipline could or should address.  Their report published in American Antiquity includes a host of fascinating if astoundingly broad subjects that confidently aspire to structure how archaeologists frame a grand narrative for the archaeological past.

This month archaeology bloggers are examining the “grand challenges” in their own corners of the discipline, many of which are not addressed by the American Antiquity paper (see the hashtag #blogarch).  Inevitably such an ambitious project cannot hope to address all the questions that matter to various scholars and public constituencies, so bloggers are suggesting some questions that remain outside the panel’s grand challenges.

Much of the NSF project was greeted by a chorus complaining that the respondents to the paper’s “crowd-sourced” online surveys was demographically problematic: 79% of the respondents were from the United States; two-thirds were age 50 or older; and 62% of the respondents were male.  Observers dissatisfied with the grand challenges in the American Antiquity paper argued that the questions reflected the survey respondents and scholars who authored the final “big picture” research questions (compare Diggin’ It and SEAC Underground). Read the rest of this entry

Repressing Repugnant Heritage: Place, Race, and Memory in Shockoe Bottom

lumpkin-jail dig

Excavations at Lumpkin’s Jail in Shockoe Bottom (image James River Institute for Archaeology)

Richmond, Virginia’s Shockoe Bottom is on first glance a prosaic if not unappealing void.  The checkerboard of parking lots and deteriorating buildings became home to a farmer’s market along Shockoe Creek in the 18th century: the core of Richmond’s earliest urban plan, Shockoe Bottom’s 17th Street marketplace was ringed by food wholesalers, Tobacco Row warehouses, restaurants, manufacturing, Main Street Station, and residences, including the city’s oldest surviving structure, the circa 1740 Old Stone House now home to the Edgar Allen Poe Museum.  But much of the farmer’s market business has declined and food wholesaling transformed since World War II; in 1958 the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike (Interstate 95) sliced through the middle of Shockoe Bottom; the cigarette companies abandoned Tobacco Row in the 1970s; and most trains stopped running in 1975. Read the rest of this entry

Silence and Civility at the Talking Wall: Race and Public Art

The December 18, 2015 dedication of Talking Wall (image from author).

The December 18, 2015 dedication of Talking Wall.

This week artist Bernard WilliamsTalking Wall was installed on Indianapolis’ Cultural Trail.  Williams’ work sits along Blackford Street on the IUPUI campus, sandwiched between two parking decks in the midst of what was once an African-American neighborhood.  Talking Wall collects a series of symbols representing that African-American heritage, emerging after a long discussion over African-American public art stewarded by the Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF), Arts Council of Indianapolis (ACI), and the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee (GIPC).  On an otherwise non-descript stretch of the trail the work aspires to illuminate African-American heritage and evoke a historical landscape lost to most people’s memory.  For a piece that ambitiously celebrates its aspiration to promote conversation, though, it remains somewhat unclear exactly what sort of discussions a phalanx of planners hope to secure from Talking WallTalking Wall emerged from a tortured ethnographic failure of planners to fathom African Americans’ investment in public artistic representations of African America.  That failure and the subsequent effort to cast the subsequent Talking Wall community art project as reconciliation and civil discussion may frame a more interesting insight into privilege and the color line than any artwork. Read the rest of this entry

Manufacturing Heritage: History-Making at Trump National

The "River of Blood" marker at Trump National.

The “River of Blood” marker at Trump National.

Last week a stirring Civil War memorial in Sterling, Virginia was ridiculed for its commemoration of a Potomac River engagement known as “the river of blood.”  The gorgeous riverside site on the Trump National Golf Club was dramatically remodeled after Donald Trump purchased the former Lowes Island Club in 2009.  Part of that remodeling included the placement of a war memorial between the 14th and 15th holes commemorating a slaughter of “many great Americans, both of the North and South” whose blood reputedly turned the Potomac crimson.  The plaque at the bottom of a flagpole exclaims “It is my great honor to have preserved this important section of the Potomac River!–Donald John Trump.”

Northern Virginia has a rich landscape of Civil War sites, and the memorial to Civil War dead is perhaps earnest, but there is no evidence that such a battle occurred along the shores of the present-day Trump course.  When Trump was challenged this month over the details of this otherwise undocumented battle, he replied with characteristic arrogance that the location “was a prime site for river crossings.  So, if people are crossing the river, and you happen to be in a civil war, I would say that people were shot—a lot of them.”  When pressed that he had manufactured a historical event, Trump dismissed demands for scholarly verification: “Write your story the way you want to write it.  You don’t have to talk to anybody.  It doesn’t make any difference.  But many people were shot.  It makes sense.”  Faced with scholars’ challenges, Trump protested ““How would they know that?  Were they there?” Read the rest of this entry

Imagining Holiday Odors

Our memories and experiences of the holidays are profoundly accented by scent: the fragrance of baking cookies, the pungent scent of pine trees, and the distinctive whiff of our family members’ homes are among many peoples’ strongest sensory memories.  Marcel Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past described a rush of “involuntary memory” incited by the scent and taste of a madeleine, painting a picture of sensations that provoke emotionally rich recollections.  Countless web pages provide directions for simmering water jars, stove top concoctions, and homemade potpourri that will make your home smell like a Yuletide wonderland.  For those of us too impatient to boil star anise, orange slices, and cinnamon sticks, an enormous industry caters to consumers’ sensory imagination, selling us smells that fortify our own clouds of pumpkin pie and turkey: numerous marketers hawk familiar scents like evergreen or vanilla, but many like American mall behemoth Yankee Candle sell fantasy scents, with Angel’s Wings, Cozy by the Fire, Winter Glow, and Cat’s Whiskers among its 2015 holiday fragrances.

Poo-Pourri promises to leave your toilet smelling like a mountain valley awash in flowers.

Poo-Pourri promises to leave your toilet smelling like a mountain valley awash in flowers.

Christmas is an especially lucrative time of year to sell scents.  In 2012 Yankee Candle’s European Managing Director championed holiday scents when he said “imagine Christmas without all the wonderful scents it comes with, and you’ll understand why home fragrance is so important at this time of year.”  Perhaps the most distinctive entrant in the holiday consumer scentscape is the Poo-Pourri toilet spray.  Poo-Pourri has sold over 10 million bottles of its’ “before you go” toilet spray, which promises that its natural oils will eliminate your foul bathroom cloud before it becomes part of your Yuletide sensory memories.   Poo-Pourri concedes that the fragrances of the holidays inevitably include the unavoidable intestinal impact of Grandma’s butter-laden sweet potatoes.  The toilet spray’s elevated holiday sales suggest that at least some of us are self-conscious that our young relatives’ memories of Christmas fragrances will involve pine trees, Yankee Candle vanilla, and the unmistakable post-digestive cloud that will forever be associated with you.  Rather than have your friends and family remember you as a malodorous Chewbacca, Poo-Pourri promises you’ll instead be associated with the English garden scent you always left in the holiday potty. Read the rest of this entry

Concealing Anxiety: Advertising Period Underwear

One of the THINX ads that was apparently rejected for its public use of the term "period."

One of the THINX ads that was apparently rejected for its public use of the term “period.”

Perhaps no bodily function inspires as much public awkwardness as menstruation.  A host of consumer goods have long promised to resolve a pantheon of discretely acknowledged bodily realities like body odor, belching, acne, farting, bad breath, and bowel practices, and the success of such products is measured by their very invisibility: that is, nobody cares about your deodorant until you smell foul, we have little to say about toilet paper unless it inflicts injury,  and tampon failures are discussed in only the most delicate company (or reddit).  The market for such personal hygiene products extends back over more than a century, and it is enormously profitable: for instance, in 2014 the ten leading American deodorant brands accounted for $1.06 billion in sales. Read the rest of this entry

“Our Succulent Middle Class”: African-American Country Clubs and the Black Bourgeoisie

Sportsmans Golf July 18 1970

In July, 1970 Sportsman’s Club supporter and pro football player Leroy Kelly joined a group of golfers at the club’s nine-hole course.

In April, 1969 James Saint Clair Gibson reported on the opening of the Sportsman’s Club, a country club being built by African-American investors in the city’s northwestern suburbs.  Gibson contributed columns to the Indianapolis Recorder from 1936 until his death in 1978, often writing under his pen name of “The Saint” and dispensing acerbic commentary about life in African-American Indianapolis.  Gibson’s report on the Sportsman’s Club  inventoried its promised offerings of swimming pools, tennis courts, and golf links, but Gibson could not pass up a comment on the club’s apparent exclusivity, observing that memberships cost “$$$$ (hundreds) per year, and according to what we hear—they are being gobbled up right and left by our succulent (?) middle-class.”

The Sportsman’s Club aspired to provide a cross-class, multiethnic social club.  However, Gibson perhaps captured his readership’s wariness of exclusive country clubs, which were segregated along class lines and had historically been places where African Americans performed service labor.  The caricature of White hyper-wealthy clubs may have made the notion of a predominately Black club seem especially archaic at a moment when many once-segregated citizen rights were being transformed.  Perhaps the most unsettling implication was that the club illuminated the reaches of American life that remained utterly segregated.  Country clubs would indeed be one of the last bastions of segregation long after other spaces and citizen rights were effectively integrated. Read the rest of this entry


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