Published: 16:00, October 16, 2023 | Updated: 18:19, October 16, 2023
Mummified Pennsylvania man identified and buried after 128 years on display
By Reuters

People look at a headstone for 'Stoneman Willie' (James Murphy), during his funeral service in Reading, Pennsylvania, on Oct 7, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

READING, Pennsylvania - A leather-skinned mummified man lying in an open coffin in Reading, Pennsylvania, known only as "Stoneman Willie” to the public got two things Saturday he went without for 128 years - a burial and his real name.

Dressed in a period tuxedo, his generations-long public afterlife as the stuff of city lore and ghost stories ended when he was introduced to the world as James Murphy of New York at a funeral in Reading.

A group of funeral home employees and well-wishers, said in unison, "Rest in peace, James," as they unveiled his tombstone, with his real name in small letters below large type reading, "Stoneman Willie."

His send-off included a colorful procession with a motorcycle hearse carrying his casket.

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James Stilianos holds his hat over his heart as he visits the body of 'Stoneman Willie', a jailed thief that died in a Pennsylvania prison in 1895 and was accidentally mummified by undertakers, lies on display at the local funeral home that has been his resting place for 128 years in Reading, Pennsylvania on Oct 6, 2023. (PHOTO / AFP)

Murphy was of Irish descent, an alcoholic, and was in Reading at a firefighters' convention when he died in the local jailhouse of kidney failure on Nov. 19, 1895, said Kyle Blankenbiller, the director of the Theo C. Auman Inc. Funeral Home where Murphy's remains had resided.

The once unidentified man was in jail accused of being a thief, and he was accidentally mummified by a mortician experimenting with new embalming techniques

Blankenbiller said at the funeral that Murphy’s real name was known to the original Theo Auman, director of the funeral home in 1895. Murphy’s real name had been passed down within the funeral home over the past 128 years, but it was not until the latest decision to give him a proper burial that the research was done to conclusively confirm his identity as James Murphy.

The once unidentified man was in jail accused of being a thief, and he was accidentally mummified by a mortician experimenting with new embalming techniques.

Local officials were unable to locate relatives, said local historian George Meiser.

"Weeks passed, months passed, years passed and no one claimed the remains," Meiser said at the service.

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It took some historic sleuthing by local historians to unearth his real name through records from the prison, funeral home and other documents to find the truth.

The funeral home was eventually granted permission by the state to keep the body instead of burying it to monitor the experimental embalming process.

He got his nickname Stoneman from his hard-as-stone leathery skin.

Pastor Robert Whitmire told the gatherers that to those who may have known him, "Stoneman one time may have been a beloved friend and family member."