Death Salon Mutter Museum & Beyond

Death Salon: Mütter Museum on October 4-6, 2015. Photo by Scott Troyan.

Death Salon: Mütter Museum on October 4-6, 2015. Photo by Scott Troyan.

Like Rip Van Winkle, we’re rubbing our eyes, yawning, blinking into the sun after a long slumber. Could Death Salon Mütter Museum really have been a whole month ago? Was it all just some wonderful dream? Storify or it didn’t happen. Ah…there it is. Now that we’ve established its existence, let’s look back on the beautiful dream that was our fifth Death Salon.

The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia is a place that our director Megan Rosenbloom frequently refers to as “the happiest place on earth.” We’re confident that the Death Salon attendees now know what she means. This gorgeous 19th century medical pathology museum is unrivaled in the United States for its unique collections housed in a cozy brass and wood museum setting. We deathlings were so lucky to be able to invade its walls for a few days in October 2015, as there is no better place to contemplate our mortality than this one.

Evi Numen discussing body snatching in Pennsylvania in the 1860s. Photo by Scott Troyan.

Evi Numen discussing body snatching in Pennsylvania in the 1860s. Photo by Scott Troyan.

The Medical Gaze

Though this Death Salon was just as varied as those that have preceded it, the programming particularly lent itself to an exploration of the interstices of death and medicine. One moment medical examiner Marianne Hamel laid bare the differences between television depictions of medical examiner work and real life. The next, Dr. Erin Lockard revealed the frustrations that even doctors themselves face when managing the end-of-life care of their relatives. Christine Colby gave instructions for protecting trans people in death, and Mütter Director Robert Hicks held a fascinating discussion about women’s bodies through “the medical gaze” of medical education. DS:MM co-curators Anna Dhody and Megan Rosenbloom also debuted their team’s anthropodermic book project and allowed visitors to see the Mütter’s collection of five of those confirmed human skin books –the largest confirmed collection in the world thus far. These talks represent just the tip of the iceberg of the incredible breadth of knowledge shared and touching personal moments that made this Death Salon the most special in our eyes.

vippartyAin’t We Got Fun

Though our amazing speakers’ lectures are a huge part of the Death Salon experience, there was so much more going on this time around as well. Sunday before the main event, Atlas Obscura led an illuminating tour of Philadelphia’s 18th century cemeteries, and that night we donned our haute macabre finery and had a VIP Death Ball featuring the beautiful theremin and string quartet The Divine Hand Ensemble performing 16th century funerary music intended to be played only for the dead. (Proceeds from that event went to benefit the local Penn Wissahickon Hospice.) Monday evening brought us back to the Mütter Museum under dark of night for behind-the-scenes museum tours and an introduction to the folk music tradition of murder ballads, along with a stellar performance by Rosie Guerin & J. Tom Hnatow of Vandaveer, joined by Justin Craig, fresh off of his epic stintin Hedwig and the Angry Inch on Broadway. The dobro and singing warmed up the hall, made warmer by the addition of a special pale ale made just for us by Barren Hill Brewery that was infused with rosemary from the medicinal garden there. WHYY caught a glimpse of the performance here:

After the official festivities on Tuesday night, we gathered at a historic bar for a Death Quizzo pub trivia hosted by Caitlin Doughty, Anna Dhody, and Megan Rosenbloom who peppered teams of deathlings with trivia about general death, the Mütter collections, and death in Philadelphia respectively. We were also honored to have more than a dozen amazing artists and craftspeople vending their wares at our first ever Dark Artisans’ Bazaar, which was an incredible treat for all, even if we put a hurt on our wallets in the process.

Overall we couldn’t be happier with the way that Death Salon Mütter Museum came together, thanks to all of our amazing partners at the Mütter as well as our speakers, artists, volunteers, and most importantly, all the attendees. This Death Salon received great acclaim from its attendees and also in the press by outlets like WHYY’s The Pulse and Philadelphia City Paper among others. Thanks to everyone who shared this great experience in the City of Brotherly Love with us.

Houston, Texas by Patrick Burke via Creative Commons license.

Houston, Texas by Patrick Burke via Creative Commons license.

Death Salon Film Festival in Houston, Texas

Never ones to rest on our laurels (or rest, period), we’ve already opened short film submissions for our next Death Salon event, our first ever film festival, which we’re holding at the Aurora Picture Show in Houston, Texas. This is a great opportunity for us to hear from the talented deathlings out there who are making film, or the talented filmmakers out there tackling death as a subject in some way. We’ll take submissions until July, they’ll be juried by Order members and Aurora folk, then we’ll pick the best ones to screen on September 24, 2016 in Texas. We’ll also be giving a Juror’s Award and an Audience Award. We’ve got our popcorn ready, deathlings. Let’s see what you’ve got.

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Death Salon: San Francisco videos are LIVE

Yes, yes, we know we already wrote you this week. We just can’t quit you. It’s just that when we said we’d have videos available from Death Salon: San Francisco soon, and then they were ready sooner than we thought, well, we just had to share.

For the first time, we’re offering videos of our Death Salon talks — almost 4 hours worth of lectures — to you deathlings the world over. We know a lot of you who’d like to come to a Death Salon haven’t been able to get out to one yet, so we hope these will help tide you over until we can do a Death Salon near you. Or maybe you just want to relive all the death positive magic. We know we enjoyed watching these talks again.

So here’s how it works: You pay $15 and then you can access all the content for as long as you want, and watch as many times as you want, until you up and die. The fee will go towards making it financially possible for us to continue putting on future Death Salon events. Anything we make goes right back into all the logistics that go into putting on events in different cities around the world. You can see a description of the full day’s of DS:SF’s content here. (We have videos of everything except for Cara Rose DeFabio’s performance piece and the Paa Joe & The Lion film clip, for copyright reasons). You can purchase access in our store and you will be emailed your access info within 24 hours.

Edited to add: there was a glitch in the store’s system that charges shipping when we set it not to, we’re trying to get the matter resolved but in the meantime if you order we will refund that portion of your payment.

Our videographer Bruno Huerta edited the videos so you can see the speaker and their slides at the same time (technology!) and there are some kind of funny, only at a live event things that happen (damn you Blue Angels!) but nothing so bad as to detract from the content of the talks. Spoiler alert: there was a wee bit of some unexpected excitement at the beginning of my talk. (Watch your step, deathlings.)

To whet your whistle, below is a video of our mortician Caitlin Doughty welcoming everyone to Death Salon: SF.

We love putting together these events for you, thanks so much for helping us continue to do that.

True ’til death,
— Megan Rosenbloom
Director, Death Salon

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Death Salon 2015 Events & Other News

Artist David Orr speaking at Death Salon: San Francisco. Photo by Annetta Black

Artist David Orr speaking at Death Salon: San Francisco. Photo by Annetta Black

In October we held our first one-day only event, Death Salon: San Francisco. The sold-out crowd had a great time learning from our speakers all day (when the Blue Angels were not trying to drown them out with their sonic booms…stop trying to silence the death revolution, Blue Angels, you cannot win!) The event was co-curated by the unsinkable Annetta Black, who runs her own amazing and far more frequent salon in San Francisco called Odd Salon. The Bay Area deathling community overlaps with some amazing other curious likeminded individuals, like fans of Odd Salon, The Body Appropriate, The Bone Room, and The Long Now. After a long day of diverse death talks, the great comraderie of the day left us feeling all warm and fuzzy, basking in the glow of all those death positive folks.

Performance artist Cara Rose DeFabio performing at Death Salon: SF. Photo by Annetta Black

Performance artist Cara Rose DeFabio performing at Death Salon: SF. Photo by Annetta Black

You can see how the full day went down on our Storify, but we’ll do you one better: for the first time ever we’ll have full videos available of the lectures at Death Salon: San Francisco – more than 6 hours worth of content – for a small fee that’ll go towards us putting on future events. The videos are almost ready to go, we should have them available this month. We went to the trouble to film the event and edit it all pretty-like (thanks Bruno) for all of you deathlings who haven’t been able to make it to a Death Salon yet, so you can hopefully enjoy the talks and get a feel for the Death Salon experience until we’re able to come to your town.

OK enough about the past, it is time to look to the future of Death Salon, and the future is looking rather exciting.


It has been so hard keeping the news about our 2015 events under wraps because we are completely floored about having two such distinguished partners for our next events. In conjunction with an incredible exhibition of ancient funeral vases, we’ll be doing a one-day Death Salon at the Getty Villa on April 26, where we compare and contrast ancient death practices to the contemporary ones we see in today’s Los Angeles. We’ve got a positively star-studded line up of writers, comedians, musicians, art historians, and Death Salon all-stars — tickets and the full lineup will be available in the next few weeks. We can’t wait to show you what we’ve got up our sleeves. We can scarcely believe it ourselves. We can’t give it all away yet, but if you’re signed up for our email list, you’ll always be the first to know.

Then in the fall, we’ll be joining forces with one of the most groundbreaking deathspaces in the United States for Death Salon at the Mütter Museum. This medical oddities museum in Philadelphia should be on your list of places to go before you die anyway, but we can already promise you that Death Salon: Mütter Museum attendees will get rare access to their collections and the amazing curators who work with them. Also you deathlings said how much you loved our handpicked macabre vendors at DS:SF, so we’ll have an expanded shop of local artisans at DS:MM. Also: Death Quizzo. Aw yeah.

In other news, you all seem to be enjoying the pins and tote bags at the Death Salon/ Order of the Good Death online store, so thanks so much for supporting what we do. If it wasn’t for your pitching in by attending events and buying merch, we’d never be able to pull of the kind of events you’ve come to expect from us in cities all over the world. You told us you want t-shirts, and we heard you loud and clear. They’re coming, and soon. We’ve got some creative looks from our resident design goddess at andshedesigns that we think you’ll flip over.

Whew this is a lot of news for one little post! We promise to update more frequently, because, well, there’s just so much to update you on. In the immortal words of Penny Lane in Almost Famous, it’s all happening. For an organization that’s just a little over a year old, we are consistently amazed at the supportive community we’ve forged and we cannot wait to bring you all the death positivity in 2015. See you in LA and Philly, deathlings. We hope you’re half as excited as we are.

Love, your Death Salon skeleton crew

Death Salon Social Media Editor Sarah Troop, Co-Founder Caitlin Doughty, Co-Founder & Director Megan Rosenbloom. This photo & background photography by David Orr

Death Salon Social Media Editor Sarah Troop, Co-Founder Caitlin Doughty, Co-Founder & Director Megan Rosenbloom. This photo & background photography by David Orr

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Death Salon: SF tickets now live!

Death Salon: San Francisco

The time has come! We’re so excited to bring our first ever one-day Death Salon event to San Francisco October 11, 2014. Deathlings will be taking over the Fleet Room at the Fort Mason Center. Just like our other Death Salon events, we’ll have speakers and performers from various disciplines informing and entertaining you all day and evening on diverse topics related to the culture of mortality and mourning. There are three ticket options:

Combo ticket for day & night sessions (best price, limited quantity)
Day Session only ticket
Night Session only ticket


Please Note: This event will be filmed, upon purchasing a ticket, you are consenting to being filmed. Questions? Email us at info at deathsalon dot org. Below is the tentative lineup of speakers and performers.


DAY SESSION emceed by Death Salon co-founder, mortician Caitlin Doughty of The Order of the Good Death

Doors at 9am, session begins at 10am

Loren RhoadsWhere Have All the Graveyards Gone: the Pioneer Burial Grounds in San Francisco and the Grave Migration to Colma Beyond the remnants of the Mission Dolores churchyard, the National Cemetery, and the San Francisco Columbarium, relics of San Francisco’s pioneers continue to lie beneath many of the city’s neighborhoods, parks, and museums. If the last of the dead were supposed to have been removed from San Francisco in the 1940s, why do bodies and gravestones keep turning up?

Betsy Trapasso Death Runs in My Family Betsy knew that she was predestined to work in the end-of-life world ever since her mother gave her the nickname “Spooky” when she was only two months old, and it’s stuck with her ever since. She tells the tale of a familial connection to the history of hospice care in the US that showed her working with and advocating for the dying is in her blood as well as in her soul.

Jordan Posamentier, Esq. Why California Should Be the Next State to Pass a Death With Dignity Law & What You Can Do to Help Five states in the nation currently have death with dignity laws on the books, but California is not one of them. Compassion & Choices’ goal is to make aid in dying an open, accessible, and legitimate medical practice for all Californians. Currently, too many Californians suffer needlessly or endure unrelenting pain at the end of life and too many turn to violent means at the end of life when medical aid can help them die peacefully. ​A majority of Californians supports Death with Dignity, ​and Compassion & Choices has a five year grassroots plan to get there. As the boomer generation increasingly faces end-of-life choices, they’re making sure the last great civil rights battle of their lives will be won in our state.

Andrew ChesnutSanta Muerte: The Saint For All Seasons While the mass media in both Mexico and the United States almost exclusively portrays Santa Muerte as a narco-saint,  for most devotees on both sides of the border she is an omnipotent miracle-worker who grants favors far removed from the world of drug trafficking. We’ll explore a few of her most important roles, such as curandera,  love doctor,  and agent of prosperity, in addition to the most recent developments in this the fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.

1-hour lunch break on your own, 12-1pm

Paa Joe & the Lion a Death Salon exclusive clip from the forthcoming feature film documentary chronicling the life of Ghana’s greatest living fantasy coffin maker.

Melissa CooperForensic Facial Reconstruction: Reading the Skull of a 9,000-Year-Old Los Angeles Native While reconstructing a face, the skull holds an impressive amount of clues. I’ll be discussing the techniques used to achieve the final depiction based solely on the skull in addition to the surprising reactions a simple rendering of a face has the power to inflict.  Whether it is to assist in solving a cold-case or to obtain new information about our ancient past, the purpose of these reconstructions all come down to one major common denominator: utilize the given clues to solve a mystery. However, as we all have likely experienced, solving one mystery has the potential to only make the plot thicken.

+ 1 speaker TBA

Rachel JamesTranscending the East vs. West Suicide Paradox: Netting the Bridge and Walling up the Volcano By comparing Mount Mihara and the Golden Gate Bridge, we’ll look at the conflicting ideologies surrounding suicide in Asia and the US, using these popular suicide locations and their prevention solutions in each locale as focal points to examine not only the opposing cultural attitudes, but how they are evolving from opposite sides of the philosophy spectrum and beginning to “meet in the middle” with concern and compassion.

Elizabeth HarperThe Public Corpse: Exploring Death Rituals and the Spaces Dedicated to Them in Rome Death is not the end of the road for Catholics in Italy. Though the public  display of corpses and bones may seem macabre, these traditions illustrate a spiritual and physical journey that begins at death. It’s a journey that takes us through the liminal space between here and the afterlife and between flesh and bone; where the impermanence and even embarrassment of the human body and it’s functions only underscores the permanence and dignity of the soul. In this illustrated talk, we’ll take a virtual walking-tour of Rome through its crypts, purgatorial societies, tombs and shrines and find this message of life hidden in places devoted to death.

Jill Tracy Whispers Behind Glass: After Dark in the Mutter Museum Composer/storyteller Jill Tracy presents songs she composed alone at night inside Philadelphia’s famed Mutter Museum, and spellbinding tales of the collection including Harry Eastlack (The Ossified Man), renowned Siamese Twins Chang and Eng, The Mermaid Baby, and eccentric laryngologist Chevalier Jackson.


Death Salon official banner logo, designed by Jenelle Campbell of

NIGHT SESSION emceed by Death Salon: SF Curators Annetta Black (Odd Salon) and Death Salon director Megan Rosenbloom

Starts promptly at 6pm, ends at 9pm

Cara Rose DeFabioAfter the Tone: Performing Grief through this humorous performance art piece, Cara comments on death in the age of the funeral selfie, with clever insights about the intersection of death and technology.

Beza Merid Stand-up Comedy and the Popular Culture of Cancer This talk will address the popular culture of cancer, and how cultural venues like marches for hope as well as the restrictive languages of illness proliferate the idea that there is a right attitude to survive disease. Beza explores how and where post-diagnosis individuals challenge this idea, and why stand-up comedy is such an apt space to explore anxieties about health, illness, and death.

Annetta Black Dead Soldiers & Utopian Dreams: The Vernian Visions of Dr. Benjamin Lyford, Civil War Embalmer On the battlefields of the divided Union, Dr. Benjamin Lyford was part of a new generation of death professionals, developing new (and secret) techniques for embalming in order to send bodies of fallen soldiers home for burial. Later, he brought his practice here to San Francisco – and across the water in Tiburon, he sought to create “Hygeia”, a health-obsessed Utopian village designed to keep death at bay. Remnants of his legacy speak to the lasting impact of the atrocities of war, the cult of health that sprung up in post-Civil War America, and our evolving relationship with the preservation of the dead.

Paul KoudounarisSex in the Netherworld: Postmortem Erotic Spiritual Encounters Does eroticism survive the grave? The idea that the dead might return to satisfy their carnal desires has historically been considered so uncomfortable that such reports have been hidden way or lampooned as wild delusions. But in fact, such accounts are voluminous, and Dr. Paul Koudounaris will discuss the murky and fascinating history of ghostly sexual encounters.

Megan RosenbloomBooks of the Dead: Death Imagery from the Library Vaults While researching her book in libraries across the U.S. and abroad, Megan has collected examples of interesting death images and objects safely kept in the best research libraries’ special collections. Take a tour of some beautiful and macabre illustrations, photos, and objects that the public rarely get to see.

Sarah Troop Nourishing Death: How the World Honors Death With Food Since ancient eras human beings have incorporated food into their observances of death in diverse and often macabre ways.  We will explore some of these rituals, practices and traditions of the past and present.

Caitlin DoughtySmoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory A gritty behind-the-scenes look at the death industry accompanied by reading from her newly-published memoir: Smoke Gets In Your Eyes & Other Lessons from the Crematory.

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Death Salon UK: A Post-Mortem

It’s hard to believe that in just six short months we could go from our first stab at a Death Salon event to winging to another country to be in this beautiful place.

Death Salon UK at Barts Pathology Museum. Photo by Megan Rosenbloom

Surrounded on all sides by antique pathological specimens in jars, 120 Death Salon UK attendees took in a truly eclectic three-day program, masterfully curated by Barts Pathology curator Carla Valentine. Everything from the psychological effects of corpses on mortuary archaeologists, to the commercialization of Dia de Los Muertos, to the role of CT scanning in post-mortem investigations, to the fascinating Bolivian Skull Festival…the talks spanned disciplines, eras, and continents.

Nick Wheatley's model Necropolis Railway, 'Journey's End." Photo by Megan Rosenbloom

Nick Wheatley’s model inspired by the Necropolis Railway, ‘Journey’s End.’ Photo by Megan Rosenbloom

Much to the delight of the American Death Salon organizers, the program included plenty of local color to teach us about dying the British way. A representative of the NHS walked us through their organ donation process, the proprietor of Clandon Wood waxed poetic about his beautiful natural burial site (the Brits are far ahead of us in this movement), we heard the history behind London’s bygone Necropolis Railway, and had a survey of the past 150 years of British mortuary practice. Our crash course in British death practices culminated in a fascinating two-hour walking tour of the area surrounding Death Salon’s venue called Sinister Smithfield. Fascinating death history was literally around every corner, once we knew where to look.

A stack of old gravestones in Postman's Park. Photo by Megan Rosenbloom

A stack of old gravestones just a-leanin’ against the wall in Postman’s Park. Photo by Megan Rosenbloom

For a full recap of all of the Death Salon programming, attendee Georgina Cronin‘s Storify gives you all you could need: ante-mortem day, peri-mortem day, and post-mortem day. I highly recommend taking a look at the Storifys to get a feel for all of the amazing speakers that presented and the crowd’s reactions to them.

“I usually don’t speak at things like this, but…” was, by far, the most common opening line from the Death Salon UK speakers, regardless of their background. After a few of these assertions, I realized that there’s a very good reason for that…because there aren’t other things like this. The UK press coverage reflects the diversity; how many events get covered simultaneously in The Guardian guide, The Independent, Stylist, Bizarre Magazine, and The Times Higher Education? One speaker early on day one took a walk through the crowd, asking people’s professions. The first four respondents were two pathological technologists, a circus performer, and a death doula. Where a program and audience this varied could lead to incoherence, the attendees overwhelmingly reported having learned something new from a different perspective that could inform their work, their personal lives, or their art. I am really proud to have helped forge that kind of community.

Death Salon co-founder Caitlin Doughty gives a keynote talk at Death Salon UK, April 2014. Photo by Megan Rosenbloom

Death Salon co-founder Caitlin Doughty talks corpses and coming out of the death closet. Photo by Megan Rosenbloom

Coming up on October 11, 2014, we’ve got our very first one-day only event, which we’re calling Death Salon Forum: San Francisco. The details are still coming together, the best way to keep up with our machinations is to sign up for our mailing list. (Got a lead on a sweet SF venue for 100+? Do tell us.) Our big 2015 Death Salon event will be in New York at our beloved Morbid Anatomy Museum. Wanna make sure they’re ready for us? Be a doll and kick in a little in the next week or so. Also coming soon, stuff to buy to help support us. To get all gooey for a second, I hope you all know how much we appreciate your support in so many ways. We can’t wait to bring you more great events like Death Salon UK.

True ’til death,

Megan Rosenbloom

Director, Death Salon

Barts Pathology Museum graciously lifted the prohibition on photography just for us. Photo by Megan Rosenbloom

Barts Pathology Museum graciously lifted the prohibition on photography just for us. Photo by Megan Rosenbloom


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Death Salon Interviews Carla Valentine

In anticipation of Death Salon UK this April, we are finally returning to our series of interviews with the organizers behind Death Salon, starting with our 2014 Co-Chair, Carla ValentineHere you will learn more about each participant’s contributions to the Salon, their own fascinating body of work and more about Death Salon itself.
Tell us about Barts Pathology Museum and the collections there.

Barts Pathology Museum was purpose built in 1879 in a similar design to many medical museums of the time. Eminent doctors and surgeons of St Bartholomew’s Hospital added to the collection of potted specimens over time until it grew to over 5000 pots – the 4th largest collection in the UK. 

The museum’s heyday (in terms of teaching and study) was around the 1920s unit WWII. I think that after the war, people didn’t focus as much on death, and there was a steady decline in usage of the museum right into the 1990s when, post various human-tissue scandals in the press, it became more fashionable to use ‘virtual reality’ to teach the topic.

However, as these things often do, perceptions of the museum have come full circle. In the hands of Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry (part of Queen Mary University of London) the space has undergone a renaissance, particularly since October 31st 2011 when I was appointed the museum’s only full-time member of staff, specifically to repair and conserve the collection. Concurrently with that project I have organised a successful series of evening and weekend events to engage the public, and medical staff and students, with the collection and related topics: history of medicine, literature, art, pathology, anatomy and epidemiology to name a few.

Death Salon UK is one of a long line of unusual events and workshops which I hope will open a public dialogue with a usually clandestine topic.

Can you tell us about your career path that led you to running Barts?
I studied Forensic and Biomolecular Science at University (after taking a year out to work as an embalmer’s assistant and Quality Assurance Scientist). During my studies I approached our local mortuary to ask if I could volunteer (as you do!) because I was already interested in mortuary work and I felt it would supplement my studies (which encompassed toxicology, physical anthropology and more – all things I could learn about in the ‘real world’)

You can only enter mortuary positions full-time in the UK as a trainee and you need to do vocational qualifications once you’ve been employed – places are very rare and competitive. I was therefore very lucky a position opened up during my time volunteering and I never hesitated to apply – I’ve never looked back. Here it takes two years to achieve your Certificate in Anatomical Pathology Technology (CAPT) and then a further two to get your Diploma (DAPT) – the Diploma is necessary to carry out High-Risk work and manage a mortuary and other APT’s.

I enjoyed it immensely but after eight years, feeling like there was nothing left for me to achieve or experience, I applied for the position at Barts which would encompass my love of pathology and anatomy as well as history, art and much more. I got the job and the rest, as they say, is history!


Can you tell us about the academic death community in London? How will this version of Death Salon have a particularly British flair?
In London, there isn’t much of an academic ‘death community’ per se – I’d say it’s actually a lot more artistic and encompasses people like Nikki who created “Art Macabre” death drawing and artists like Eleanor Crook. When I began working with that community to explore cultural aspects of death and mortality I realised two things: 1) Some people still find it difficult to discuss death, even in an environment like the Pathology Museum, and I’ve had to push to show that the events can open up a dialogue which can be built on, and 2) Many of the death academics are actually based at the University of Bath which has a dedicated Centre for Death and Society, so we really needed to bring them to London to show the capital (and therefore the rest of the UK) that’s it’s ok, and in fact necessary, to discuss this issue.

I think the British flair for this event will come from the very rich, very dark history, particularly in London – a city hit by fires, plagues and Jack the Ripper. That history will help to put our modern ‘squeamishness’ about discussing death into context.

What are you most looking forward to about Death Salon UK?

The thing I’m most looking forward to about Death Salon UK is finally getting to meet some of my US counterparts! Twitter is wonderful for fostering friendships but it’s not the same as meeting up and chatting over a beer. It will be wonderful to meet the people I’ve had so much contact and discussion with, and also bring to British shores the more relaxed US culture of discussing mortality and mourning.

To learn more about Carla Valentine visit her website Past Mortems 

Megan Rosenbloom is the co-founder and director of Death Salon. She is a medical librarian who works with history of medicine and rare books and a proud member of The Order of the Good Death. 

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Death Salon LA… and beyond!

I think it’s safe to say that Death Salon LA was a great success. It certainly exceeded this organizer’s expectations. We started off early this year with just a corpse and a dream — to bring The Order of the Good Death members and other likeminded folk together to share ideas and get to know each other. Now I find that my mind is still reeling over the level of talent and artistry we had all in one place, the amount of amazing information conveyed in creative ways, and the potential collaborations that now loom on the horizon. It’s hard to distill everything that took place in one little weekend (and thanks to Aida Manduley I don’t have to try), but I did want to share a few thoughts about Death Salon LA and fill you all in on how we’re moving forward.

Our speakers & performers

Jill Tracy. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

Jill Tracy. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

Death Salon Cabaret host Lord Whimsy & The Grim Reaper. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

Death Salon Cabaret host Lord Whimsy & The Grim Reaper. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

Death Gospel originator Adam Arcuragi. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

Death Gospel originator Adam Arcuragi. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos


Elizabeth Harper at The Steve Allen Theater / Center for Inquiry. Photo by Megan Rosenbloom

Sarah Troop at Death Salon Cabaret. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

Sarah Troop at Death Salon Cabaret. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

I am still pretty flabberghasted at the level of scholarship and creativity we managed to gather into one weekend-long event. All of the talks were stellar but at the same time very different from one another. The music was transcendent. People expressed their creativity in more unexpected ways as well. For instance, Sarah Troop of Nourishing Death  created an elaborate and delicious menu for our party of funerary foods from varied parts of the world and different historical eras. It was quite a spread! (You can see lots of photos of the food and the rest of the events  from the weekend here.) Everytime I turned around, someone was going above and beyond to make the Death Salon experience special for everyone, and it really warmed my black little heart.

Our attendees

Death Salon attendees. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

Death Salon attendees. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

I wish I could come up with a better word for “attendees” because the 30 folks who came from all over the country for the full slate of events did far more than just attend. We really managed to make this an actual salon in the old sense of the word, with people excitedly sharing ideas, planning collaborations, and generally getting to know each other. I know I made a lot of friends that weekend that I am so honored to know now.

I am especially heartened by the reactions of the other kind of attendees — the public who came to our events. In the feature about Death Salon in The Atlantic, I think my favorite part is a quote from a member of the public who came to the Death Salon Cabaret not necessarily even knowing what we were trying to do, and came away with this response:

“This is even cooler than I thought it would be,” said Savannah Dooley, a 28-year-old television writer who professed to have no particular obsession with death. She stumbled upon the Death Salon on Facebook and decided to bring a date. “For someone not comfortable with death, this makes it accessible.”

This budding death acceptance movement, what ever we end up calling it, ultimately lives or dies by the public’s interactions with it. If we can get people to walk away from our events engaging with their own mortality in a healthy and thoughtful way, then I think we’re doing some real good.

With a little help from our friends

Death Salon Soiree locale. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

Death Salon Soiree locale. Photo by Elli Papayanopoulos

Whether it was getting an embalmer friend to infuse some cupcakes for our party, having local vendors sell their macabre wares at our events, getting a local craft beer & soda brewer to make us something special, or asking a friend to let us throw a party at her place, we were helped at every turn by generous friends to help us pull off events with special touches on a non-existent budget. Aside from our partners Atlas Obscura, LA Beer Hop, Los Angeles Ale Works, and all of our wonderful Death Cabaret vendors, everyone involved in this inaugural Death Salon event gave so freely of themselves for the greater good, and I will be eternally grateful to all of them for that. I’m not going to do an “I’d like to thank the Academy” speech because no one would read it, but they all know who they are, and they are legion.

Marching forward


Bart’s Pathology Museum

O deathlings, do we have some news in store for you! We have many plans quickly taking shape for future Death Salons. Going forward we’re going to have two kinds of events… our annual Death Salon, and smaller, 1-day “pop up” events called Death Salon Forum. So far we’re excited to announce that we’re jumping the pond to do Death Salon UK at Bart’s Pathology Museum in London, April 11-13, 2014. The 2015 Death Salon will be in Cleveland at Dittrick Medical Center, and we’re making tentative plans for future years. Meanwhile we’re very excited at the beginning murmurs of our Death Salon Forum San Francisco for around this time in 2014, and we’re even toying with a 2014 Forum event in Seattle. Stay tuned…

Speaking of staying tuned, you all asked and we listened. You heard it here first! We’ve got a mailing list now, and we are still figuring out how to use it so please make like Dorothy Parker and pardon our dust. Sign up, and we’ll keep you posted on the rapidly-changing animal that is Death Salon.

True ’til death,

Megan Rosenbloom,

Director, Death Salon

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Death Salon LA Review From Aida Manduley


I heard about Death Salon LA after avidly consuming tons of posts from The Order of the Good Death website, and immediately told one of my colleagues who shares my fascination with these topics. While we both do work primarily in the field of sexuality, these intersections of death, medicine, and culture are a big interest, and they are slowly entering our professional lives more and more. On my end, I deal a lot with HIV and domestic violence, while she’s working with cancer survivors and has her eye on palliative and hospice care as they relate to patients’ sexual lives. For these reasons (and because we both wanted a vacation!), we booked a trip from Rhode Island to Los Angeles and got ready for a weekend full of intellectual stimulation.

In just one day at Death Salon LA, I learned about demonic semen transfer systems, the mortification of female saints, cadaver saponification, decorated Bolivian and Peruvian skulls that are said to be miraculous, the mummified Capuchin hanging wall friars in Palermo, the democratization of images via post-mortem photography, anthropomorphic taxidermy, anatomical Venuses, St. Bartholomew’s flayed skin that he held as a sash, death cabarets in 20th century Europe, and more. The experience was wonderful and illuminating, and it balanced subjects so there would be something for everyone. The interdisciplinary and multimedia approach was fantastic and catered to a variety of knowledge levels. I feel this event can only get better and I’m terribly excited to see where it goes from here!

Death Salon LA: Friday (Order of the Good Death Day) on Storify


Death Salon LA: Saturday (Morbid Anatomy Day) on Storify


Aida Manduley is the Programming & Development Coordinator for The Center for Sexual Pleasure and Health. She is an advocate, sexuality educator and speaker. Follow her at @neuronbomb 

Photo by Elli Lauren Photography


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Death Salon Interviews Caitlin Doughty

Welcome to another in our series of interviews with the organizers behind Death Salon. Each subject was interviewed by a fellow organizer or event coordinator. Here you will learn more about each participant’s contributions to the Salon, their own fascinating body of work and more about Death Salon itself.

It seems there has been somewhat of a “Death Acceptance” movement developing and gaining momentum this past year. Is this something you have observed and how have things changed since you founded The Order of the Good Death in 2011?

There is absolutely a Death Acceptance movement a’foot.  When the Order of the Good Death started three years ago I was far more hesitant to use words like “movement” because it sounded kind of silly insisting “it’s a movement!  trust me!  c’mon guys! movement!”  Like, really, you and what army, Caitlin?  But as I’ve connected with other people across the world who want to be involved, and have seen an explosion of groups and projects related to death acceptance and engagement, I feel more comfortable saying that it is, in fact, a cultural movement.  A cultural movement that hasn’t even begun to show its true potential, I might add.


Along these lines, you seem to be popping up everywhere lately! Gracing everything from morning talk shows to Penthouse to Jezebel. Does this surprise you? What has it been like for you, being in such high demand to discuss a topic many find uncomfortable and to such varied audiences?

When I started the Order, I never intended to put myself forward as a public figure.  The internet/media world seemed like too scary a place for that.  But I realized pretty quickly that people like other people.  They like someone to deliver the message.  It’s obviously been surprising how well people have responded to talk about death, but at the same time, our culture is so ready for it.  People do find it uncomfortable, but hopefully they can tell that I am sincere, and really do believe that we are better humans when we’re engaged with a sense of our impending mortality.

You have been busy curating a day of talks and presentations for Death Salon. First, for The Order of the Good Death Day, which will in part, focus on the theme of Death and the Feminine, as well as the Death Salon Cabaret, examining The Uncommon Corpse. Could you talk a bit about your experience creating these events and your choice of themes? 

The best part about curating part of an academic death conference is that I was able to ask experts in their field to speak about things I’m fascinated by.  It’s such a selfish thing, really!  It’s like getting all your best dolls together for a tea party. There is everyone from professors, to academics outside the establishment, to funeral professionals, to dominatrixes speaking.  In my opinion the inter-disciplinary approach to these conversations ends up being the most interesting. Death & the Feminine was selected as a panel because of the disproportionate amount of women who work in the death academic field.  What better time to explore it then when many of us are in the same room?  My personal research tends towards the place of the corpse in societies throughout history, so the Uncommon Corpse was curated to reflect the corpses that were not the norm, but the exception that proved the rule in a particular society.

Recently, you mentioned an upcoming project you are creating in collaboration with Jeff Jorgenson, creator of Elemental Cremation & Burial and Death Salon Cabaret presenter. Could you give us a sneak preview here of what you two deathxperts have in store for us? 

Yes! I just returned from Seattle where Jeff & I were filming a webseries called “Is It Legal?” which addresses the questions we’re asked as alternative death practitioners.  For example: “Why can’t I just bury dad in the backyard?”  We drove all over Washington meeting people doing great work around burial, cremation, and memorialization.  Washington, and Seattle specifically, is such a hotbed for people working in new ways of death practice.


Which aspect of Death Salon are you most looking forward to? 

What am I NOT looking forward to? Definitely seeing so many old friends and finally meeting people I’ve known only through the interweb tubes.  All of whom are people who’s work inspires me in the work I’m doing.  I think there is going to be quite a bit learned through the talks and panels, but I think there will be even more learned through the conversations we have during our three days together.  In that sense it will be a traditional salon- an exchange of ideas.

For those Death Salon attendees who are not able to attend all the events and want to explore Los Angeles, could you suggest some deathstinations that might be of interest? 

As far as museums, The Museum of Jurassic Technology and the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles are my favorite.  There is also the Museum of Death in Hollywood (which seems like the natural choice).  I do warn people though, it’s a bit more on the serial killer and cult murder side, a little less on the death history and culture side.  Hollywood Forever Cemetery is the best cemetery visit in LA proper. Celebrity graves, Hollywood history, architecture, and excellent burritos just down the road.


Photo in blue shirt by Lani Trock
With body photo by Darren Blackburn
You can purchase tickets for Death Salon Cabaret here

Sarah Elizabeth Troop has a degree in physics and has studied at The Hertzberg-Davis Forensic Science Center (CSI). She serves as the historian for Linda Vista Hospital and is host of the Cabinet of Curiosities Podcast. Sarah is currently a parapsychology researcher, specializing in survival consciousness and experiences where psi and death are linked and is blogger for Nourishing Death.




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RSVPs now open for USC Mary Roach event October 17

Hello deathlings,

While not a Death Salon event per se, there is a great free event the night before Death Salon in Los Angeles. Death Salon organizer Megan Rosenbloom will be interviewing “America’s funniest science writer” Mary Roach about all of her works as part of a USC Visions & Voices event, Thursday October 17 at 5:30 p.m. For the morbidly minded, Mary’s works Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife might be of particular interest. There will be a display of USC’s rare books related to the subjects of Mary’s books and she will be available for book signing.


The event is free and open to the public, but RSVPs are required and there are limited seats for non-USC affiliates. To RSVP click here.

Just a few weeks until Death Salon LA!

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