Noted Mortician Highlights Lighter Side of "The Death Business"
New Book Chronicles Weird, Strange, and Hilarious Anecdotes from the Man Who Buried The Boston Marathon Bomber
WORCESTER, MA, August 10, 2022 -- A nudist wake. A vampire trying to put his sister's soul to rest. An employee who brushed his teeth with hemorrhoid cream.
Doesn't sound like a typical day's events – unless you were Peter Stefan, former owner of Graham Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester, MA. Stefan experienced all of these strange occurrences and much more. And before he passed away in March 2022, Stefan had chronicled a book full of these unusual and flat-out hilarious episodes in "Mumblings of a Mortician" (Amazon, $19.99).
The book was written by Art Sesnovich and Frank Quaglia, Massachusetts-based writers and close friends of Stefan. A couple of years ago, Stefan approached both men to see if they were interested in helping him compile his most interesting stories – all of them true. The motivation was evident.
"Between families and friends of the deceased, employees, even the deceased themselves, I've experienced some of the weirdest burials, rituals, special requests, and encounters you can imagine," Stefan said, shortly before his death. "And some of the people I've met you couldn't possibly make up; no one would believe they were real.
"When you've been in the 'death business' as long as I have, there's almost nothing you haven't seen. And then, the next day, you see something else."
Sesnovich said, "When we started the project I thought, 'How many really good stories will this guy have? A couple of dozen, at most? Turns out he had enough stories for two books. The hardest part was deciding which stories to cut."
Quaglia concurred. "Believe me, we left some crazy stories on the cutting room floor."
There was the time Stefan went to pick up a body and in the room was a 13-foot boa constrictor to contend with. There was the remorseful man who asked to be cremated upon his death and his ashes spread on icy sidewalks in the winter so he could "finally do something good with his life." Or the 600-pound man who wanted to be cremated but could only be burned for a few minutes at a time because his body fat was causing a raging chimney fire at the crematory.
Stefan was already somewhat of a local celebrity, gaining a reputation as the man who would bury anyone – especially those with no money for funerals.
"He would never turn someone away because they couldn't pay," Quaglia noted. "He believed everyone – regardless of financial circumstances – deserved a proper burial. And he often lost money doing it, since the stipend that the state provides for indigent funerals does not cover the full cost."
He would even bury people who had committed heinous crimes, much to the anger of the general public. In fact, his local celebrity became international when he stepped forward to bury Tamerlan Tsarnaev, one of the two Boston Marathon Bombers. Killed during a shootout with police after being run over by his brother Dzhokhar in a getaway attempt, Tamerlan was denied burial by every funeral director who was contacted – except Stefan.
While some people supported Stefan's actions, many felt that Tamerlan did not deserve the dignity of a proper burial. Protesters staged demonstrations outside Stefan's office for days. Death threats came in regularly. Stefan's response? "I'm in no position to judge who deserves a burial and who doesn't. I'm a mortician. I bury people. This is what I do."
And rather than complain about the protesters, he bought them pizza. "Hey, they were hungry," he said, in typical deadpan fashion.
Stefan's humanity was not always rewarded. He took a parrot from one man for his services, only to discover that the bird swore like a drunken sailor. He accepted payment from one customer in pennies, which took him and his staff three days to roll. He even adopted a monkey named Bixby so it wouldn't be put down. To show his gratitude, Bixby would urinate on Stefan every chance he got – without projecting a drop on any other family member.
"I guess I should consider myself lucky," Stefan said at the time. "A lot of monkeys throw their feces."
Most funeral directors have some strange stories to tell, but it's doubtful that anyone had more than Stefan. "Peter had a distinctive personality with a way of making every day interesting," Sesnovich noted. "Add to that his unique clientele, and sparks were bound to fly."
Readers of "Mumblings of a Mortician" must agree, as over 80% of the reviewers on Amazon have given it a four- or five-star rating.
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Contact InformationArthur Sesnovich
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