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Death Salon: Wiping Away A ‘Sanitized’ View Of Death

BY DANIEL GAITAN | daniel@lifemattersmedia.org

The beauty and grandeur of death is too often “sanitized” by contemporary society. The Death Salon movement intends to reverse that trend and familiarize Americans with death’s historical and artistic legacy, convening artists and academics to explore the meaning of mortality.

DEATHSALONEstablished in 2013 by author and mortician Caitlin Doughty and medical librarian Megan Rosenbloom, the fifth Death Salon will be held Oct. 5-6 in Philadelphia’s Mütter Museum. In the spirit of the 18th-century receptions, events are neither morbid nor sappy.

“It’s not like people just get up and tell sad stories,” Rosenbloom said. “These people are professionals who work in death and are excited to share their work. People can kind of ‘nerd-out’ on the details of things and hear really interesting stories from different cultures and different time periods.”

Rosenbloom, who compiles rare medical books for the University of Southern California, was inspired to work on “death outreach” after researching the grimy history of sourcing bodies for anatomical research. Soon after, she joined the Order of the Good Death, a group of industry professionals fed-up with America’s “death phobic” society.

Organizer Megan Rosenbloom
Organizer Megan Rosenbloom

Unlike fledgling movements such as Death Café and Let’s Have Dinner and Talk About Death, Death Salons more closely resemble academic conferences. “Death experts” tailor their research and performances for the general public.

“We love Death Café, it’s just a totally different thing,” Rosenbloom said. “Anyone can run a Death Café and have an intimate experience with a group of people, but for us, we like to get people who are doing interesting things with death. We want people to present their work, even if their work is very technical.” They encourage artistic and intellectual collaboration.

Next month, hundreds are expected at the Mütter Museum to hear from a range of experts. Kean University’s Dr. Norma Bowe will share her experiences teaching the experimental learning course, “Death in Perspective.” Penthouse Magazine managing editor Christine Colby will present “Dying Trans: Preserving Identity In Death.” Ryan Matthew, of Science Channel’s Oddities, will talk about historical skeletal preparations.

Currently, all Death Salons are hosted in a city where an advisory panel member can be present.