Stone Willie Still Stoned
My grandparents, on both sides, lived in Berks County, and we lived in Maryland, so visits to see them were frequent. We knew all about the outlet stores in Reading, long before outlet stores became popular, i.e., back when they were a REALLY good place to shop, and, of course, we used to hear some of the stories about supposedly haunted places. My uncle was a good friend of Ted Auman, one of Reading's better known funeral directors, so we may have heard a bit more than our fair share of odd stories, including the very strange one concerning Ted's grandfather and the character who became known as 'Stone Willie'.
Here's a story from back in the 1970's about Willie:
Reading, PA (UPI) - A mortician here says that he has a mummified body perfectly preserved for 76 years.
"Stone Willie," embalmed Nov. 21, 1895, two days after he died in the Berks County Prison, is still on display at the Theodore C. Auman Funeral Parlor in Reading, Pa.
The body thus predates the embalmed corpse of "Bill" Baily of Waterloo, N.Y., by four years. The body of George Baily, an itinerant workman, was buried Friday in Waterloo. For 72 years, four months and seven days, Baily lay in a barn behind a Waterloo funeral home, demonstrating the preservative power of arterial emblaming.
News of the Baily burial prompted the Auman family to announce their possession of an even more impressive demonstration of the emblamer's art.
Pajama-clad Wiilie lies on a bier in the basement of the funeral home.
The Auman family said Willie's preservation is the result of an experiment conducted by the late Theodore C. Auman, founder of the funeral home. They said the bearded Auman was browsing through a Philadelphia bookstore in the autumn of 1895 when he came across a dust-covered German medical tome.
The musty volume, according to the family history, contained a chemical formula for preserving meat, in which the elder Auman saw possibilities for his own trade. (In that era, morticians still placed bodies on ice before the wake).
Willie, a petty thief and alcoholic who also went by the alias of James Penn, passed away. The body was unclaimed and Old Theodore had an opportunity to experiment with his untried formula.
Family lore has it that the undertaker, stopped over the corpse in the depths of the house, concocted too powerful a mixture on his initial experiment and exploded Willie's cellular tissue, leaving him perfectly preserved in a mummified state.
The Aumans said that can see no reason why Willie, who was 37 when he died,should be dispatched to the dark, dank soil. The fresh air doesn't seem to have bothered him after 113 years above ground.
In the mid-nineties, the undertaking business was sold to a larger firm, and somewhere about that time, Willie was no longer on display at the funeral home, though he was still present above ground. As recently as 2012, the Reading Eagle reported that Willie was still in town.
As recently as 2012, Willie was still in residence in Reading, but it was recently discovered that he has moved to Houston. A former employee of the undertaker passed on the word that Mr. Auman has passed away, and that Willie had passed on as well, but in his case, he's still above ground!