New York State Funeral Directors Association

OPINION: Books Bound in Human Flesh Should be Cremated and Buried ran the article in the “Weird News” section. It belongs in another spot: Human Morality. Ah, never mind, that's not among the categories.

The story reports people did some scientific testing on a book initially believed - but not confirmed - to have been bound in human skin.

A bit of mass spectrometry and “peptide mass” probing proved the book’s binding is indeed made of someone’s remains. It's bound in Human remains.

The topic evokes thoughts of the film “Silence of the Lambs” and the story of the seamstress “Buffalo Bill” shopping around for “material” he could use to make a dress.

This now-certified human skin book currently sits in the rare book library at Harvard University – considered one of the premiere homes of intelligent thought.

It’s covered with the skin of somebody’s daughter, and it should be burned in a crematorium.

I don’t really care what the book is about.

Nothing that French poet Arsène Houssaye wrote back in the 1880s is what I’d consider “critical information” we need to hang onto. It’s a bunch of poems and essays we can do without.

Or we could photocopy the text and then cremate the book.

Here’s a poem nobody will need to read 134 years from now:

“My name is Ed, and now I’m dead. My skin they took, now I’m a book.”

This news story, along with links it shares and papers you can find by following them, depict a grotesque state of affairs – not just centuries ago but today.

It’s horrible to ponder the times as they were 100s of years ago, when people were skinning other people and using that skin for household items.

There are horrific tales less than 100 years old too - “people” skinning other humans and turning them into lamp shades.

Research recounts numerous examples, like times in the Middle Ages when marauders who damaged church buildings were skinned and had their skin nailed to the door of those churches as a warning to any other marauders who thought they could get away with desecrating a house of morality.

It also depicts the ugly state of affairs today as people ignore a sentiment, tucked away in a dark corner of the conscience. One that questions whether human remains should be treated with dignity by other humans—like the living ones.

Since 2006 and earlier, people – even the smart ones who go to colleges like Harvard – have been able to steer clear of the notion that human skin, just like a skeleton, represents human remains.

It’s not a freaky morbid curiosity, a “weird” fact of life or a funny situation that warrants a catchy headline like this one from Harvard University’s The Harvard Crimson, written back in 2006:

“A few individuals give new meaning to the idea of spending forever in the library—their skin binds three of the books in Harvard’s 15-million-volume collection.”

It was obviously considered a cute little piece of news, judging by the title of that Feb. 2, 2006 story: “The skinny on Harvard’s rare book collection.”

Back in 2006, a Texas newspaper reported that some of the country’s “best libraries” hold books bound in human remains.

Whose skin is it that adorns this important collection of that French guy’s poems? The skin belonged to a “woman patient in a French mental hospital who died suddenly of apoplexy,” the article says.

I understand apoplexy can be a stroke, a heart attack or hemorrhaging.


Depiction of Ed's Imaginary Book Titled Fahrenheit 1800 Shows Rendering of Harvard University's Flesh Book With Ed Munger's Face on ItNone of the material I can find says anything about “burial, cremation, funeral” or any of the other terms civilized people often use when discussing what will happen to them after they die, or what they'll do with their loved ones when they die.

It’s a reminder of how disrespectful barbaric humans can be to other humans’ remains.

Sure, the sick people who skinned this lady – and apparently dozens, if not hundreds of others – did so hundreds of years ago.

Those were the days when hat makers suffered from mercury poisoning and others endured lead poisoning because that’s what they made cups out of.

Some people, notably royals making decisions, were off-kilter because their parents were siblings.

What’s our excuse today?

How do we describe the humans who consider it acceptable to leave this woman’s remains in a library - available for anybody to rub their greasy fingers on her?

Now I have another point to include in the book I’m going to write detailing how I want my final remains dealt with: “Please find me somebody willing to donate their skin to be used as a binding for my final disposition book.”

I’ll bet my funeral director will have a tough time meeting that one because I doubt there’s anybody out there today willing to have their skin used for a lampshade or book cover after they die.

I think I’ll add a catchy title to my book too, like “Fahrenheit 1,800.”

That’s the temperature cremation furnaces reach. It’s a fitting title because any book bound in human flesh belongs either six feet under or in an urn stored in a place with some respect for humanity.


EdsPhotoEd Munger
Communications & Social Media Specialist
NYS Funeral Directors Association