Mistakenly mummified alcoholic to receive proper burial after 128 years

Stoneman Willie
Stoneman Willie’s identity was unknown for many years because the man gave a fake name when arrested for picking pockets - Kia Johnson/Reuters

A mummified man known as Stoneman Willie will receive a proper burial after being on display at a funeral home in Reading, Pennsylvania, for 128 years.

The unidentified man was an alcoholic who died of kidney failure in jail on Nov 19, 1895. He was accidentally mummified by a mortician experimenting with new embalming techniques, according to Auman’s Funeral Home.

Dressed in a suit with a bow tie, the gaunt man is displayed in a coffin with a red sash across his chest. His hair and teeth remain intact, and his skin has taken on a leathery appearance.

Stoneman Willie’s identity was unknown for many years because the man gave a fake name when arrested for picking pockets, and local officials were unable to locate relatives.

Stoneman Willie
Stoneman Willie was an alcoholic who died of kidney failure in a local jail in 1895 - Kia Johnson/Reuters

The funeral home had petitioned the state for permission to keep the body instead of burying it to monitor the experimental embalming process.

But Auman’s Funeral Home says it has now identified Stoneman Willie using historical documents and will reveal his name later this week when they lay the body to rest. Until now, not much was known about him beyond his Irish roots.

“We don’t refer to him as a mummy. We refer to him as our friend Willie,” said Kyle Blankenbiller, a funeral director.

“He has just been become such an icon, such a storied part of not only Reading’s past but certainly its present.”

Stoneman Willie
Stoneman Willie's coffin was paraded through the streets of Reading last week - Kia Johnson/Reuters

Ahead of the funeral, the city of Reading will memorialise the man who has been part of the city’s folklore for generations.

On Sunday, residents filed on to the streets to celebrate Reading’s 275th anniversary with a colorful parade that included a motorcycle hearse carrying Willie’s casket.

After his final week on display at Auman’s Funeral Home, he will on Saturday make his final journey through the streets of Reading to be buried at a local cemetery, where his real name will be inscribed on his tombstone.

Broaden your horizons with award-winning British journalism. Try The Telegraph free for 1 month, then enjoy 1 year for just $9 with our US-exclusive offer.