The Petrified Man

It was Eugene’s fate to become something he could not have imagined while he walked the earth. He became a roadside attraction. Dead men have few choices.

Dead men who are petrified have fewer still.

The unidentified dead men who happen to be descendant from slaves are entirely at the mercy of strangers (being alive during Jim Crow wasn’t much better).

The petrified man was given the name Eugene.

For one particular Ohio family, the small town of Sabina marked a halfway point on their vacations to see relatives. There were restrooms, a filling station, a country store and a funeral home.

On the grounds of the mortuary sat a small brick building. That’s where Eugene was displayed for the world to see. There wasn’t a rattlesnake pit or a fudge shop within hundreds of miles that could compete with Eugene.The family referred to him as “petrified” but he had actually been embalmed by a local undertaker. He helped build the Littleton Funeral Home brand.

As the family approached Sabina each year, acrimony would fill their Plymouth sedan. For reasons unknown, the parents refused to allow the youngest of their three boys to see the mummified man. They took turns staying with him while the others went in.

The child fumed as Greyhound buses discharged kids younger than him to marvel over the fascinating sight. Was he so fragile that he had to be protected in ways other children weren’t?

His parents never did quite explain it to him. But maybe it was this:

Wakes, funerals, tarhims and shivas fill a need. Medical students observe formal rituals of appreciation for their assigned cadavers for the same reason. Human go to great lengths to return the dearly departed from distant places. Respect for the dead is an eleventh commandment.

There’s no denying that Eugene was held in a public purgatory for three and a half decades. It’s possible that somewhere along Ohio Route 22 a cold wind left the boy’s parents shivering in the summer heat. Maybe they saw those postcards celebrating lynchings.

What we can know for sure is that Julia and Ambrose were protecting their youngest son from something. We also know that good people grow into their roles as parents.

Three decades later Ambrose and Julia were laid to rest within a year of each other. They were sent off with the most dignified of services their sons could muster, including a partial eclipse of the sun.fingerprint4-only-final-40px


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