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The Glass Coffin

This is Roald Tweet on Rock Island.

Before Leslie Johnson decided to shut himself up as a recluse in his parents' home in Galena, Illinois, back in the 1880s, he should have checked to see if the house was haunted. It was, and that may well account for the young man's invention.

Leslie explained his invention to a newspaper reporter in June of 1883. He had just been granted a patent for a coffin made entirely out of glass, designed to mummify the remains as thoroughly as any ancient Egyptian.

Leslie's coffin was filled with carbonic gas and hermetically sealed from all corrupting influences. It was then placed inside an iron basket to protect the glass from breaking. That made it a little tight going through doors, but Leslie had cleverly installed handles at the ends rather than the sides.

Leslie had a list of all the advantages: it will stop the spread of contagion; it will not rust or decay. He pointed out that a preserved body would be especially satisfactory to Christians. Apparently other religions were not so concerned about their appearance after a long hibernation.

Leslie felt confident that in a short time, his glass coffin would entirely replace all others.

Then the reporter asked one last question. "How is it as regards expense," he said. Leslie was taken aback. Cost, as it turned out, was a problem. The glass coffin was cheap—no more expensive than the most simple wooden one.

But Leslie recovered almost immediately. "Why," he responded to the reporter's question, "you could make them as costly as desired."

"In fact," said Leslie, having regained full control of his senses, "there is no other coffin on which you could display taste and expense more lavishly."

By then, however, the damage was done, and the glass coffin never caught on. Even those of us who drive Fords don't want to leave this world in anything but a Cadillac.

Rock Island Lines with Roald Tweet is underwritten by Augustana College, Rock Island, Illinois.

Community
Beginning 1995, historian and folklorist Dr. Roald Tweet spun his stories of the Mississippi Valley to a devoted audience on WVIK. Dr. Tweet published three books as well as numerous literary articles and recorded segments of "Rock Island Lines." His inspiration was that "kidney-shaped limestone island plunked down in the middle of the Mississippi River," a logical site for a storyteller like Dr. Tweet.