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Content here represents the voice of SIGNATURE SUNSETS, an informational initiative designed to broaden and brighten horizons in the funerary domain.

The material is an outgrowth of a pre-planning reference book, Pondering Leaves: Composing and Conveying Your Life Story's Epilogue, written by the author of this blog.

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Monday, March 16, 2015

EGYPTIAN COFFIN

Journey Journal... Winter Park, Florida

CASE OF THE MISSING MUMMY

A 2012 article in the Orlando Sentinel prompted interest in visiting a man who had been constructing his own Egyptian-themed mummy coffin over the course of twenty-five years.  In anticipation of a prospective rendezvous, questions began to surface.  What had inspired him to persevere laboriously, yet with vigor for so many years, in spite of his own antiquity?  How did family members and friends react to this type of ongoing endeavor?  Did he ever get to a point of feeling like such absorption in its finite details was a bit of overkill? 

In February of 2015 when plans were underway for a trip to Florida, an attempt to arrange a meeting with him turned out to be in vain… because the ninety-two-year-old man had died in January!  What a disappointment!  His handiwork was no longer a showpiece in his East Orlando garage, where it had attracted the attention of media agents. Now this gem of creative construction was out of sight… but not out of mind.   

The only recourse for a frustrated funerary aficionado was to visit the man’s grave where the finished product had been buried.  Maybe there would be telltale signs of the unique receptacle that lay hidden from public view under the ground.  Maybe the plot size would be larger than usual.  Maybe at least the grave would be festooned with Egyptian symbols of some sort. 

Not one of these postulations was true.  Fred Guentert’s gravesite looks like the others there at the Glen Haven Cemetery in Winter Park where it is located. 


A simple bronze grave marker marks the burial site.


Actually, when this craftsman made his end-of-life plans, though the burial container was elaborate and he had garnered notoriety for it, he opted for simplicity and lack of fanfare.  There would be no viewing or funeral.  He wanted only to have his body embalmed, wrapped in a shroud, and placed in the box he had finessed to its completion.  In spite of disavowing an afterlife, his face would be covered by a fiberglass mask depicting the Egyptian god of the afterlife, Osiris.  The coffin was to be locked tightly with wooden dowels.

How often has anyone heard someone declare that he wants to be buried in a mummy case?  It must not have been a popular yearning a few decades ago when Guentert was unable to find someone to build one for him.  And if he had, he wouldn’t have been able to afford the cost of such customization.  Fortunately, besides having been an artist for the U.S. Postal Service, he was also a self-taught woodworker.  

The catalyst for creating a work of this nature was traced to a few of his lifetime hallmarks.  A seed may have been planted in his mind when at the age of eight he won second prize at a YMCA hobby fair after building and submitting two small mummy boxes.  Knowing that the year he was born, in 1922, was also when the tomb of King Tut (Tutankhamm), the Egyptian pharaoh, was discovered, maybe the coincidental connection sparked his interest and eventual absorption in ancient Egyptian lore.  The preoccupation was sustained throughout his life, engendering enchantment with the culture’s artistry to the extent of amassing dozens of statues and miniature masks that were on display in his home.   

His fascination was manifested not only by the collection of treasures, but also by his extensive knowledge about Egyptian gods and ruling dynasties.  That was augmented by a trip to Egypt in his later years.  A number of books he had collected, which pertained to the country’s ancient history and cultural distinctions, were tapped as resources for the coffin construction project. 

Source:  Orlando Sentinel

This inventive man with a vision designed his ten-thousand-dollar magnum opus with precision.  Exactness was executed using chisels, files, and sandpaper for hand-carving maneuvers. 


Source:  Orlando Sentinel

Decorative flair was accentuated through hand-painted applications of paint in bold shades of red, green, gold, and black. 

Source:  Orlando Sentinel

Inside the cedar box there’s a full-sized depiction of Nut – the goddess of sky. 


Source:  Orlando Sentinel

Perhaps oddly under these circumstances, the Eye of Horus – a symbol of protection, power, and good health – peers out from the side.  Similarly oxymoronic, Isis, the goddess of magic and giver of life, is near the base. 

Source:  Orlando Sentinel

Seemingly more germane is the presence of Osiris – god of the afterlife, the underworld 
and the dead – featured on the lid.  



Source:  Orlando Sentinel

Dowels and glue were used to unite and secure the pieces. 

 Source:  Orlando Sentinel

The motif epitomizes true end-of-life personalization, as this industrious artist chose to incorporate elements reflective of his predominant interests and persuasions.  Amid the Egyptian components, he included carvings indicative of his longtime membership in the Masons and the Shriners.     

Since the mid-1980s when he began working on it, the eventual three-hundred-pound, seven-foot-long reminder of mortality reposed in two pieces within his home garage, which inevitably became infiltrated with sawdust.  

Source:  Orlando Sentinel

Occasionally, he “tried it on for size,” but only when his wife wasn’t looking and wouldn’t witness him bedding down in this blatant representation of destiny. 

This eye-catcher that could rival any memorial structures situated above graves is no longer a visible attraction.  Instead, it is underground with the remains of its originator.  Eventually, the one-of-a-kind replica of historical substance will disintegrate into the soil.  But there is no need now for anyone to gawk at it, for it has already served its purpose.  An aspect of a person’s life story was told through its materialization.  It was an affirmation of his personal uniqueness.  The man’s sense of purposeful engagement in its progressive development probably contributed to his zest for living. Though hidden from view, for anyone who knew about this showpiece, it continues to be a testament to an individual’s spirit and his capacity to exercise it in a productive and meaningful manner.  This functional rendering of art was his work of heart.

References:

YouTube Video: Florida man takes 25 years to build Egyptian coffin (Jon Busdeker, videographer and reporter)




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