Man made into mummy after death still lies in state in Missouri

Photo of Dominic Genetti

Joseph Marconnot was a bachelor who saved up a lot of money. While a good amount of that money went to his niece and nephews, other funds were designated in his will to preserve him forever for the public to see him lying in state.

The only way to do that was to make Marconnot into a mummy.

It all happened back in the roaring '20s, when in his 64th year of life, Marconnot — a truck driver — passed away at St. Louis' Barnes Hospital in 1924. Word quickly spread about Marconnot's intentions and the process it would take to follow through with his request.

Newspaper coverage in the archives of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, St. Louis Globe-Democrat and St. Louis Star and Times provide a window to the events 97 years ago.

Marconnot lived in the Carondolet neighborhood of St. Louis that once thrived as its own city. His early family members settled in the area and it was his parents that sold land to the city that today is partially Carondolet Park. A small, modest home at 7528 Virginia Ave. is where he lived and where mourners would say their final good-byes.

When all was said and done, Marconnot's $70,000 estate went to the children of his siblings. That's a little more than $1 million in today's money. However, $3,000, about $45,000-plus today, was left to make Marconnot into a mummy. Southern Undertaking Co., which also served as a funeral home, was tasked with the duty of carrying out his wishes.

It was also widely reported that Marconnot had an immense interest in the discovery of King Tut in 1922. One of the papers even reported that he kept newspaper clippings of the coverage. 

According to the Dec. 30, 1924 edition of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, W.F. Rogers did the work on Marconnot and didn't hold back from the details.

After being embalmed, internal organs had to be removed and then daily injections of preservative fluid and skin treatments were used. Rogers told the media that the overall effort to make the mummification a success was a "drying out" of the body.

Marconnot lied in state at the Southern funeral home for three days, in fact it was over the New Year's Eve holiday so his wake was in progress when 1925 rang in. He was then taken for services at his home, then to Carondolet's St. Boniface Catholic Church for mass, and then finally to the mausoleum on his family plot at Mount Olive Cemetery in South St. Louis County.

A half-ton coffin with a full length glass lid was placed in the mausoleum that featured a windowed door for those interested to peek inside.

“He had left money behind to have his mausoleum erected, and to have Southern funeral home tend to him which they did for about 70 years — they would change his suit each year," Matthew DeWitt, managing director of administrative services for the St. Louis Archdiocese Catholic cemeteries, said.

It wasn't until the spring of 1925 that onlookers were able to view Marconnot's body. A reporter for the St. Louis Star and Times described the body as a "wax effigy" and noted that Marconnot's hair, mustache, and eyebrows appeared to be pasted on. By the way, all of his internal organs that were removed are also interred on the family plot.

For about 12 years, people would come to Mount Olive Cemetery to see the mummified man, however when 1936 come to be, the family felt 12 years was long enough. The family took away the public's ability to peek inside and within time, Joseph Marconnot was no different than anyone else resting for eternity on hallowed ground.

The transition to the 21st century briefly brought Marconnot into the spotlight once more as an accident in the cemetery 2002 damaged his mausoleum.

“We had to close it all down because a woman ran into the mausoleum. She had blacked out or something," DeWitt said. "We repaired it and put in a solid door.”

Coverage of the incident in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch showed Marconnot was taken back to Southern funeral home, the very building he was originally laid out in, during the duration of the mausoleum's repair. He was eventually brought back to his final resting place where he lies today.

Joseph Marconnot 2Joseph Marconnot 2 01 Dec 2002, Sun St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, Missouri) Newspapers.com

Small glass bricks on the side of the mausoleum beneath a vent are the only window to the inside, however, the makings of a glass brick make visibility difficult.

It's not known what became of the funds Marconnot left behind to have his suit changed out. SCI, an funeral home and cemeteries operations company that owns several properties throughout the United States, bought Southern and its Spanish-style building was razed a few years back.

And if you venture out to Mount Olive just to get a view of the Marconnot mausoleum, DeWitt likes to remind visitors that a cemetery is sacred ground. “What we do is provide reverence for those who have died and those who are mourning," he said.