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Friday, April 22, 2011


Dr. Cory Franklin
Carolyn Milford Gilbert

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Hosts for this unusual site are two obituarists who are well known for their work in the obituary field. Each one comes to the subject with a different set of experiences but with a common passion for the art of the obituary.

Dr. Cory Franklin is a physician who applies the scalpel of curiosity and investigation to every obituary he reads. He has a world of what-- until now—might have been called useless information. However, with a mind like a library of little-known facts for the worlds of music, sports, entertainment, this information makes him a genius at putting together the sometimes disparate pieces of a life.  Franklin is a collector of obituaries as well as a walking sports encyclopedia with a love for music and cars.

Cory Franklin, M.D. was director of Medical Intensive Care at Cook County (Chicago, Illinois) Hospital for over 20 years. He writes freelance medical and nonmedical articles. Along with over 50 medical articles and abstracts in medical journals, he is an editorial board contributor to the Chicago Tribune op-ed page.

His work has also appeared in the New York Times, Jerusalem Post, Chicago Sun-Times, New York Post, and has been excerpted in the New York Review of Books. He was Harrison Ford’s technical advisor and one of the role models for the character Ford played in the movie, The Fugitive..

Carolyn Milford Gilbert is the founder of the International Association of Obituarists, a group of writers, readers, aficionados and just plain fans of the art of the obituary from around the globe. She served as host for a series of obituary writers international conferences over a period of ten years. She is a writer of obituaries, a columnist and opinion writer for the Dallas Morning News and the Times Record News among other publications.  Her article "The Obituary as Literary Artform"  is published in the Dictionary of Literary Biography. A former educator, Gilbert loves a well-turned phrase whether it is written or spoken. She is in demand as a speaker as well as a guest panelist on radio and television. She has hosted a regional radio program in Texas exploring the history of the area.

Her hobbies of collecting antiques, button concertinas and rare books add to her quest for the historical and genealogical aspect of obituaries. She likens her daily reading of the obit pages—on line as well as in real newspapers-- to the search for the Golden Egg. "Almost every obituary presents a question or a quandary if you read between the lines carefully enough."

Gilbert is proud to say that her favorite sport is basketball. And the team of choice is the Dallas Mavericks. Even though she is only 4’11”, basketball is her thing---but only as a spectator sport, of course.

We hope you enjoy this innovative approach to the obituary. You have the added benefit of hearing the obit story, listening to the news of the time, hearing the person’s own voice during his lifetime, and having that obit almost come to life. New podcasts are added weekly and the older casts moved to archives. Additional material will be posted as available to add to the experience. Sid Tepps is the producer of the podcast.

We hope you enjoy the podcasts on iTunes !

Carolyn Gilbert                  Cory Franklin

Sunday, March 6, 2011

How many ways to say " He Died "

Comes Now the Obituary

By Cory Franklin

How many ways can you say “He died”? “Died” is simple enough but John Cleese’s description in the famous Monty Python Dead Parrot Sketch of his ex-parrot says it with more flourish:

• Passed on

• Is no more

• Has ceased to be

• Rest in peace

• Expired and gone to meet their Maker

• Is bereft of life

• Pushing up daisies

• Whose metabolic processes are now history

• Is off the twig

• Has kicked the bucket

• Shuffled off their mortal coil

• Has rung down the curtain

• Has joined the choir invisible.

The obituaries we bring are not solemn memorials or grim tributes as print obituaries so often tend to be. Our audio stories are, as Russell Baker once wrote of well done obituaries, “…stimulants to sweet memories of better times, to philosophical richness, variety, comedy, sadness, of the diverse infinitude of human imagination it takes to make this world.”

The stories we relate are about the famous, the notorious, as well as people you never heard of who may have influenced your life and how each one of these people lived out their potential:

• How Eddie Fisher’s career was ruined after his marital escapades with Elizabeth Taylor

• Bobby Thomsen’s hitting the most famous home run in baseball history

• The spy Eileen Narne who helped the Allies win World War II and wound up in a concentration camp

• Richard Bing’s becoming one of the world’s top cardiologists and a world-class musician at the same time.

• There is humor: Tony Curtis describing that kissing Marilyn Monroe was like kissing Hitler.

• There is pathos: the end of the Pontiac, an iconic car for generations of Americans and even the death of the world’s most famous octopus.

Listen to life’s stories and little bits of history. We will bring you something that NPR, CBS Sunday Morning, your newspaper or an ordinary obituary cannot—a little extra.

Listen! What's that sound?

Listen !  What's That Sound ?


Tributes… Mysteries… Histories…Clues…Secrets :

The Obituary Has It All

You have entered an innovative garden of obituaries for your listening pleasure! In addition to reading the obituary, you can now listen on iTunes to an annotated version via podcast—one that will reveal interesting and, perhaps, little known facts. It is an obituarist’s dream.

The obituary has long been recognized as a literary art form. It is considered by most to be the document of record for one’s life. It may well be the oldest form of storytelling. Buried within an obituary is the history of an individual and a family. Sometimes the obituary reveals heretofore unknown facts. Sometimes the obituary reveals secrets not meant to be revealed. Sometimes the obituary contains misleading information—lies—meant to throw readers off the track.

• Is the deceased really deceased? Or is the obituary a tool to cover a dastardly act?

• Was that woman really THAT old? (A common question.)

• Was that really my neighbor who played with the Harry James Orchestra? (I didn’t know that.)

The goal of the podcast is to bring to life amazing obituary stories and the circumstances surrounding them. Added to the obituary itself is a running discussion between and among some of the most erudite obituarists on the planet. Fascinating!

Our goal is to offer the following for your listening pleasure:

• Timely obituaries of those who have recently made the transition from this life to the next or elsewhere

• Intriguing stories based on historical obituaries of those who have died years ago and who leave questions to be answered

• Surprising stories found between the lines of obituaries of sports figures, musicians, writers, inventors, movie stars, adventurers, rascals, doctors, lawyers

• Amazing stories found among obituaries of the rich and famous

• Unbelievable vignettes from the lives and obituaries of the unknown.

The obituary page is confirmed to be the most read section of the newspaper. It appears that everyone reads the obit page; however, many will deny being regular readers. is a chance to lean back and listen to a short discussion that will entertain you, enlighten you, stretch your imagination and cause you to wonder.

Welcome !

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Images and Death Notices for Emilia's Study

Emilia's Images from top to bottom: 1,8, 6, 10, 2.
Death Notices follow images.

" Hello from Bulgaria"

       " Hello from Bulgaria "

That's what it said on the subject line one morning in 2002.  My heart always jumps when an unexpected intriguing email appears.  Bulgaria?  Couldn't be.  Our International Association of obituarists had found its way to a number of countries around the world by this time but....Bulgaria?

In the email that followed was a plea for assistance.  The writer was a student (yes, in Bulgaria) who was trying to achieve a graduate degree in the study of the obituary or necrolog as it is called there. Requests of this type are music to my ears, of course.  It is at these times I realize I am a cross between a teacher, a missionary and a real softy for anyone who needs my help.

Emilia touched all the bases with me.  She was a struggling student...studying the genre I love...and doing it virtually alone.  There was no professor to oversee her graduate study ...much less her study of the art of the obituary.  She was trying to cast her net across the internet for help.

It took only moments for me to reply to this young mystery woman in Bulgaria and to give her a contact in academia who was made to order for her studies.  Dr. Nigel Starck at the University of South Australia was involved in research for a book in the making dealing with comparisons of obituary customs among various cultures.  What a perfect match.  Dr. Starck was kind enough to respond to Emilia and to guide her to some sources for her study.  A matchmaker couldn't have done better!

Over the months of 2002 and early 2003 I kept in touch with Emilia in the hope of sharing her study with our Great Obituary Writers' Conference in the summer of 2003.  It would have been a miracle if Emilia had been able to join us in person for the Conference.  But that was not to be.  However, she graciously prepared a presentation for us to share in her absence.

Not only did she share her academic paper, she sent photographs to enhance our understanding of the necrolog customs in Bulgaria.  The paper and these priceless photos are presented here from our archives as a gift from Emilia.

You will see that the paper is not in perfect English.  Emilia was not in perfect English, either.  However, I felt it was important to leave the paper as written.  She had help from a friend with the translation and under the conditions, I find it very appealing.

My last contact with Emilia was prior to the Conference in July 2003.  She let me know that she was very pleased we would be able to distribute her study to our conferees...and that she and her husband were moving.  She did not have a new email address to give me at that time.  And to this day, I have not ever been able to reach her after her move.  I, too, have moved and changed emails as well.  I am hoping that someone reading this piece might be able to locate my Emilia Karaboeva from Bulgaria.  It is possible that she and her husband have moved from Bulgaria but I have no way of knowing that.  I would just love to open my email one day soon and find :  "Hello from Emilia."

With this background, I hope you will read Emilia's study--"Bulgarian Street  'Necrolog'--The Multiplied Sophisiticated Face of Death " by Emilia Karaboeva--with an enhanced appreciation of the printed words as well as the remarkable photographs.



I am everlastingly astonished and amazed at the wonder of all things technical, the internet and all its incarnations. I can remember when my father installed two way radios in his oil field servicing trucks so he could talk to his guys and track the progress of a well. I thought it was magic. I can remember when he got his first mobile phone in the car--with long distance, even. Hard to believe. So you can imagine my thrill at the unbelievable , unimaginable feats of magic made possible by today's cell phones, email , Facebook and the like. Today's column is a very happy story.

As you may know, my longtime serious literary interest is in the art of the obituary. I am sure that "happy" and "obituary" may not often be found in the same story. However, the study of the obituary has given me many happy experiences--none happier than the one I share with you today.

At the outset of my obituary interest, it became apparent that there were not many writers who specialized in this genre of documenting the dead. In fact, I didn't really know the difference between a death notice and a true obituary. Having been a teacher of English, speech and creative writing, I began to wonder how a writer would fall heir to the obituary assignment at a newspaper....and more important, what was an obituary writer like? What did one look like?

To make a ten year literary journey short, I decided to convene some Texas obituary writers for a workshop in which they would tell me what they did, how they got the obit assignment and how they managed to write about death day after day. The First Great Obituary Writers' Conference was held in 1999 in Archer City, Texas at the Spur Hotel. Obituary writers from the major dailies in Texas attended: Houston Chronicle, Dallas Morning News, San Antonio Light, among others. In addition there were conferees who were writers of a general beat who wanted to know more about the art of the obituary.

Over the next years our band of obit writers would grow into the International Association of Obituarists including journalists, academics, historians, genealogists, artists, filmmakers and, of course, obituary writers for news media. Throught the magic of the internet, interest and our numbers began to spread around the globe. We shared this interest with our colleagues in Great Britain, Germany, France, Australia, Italy, Israel, Canada, Norway, Africa, Mexico among others as well as a wide swath of United states obituarists. To date we have held ten annual international conferences for obituarists.

Each day it was exciting to open the email page to see who might be sending a note about the art of the obituary. It is still a thrill to see an email from a new contact with information about the obituary customs in their country. One such email arrived on my computer in late 2002. The subject line read, "Hello from Bulgaria." At first I imagined it was a joke from one of my international obit colleagues or at least a travelogue from one of them who might be visiting Bulgaria. To my everlasting surprise--and joy--this was truly an inquiry from a young woman in Bulgaria who somehow had read an article about our obituary studies. We had been featured in an article in the venerable New Yorker magazine as well as a number of print and online pieces. PBS and NPR had interviewed us on several radio features as well. Not knowing exactly how the writer found us, I was stunned with a contact from Bulgaria.

This mystery email soon revealed a plea from a young woman who was working on a graduate study of the obituary and the customs of death in her country, Bulgaria. To make matters more pressing, the young woman was doing this on her own since there was no graduate professor to guide her or to even help her with her study. She had very limited access to historical materials, libraries were in short supply and apparently there were few historians available to her for the research phase of her study.

My new friend in Bulgaria, Emilia, could not have hit a more willing target than I! This challenge of helping her and of putting her in touch with the resourceful obituarists in our association was exactly my calling. Within the matter of a few minutes and hours, Emilia had a new family of friends, teachers and experts who could guide her. Chief among those was Dr. Nigel Starck, a univerity professor at the University of South Australia, who--much like Emilia--had put an inquiry in an email "bottle" and tossed it to me in the magic internet ocean some years earlier. Dr. Starck took up the mantle of sharing standards of academia and pointing Emilia to resources including some of his own writing on the subject.

Emilia continued her work in Bulgaria and promised to share her dissertation-- complete with photographs of obituary customs in Bulgaria--with us for an upcoming conference of our group. Although it was not going to be possible for her to attend in person, she allowed us to distribute her presentation at the 2003 conference. It was and is a fascinating study of death notices and obituary customs in a culture far different from our own. It only added to my thirst for learning about these customs in the world's cultures. Emilia was very grateful for the guidance she had received from our obituarists and , in particular, from Dr. Starck in Australia.

That was 2003. Over the years I had wondered about Emilia. She told me she was moving soon after her study was shared with our conferees. I, too, made a move soon after. Our communication was complicated by our having lost one another on the internet highway of life.

Time passes. A few months ago I established a blog site for the discussion of the art of the obituary. I posted Emila's study and photos online for those who might find it of interest. And on a very long shot, I searched the internet for my missing Emilia--knowing that it had been years since I had heard from her and knowing that any number of things could have happened to her. I hoped for an email to pop up saying "Hello from Bulgaria."

Last night the gods of the planet and the internet smiled on me. There before my eyes was the long-awaited email: "Hello from Bulgaria." Screams of delight could be heard for miles, I am sure. My Emilia--that teeny tiny needle of a friend--had been found in that gigantic intergalactic internet haystack. A more welcome gift I cannot imagine. Her heartfelt thanks for the help of Dr. Starck and me along the way made my day; made my week!

"Hello from Texas, Emilia!"

Bulgarian Street "Necrolog"--The Multiplied Sophisticated Face of Death

Bulgarian Street "Necrolog"--The Multiplied Sophisticated Face of Death

by Emilia Karaboeva

It's not unusual in Bulgaria these days to hear foreigners asking: Are all these people, with their faces posted all over the streets, wanted by the police? The truth is that these names and faces, watching us from every street corner, trees or lamp posts, belong not to the criminals but to deceased people. By which answer this fact in not less impressive.

The impressive thing for Bulgarians in this anecdote story is something else - that for them it's natural to live watched by the dead, while for the strangers it's at least exotic behavior.

The 'Necrolog' - term used in Bulgaria for printed death notices - is usually white sheet of paper in form generally known as A4 (8.26 high/11.68 inches wide) with printed black and white text composed in certain shape. (see Appendix - scanimage64)

Text announces someone’s death or burial (when title is 'Sad News', 'Farewell', 'Last Goodbye', 'Died...') or memorial service (when title is 'Remembrance', 'Sad memorial service', ' Sorrow' etc.)

Excerpt the title necrolog contents:

- The Holy Cross or other symbol that represents religious affiliation of the dead person;

- the name of the deceased person (sometimes just his/her first name or nickname or diminutive);

- text by the authors (which is from few words to few paragraphs long, sometimes in poems) placed under the name. Text is addressed to the deceased one, speaks in person to the dead man explaining the sorrow of the kin and how they suffer. Sometimes the obit’s text includes information on events that happened after the death of the man - the baby was born to the family, death of another member of the family that followed, building of a home, etc.

- without the case of the very first necrolog (the actual notification about the persons' death) in most cases the following necrologs contain the picture/photo (sometimes color one and almost always the head picture from the ID/passport);

- in some cases, depending on author’s wish, necrolog includes additional information for the deceased man - the reason for the death, his/her birthdate and deathdate, his/her job occupation, number of his/her social roles and explaining the relation to the surviving kin;

- message for the date, hour and the place of the burial ceremony or memorial service and invitation to all relatives, friends and people who knew him/her to join the service;

- at the bottom are placed the authors of the necrolog. They can be summarized simply by the word 'The suffering ones', but there can be detailed explanation of the kinship, some first names or there can even be no authors at all;

- with the very small font on many necrologs we can find a short advertising of the company that produces them but this element is not a basic one in the structure of the necrolog.

Nercolog is issued right after someone’s death, usually by the closest kin, but quite often by friends, colleagues, class-mates or even by institutions. The sex, social or economic status of the deceased is not a driving force behind this. The only difference is that necrologs with more biographical data and printed in larger forms belong to famous personalities like people from politics, culture etc. These are issued by the institutions. The necrologs issued for the same deceased people by private kin/friends follow the traditional form.

After the first necrolog the same dead person is remembered by the following ones after 40 days, 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 18 months and then every next year with the last 'frontier' dependent on the fact are there any living people that still remember the deceased one. During my research on the event I registered 60 years as the longest period after the death of an 'ordinary' Bulgarian remembered with the street necrolog and 65 years - with the obit published in the newspaper.

The rhythm of the issuing follows the 'individual rite time' of the deceased person that - as it is prescribed by the Orthodox Christian tradition - begins with his/her death. Necrologs are posted on the entrance door of the deceased's house, on the church building, at the graveyard and on the places related to his/her life. They can mailed to relatives or friends too.

The same necrologs - usually reprinted by the original - are published in local newspapers with biggest circulation in Bulgaria. But we have to point out that - even after dailies offer sometimes 2 to 3 pages for this - printed ones are much more less in numbers than the street ones.(see Appendix, v. 24 chasa, 21 September 2002 - DeathNotice_3) To some extent this is related to the press restrictions imposed by the communist regime during 1944-1989 period. But 'newspaper' necrologs tradition was revived 12 years ago and even though street necrologs totally dominate the culture.

And it is really a total domination of a mass event because it affects everyone living in Bulgaria without relation to his/her nationality or religious affiliation. In fact every ethnic Bulgarian is remembered after his/her death with necrolog (almost without exception they all are Orthodox Christians) we can find necrologs for ethnic Greeks, Armenians, Jews, Muslim-Bulgarians, Germans, French and others that sometimes didn't even live in the country but have relatives in Bulgaria. Muslim Bulgarians stopped issuing necrologs after the fall of communist dictatorship because their religion prohibits this. Even though we can still find today street necrologs issued by the Muslims on the Balkans - good example is Kosovo, located in neighboring Southern Serbia with over 90% Muslim population.

Thousands and thousands of necrologs can be seen all over the cities and villages of Bulgaria - they are posted on the doors, building walls, message boards, bus stops. street lamp posts, trees (even in the parks - see Appendix - Image011.jpg) For Bulgarians the necrolog is such a common event - they are so much used to them, that it's part of the street face, element of the day-to-day life - that is accepted without any consideration. Most of Bulgarians - even the ones that happened to travel abroad - think that there are necrologs in every country in the world and are shocked to notice their absence the same way foreigners are shocked to see them in such huge numbers in Bulgaria. Generations were raised with this black and white face of the World Beyond. Children are grown with this placarding of the Death and the suffering of the survivors that somehow they are unconsciously preparing themselves for the fate that comes upon them, too.

And even that, the necrolgs printing is not a local tradition. It comes from Western Europe as a phenomenon that first entered newspapers. It's just after the Liberation of Bulgaria from the Ottoman Turks in 1878 that the tradition of the street necrologs is born.

The earliest printed necrologs can be found in 'Tzarigradski vestnik' ('Tzarigrad newspaper') in 1849 and 1850. The first one (dated 14 May 1849) is reprinted epitaph inscription from the tombstone of Petar P. Nikolov, who died of cholera in the city of Tulcha on 17 June 1848. This is a classic example of the epitaph, in poems, written by the name of the deceased and directed to the readers.

It advises them:

'Oh. Dear reader

Understanding this

Stay in sorrow and say:

'Young, dear and precious,

You're with the Living God!

Be blessed your soul

And light the soil on you!


How many died

and were blessed

May your memory live forever,

Peter, as you rest!'

The second necrolog is dated 21 October 1850. It comes closer to the obituary tradition and is titled 'Spomen ca Tchorbadjy Stoyana Teodorova Tcholakova' ('Memory on Mrs. Stoyana Teodorova Tcholakova'). At the beginning of this detailed obituary is the death notice followed by biography and praise of her personal qualities and honored life of the deceased.

On the bottom is the ritual formula:

'For good deeds

lets be long memory on Earth

for the deceased

and peaceful relief by God

with the pious people in Heaven!'

Until 1878 most of obituaries were composed by the editing staff of the newspapers or by outside authors. General trend is obituaries to be lengthy, some of them even printed in the subsequent issues of the newspaper (as the case of obituary from 1857 in Tzarigradski vestnik, titled 'Pismo ot Moskva' ('Letter from Moskow'), published on two pages in two subsequent numbers from 6 June and 15 June 1857). They contain more or less detailed biography of the deceased plus the explanation of his/her virtues and how did his/her funeral proceeded. Most of them aim to give good example to other Bulgarians to follow. It's good to mention that almost all of the obituaries are for the freedom fighters that died for Bulgarian political or Church liberation.

It's only at the end of the period that necrologs can be found - the ones that resemble the form that soon will dominate both the street and newspaper necrologs after the Liberation in 1878. Usually these were notices for people that weren't part of the liberation movement, men and women that were unknown to the general public, with date and reason for their death plus few words for their life.

In the necrolog in 'Zornitca' ('Morning Star') newspaper from 3 February 1877 girlfriends of Radka lajkova from the city of Tulcha notify the readers that she died after long illness. And they suffer, because she was virgin 'which prepared herself to be one of the best housewives and mothers; and she was just to enter her life as a spouse when the ugly Death took her away from this world'.

The very first necrolog - outside the newspaper tradition - discovered in the course of my research is from 1850. But it is under question to call it 'street necrolog' because obviously it's purpose was to serve as an invitation and was sent by mail to certain pre-selected people. Because of political and religious consideration this necrolog was printed in the city of Galatz, Romania.

The text follows:

'We invite Mr… in the morning at ... o'clock

at the Holy Mass in the Church of 'St

Paraskeva' at the sermon in the name of the deceased Bulgarian

non-female (as it's in original - E.K.) Greek Vassillie Evstatievych

Apprilov, who was laid to rest two years ago.

Galatz 20 May 1850

Typography Zhurnaluj Danubio

And signed by the hand of V. Rashev'

The very first Bulgarian street necrolog in my collection comes from 1883. It's purpose was to be posted across the town to notify the general public but it still resembles as content and structure the newspaper obituaries. At least we should notice that it contains a message about the funeral that happened a week ago. Since this moment every necrolog I found during my research follows the established form - as a text and as a print. This form is different from the contemporary ones in the beginning of XXI Century and is well explained by Hariton Ignatiev in his book 'Prostranen pismovnik' ('Detailed epistle'), published in the city of Plovdiv in 1897. According to this explanation/instruction funeral notifications should be printed on a paper with black frame, with Holy Cross or allegory of Death with Cross. The necrolog should include:

'1. All close relatives/kin of the deceased - by kin and by marriage - without any omission even of the smallest ones;

2. All of the far related relatives by kin, with detailed information do they have children;

3. Their names, nicknames and their kin relation to the deceased person;

4. What was the illness - short or long, light or painful - that caused the death;

5. The age of the deceased person;

6. The day and the hour of the actual death

7. The day and the hour when the body is to be moved out from the house;

8. The name of the church where the sermon will be;

9. In the case that deceased is not well known, the address of the house from where the body will be moved out to the church'.

Necrolog should be finished with the place and the date of issuing.

'Prostranen pismovnik' stipulates that absolutely the same form should be followed for the newspapers and that in the case of suicide necrolog shouldn't be issued (today the last prescription is not followed). Then there's instruction to post necrologs on the walls at the most public places around the city.

It's important to mention that the author is explicit in his advice that it is bad manners to write long and detailed necrologs with deceased person’s qualities, details on the funeral or to be too elaborate in explaining how much suffering the death brought on the family.

The necrologs from that period that I examined in the process of this research follow that instructions to the letter. It's seen too that - by the advice and by the collected examples - that Bulgarians printed only death notices but not the ones for memorial. If there were any at that time they were exception and their number rises with the following years, the changes in the form and the moving away from the Western tradition. On the cover page of 'Prostranen pismovnik' the author underlines that he collected and summarized the best of foreign epistle guides. As confirmation to this the examples of foreign necrologs from that period in my collection - mostly from Austria-Hungary and France - confirm that there wasn't difference in necrologs writing and composing between Bulgaria and the rest of Europe . This comes to show that at the end of XIX century necrologs were posted on the streets of Western Europe with this tradition slowly disappearing. Yet even today street necrologs can be found on the street in some Western European towns - mainly in Italy.

At the same time in the newspapers develops another from of death notices. These are articles written by professionals with elaborate story on the life and the person of the deceased. Special attention is applied to the funeral. But these stories were dedicated to famous persons (mostly from the politics) in Bulgaria or in foreign countries. These articles are close to the newspaper event that the Western tradition calls 'obituary'.

Soon after the communist coup d'etat in September 1944 necrologs disappeared from newspapers in Bulgaria. The only exception - and they followed obituary from - were the ones for communist party officials but because of ideological reasons they were quite distorted. At the same time the street necrologs blossomed evolving to their contemporary form. For the first time appeared necrologs without religious symbols and even with black five-pointed star as a sign that deceased belonged to communist party. In 1940’s there were some necrologs with photographs of the deceased, during 1950’s their number increased and today there are few necrologs without photo. Gradually the part of the necrolog dedicated to the list of suffering survivors and the one dedicated to the death circumstances were reduced to clear the way to more rich and emotional texts dedicated to the dead person. Quite often we can see how these texts (even if they are short) dominate the structure of the necrolog, while almost everything else - except the name and the photo of the deceased - disappeared. On more and more rare occasions was written the invitation to the funeral or memorial service and the authors were omitting their kin relation to the deceased or necrologs were anonymous.

This changes not simply the structure and the look of the necrolog but its direction, too. In previous decades we witnessed the functioning of the necrolog as a message for someone’s death and funeral but this function faded away and is replaced by the new one - the one of ritual relationship with the dead.

The change can be traced back to 1930’s but it is clear since 1950’s. The explanation to this is the tectonic shift in structure of the urban population that followed large migration from the villages to the cities. Village loses its people, the city loses its pre-war urban culture. The necrolog as a city phenomenon starts to transform itself influenced by the incoming traditional rural culture.

This way in the structure of the contemporary necrolog can be traced elements of at least three culture traditions:

1. The well established on the Balkans attitude to the Death, the dead ones and rites related to their funeral and remembrance;

2. Constituting role of the Christian thinking of Death and Christian rites;

3. The modern man' attitude to the Death, dead ones and the new ways to explain it to the public.

If we accept that the notion of Death as non-being, as total annyhilation of the personality is a modern times priority we'll found that tyhe man generaly thinks about the dying as a passage from one reality to another and about the Death as another life after actual death.

In Bulgarian traditional culture the notion of Death is as a passage from 'this' to the 'other' world where the after life starts as a this life's continuation. The outer world is accepted in the terms of 'this" one; the deceased live in families and villages as it's on Earth, soul is not dying but is immortal and 'keeps the same form, same look of the dead body, even is dressed in same clothes'.

The process of distingushing both worlds and the notion of passage assumes the existence of a border line, treshold, limit. According to the traditional culture this border 'opens' itself in certain periods when there are needed terms, circumstances to establish and support contact with the 'outer world'. Usualy these are Saturdays, holidays and the periods from the year sicle, when the border between both worlds are easy to be overcomed (All Souls' Day). But during the rest of the time the border should be re-established so the influence of the Death should not be allowed in the world of living. In this context cross-border contacts are aimed at re-establishing, confirmation of this border, regulation of the relationship between two opposite but isomorphed world.

As much as necrologs are related to the post-funeral rites they should conrubute to the final passage of the deceased one to the world of the ancestors . If this fails to happend people from the 'outer world' bring the danger of return to this world in the dead body, intrusion of the evel force, evel spirits. This treshold presnts itself rather as a barrier that is lifted at certain moment and fixes exact belonging to the death or life. The enforcement of this border is achieved by the funeral rite directed to th closure of the border (Hristo Vakarelski, Poniatia i predstavi za smartta i dushata, Sofia, 1939, p.6). The necrolog issuing is consistent with the individual ritual time, with the begining established by the death, and its spread is consitent with the space, related to the decesed one - the centre is the home from where the body was moved out and the surroundings are the limits of the necrolog posting on key and potentialy dangerous places like the church, graveyardq crossroads and streets. This way the necrolog draws not simply the deceaseds' teritory, his past-present, but establishes the lock doors on every potential doorways to/from the Death. This distinctiveness is becoming more clear after 1940-es with the increasing numbrs of necrologs issued and duplication of the traditional (and to some extention with CHrtistian) memorial cycle. Up till 1940-es necrologs are issued not later than 5 years after someones death.

In the context of the traditional culture it's good to mention that in allost every ocasion the first necrolog after death is issued without a photograph of the decesed. The reason behind this for a long period was simpli technical one - it was not easy in the times before the computer to reproduce picture on paper. Today computers resolve this problem and that's why we find more and more 'Sad news' necrologs with photo. More interesting on this background is the fact that irrelevant to this inovation there's established tradition that forbids printing of the deceased photo before the 40th day after his/her death. Old people in Bulgaria use to say that 'this is bad', 'forbiden' and 'people don't do like that'. This fear can be related to the notion that up to the 40th day after the death the dead person still walks around the places he/she used to visit (necrologs are posted on these places). Another notion - and it's still in ptactice in Bulgaria -stipulates that up till the 40th day every mirror or reflecting surfave should be covered so the soul couldn't see itself and this way to embody again.

The soul can not only 'see' (and that's why it shouldn't see his/her face on the necrolog) but according to traditional notions between the two worlds there's no sound barrier. This stipulates another conact form with the deciesed - the crying for the dead. Parallel with the text of the necrolg appeares slowly and is considered as a late, contemorary event. During the first 60-65 years of the necrolog as phenomenon of Bulgarian culture - at least up to 1940-es - this parallel is absent. Gradualy with the establishing of the necrolog tradition texts come forward that totaly duplicate the structure and the spirit of the crying for the desased . Dimitar Marinov writes on this event the following: 'Crying contents biography of the deseased, his/her wishes and longings, his/her ocupation, his/her pofession and fate. Crying contents his/her real estate or family situation after his/her death and closes with commission to bring 'all the best' to all relatives that died before him/her'. In this the notion of the decesed is as as living one and the dialogue with him/her is as with a living one, deceased is called back from the Death, he/she is blamed that he/she is not comming back, questions are asked to him/her. Kaufman quotes text from the necrolog from 1984 with close resemblense of the crying:

'Fo forty days I'm waiting for you to come back and you're not comming! Why? Is it for the river of our hot tears is deep and you can't cross it? Or the black earth is too heavy so you can't stand up? Or the darcness is upon you so you can't find the way back? Or you already don't remember us? But you don't speak!'. The same authors mention that in 1930-es and 1940-es they witnessed necrologs that made their readers cry. These days we can find on the streets moving words to the deceased closed to the example quoted above.

'At the begining I neede you so much and you were next to me. Than you neede me and I wasn't nexrt to you. now I'm looking for you, looking in the infinity, where are you... I don't know. I need you Mum!'.

These days in necrologs is usual t use talking by the first name to the deceased, but the elaborate explanation of the suffering is not usual. Most of the texts are short and a lot of them are formal:

'Bye, Zhan!

You wll always be with us!

Class-mates from the French College'


'On 23 January we remember 40 days since Milka Todorova Savova left us.


More and more are the necrologs of that kind and very often they even don't include the full name of the decesed - just the nikname - there're no authors or thei names are reduced too to first names that mean something only to the dead person and this is another sign of moving away from the tradition of the ritual crying. At the same time they represent moving away from the traditional function of the necrolog as a message to the public.

There's another relation of the necrolog to thetraditions - this time to the Christian prayer for the dead. If the relation to the crying is in the content and function, the parallel with prayer is in function and sense. Orthodox Christisanity stipulates that the fate of the deceased is unknown to the living ones. After the 40th day temporary verdict is put upon soul and the final verdict comes on The Judgement Day. The living ones have un obligation to pray fro the dead ones and this way to obtain by prayer peace and sins redeptmion. Believe in the force of the prayer 8is based on love that keeps going after the death - the love to the deceased ones is not in vain.

Western Christian tradition is similar to the Orthodox one. Even during the first centuries of Chtristianity it was accepted to write down the names of the dead people in church books so they can be read out during the cermon and the believers can pray for them. In the Middle Ages these church writings were turned into lists (necrologium, obituarium, regula, martyrologium) that were kept and filled by the Church and monasteries. In VII century A.D. these lists were quite common. After the death of bishop a messenger was sent with rotuli - death message. Rotuli content eulogy, biogrphy with honor to the deceased qualities and at the end it was said that regardless of his deeds he was a man and therefore unperfect so the living ones should pray for his soul.

In Christian Church the tradition to read the names of deceased was well established sometime at the end of II century A.D. and begining of III century A.D. But in the Western Churches this tradition is not so spread as in Eastern ones. This rite fades in Catholic Church with the establishment of the idea of the Purgatory. According to some Protestant Churches relationship with the dead ones is immposible so they refused ti accept the need fro the pray. Quite the opposite - the Eastern Orthodox Church up till today keeps the days of reading the deceased names. The motive behind saviour function ofthe prayer and the mess can be found even in some fairy tales from Eastern Europe. One Russian fairy tale is about a soldier that goes by the order of his tzar to the other world to understand how his father 0 the previous tzar lives there. The soldier goes there just to see that the old tzar is tortured by the devils. Soldier asks the tzar how he lives and he answers: 'Ah, soldier! Bad is my life. Make a bow to my son and ask him to order a cermon for my soul; and maybe God will put mercy on me and will free me from ethernal pain'.

The difference in the attitude towards the ritual side of the reading of the deceased names is eventualy one of reasons behind the differences between the content, structure and functions of the Eastern necrologs and Western obituaries.

The necrolog in Bulgaria to some extention seizes the funtion of the prayer in mentioning with love and hope the deceased names and with its formula for memotising and peacifying of the soul. The most common word are 'Deep bow to your light memory', 'Sleep well your ethrnal dreem', 'Peace to your ashes'. But you can find some more elaborate wording: 'Lets remembr him, pray to the God and make a bow'.

or even detailed writing of the full prayer:

'Dear Lord, Jesus Christ,

and you Holy Mother,

Take close to you

our dear spouse and father


Let his road to you, Dear Lord,

be light and fast and filled with light

and free of earthly pains!

To be in harmony and beaty

together with those that are already there.

And who loves you!

And to be bright and beatiful

the momory for him in the minds

of those that loved and love him here

in the living world...

I'm calling upon them:

Remember his pure heart and thoughts

his honoured deeds!

and say together with his relatives -

Holy oil on his bones!


(Chepelare, Bulgaria, 1999, authors collection)

(Some similar wording can be found in Western Europe too - obituary from France, 1895 , uses the wording “Que son ame repose en paix” and another one from 1903 uses the wording “Priez pour lui”)

But the necrolog is something even more than this - with its mass circulation it positions the reader in the role of the one who prayes or at least makes good wishing to the deceased. This way the whole community is asked to help the soul in its hard way to the ethernety. The hope that soul' fate will be better multiplyes.

Christian tradition stipulates that the death should be constantly remembered as an endless push for repentance. In the paradigm of the Christian conception of the world the necrolog turns itself into behaviour corrective, the facs of the deceased around us become silent judges of our deeds. They remind us that the life has an end, that there are values beyond the day-to-day life, re-direct the attention from the body care to the soul care - the care for the soul that shouldn't leave the body without repentance. This way necrolog becomes important ellement of prepearedness for our own death.

Some authors claim that in the West the Death is covered and limited , that for the living ones the deceased becomes an 'ousider' for society or 'forbiden for society' , that upon Death is imposed heavy silence and society and individuals don't recognise the Death. To the opposite, in Bulgaria street necrolog in parradox fuses the trend of refusing and covering the death with the trnd of its public announcement , mass circulation even imposing on the public space of the living. Street necrolog secretly combines living and dead ones, sufferung ones and sympatizers, death as a fact and death as a sign. Death and the sorrow are not under taboo but a rather opened to the maximum, moved outside o eeryone can see it - under black& white mask in mass circulated newspapers, undercovered as gossip. In this socialy sanctioned, accepted form, death is imprisoned, sent into exile in necrolog - we see it ant it looks on us from there, but there is still irreversible broderline - as much as necrolog is this borderline itself - psyhologic and ritual one. Necrolog takes the death outside, in the life, shows it just ti hide it. And to fuse it with the being.

With the multiplication of the faces we know and recognize on the street necrologs rises the feeling of sympathy, of participation, of community belonging - to the world of the deceased and the world of suffering ones. Identification feeling is feeded by the very importatnt part of the necrolog - it's part of fureal rites (in terms of Christianity, citizenship and political terms) but at the same time the street necrolog in Bulgaria is repeat, analogy, joint sign of the fureal rite. As a sophisticated sign of a prayer, grave and cermon or in more simple way as a message, crying and remembering, necrolog is manifestation of almost all ellements of the funeral rite and symbolically replaces them withou ignoring them. That's why more and more people issue necrologs without actually going to the graveyard or without ordering the cermon in the church thinking that this is ehough. Necrolog becomes the tool of moving the event from one place to another, the participation tool. the tool of presence. For the passers-by the necrolog IS the funeral rite. This is a play mode by which the reader enters step by step every role of the actual funeral rite. At the end, the reader enters the role of the deceased without loosing his conciouss of a outside observer, of a witness. Counciouss is splitted - to pass beyond the surface of the necrolog, to feel the outer world and to enter it through its own thoughts and well wishing.

This unconciouss deed is repeated again and again in every stop infront of a necrolog. And if we push the feeling a little more and focus ourselves on the messages of the multiplied death all over the city we can start an endless funeral procession to our own death. We can foresee, we can in advance pass through our own funeral.


Bulgarian Historical Archive (BIA), at: Bulgarian National Library 'St. st. Cyril and Methodius', Sofia, f.ІІ А, 1999

BIA, f. ІІ В 8528

BIA, f.272, a.e. 6238, l. 3

BIA, f. 271, a.e.2, l.73

Scientific Archive of The Bulgarian Accademy of Sciences (NABAN), f.11к, op.4, а.е. 285, l.40

NABAN, f.11к, op.3, а.е. 1166, l.4

Tzarigradski vestnik, 'Tzarigrad newspaper',14 May 1849

Tzarigradski vestnik, 'Tzarigrad newspaper',21 October 1850

v. Zornitca, 'Morning Star' newspaper, 3 February 1877

v. 24 chasa, '24 Hours' newspaper, 21 September 2002

v. 24 chasa, '24 Hours' newspaper, 29 October 2001


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2.Aries, Philippe, L’homme devant la mort, Seuil, 1977 (in Russian, Aries, Philipp, Chelovek pered litcom smerti, Moskva, Izdatelskaya gruppa “Progress”, “Progress-Academia”, 1992)

3.Danforth, Loring M., The Death Rituals of Rural Greece, Princeton, N.J., Princeton University Press, 1982

4.Enciklopedicheskiy slovar, Brockhaus, F. A. & I. A. Ephron, t. XX a, SPb, 1897)

5.Ephrem Sirin, Psaltir, Blajenstva, Veliko Tarnovo, Abagar,1992 (under second Russian edition of the six volumes work Tvorenia sviatago otca nashego Ephrema Sirina, Sergiev Posad, 1895)

6.Hieromonah Seraphim /Rouz/, Dushata sled smartta, Ruse, Dorostolo-Chervenska mitropolia, 1994

7.Hristianstvo, Enciklopedicheskiy slovar, S. S. Averincev, A. N. Meshkov, J. N. Popov, Moskva, Bolshaya Rossiyskaya enciklopedia, 1995

8.Ignatiev, Hariton, Prostranen pismovnik, Plovdiv, Hr. G. Danov, 1897

9.Kaufman, Nikolay i Dimitrina Kaufman, Pogrebalni i drugi oplakvania v Bulgaria, Sofia, BAN, 1988

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10.Marinov, Dimitar, Narodna viara i religiozni narodni obichai, Sofia, Nauka i izkustvo, 1994

12.Roth, Klaus and Juliana, “Public Obituaries in South-east Europe”, in International Folklor Review, 7 (1990), 80-87 (a german version “Offentliche Todesanzeigen in Sudosteuropa. Ein Beitrag zum Verhaltnis zu Tod und Trauer”, in Osterreichishe Zeitschrift fur Volkskunde, 91 <1988>, 253-67)

13.Thomas, Louis-Vincent, Smartta, Sofia, Fakel, 1994

14.Vakarelski, Hristo, Poniatia i predstavi za smartta i dushata, (sravnitelno pholklorno izuchavane), Sofia, Kultura, 1939

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Blanche; Wooden

Blanche was such a happy part of our television memory that is difficult to think  she is gone. Of course, we can see her--along with her Golden Girlfriends--forever, thanks to television.  Rue McClanahan played many other roles in her career but she absolutely owned Blanche!  You will read many obituaries and tributes to her life and career but my observation of her is how perfectly she carved out that type of female whom we all recognize: slightly ditzy, a bit naughty, completely crazy for men . Yet we still loved her. 

The interesting thing about Blanche was how she fit with the other Golden pieces of the puzzle:  Bea, Estelle and Betty, each playing a sweetly stereotypical woman who made life fun.
And now, our 88 year old Betty White is left to be Betty White--hosting Saturday Night Live, starting a new sit-com next week and and still making us, laugh outloud. 
Goodnight, Blanche.


Sports fans know John Wooden's life like the back of their hand.  But they are not the only ones.
Because of his remarkable commitment to truth and teaching by example, he is a coach for all time.  Take a moment to seek out the many articles on sports pages and online that will be written today in honor of John Wooden.