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Reading’s legendary Stoneman Willie finally to be laid to rest

He’s been the subject of urban legend for more than a century, living in the nightmares of countless children.

Stoneman Willie is a unique part of Reading’s long history. He’s a particularly creepy piece of the city’s lore.

For the past 128 years Willie, the mummified body of a prisoner, has resided at Auman’s Funeral Home in Reading, drawing the attention of curious gawkers, terrified children and even the national media.

But soon, Willie will have a new home. Officials from the funeral home say they are planning to finally lay him to rest with a proper burial.

A drawing of the burglar that became known as Stoneman Willie was published in the Nov. 21, 1895, Reading Eagle. (BILL UHRICH - READING EAGLE)
A drawing of the burglar who became known as Stoneman Willie was published in the Reading Eagle on Nov. 21, 1895. (READING EAGLE)

The story of Stoneman Willie

Willie’s legend began back in 1895.

That’s when the inmate at a prison in Reading hanged himself. With no known family, his body was turned over to Theo C. Auman Funeral Home.

In hopes of preserving the body until a surviving family member could be found, Theo C. Auman, the funeral home’s founder, decided to try an emerging and experimental procedure. Auman embalmed Willie’s body, a process that immediately mummified it.

Willie’s family was never found, so his body has remained at the funeral home ever since. It even made the move when the funeral home moved from its North Third Street location to its current home on Penn Street.

Over the years Willie became a local celebrity, particularly among generations of school children who came to see him on class trips. It was an experience few ever forgot.

“We had a 72-year-old guy come in the other week to make arrangements for his mom,” Kyle Blankenbiller, Auman’s location manager, said recently. “He stopped to visit Willie and said he had seen him for the first time when he was 12. It had been 60 years and he hadn’t forgotten.”

Long overdue ceremony

Despite the notoriety Willie has brought to Auman’s — Blankenbiller said he’s fielded calls from the likes of The Washington Post and The New York Times seeking to do stories about him — something has always felt a bit odd about his residence at the funeral home.

“There’s a feeling: ‘Why is he still here? Why hasn’t he been buried after all these years?’” Blankenbiller said. “It is what we do, as a funeral home we bury the dead.

“He’s been gawked at here for all of these years; that feels a little disrespectful.”

Blankenbiller said the idea to finally bury Willie began a few years back, with plans put in the works to do it in 2020. But the COVID-19 pandemic derailed that.

With the world getting back down to normal, the idea has been resurrected. Blankenbiller announced on a recent radio show that plans are once again being put together to bury Willie.

“I don’t have much to share yet, we haven’t even set a date,” Blackenbiller said. “But it will be a very large event. “You’ve got to do it right.”

Blankenbiller said he is hoping to coordinate with city officials and hold a funeral for Willie that coincides with the city’s 250th anniversary celebrations.

Whatever takes place, Blankenbiller said, it will be a ceremony that befits Willie’s immense presence in Reading’s history.

“This guy is just so beloved,” Blankenbiller said. “We’d all love to see him rest in peace, finally. Not that we want to get rid of it but, darn it, he does deserve a respectful burial.

“Let’s give this guy his day and get him buried.”

Source: Berkshire mont

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