“Here in my car / I feel safest of all / I can lock all my doors / It’s the only way to live / In cars.” – “Cars,” by Gary Numan

And for George Swanson, age 71, in his car was the only way to die. Although he passed away on March 31, he was finally buried this week (May 25) in 1984, in the driver’s seat of his 1984 Corvette Stingray. The long time span between his death and burial was due to complications over his request that upon his death he be cremated, his ashes placed in his Corvette, and the Corvette be buried with him in the Brush Creek Cemetery in Hempfield County, Pennsylvania.

To accommodate the car’s size, George, who had long been planning his funeral, bought 12 side-by-side burial plots. After his death, however, the owners of Brush Creek Cemetery had second thoughts, both because they worried that when news of the burial spread it might lead to vandalism, and because it might hurt future business to have accommodated such an unusual – some thought bizarre – request.

That led to ongoing negotiations between Brush Creek and a lawyer George’s wife, Caroline, hired to ensure that his burial went as he intended. Finally, the Brush Creek officials relented, but only after insisting that the burial be private and that all fluids be drained from the car – oil, anti-freeze, and transmission, radiator and brake fluids – so no leaks would occur that might harm the environment.

On the day of the burial, Caroline Swanson drove George’s ashes to the cemetery in her own 1983 Corvette Stingray, which were then placed in his car. Also placed on the front seat was a quilt made by a group of women from the church the Swansons attended, and a love note Caroline had written to her beloved husband.

Finally, (talk about a sense of humor), a cassette tape of an Englebert Humperdinck song, “Release Me” (“Please release me / Let me go … ”) was ready to play. A crowd of some 50 people then looked on as George and his Corvette were lowered into the ground.

As an aside, my approach to history has always been that it isn’t just about politics and wars, and it certainly isn’t about dates, statistics and arcane facts. History is – as this lesson makes clear – about people and the terrible, wonderful, unusual, sometimes downright crazy things they do.

After the funeral Caroline said, “George always said he lived a fabulous life and he went out in a fabulous style.” Smiling, she added, “You have a lot of people saying they want to take it with them. Well, George took it with him.”

Bruce G. Kauffmann’s email address is bruce@historylessons.net.

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