Miriam 'Mae-Mae' Burbank, who died of cancer in June 2014, is pictured at her funeral.
New Orleans: All last week, people were calling Louis Charbonnet to find out how they might avoid lying down at their funeral. Funeral directors have called; so have people with their own requests, such as the woman who wanted to be seen for the last time standing over her cooking pot.
The calls started coming in to the Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home during its June 12 viewing for Miriam Burbank, who died at 53 and spent her service sitting at a table amid miniature New Orleans Saints helmets, with a can of Busch beer in one hand and a menthol cigarette between her fingers, just as she had spent a good number of her living days.
Word of the arrangement began to spread, hundreds showed up, the news spread online, and now here was Mr Charbonnet getting a call from a funeral director in Australia.
New Orleans is better known for its music than its lavish wakes.
Ms Burbank's service was the second of its kind that Mr Charbonnet had arranged, and the third in New Orleans in two years. But there have been others elsewhere, most notably in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Viewings there in recent years have included a paramedic displayed behind the wheel of his ambulance and, in 2011, a man dressed for his wake like Che Guevara, cigar in hand and seated Indian style.
New Orleans, which has long boasted of its ability to put the "fun" in funeral, seems like the place where this kind of thing would catch on, and Mr Charbonnet boasts that his 132-year-old funeral home is well known for its funeral parades.
"A couple of weeks ago we even had a mariachi band in here," he said.
While other local funeral directors, and even his own wife, accuse him of impropriety by placing corpses in positions many might consider amusing, Mr Charbonnet said a local priest had given him the all-clear, and that he considered it was respectful to abide by the requests of grieving family members.
He began offering his unusual service in 2012 following the death of Lionel Bastite, a band leader and local character who had told his friends he did not want people looking down at him at his funeral. At his service, he was displayed standing with his hands on his walking stick wearing his beloved bowler hat tipped to one side.
In April, the family of Mickey Easterling, a prominent socialite, arranged for her to be viewed as if greeting guests to her funeral while sitting behind a bench in the lobby of a historic theatre.
Her daughter Nancy said: "What my mother said to me some years ago was: 'I want to be at my own funeral having a glass of Champagne in one hand and a cigarette in the other'."
Mr Charbonnet is not the first to pose cadavers in such a way. Earlier this year, the family of Ohio biker Billy Standley honoured his wish to be towed to a cemetery astride his customised Harley-Davidson. And in Chicago in 1984, a well-known gambler called Willie 'Wimp' Stokes attended his funeral at the wheel of a coffin in the shape of a Cadillac Seville.
Mr Charbonnet said he was inspired by a recent craze for seating and standing corpses in the US territory of Puerto Rico, which began in 2008 when the family of Angel Luis Pantojas, a 24-year-old murder victim, held his funeral in their living room with his body tethered to the wall – an event which became known as "muerto parao", or dead man standing.
This year, 23-year-old shooting victim and boxer Christopher Rivera's robed body was viewed in a boxing ring, and an elderly woman, Georgina Chervony, was propped up in her rocking chair.
"It's been a real boom in Puerto Rico," said Elsie Rodriguez, vice-president of the Marin Funeral Home in San Juan. "People have requested every type of funeral that could possibly come to mind. We have only done six so far, because the people who have requested the funerals have not died yet."
New York Times, Telegraph, London