Funeral Home Purgatory: The Grave of Spaghetti, the Carny Mummy

March 30, 2013 — You’d be absolutely correct if you said that Cancetto Farmica was buried after he died. But you’d miss his whole story. He was buried more than 60 years after he died, spending that interval in between as a mummified corpse in the garage of a North Carolina funeral home.

Nobody’s really sure of Farmica’s exact name. There are four or five variants of it. I’m going to stick with the one stamped on his grave. Those words are usually the last on any topic.

However, most people don’t bother with his real name, choosing instead his nickname of “Spaghetti.” Actually, his corpse’s nickname of “Spaghetti,” since it was awarded posthumously by the townfolk who came around regularly to visit the local celebrity/desiccated human.

In life, Farmica worked at a carnival as a musician. And live a carny life, die a carny death. In his case, it was a tent peg to the head during a fight with a colleague.

The altercation happened on April 28, 1911, in the town of McColl, South Carolina, and he died a few hours later in a hospital across the state line in North Carolina. He was about 23.

But Farmica also lived a carny afterlife

He was taken to the McDougald Funeral Home in Laurinburg, North Carolina, where he was embalmed as they waited for the next of kin. An Italian man who claimed to be his father identified him and paid a small down payment for the funeral arrangements.

And then the man completely disappeared….unlike the embalmed corpse of Farmica, which stuck around the funeral home for decades after going the way of the Egyptian pharaohs.

After hanging him on a wall in the embalming room for a while, the funeral home placed him in a glass-topped casket, along with the weapon of his demise, and set it on end in the garage, where it became a local attraction.

Eventually, pressure from a politician of Italian heritage and peers in the funeral industry caused the McDougalds to bury Farmica (although they claimed it was merely because somebody finally ponied up the money). He was buried with his last earthly possession, the tent peg, and encased within a block of concrete. He was that famous. For some perspective, they did the same thing to the bodies of Charlie Chaplin and Whitney Houston. Because some twisted souls interpret the phrase “Rest in peace” as “Free, take one.”

That was on September 30, 1972, making me about 45 years late to one of the longest wakes on the books. My consolation prize was a measly bronze plaque in the sod of Hillside Cemetery in Larinburg. Hillside Avenue cuts through the cemetery, and the grave is located on the north side, near the road, at the end opposite the main brick gates. Nothing about the graveside even hints at the strange path the interred took to get to that spot below our feet.

I checked out the present-day location of the McDougal Funeral Home, as well. Apparently the place moved three of four times since 1911, taking Farmica with them. It's been at the current location on Church Street since 1958, so I guess this was the last place his body was ever upright.

In general, there’s a surprising amount of information around about the weird afterlife of Cancetto Farmica. A detailed account can be found in Christine Quigley’s book, Modern Mummies, including a picture of the mummy itself (which you can see here thanks to Google Books).

Anyhow, the moral of the story is that you don’t have to do cool things during your life to be remembered. After all, Cancetto Farmica is remembered for having been forgotten in the first place.