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Kirkland's LWIT hosts film crew seeking answers about Seattle icon “Sylvester”

Above, American embalming and funeral home historian Jon Austin, center, works with “Mummies Alive!” producer Heather Kohlmann on the set for the new show at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology.  Below, mortician’s tools.  - TJ Martinell, Kirkland Reporter
Above, American embalming and funeral home historian Jon Austin, center, works with “Mummies Alive!” producer Heather Kohlmann on the set for the new show at the Lake Washington Institute of Technology. Below, mortician’s tools.
— image credit: TJ Martinell, Kirkland Reporter

Lake Washington Institute of Technology’s funeral program will be featured in a new TV series on mummies, including one displayed in an iconic Seattle store.

Last Wednesday, a film crew with Saloon Media filmed inside the funeral lab while interviewing Jon Austin, an American embalming and funeral home historian from Illinois for “Mummies Alive!,” a new international television series scheduled to debut in 2015.

For the episode, Austin explored the history of embalming and the various tools embalmers might have used on “Sylvester,” a mummy featured in Seattle’s Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. The shop has been in business since 1889.

Allegedly, the mummy was preserved in the desert approximately 120 years ago, though Austin said arsenic, a formerly common chemical used for embalming, was found on him.

“We have to make sure our research is 100 percent accurate and our experts are leaders in their field,” said Mick Grogan, director for Saloon Media. “That’s why we’re delighted to have the opportunity to film the unique facilities at Lake Washington’s funeral service lab.”

Modern embalming first started in the 1840s and was perfected during the Civil War, according to Austin. Although the chemicals in the embalming fluids have changed, such as the modern use of formaldehyde, the basic process by which a body is embalmed has essentially remained the same.

For example, modern embalming involves removing the organs and fluids from the chest cavity before the embalming fluids are injected. With Sylvester, however, his organs remained preserved. Additionally, an incision was found in his abdomen, though Austin stated that it is not necessarily the work of the embalmers, as the incision is does not appear to have been made by a trocar, a medical tool used in embalming.

Despite the necessity of dealing with deceased persons, Lauren Budlow, the program’s director, said it’s not the dead students have difficulty with but the deceased’s relatives, as they often have to work with numerous families in a single day who are responding to the death from a variety of circumstances and backgrounds.

The Kirkland college’s funeral program is the only certified program in the state and one of four on the entire West Coast. The lab has multiple tables, as well as refrigerated lockers for storage, and mannequins to practice facial reconstruction and hair styling.

The program’s two-year Associate of Applied Science degree prepares students for employment as funeral service directors or professional embalmers. As part of the program, they learn not only how to embalm, but the practical and business aspects of the industry. Because funerals typically occur within three days of the person’s death, Budlow said funeral home directors have to be able to respond quickly to family requests for the type of funeral and the unique preparations for the body.

For more information on the program visit www.lwtech.edu.

The Ye Olde Curiosity Shop is located at 1001 Alaskan Way.

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