Friday at the office dragged on for what seemed like weeks. I could have attributed my impatience with the fact that I would be leaving for a 5-day vacation on Monday, but that couldn't have been further from the truth. My impatience was definitely due to the fact that at 6:00 I would be one of the few, privileged people who would be touring the service area of the L.A. County Coroner's office!
Arriving early, I found myself completely unsettled by the creepiness of the parking structure at 1104 N. Mission Road. An extremely low-hanging "ceiling," the rusty and outdated steel beams, the lack of lighting within the structure all made for a nice introduction to my evening. I walked over to the Administration Building where the first part of the "festivities" would take place and waited for the doors to open.
At approximately 6:15, Chief Craig Harvey opened the doors and welcomed us to his domain. I couldn't believe we were having cocktails at the Coroner's! And while I waited for all of the guests to arrive I couldn't resist shopping at one of my favorite stores in Los Angeles: Skeletons In The Closet. It figures that the L.A. Coroner's Office is the only coroner's office in the nation to have a gift shop!
Scott Michaels and Mark Masek started the evening off and Mark gave us the history of the facility.
What is currently used as the Administration Building was formerly the Los Angeles General Hospital. The beautiful entry way says it all:
Thereafter, Erin Murphy (who used to play Tabitha on the TV series Bewitched, spoke about her experiences with the cast and crew of the show. She was charming and her stories were endearing, especially those about Elizabeth Montgomery, "the Dicks" (York and Sargent), and Agnes Moorhead.
And then it was time for the coveted tour by Chief Harvey, who told us we could take as many photos as we wanted except for two restrictions: 1) No photos of bodies (darn!) and 2) no photos of staff members without their permission. OK, so with that, we were on our way!
As we made our way to the service building, I couldn't help but feel like a kid going to Disneyland. I know... My Mom cringed when I told her that.
We started out in the area where bodies are initially brought in, weighed, identified, photographed and where the toe tags for the deceased would be created. Two toe tags (no longer paper and wire, they now look like blue credit cards) are made - one is attached to the toe of the deceased and the other stays with the paperwork. (Note the camera on the ceiling in the photo below.)
Our attention was then called to the steel door on the opposite side of the room. This door leads to the Coroner's "crypt." Chief Harvey explained that they don't refer to it as the morgue because USC handles the County Morgue. The bodies that end up at the morgue are typically of people who died of natural causes. The bodies that end up at the crypt have died of suspicious circumstances, including homicide and suicide.
As soon as the door to the crypt was opened the stench of the dead bodies overwhelmed me. I have to say I will never forget that smell. Chief Harvey explained that the smell is the combination of the plastic the bodies are wrapped-in, the fact that some people were not in the cleanest state when they arrived, and of course a bit of decomposition. It was completely surreal to me that I was viewing dead bodies. I was fascinated. I was amazed. I was hogging up the front of the line! Had it not been for the smell I probably could have stood there gawking (I know that's very insensitive) for another ten minutes.
The facilities were immaculate! Chief Harvey explained to us the various parts of the labs, the equipment used to perform autopsies, and showed us the room which was previously used for high-profile cases coming through the facility (Whitney Houston and Michael Jackson, specifically) but that has now been turned into a mens' restroom!
All in all, it was an amazing evening and I must give a huge thank you to Dearly Departed Tours for setting-up the tour. It's an experience that I will always treasure!
I hope you're enjoying this Halloween season as much as I am!