An interesting tombstone can be found in a cemetery in Hertfordshire, England. This tombstone reads “In memory of William Mead, doctor of medicine, who departed this life October 28, 1652, aged 148 years, 9 months, 3 weeks, and 4 days.” The extent to which he details his age might seem odd, that is until we learn the story behind it.
During his lifetime, Mead is said to have made medicines that were sold in several shops. Among these homemade pharmaceuticals was an elixir of long life that apparently was very effective indeed for Mead.
His tombstone can be found in a cemetery in Ware, a town 15 miles from London. Here, Mead has become something of a local legend, he writes IFL Science.
What does the tombstone actually mean?
The story goes that after his death, Mead’s wife saw an opportunity in the inscription on his tombstone. How better to market an elixir of long life than to brag about the age of a century and a half that its creator has reached?
In a book containing all the mentions of Hertfordshire, a passage indicates that a writer’s investigations revealed that the inscription on the tombstone had been renewed.
The original slab, apparently so weathered as to be visible, had instead been moved to the steps of the north door of the church.
It appears that the rest of the Mead family headstones were also moved “to the edge of the old churchyard”, but Dr Mead’s famous stone is said to have remained, “set level with the grass, south of the church”.
A doctor’s wish or an ingenious business idea?
The article also alludes to the fact that Mead was possibly related to “Dr. Mead’s Patent Medicines” which were sold by high street pharmacists in Ware in the 19th century, and that this may explain the apparent resupply of his tombstone, as it continued to be co-opted as an advertisement for his longevity preparations.
According to the church records, it was rebuilt in January 1797 by a Hertford stonemason, David Cock, and financed by “the churchwardens of Ware”.
Whether this unique approach to marketing was a posthumous request by the mysterious Dr. Mead or a shrewd business move on the part of his wife and future chemists is hard to say for sure, but it’s certainly an interesting tombstone.