Some Of Your Grandpas Kept Human Skulls As A ‘War Souvenir’

My friend is on a Dear Prudence binge and has been sending me noteable questions from the advice column’s 23 year history. Most are just cringey, entitled people showing off their lack of self-awareness in the form of an advice letter. But her recent pick was over the top in another way… Check the letter out for yourself:

Dear Prudence,
I have a haunting problem. My father-in-law brought back two unusual souvenirs from his WWII days: two Japanese skulls. After he passed away we ended up with them. I refused to have them in my house, so my husband and I gave one to a friend, and the other to our brother-in-law. We feel guilty about this and would like to send these “guys” home for a proper burial. Also, since coming into possession of the skulls, both of these people and their families have suffered bad luck and ill health. I feel they are being stalked by vengeful spirits! Should I risk being thought crazy and tell them my concerns? And if I do get the skulls back, how do I send them home? My husband is worried about any legal ramifications of having them, and he doesn’t want to damage his dad’s reputation. What should we do?

—Skulls in the Closet

Two words that I wouldn’t think to use for human remains: “souvenirs” and “guys”.

Nothing about war would really surprise me given that I’m a civillian with little experience making life or death decisions. I know that the training we give to men and women who fight for our country changes them. For instance, an irreversible part of this training is that the suicide rate for men and women who serve is drastically higher than people at home. And PTSD is a real and under-diagnosed problem. I’m not blaming OP’s father for whatever mental state he was in when he smuggled these home, but I don’t understand how anyone not affected by the fog of war thinks this is okay.

Hauntings and curses aside, I don’t want someone’s remains in my home that was once a war enemy of my family. I’m not creeped out by people keeping a loved one’s cremated ashes, or even taxidermy-ing a beloved pet. But it’s clear that there’s no way these men would wish to have their skulls lugged around as a war enemy’s trophies or souvenirs.

The creepiest part of this column is that the advice is asked for as if this is a common problem people everywhere are experiencing. There’s no dignity in treating human remains as anything other than something that was once human and is deserving of some kind of respect. The daughter, the husband, the “friends” that received these “gifts” probably aren’t actually cursed by Japanese spirits so much as their own guilt for acting in a way they would not want themselves (or their bodies) to be treated.

I guess beware the next time you enter a new friend’s home lest they have some similar “souvenirs” laying around.

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Emily Madriga

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