|Subject: On this day in 2007---The Exhumation of The Big Bopper
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Date Posted: Fri March 06, 2020 23:52:20
It was thirteen years ago today, on March 6, 2007, that an exhumation of Jiles Perry “Big Bopper” Richardson took place in Beaumont, Texas. . The Big Bopper had been a Beaumont, Texas disc-jockey who had hit the big-time with Chantilly Lace, a song like no other, with its telephone-ringing opening and Big Bopper providing an enthusiastic “Helllllooooo Baaaaaaby”!
His songwriting skills would be showcased after his death, through hit records for other artists—“ White Lightning” made famous by George Jones and “Running Bear” for Johnny Preston.
The exhumation was takling place 48 years after the plane crash that had killed him, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens, and pilot Roger Peterson just outside of Clear Lake, Iowa on February 3, 1959. This tragedy is often referred to as “The Day The Music Died.”
For 48 years, there had been much speculation about the final moments of the plane crash. Part of this speculation surrounded a theory on the Big Bopper: His body was found furthest from the wreckage, about 45 feet away and over a fence, causing some to believe he had initially survived and tried to go find help. Yet another theory was that someone inside the plane had fired the pistol that Buddy Holly carried in his overnight bag, causing the plane to go down.
In 2006, The City of Beaumont approached Jay Richardson, the son of the Big Bopper, and requested to move the remains of Big Bopper and his widow, Teetsie Richardson, to another location in the cemetery, where a Texas State Historical Marker could be placed near the gravesite.
After considering it for several months, Jay Richardson agreed to the request to move his parents remains. He also made the decision to have a forensic examination performed on his father’s remains. Jay enlisted the assistance of Dr. Bass at the University of Tennessee's Body Farm to conduct the examination in order to settle some of the rumors once and for all. The exhumation was set for March 6, 2007. There were only nine people present. At Jay’s request, I was one of the nine people.
The remains of Jay’s mother, Teetsie Richardson, had been moved the day before and without fanfare. But the word had gotten out about what was happening. On the morning of March 6th, we gathered at the cemetery and were met by a crowd of onlookers and television crews. The crowd and media were pushed back across the street and tarps were stretched across the gravesite to block the view. Using a backhoe tractor, a cemetery crew brought Boppers casket & vault to the surface. The vault was placed on a trailer and taken by tractor to a nearby warehouse located on cemetery grounds.
Those in attendance were warned repeatedly by funeral home personnel about what opening the casket 48 years later wound bring—“the smell of formaldehyde and death, and the remains will be in 1 of 3 conditions—dust remains, skeletal remains, of skeletal remains with tissue.”
As we gathered around the casket, Jay Richardson requested that I say a prayer for all of us before we open the casket. I did so and two people from the funeral home lifted the the casket lid. The warnings we had received from could not and did not prepare us for the smell. It was simply the worst smell ever. But their cautionary warning about Bopper’s remains were off base. Without sharing too much detail, the Big Bopper was completely intact, wearing a black suit and tie, and his flat top hair cut was still standing straight up in the air.
Dr. Bass’ examination concluded the Big Bopper died instantly, with three major injuries—a crushed skull, a broken neck, and a crushed chest cavity. Dr. Bass further concluded the Big Bopper had suffered over 200 fractures throughout his body as a result of the plane crash. After the examination was completed, the Big Bopper was placed in a brand new casket, provided free of charge by Batesville Casket Company, the same company who provided the original one back in 1959.
The entire day and experience was equally strange and amazing. While it wasn’t normal to see anyone’s remains and certainly not 48 years after their passing, the experience had given Jay Richardson a couple of “gifts” he didn’t expect to receive— a level of peace and grace about his father’s life and death.
The hardcore music fans know that Jay himself was born 84 days AFTER the plane crash. His dad’s music was known around the world but Jay only knew his dad through limited video of his dad performing as the Big Bopper, Jay had never seen his father. Jay himself has built a great career as a tribute act to his father and performed his music around the world but still didn’t know his dad. The exhumation changed that to some degree.
By the grace of GOD, the Bopper’s remains were still intact and this examination experience had allowed Jay to “see” his dad. It brought him a peace that no one saw coming. The next morning, he mentioned to me that he felt like, “I was lost and had been found” and I replied, “you just said part of the lyrics to Amazing Grace my friend. That’s what it is, you’ve gone from Chantilly Lace to Amazing Grace”. He laughed and agreed.
For the rest of his days, Jay fondly remembered that entire experience. Sadly, Jay Richardson, passed away unexpectedly on August 21, 2013 of heart complications.
I miss his big personality, his big laugh, and our big friendship.
May both “Big Boppers” Rest In Peace forever.
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