Documentary, grave marker for 'Dawn Doe' coming soon
In a basement with actors playing zombies, the scene's most authentic actress sat quietly in a corner.
“Dawn Doe,” also known as “Betsy,” was 35 when she died but nearly 100 when she made her screen debut in George Romero's 1978 “Dawn of the Dead,” as a mummified body in the basement.
She became national news in 1982 when the owner of Costume World, not knowing she bought real human remains from Maier's Costumes on Forbes Avenue, Uptown, watched authorities confiscate her from Costume World's storefront. They autopsied and buried the body in an unmarked plot.
Now, a Latrobe-based movie maker and the skeleton's former owner are erecting a grave marker at Mt. Lebanon Cemetery, where Dawn Doe has rested for 31 years.
“We wanted to put something on it so when (Romero) fans go to see it, they'd know. Nothing disrespectful, like ‘Skeleton from Dawn of the Dead,'” said William Sanders, 33, of Latrobe. “Just ‘Dawn Doe, born: unknown, finally laid to rest, March 19, 1983.'”
A longtime fan of Romero's Pittsburgh-born zombie oeuvre, Sanders is working with his wife, Harmoni, and other Romero fans on “Road Trip of the Dead,” which he described as a documentary about the movies' filming locations and the fans who visit them, combined with a horror movie shot such as a continuation of the documentary.
Without giving away too many spoilers, Sanders said he was aiming for something like “The Blair Witch Project” for Romero fans, acknowledging that some who visit the filming sites aren't respectful and might get into trouble with locals.
When researching the documentary, Sanders came across the story of the skeleton, which Romero rented and special effects artist Tom Savini covered in fake flesh.
After the movie, the skeleton stayed at Maier's until the store closed and Marilyn Wick purchased the inventory in the early 1980s.
“The men cleaning it out called me up and said, ‘There's a coffin here; there's a real body in it,'” said Wick, who owns the Deerfield Beach, Fla.-based Costume World chain. “They were so afraid of it, they said they weren't touching it.”
Wick said a doctor in the family assured her the “corpse” in the glass-topped coffin was fake. But it was realistic enough that the day she put it in the window of a Costume World in Scott, a police officer had it removed for examination, Wick said.
Then-Allegheny County Coroner Dr. Joshua Perper determined that the flesh was Savini's work but the skeleton was a 35-year-old woman who apparently died of natural causes nearly a century earlier. Wick and a funeral home buried the skeleton, whom Wick dubbed “Betsy.”
Sanders said he was working to raise about $1,100 for the gravestone and $20,000 for the film through Kickstarter when Wick volunteered to pay the balance of the stone's cost.
Savini said the skeleton once was a medical teaching tool, like many he used during his career in horror films.
“It had wires in its joints and springs in its jaw,” Savini said. “It's not a dead body somebody found. It's a medical skeleton I found at a costume shop.”
Savini runs a program for makeup and special effects at The Douglas Education Center in Monessen. He's flattered but frustrated that the coroner mistook his latex, cotton and Rice Krispies for real flesh.
“It's a movie prop,” he said.
Matthew Santoni is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Add Matthew Santoni to your Google+ circles.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Duquesne University to raise minimum wage floor
- Plum schools, dealing with sex scandal, to form panel in June
- Air rifle incidents on the rise, experts say
- Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto in Cuba on manufacturing trade mission
- Land eyed for trail connectors to expand Harrison Hills Park
- Newsmaker: Joelle L. Smith
- Penn Hills votes to sell, lease vacant school space
- Lawsuit filed against PWSA for inaccurate billing from radio-controlled meter readers
- Live coverage tonight of Plum school board meeting
- Thrill of the chase: Kennywood fanatic, 82, rides Jack Rabbit 95 times in a row
- Allegheny County Council begins process to replace Barbara Daly Danko