Antics on the Web: ‘Talking About Death with Children with Dr. Earl, Part 1’ Review
by Robert Brouhard
The Internet is filled with everything. Search for something on Google, and you’re likely to find it. Some of it is amazing and beautiful. Some of it is odd and disturbing. Some of it is an amalgam of miasma and sensuality. You may even find ways to talk about Fluffy or your grandma’s passing with your children. The cartoon video of “Talking About Death With Children With Dr Earl Pt. 1” is probably not your best choice though.
Jamie Loftus and her friend Kelsey Lawler ran across a strange 8-track from 1976 in the attic of the Lawler & Crosby Funeral Home in Massachusetts. Why were they in a funeral home’s attic? The world may never know. Per the YouTube video’s description, a man named “Dr. Earl A. Grossman” (SP) made 8-track tapes during the 1970s discussing death with children and distributed them to New England funeral homes. Doing some research on the Web, I couldn’t find anything about “Earl A. Grossman.” Using a touch of Google-fu, I came to see that this is actually Dr. Earl A. Grollman, a Rabbi from Belmont, Massachusetts who has written many books for grieving families including the 1971 runaway hit Explaining Death to Children. His books have even been used at Harvard. Yes, I informed the maker of the video, Jamie Loftus, of the man’s actual name. It turns out that Jamie wasn’t wearing her glasses when she transposed the name in her notes. Oops. Jamie Loftus did all the work animating this video with Dr. Grollman’s audio.
A touch more research and I discovered that there is a 13 to 15 minute original color film of Dr. Earl Grollman doing this talk called “Talking About Death With Children” actually out there in the garage-sale or funeral-home-basement ether from Batesville Management Services on VHS and it only would have set you back $99.00 back when it was released (it may be out of print now). The Eakles Funeral Home in Harpers Ferry, Virginia once ran an ad on Feburary 14, 1985 in the Jefferson Farmer’s Advocate stating that they had “Talking About Death With Children” available for the public to borrow (for free). They even stated, “Children as young as three may benefit from the message.” Sadly, no one has uploaded onto YouTube what is probably 15 minutes of Earl A. Grollman talking to the camera about the word “dead” not being a “hard word like ‘hippopotamus.’”
This new animated video (part 1 of 3, oh my!) made me titter quite a bit. There are a lot of nuances in it… like Burt Reynolds’ gyrations, audio blips and skips that many of us grew up with, and more. There are extremely sad ideas and some jaw dropping moments: A girl who may have murdered her best friend (was it an accident?), games with knives, a twitching squirrel on the road, and some coping mechanisms that are more broken than that model airplane I…err…David tried to fly off the roof onto the 91 Freeway.
Something of note: There is some bleed-in audio in the animation in a couple spots. If you listen closely within the first few seconds you’ll hear “…stick your finger…” and shortly after that a “Whoa!” leaks through. I don’t know if it is from the original tape, but there is definitely a woman’s voice that comes in a few times. It is possible that an Anorexia Nervousa Awareness recording was happening in the same studio while Earl A. Grollman was recording his masterpiece.
Trigger Warning (s): Animated death happens in the video, including a squirrel (I called him Twitchy T. Squirrel) and one poor hippopotamus (I called him Charles, *sniff*). Burt Reynolds will scare younger viewers. Dr. Earl’s eating habits may disturb some viewers too.
Death may not be a laughing matter normally, but it doesn’t hurt to take its power away from it once in a while with a video like this. Being able to laugh at death is healthy and I appreciate this video’s existence. Thank you to Kevin Quigley for pointing this video out to me, and thank you to Jamie Loftus for making it. I can’t wait for part 2 and 3.
Oh, and it looks like Earl A. Grollman is still alive. He is about 90 years old now. Here’s a fun short clip of him speaking in front of a group in 2013 called “‘I thought you died years ago!’ Rabbi Grollman presentation.”
“Antics on the Web” is a Cemetery Dance Online exclusive series of articles about horror that can be found on the Internet. Robert Brouhard is a freelance writer and an active member of the Horror Writers Association.