A curious tombstone can be found in a graveyard in Hertfordshire, England. On it, reads “In Memory of William Mead, M.D. who departed this Life on the 28th of October 1652 aged 148 years, and 9 moths, 3 weeks and 4 days.” The extent to which it details his age might seem odd, that is, until you learn a little more about the story behind it.
It’s said that, in life, Mead cooked up medicines that were sold from several shops. Among those homemade pharmaceuticals was an elixir for long life which, it would seem, was very effective indeed for Mead.
His gravestone can be found in a cemetery in Ware, a town that sits 24 kilometers (15 miles) outside of London. It’s here that Mead has become something of a local legend whose secret to long life may actually have more to do with marketing than ground-breaking medicine.
At 148 years, 9 months, 3 weeks and 4 days old, Mead would’ve been born in January 1504, writes HertsLive, just a few years ahead of the appointment of Henry VIII.
By the year 2022, no one on record has lived to be 148 (though TikTok apparently believes this guy is 399), and the life expectancy at Mead’s time of death was 30 to 40 years of age. So, how did he do it?
The story goes that following his death, Mead’s wife saw an opportunity in the inscribing of his headstone. How better to market an elixir for long life than boast the century-and-a-half age at death of its creator?
In a book that contains all mentions of Hertfordshire from The Gentleman's Magazine between 1731-1800 (don't ask us why this exists), an entry titled “The Mead Family Of Ware” indicates that a writer’s investigations revealed that the inscription on the tombstone had been renewed. The original slab, apparently so worn from the weather as to be unreadable, had instead been moved to the steps of the church’s north door.
It seems the rest of the Meads’ headstones too were moved “to the edge of the old churchyard,” but the famous Dr Mead’s would remain, “lying flush with the grass to the south of the church.” The article also nods to the fact that Mead was likely connected to “Dr. Mead’s patent medicines” which were sold by chemists on Ware's High Street in the 19th century, and that this may explain the apparent replenishment of his tombstone as it continued to be co-opted as an advertisement for his longevity concoctions.
According to church records, it was recut in January 1797 by a Hertford stonemason called David Cock and funded by the “churchwardens of Ware”. Whether the unique approach to marketing was a posthumous request of the mysterious Dr Mead, or an ingenious business move on the part of his wife and future chemists, it’s difficult to determine for certain, but it sure makes for one hell of a tombstone.