The Victorian Book of the Dead Blog

victorian book of the dead AMAZON

Thanks for joining me! This blog is about the popular and material culture of Victorian death and mourning, some of which is shared in my book The Victorian Book of the Dead. The blog will consolidate posts on mourning and death from two of my other blogs: Mrs Daffodil Digresses and Killer Budgie at hauntedohiobooks.com. I will also occasionally post on other funereal topics or share unique excerpts from primary sources. Some posts will be grim, some will be humourous, some grewsome, as the Victorians said.  I will warn readers that I have a reprehensible penchant for treating the subject of death as entertainment.

If you have questions about Victorian mourning or comments, please do get in touch at chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Mortui viventes docent.

The Gobblers’ll Git You, If You Don’t Watch Out!

Turkey Day is almost at our throats, like one of those murderous fowls I wrote about in a previous Thanksgiving post, “Tales of Terrible Turkeys.” Instead of moaning about the groaning board or issuing warnings about deadly and demoralizing holiday pies, today we look at ghostly gobblers and a turkey who was a messenger of death.

The holiday’s signature bird is a rara avis in terms of apparitions. The most commonly reported ghostly turkey story from haunted England is a somewhat peripheral one of a monk, killed for a sexual indiscretion, who gobbles like a turkey in Turkey Cock Lane, Rye.

Another gobbling ghost, or perhaps a poultry-geist, was this entity from Epworth Rectory.

Robin Brown’s account to John Wesley, as recorded by Samuel Wesley

The first time Robin Brown, my father’s man, heard it, was when he was fetching down some corn from the garrets. Something knocked on a door just by him, which made him run away downstairs. From that time it used frequently to visit him in bed, walking up the garret stairs, and in the garrets, like a man in jack-boots, with a nightgown trailing after him, then lifting up his latch and making it jar, and making presently a noise in his room like the gobbling of a turkey-cock, then stumbling over his boots or shoes by the bedside. He was resolved once to be too hard for it, and so took a large mastiff we had just got to bed with him, and left his shoes and boots below stairs; but he might as well have spared his labour, for it was exactly the same thing whether any were there or no. The same sound was heard as if there had been forty pairs. The Epworth Phenomena: To which are appended certain Psychic Experiences recorded by John Wesley in the pages of his Journal, collated by Dudley Wright, 1920, p. 51-52

The creatures were frequently mistaken for ghosts when they haunted churchyards.

A short time ago some persons had been frightened by a ghost said to appear in Hampstead Norreys Churchyard. It was reported slowly to raise its head to a gigantic height, make some unearthly noises, and then quickly disappear. At length, on investigation, the ghost proved to be a large white Turkey Cock that had taken to roosting on a white tombstone. On the approach of any one he had raised himself from his sleep, and with gobbling and flapping of wings had vanished behind his resting-place. A Glossary of Berkshire Words and Phrases, Vol. 41, Barzillai Lowsley, 1888: p. 25

And a little girl in Wales mistook a fowl for a fae.

The inmates of H___dd, an upland farm-house in the mountainous district close to the foot of the Snowdon, were thrown into much confusion by the entrance of a little girl in a state of great alarm. She had seen, on the other side of a low wall, the king of the fairies (Brehin Twlwyth Teg) and he had spoken to her. This district had in former days been much frequented by these little people. An old woman, who was sitting on a bench in the chimney corner, asked the girl to describe the stranger—‘He had a red cap on, and his nose was red, thin, crooked, and very long; he had on a tippet like those worn by some young ladies going to the top of Snowdon in the summer. She did not see his feet. She could not understand what he said, but he certainly did speak, and he shook his head at her when he did so.’ Just at this time, “Throll, throll, throll’ announced that his fairy Majesty was at the door. The old woman declared the language to be identical with that used by the fairy which had vanished about fifty-five years ago on being unintentionally touched with a bit of the bridle by her father near Clogwyn Coch. Fairies, she said, could not bear to be touched with iron. Just at this time, to the great consternation of the family, after another ‘Throll, throll, throll’ speech, the door opened, and in walked a neighboring farmer, followed by, instead of fairy royalty—a fine turkey-cock! None of these birds are reared or kept within many miles of this farm, and no clue has been obtained as to where the strange visitor came from. Carnarvon Herald. Worcester [MA] Palladium 17 June 1846: p. 1

In this unique case, the official business of the Royal Mail was stymied by a fowl apparition:


Superstition rarely stands in the way of the extension of postal accommodation or convenience; but a case of the kind recently occurred in the west of Ireland. Application was made for the erection of a wall letter-box, and authority had been granted for setting it up; but when arrangements came to be made for providing for the collection of letters, no one could be found to undertake the duty, in consequence of a general belief among the poorer people in the neighbourhood that, at that particular spot, “a ghost went out nightly on parade.” The ghost was stated to be a large white turkey without a head. Twenty-Second Report of the Postmaster General on the Post Office, London, England, 1876, p. 9

But in the annals of ghostly turkeys, this one kicks the stuffing out of all the rest.

A most bizarre apparition was reported in a West Country newspaper in a letter from Mr Edgar T. Bond following a paper of mine in 1957. It concerned a friend of Mr Bond’s, referred to as ‘John’, a retired detective-inspector of the Metropolitan Police who was formerly a guard to the Royal Family. He was thus a trained observer and not subject to nervous hallucinations. He lived in a cottage near St Austell alone with his housekeeper, ‘Mrs C.’ The cottage had a Victorian wing added, with a drawing room and a sash window which came to within a foot of the ground and overlooked the garden path. Mrs. C. had an aunt who lived up-country, and this aunt had a curious obsession. Several times she was known to say: ‘You will always know when I die, because I shall appear to you in the form of a white turkey.’ Eventually she became ill and Mrs C. had to rush to her, leaving John alone.

That same evening, about dusk, John had settled down in his own little sitting room in the old part of the house with his pipe and the morning paper, when suddenly he became conscious of a faint sound: tap-tap-tap! He sat up and listened. The house was very quiet, and for a while, nothing broke the stillness save the tick of the old grandfather clock. Then he heard it again, apparently from the direction of the drawing-room: tap-tap-tap.

He proceeded to investigate. A powerful man and an ex-policeman to boot, John was not given to nerves, but when he reached the drawing-room even he confessed, later, to being a bit startled. Standing on the path outside the big sash window, and solemnly pecking at the glass with its beak, was a large white turkey.

For a moment he was so surprised that he could only stand and stare at it. Then, retracing his steps, he went out of the front door into the garden. There was the bird, sure enough, about twenty feet away and still pecking at the window pen; but as he moved slowly towards it, it made off across the lawn and disappeared into the bushes beyond, beyond which was a stone wall four feet high.

John followed it at once, quite confident he would have no difficulty in catching it, but although he searched around everywhere until dark he neither saw nor heard any further sign of it. From the moment it entered the bushes it vanished completely.

The next morning he made enquiries in the village as to whether anyone else had seen it, but without result. Apparently no one in the neighbourhood, in those days, kept turkeys at all, let alone white turkeys.

Shortly afterwards he had a letter from Mrs C. to say she had arrived just in time, as her aunt had died that same evening. When she returned to St Austell and they compared notes they found that the actual time of the old lady’s death was approximately the same as that at which the white turkey had appeared at John’s cottage.

John was convinced at the time that it was an ordinary bird, and so it may have been. In the article which prompted Mr Bond to write his account, I had stated my conviction that many animal ghosts are real flesh-and-blood creatures which on rare occasions can be drawn involuntarily into the vortex of certain human situations and so act the part of ‘ghosts’. The Fate of the Dead, Theo Brown, pp. 75-76

A fascinating thought, that last observation…

Other ghostly gobblers? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com who wishes all who celebrate it, a Happy Thanksgiving!

Well. I was pluming myself on knowing most of the English turkey ghosts, but must bow to this astounding collection of turkey horrors from Ireland by Dr Beachcombing!

Brian C. sends the best from the British tabloids– Sunday Sport, 1991:  Thanks, Brian!

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Three Fatal Drops: 1880s

The Dying Artist, Z. Andrychiewicz, 1880s





A remarkable manuscript of deep human interest —the disclosure of a dramatic incident. in the life of a famous novelist—came into the possession of the London Daily Express recently, said that journal in its issue of November 15

It is from the pen of Miss Dora Christie-Murray, daughter of the late Mr. David Christie-Murray, and it was accompanied by the statement that the. writer had been inspired to place the facts on record after reading the account of the trial of Richard Corbett on a charge of murdering his mother, whom he killed, he said, because she suffered from an incurable disease. Miss Christie-Murray’s story is as follows:

When my father was a young man, travelling in the Belgian Ardennes, he came across a cottage tucked away from civilisation, inhabited by an old couple and their son. The parents were of typical peasant class —heavy and loutish, their backs bowed with work, neither expecting nor hoping for anything beyond their lives of daily toil. But the 16-year-old son, a bright, flame-like spirit, was a changeling to their dull eyes.

Without any book-learning he was a genius. Untutored, he had the knowledge with which all artists are born, and above all he had the great, sorrowful gift of music. But all his beauty of soul was imprisoned in a sickly body that found work, of even the lightest kind, impossible. The parents, irritated by his helplessness and frightened by his alien ways, found him a burden, a useless clog on their own dull, stupid lives, and the boy in turn was bewildered by his parents’ lack of understanding and sympathy.

An Incurable Disease.

My father, naturally attracted by the boy, approached the parents with a view to adopting him, and was met with open-armed enthusiasm. To cut a long story short, he finally took the boy away, resolved that his artistry should find its own level. The boy—let us call him Henri—lived for a few months in heaven, but the sickness of his early life turned to an incurable disease, and, in spite of all the loving care my father gave him, he became feebler and feebler, and at last bed-ridden. All his days and nights, and finally all his minutes, were one protracted agony that not even the most powerful drugs could assuage.

The time came when it was only a question of days before the end—and such days! Such aeons of pain, such helpless, shrieking agony, that my father could hardly bear to stand by the bedside. Finally one day he turned to the doctor, almost frantic with his inability to do anything, and said:—”For God’s sake, man, do something! I cannot bear to see. this going on any longer.”

The doctor looked at him strangely for a moment, then picked up a small bottle which he handed to him. “When I am gone, monsieur,” he said, “and the pain becomes very acute, you may give Henri three drops of this medicine—just three drops, remember; more would be fatal.”

“Three Drops Only.”

My father said:—”You mean —?”

“Three drops only; more would be fatal,” repeated the doctor.

“Thank you,” said my father, and the doctor left the room.

As he turned to where the boy was lying, exhausted after his last paroxysm of pain, Henri opened his eyes and said faintly: “I can’t bear it, sir. Help me!”

My father, gentle as a woman, went down on his knees and lifted the boy’s head in his arms.

“My boy,” he said, “you have only a few more days to live, and they will be full of pain and agony. I have something here that might help to relieve the pain a little, and if I give it to you you will go to sleep and never wake up again. Will you take it?”

“I’ll take anything from your hands,” said the boy.

So, with hands that never faltered, my father poured out the overdose and held it to the boy’s lips, and the boy drank it trustfully, then settled down with a smile of unutterable peace, and just whispered, “God bless you, sir.”

And so fell asleep, and sleeping, died.

New Zealand Herald  24 December 1929: p. 14

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

A Grave Man: The Sexton of Spring Grove: 1866

Mind meal at en.wikipedia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The Old Sexton at Spring Grove.

Strange, Weird Experiences in a Grave-Digger’s Life.

Various Ways of Expressing Grief at the Last Scene.

Queer Actions of Superstitious People in Arranging Mounds.

Guards Armed to the Teeth—Only One Attempt at Grave-Robbery in Seven Years—Professional Mourners.

For twenty years Mr. Trotter, who is known as the old Sexton, has had charge of the digging and filling up of the graves at Spring Grove Cemetery. [Cincinnati, Ohio]

Yesterday an Enquirer reporter had an interview with Mr. Trotter.

He has seen nearly thirty thousand graves dug, and, of course, the same number filled after the body had been deposited.

He always makes it a point to be present, if there is a possibility of doing so, on both occasions.

For the first few years of his service at the Grove, Mr. Trotter often lent a hand in making the long, narrow and deep excavations, but of late he has devoted his whole time to overseeing the work, and the condition in which the mounds are to be found is sufficient proof that he is the right man in the right place.

Of this gentleman it can be truly said that he “sat by the new-made grave,” and that he is always prepared to “gather them in.”


“You may think it strange,” said the sexton, “but it is nevertheless a fact that not more than twenty-five out of every one hundred persons who die in Cincinnati and its suburbs are buried in Spring Grove.” On being asked the reason for this, Mr. Trotter said, “Simply because there are so many other grave-yards. In the first place, there is a very large Roman Catholic population, both Irish and German, in Cincinnati, and they have burying-grounds of their own. Then, the Methodists have a couple, the German Protestants two or three, and our Jewish and colored citizens, one each. Combine these and it will be found that nearly three-fourths of Cincinnati’s dead are put to rest in grounds other than Spring Grove.”

The persons employed about any cemetery from the Superintendent down to the humblest sweeper, have some


To deal with, and Spring Grove is no exception to the general rule. Some people, with an order for the digging of a grave in their pocket, will go out and insist on seeing not only the first spadeful of earth removed, but that they be allowed to remain until the work is completed. They will suggest this thing and that thing, and if told that it can not be done will want to know the reason why. As a rule the workmen endeavor to be as obliging as possible, but there is not one case in ten where a person who has watched the digging through goes away entirely satisfied. The graves are of a uniform depth of six feet, but their width and length depend altogether upon the size of the coffin that is to be received.

Then again, there is almost more trouble about the


Than there is about its digging. Of course, there is rarely much said at the immediate time, but a day or two afterward, yes, in fact, perhaps early the next morning, some friend or relative of the deceased goes to the grounds and complains that the filling was not done properly; that the earth was thrown in too loosely; that I ought to have been packed and hammered down with the backs of the spades or a rammer. The good-natured sexton takes all this, and oftentimes more, too, and tries to convince the one making the complaint that is would hardly have looked proper to have beaten the ground down over the coffin of the departed, and in the very sight of mourning friends and relatives. Then, if the complaining one is not too obdurate, he or she is taken to the new grave, and is convinced that after the funeral party had left the ground, the earth had been packed and hammered, and that it was almost as intact as it was before the digging had commenced at all.


Then there is another class of people know among the cemetery people as “cranks,” but generally referred to as superstitious. If a flower or a twig put on a grave is moved a quarter of an inch from where it was placed by them they will run to the superintendent or whatever official can be found, and assert that the grave has been disturbed, and they know that the body has been spirited away. Then there are others who, for the next four or five months after the interment of some dear one, will be at the grounds the moment the gate is opened in the morning and, having gained admittance, they will almost run to the lot to see if the mound is still there. Finding every thing in order, they will leave, but, in many instances, another member of the family or some friend will visit the spot again before closing up time in the evening.

Then there are other people who will measure the length and breadth of the grave every time they go out. When there at one time they will drive little bits of wood into the earth at the head and foot and at the sides of the grave, and with a tape-line carefully measure the distance. Then, after the lapse of a week or two, they return and find that perchance one of these little pieces of wood can not be found, or that it has been moved a few inches, they are sure that the tomb has been opened and the body stolen.

Many times acquaintances, knowing the peculiarities of these people, will change the markers on purpose to deceive and worry them. When this is found out it is promptly put a stop to by the authorities.


Then there is another class of people who, after a relative or friend has been buried, will ask permission to employ a private watchman for night duty for a month or two. They are told that this request can not be granted, because it would be against one of the most important rules of the cemetery, and are assured that there is no necessity for any action of the kind, as the association employs all the help necessary in guarding the place. Still, they are not satisfied, and will beg and persist in the hope that the desired permission will be granted. But it never is.

There is really no occasion for any worriment on the part of any one, because there are five night watchmen


On constant duty, and no person is allowed inside the grounds after sundown save themselves. They each carry a revolver and a musket loaded with “slugs,” and their instructions are not to parley with any intruder, if, perchance, one should be found, but to shoot him down in his tracks.

This the policemen would be sure to do, and, as they have never had occasion to use their weapons, it must be considered that body-snatchers and other desperadoes give Spring Grove a wide berth.

During the life of Superintendent Adolph Strauch he had his residence inside the grounds, but he also had a countersign which all the men on guard understood. Mr. Salway, the present excellent superintendent, who succeeded Mr. Strauch, lives on Winton road, outside the grounds, and so from dark to daylight there is absolutely no one inside the inclosure save the watchmen.

So far as the present officers of the cemetery can see, and some of them have been on constant duty for nearly a quarter of a century, but one attempt was ever made to


And this, as might have been supposed, proved a fruitless undertaking. This occurred about seven years ago, and the body sought to be stolen was that of a young man named Boyd who had been shot and killed b his drunken father at South Cumminsville.

The would-be robbers had gained entrance to the cemetery by climbing the Winton-road fence, but they were discovered in their nefarious work before they had proceeded very far, and were fired upon by the guard. Whether they were injured or not was never ascertained, as they managed to make good their escape.


“How do relatives and friends and others who are present act when the last sad rites at the grave are about to be performed?” echoed one of the old officers of the place in reply to a question of that import asked by the reporter. “Well, I’ll tell you that is an easy and at the same time a hard question to answer,” and then he went on to explain a truism, viz.: that all persons do not show grief alike.

Some, when they reach the open pit and see the coffin about to be lowered, give way completely and fill the air with their lamentations. Others will stand perfectly mute, not moving a muscle until they hear the clods of earth falling upon the case containing the coffin, and then they will break down. Still others will show no signs of emotion till the grave has been filled and they have returned to their carriages. Then there are still others who go as they came, apparently indifferent to all that is passing around them. Perhaps they, too, have aching hearts—hearts perhaps too full of sorrow to allow the shedding of a tear. They are the ones who feel the loss probably to a greater extent than those who are more demonstrative, but they nurse and husband their grief until the home from which a darling one has been snatched is reached.


“Do you have here in Cincinnati what it is said they have in other cities—people who are known as professional mourners?” was asked of still another official.

“Oh, yes,” was the laughing reply: “we have a number of them, but not as many as some of the large Eastern places can boast of. There are perhaps a dozen or so of both men and women who will attend a funeral whenever an opportunity offers, no matter whether they may have been acquainted with the deceased in life or not. They go, it is presumed, for the ride, and can show as much feeling at the side of a grave as any one else. This is one reason why you see attached to death notices the words ‘burial private’ so often.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 5 March 1889: p. 4

Grave-yard Philosophy.

They have a grave-digger at Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, who is a fair match for the grave-digger in Hamlet. Here is an account of him:

One gets some grim views of living, as Well as of dead humanity by visiting a show grave-yard such as this. There is a simple-minded, good-hearted attache, by the name of ___, I am very fond of talking to. He has given me many lessons not soon forgotten.

“It’s a little grief and a good deal of pride that makes ’em do it, sir. I don’t mean to say that it ain’t natural; it is nateral. Nater can be found in a cemetery as well as anywhere. One afflicted family puts up a monument, and another afflicted family wants to outdo it. And they generally does, ef it’s done at once. Ef it’s put off a little, they gets more reasonable.”

“Time cures all ills.”

“Well, it does I’se seen a party put in that, vault to stay til a lot could be bought and a monument put up, and the grief was deep. You’d ‘spose there was no end to that grief, and no bottom either. Well, at the end of three months the company has had trouble to get them to take out the party and give it a Christian burial.”

“There are exceptions to that.”

“In course–any number of ‘em. I can show you graves here ten years old, and every summer you’ll find fresh flowers strewed on ’em.”

“More flowers than ornaments.”

“Can’t say that. Real deep feelin’ grief belongs as much to the rich as to the poor. Leastwise I find it so. But dying is as nateral as livin’, and in course people gets over it. Therefore it is that monuments come up with the first burst. Them graves that have flowers over ’em for more than a year isn’t healthy graves.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that the mourners ain’t in their nateral health, or they’d find their feelings directed to the care of livin.”  

The Daily Phoenix [Columbia SC] 12 December 1866: p. 4

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

All Saints’ Day Is Celebrated in Paris: 1887

All Saints’ Day, Emile Friant, 1888 Musee des beaux-arts de Nancy

All Saints’ Day Is Celebrated in Paris.

Paris, November 3, 1887. “The air is full of farewells to the dying, and mourning for the dead.” Twenty-seven famous deaths in Paris during the mouth of October—statesmen, men of letters, actors, singers and artists. Of these the best known to us were Maurice Strakosch, the impresario, and Marie Aimee, the lyric actress.

As for the poor old members or the French Institute, it will be a wonder if all of them are not carried off with having to go shivering to funerals, and to stand bare-headed in the mud and rain. Steely, slippery people, these French, but they have one soft side–their veneration for the dead. You are on top of an omnibus in Paris; perhaps the day is frosty, windy and rainy all at once. Suddenly every man in sight doffs his hat and keeps it in hand a good minute or two; the driver on his seat, the passing cabbies on their perches, the fares within the cabs, the pedestrians, the passengers on the omnibus and those within it, the young and the old, the hairy and the bald; at the same time the women in sight, all, from the vendor of newspapers on the sidewalk to the Countess in her carriage, cross themselves, and you see their lips move in prayer. It is a passing funeral, perhaps of the very humblest kind; but ail are equal, and here equally respected, in death.

You pass before a house; the big door leading Into the court-yard is draped in great black curtains with silver bands and fringe; within the curtains a draped coffin rests on trestle; a basin of holy water with a silver sprinkler is at hand; flowers are on the coffin, and beside it sits a mourner. In the street no vehicle goes by that the driver does not lift his hat, no pedestrian comes along who does not keep his hat off until the house is passed. The women cross themselves and pray, and many, both men and women, perhaps perfect strangers to the deceased, enter, sprinkle some holy water on the coffin, say a little prayer for the departed soul’s repose, and hurry on about their business. They do it unconsciously, sometimes mechanically, but for all that it’s a very pretty custom.

I remember hearing F. M. Boggs, the American artist, tell that in his house in Montmartre, one of the artist quarters of Paris, the leases stipulated that there were to be no funerals in the hallway. They called the tenants “the immortals,” because it was forbidden to die there. The landlords who make such stipulations are, however, held in some repugnance by the people who believe that a mere mortal landlord has no right to come between them and such stray prayers as might help them out of purgatory.

It may be that modern France is atheistic, but you would never think so to see the way that saints’ days and holy days are universally observed. On Hallowe’en I was surprised to see my dressmaker ushered in about 8 in the evening While the bells of St. Clotilde were ringing out for service.

“I must fit you this evening instead of tomorrow, ‘ said she, “for to-morrow is All Saints’ Day.”

“Why not the day after, Madame Lenet?” I asked.

“The day after, Madame, is equally impossible. That is the day of the dead, All Souls’ Day.”

And so it goes the year round, you never know when you are going to stumble on a holiday. As for the banks, impossible to know when you may have to go without money and wait for your letters, they are always closing on one pretext or another. It is only the cabs and restaurants that are always with us in Paris; and on July 14th the cabs are suppressed, no wheels roll on the asphalt that day, people dance quadrilles in the street and prince and peasant alike walk home when all is over.

Of all these festivals the Day of the Dead is not least interesting.

“Tell me. Madame Lenet,” I said to the dressmaker, “how will you pass that day?”

“Well, madame, my husband, he is my second husband, is employed by the Minister of Foreign Affairs. On that day he will have a holiday. We will take our morning coffee, go to mass, come home to breakfast, and then dress to go to the cemetery. We will carry some wreaths and pots of plants and with them decorate my first husband’s grave and my daughter’s. When we have said our prayers at the graves we will then visit the tombs of our friends and for those we most loved we leave a little wreath or a bunch of immortelles.

“And after that, what do you do?”

“Oh, after that we visit the tombs of celebrated men. You know there are some superb ones to visit; and then, too, there are the splendid soldiers’ monuments, which are always worth seeing.”

“And this year,” she continued, with an appreciative smack of the lips, “I shall see where Pranzini the murderer was buried. You know they dug him up and made card-cases of his skin–but still I shall see where he was buried. And then, too, I want to visit the graves of those who perished in the Opera Comique fire; that is very interesting.”

“And I suppose you want to see the new crematory at Pere Lachaise cemetery?”

“Oh, I shall see it, of course, but I think it’s very dreadful. Mon Dieu, it doesn’t seem like Christian burial.”

“Which day do you go, on All Souls’ Day or All Saints’ Day?”

“Oh, I shall go on both. But if madame wants to go, she had best go on All Souls’ Day. You see, All Saints’ Day is a holiday observed by all classes, but there are a few who do not keep All Souls’ Day. The crowd on the first will be something terrible.”

That settled it. I wanted to see the crowd, and determined to go on the first.

So, on the first, behold us bundled into a rickety cab, the last one at the stand, and plodding along past the groaning omnibuses to Pere Lachaise. What is this? We are stopped by the police. “No carriages allowed beyond the Boulevard Voltaire,” and it is a good fifteen minutes’ walk by the Boulevard de la Roquette. Fifteen minutes! we are lucky if we make it in an hour. The Boulevard de la Roquette, a straight broad street leading to the big gate of Pere Lachaise, is one solid black mass of humanity, garlic-fed humanity, as we learn later.

We leave the grinding crash of arrested cabs on the Boulevard Voltaire and join the rear ranks of the army of mourners. In fifteen minutes we have had enough. Impossible to make any headway; the crowd is stationary. The weather is cold; we never did like funerals; we decide to go home. We turn. Lo and behold! we have unconsciously traveled half a block. The crowd behind us is as solid as the one in front. We are in for it, and must go to Pere Lachaise willy-nilly.

The police are numerous, the crowd quiet and orderly, no danger to be apprehended, and I amuse myself with my neighbors.

The young man with his elbow in my stomach is probably a medical student; first because he knows how to put his elbow just where it hurts the most; second, because his trousers are short, his overcoat shabby, his face intellectual and his hat an Irish beaver with a straight brim; third, because there is another just like him, and they have only one girl between them–all well-known trademarks, though why nor wherefore I cannot tell.

The girt, who blushes and simpers prettily, has a red and purple wreath in one hand, and in the other a small pot of pink chrysanthemums with a big white paper round it. She is a milliner’s or dressmaker’s apprentice, first because she wears no hat or cap, just her heavy black hair coquettishly knotted on top of her head, second because her cheap black dress is stylishly made and her whole get-up trim and tidy.

By my side walks a well-dressed middle-aged man with a dim, retrospective eye, and stretching out from him hand in hand his four boys, all little chaps and all with wreaths.

Some are rich and some are poor; some in crepe and some in colors; some weeping, some flirting; some bickering among themselves and some laughing.

Suddenly there is a chorus of ohs and ahs, a ripple of annoyance runs through the compact ranks. It is a vendor who is making his way by main force, selling plans of Pere Lachaise with all the principal monuments designated for two cents. The people buy them right and left. It is evident that most of them have come for pleasure as well as pain, and that they intend to combine pious duty with sight-seeings.

Save for the space occupied by the two prisoners of La Roquette—the prisons that lately held Pranzini, and where his unworthy head was chopped off–the Boulevard de la Roquette is lined on either side with  shops for the sale of funeral wreaths and emblems, and in every doorway there is an itinerant vendor of the same. In the long standstills the vendors cry their wares lustily, and those people who are near the sidewalk buy; it is impossible for the others to move.

Beaded French immortelles or funeral wreath.

The French like their funeral wreaths strong. They make them of colored beads strung on wires, of artificial flowers, of solid-woven immortelles. They are strong in color, too. A toothless old dame wanted to sell me a gigantic circlet of red plush, with a bow of white crape to hang it by. In beads the etiquette is black, and black with purple for old people; blue. white, or blue and white, for young ones. The immortelles run riot. There are wreaths of brilliant purple and scarlet, purple and orange, red and yellow and plain golden yellow.

Strange that in Paris, the very center of modern art, these people who so love their dead and, by the way, are so coolly rapacious with the living, should heap crude hideousness upon the tomb. The bead work of the North American Indian is a revelation in art compared to the stuff that fills the Paris graveyard.

Imagine a common, naked china doll, about four inches long, swinging in an oval frame of blue beads and overhung by a stiff-wired weeping willow in white beads. Fancy, under glass, a pair of hands, such, as confectioners put on wedding cakes, with a screaming frame of blue and purple beads. Conceive of all these crude, ugly colors piled in family vaults, laid upon gray-stone tombs, or hung on pothooks around a grave! For to the graves we come eventually, after a good hour of—

“Here you are, ladies; this way, gentlemen. Beautiful tokens of affection from 1 franc up. Choose; now is your time; they’re going fast.”

Or: “Over here; over here. Who wants a porter? Buy some wreaths and I will carry them.”

Or: “The pla-a-a-a-an of Pere Lachaise. Instead of 10 cents, going for two-o-o.”

Or: “Guide, guide; any one want a guide? Just beckon to me. If yon want to see the celebrated tombs of Pere Lacha-a-a-a-aise.”

Or: “Barley sugar, barley sugar. Beautiful sticks of barley sugar for 1 ce-e-n-eut.”

Or: “Sausages, delightful sausages, taste them; only three cents for a lovely piece of sausage flavored with ga-a-arlic!”

Or: “Here you are. A pot of immortelles in nice white paper for ten ce-e-ents!”

Drifting slowly inch by inch into the great gate where we come at last to elbow room, very little to be sore, but enough to be thankful for. Into Pere Lachaise with its 110 acres of marvelous memories. Upon this tract of land, once the country seat of Father Lachaise, Louis XlVth’s Jesuit confessor, since the year 1804 there have been monuments raised to over 20,000 famous people. The value of the works of art that here embellish tombs and family vaults is something over $20,000,000.

Of the eighty to one hundred burials that daily take place in Paris Pere Lachaise now receives but very few, and those chiefly the wealthy or the famous. Like the cab fares the Paris funeral tariff is regulated by law and, exclusive of religious ceremonies, interments, or “funeral displays” as the French more properly term them, cost from $250 to $l,500. A grave which shall remain undisturbed for ten years costs $30, and the same in perpetuity $100.

As far as I can learn there is no speculation in buying plots here, nor any asking of fancy prices for special locations. It seems to be a case of “first come, first served.”

Once more I look around this wondrous territory of Pere Lachaise, and walk its paths, jostled by the present and bewildered by the past. It is probably, take it all in all, the ugliest God’s acre of any pretensions in the world. Its wondrous artistic, financial and historical wealth appeal to the intellect but leave the eye and heart untouched. Few trees, fewer vines. and no flowers, save the sickly ones that wither here and there in little common pots.

With all its wealth, with all its art, it is cold, hard and commercial as a counter in a hardware shop. When I think of the gracious beauty of Greenwood Cemetery, the romantic loveliness of our Laurel Hill the wind-swept, fog-wreathed dignity and pathos of dear old I.one Mountain, it seems to me that these Frenchmen may know how to live and how to die, but they don’t know how to be buried. And it is not that facilities are lacking, for flowers are cheaper in Paris than in New York, or even San Francisco; and French gardeners the most accomplished in the world. The superb bronzes of Pere Lachaise would fairly speak if you could see them against a background of green; the checker-board collection of family vaults would melt into harmony if their angles were broken with ivy; even the humblest graves would seem to offer some hope of resurrection with the heaven-turned faces of flowers to point the way. But the statues are cheapened with hideous beads; the graves weighed down with their hard, cold glitter, and in the bare family vaults wax candles make a blot upon the precious sunlight.

Ugh! It must be cold comfort to lie in a French grave.

Next day we learn from the Figaro that 348,280 people visited the nineteen cemeteries of Paris on All Saints’ Day, and that your correspondent was only one of 56,500 who went to Pere Lachaise.

On All Souls’ Day I went to Mont Parnasse cemetery, more hideous, if possible, than Pere Lachaise. There I saw people really weeping and praying at the tombs, unconscious of surroundings and absorbed in the luxury of grief. There also I saw a long line of little schoolboys go up and deposit a great wreath at the foot of a broken granite column. There were already many wreaths there, and it was difficult to make room for this final one. When it was placed, all who were near stood still a little while in silent prayer. I saw some poor old people sobbing, and some with streaming eyes raised to the column.

This monument, which finds a place in every French cemetery, is called “The Monument of Remembrance,” and is dedicated to the unnumbered and unknown dead.

At Pere Lachaise it was like a circus. People fought to get into the chapel, where each visitor is supposed to say a prayer. And they stood, laughing in line, waiting to look through the grating of the new and splendid mortuary chapel to Thiers. Balzac was deserted, no one looked at de Musset, Rachel, the great actress, had one wreath and Desclee had two. Not a bead for the Duc de Morny, and Chopin, Moliere, Beranger, Cuvier, Coeot and many others were deserted.

I saw one tomb swarming with people, and tried to penetrate the crowd, but impossible.

“Tell me, what is it?” I asked a woman standing by.

“That, madame. is the tomb of a woman, a curious case in midwifery. It always makes a great hit every year.”

Impossible also to get near the tomb of two aeronauts who once came down too suddenly from a balloon, and lie there side by side in bronze. A great success, too, the painted image, with wings, of a little girl who died the day of her first communion. It is in a glass case, and in front of the case the little girl’s dolly, dressed in communion dress, holds a lighted taper.

No one ever leaves Pere Lachaise without a look at Abelard and Heloise. The lovers, separated in life, lie side by side under a great stone canopy in death. Their popularity is inexhaustible. And I saw giggling lovers come and throw them wreaths and wish them luck after seven hundred years of decay.


 The San Francisco [CA] Examiner 27 November 1887: p. 10

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Ghost Fires and Melting Masks: The Macabre Mirth of the Vintage Hallowe’en

It’s Beggar’s Night here in my town and some people worry about making Halloween safer and healthier. To that end, my neighbor gives out pencils to trick-or-treaters. I prefer unhealthy treats like M&Ms and KitKats. After all, a child could put an eye out with a pencil. Safety first.

 But it was not always thus.

A boy is crushed during a Halloween out-house tipping; blinded by a Halloween mask, a girl drives into the path of a train; a child is killed by a falling pumpkin.  Halloween has always been an inherently dark, dangerous, and unwholesome holiday.

The social columns of vintage newspapers are filled with fascinating snippets like “A pretty tea was given by Mrs. A.P Clawhammer for her friend Miss Margaret Pruritis of Dismal Seepage, Iowa.”  These news items burble along in a predictably restful pattern, listing the decorations, the refreshments and the entertainments at local parties. As I was researching the topic of vintage Halloween disasters, I found these two Halloween items in the social column of a Georgia newspaper and was struck by their casual cruelty side by side with the genteel details.

 Philatheas Entertain

The Philathea Class [this was a Bible study group] of the First Methodist Church entertained at a most successful Halloween party on Friday evening in the church parlors.

          Their guests included the members of the Baraca Class, and the officers of the Sunday School and their wives.

          Autumn leaves, pumpkins and chrysanthemums were used in decorating, carrying out the Halloween idea.

          The ladies of the class, garbed as ghosts, welcomed them into the parlors, where many surprises of a fearful and spooky nature awaited them. On shaking the hand of Miss Daisy White, president of the class, so cordially offered them, the unsuspecting guests (or victims) were given a severe and agonizing shock. A small electric shocking machine explained this mystery. This was one of the most amusing incidents of an eventful evening.

           Miss Burt Entertains

Miss Georgia Burt entertained her Sunday School class at a most delightful Hallowe’en party Friday evening in Kennesaw.

          The house and spacious veranda were very artistically decorated with autumn leaves, black cats, owls, ghosts and witches, which gave the interior such a weird aspect, one felt as if he were really in the land of Goblins.

          The veranda and interior were illuminated with Jack o’ lanterns, and two large pumpkins were placed at the entrance, and were very attractive, with large faced cats on each side with candles lighted in them, defining the features.

          The children were entertained throughout the evening by various games suggestive of the season, and fortune-telling….

          The most remarkable event of the evening was a real live black cat coming to take part in the Hallowe’en celebration, but the little cat died next morning and Miss Burt was accused of poisoning it as she was told by several friends she would surely be an “old maid” if she should keep it. Marietta [GA] Journal 7 November 1919: p. 7          

Although there were no razor-blades in apples or poisoned candy, Halloween fatalities were an expected part of the fun. Some newspapers published lists totting up Halloween victims from all over the country. Alcohol and firearms figure heavily in most accounts, but you also find macabre accidents:

Columbus, O., Nov. 1 An unknown man was run over by a Main Street car, shortly before 3 a.m. today, and instantly killed, being terribly mangled. The motorman saw the body lying across the track as he approached, but supposed it to be a Halloween dummy. There was nothing on the body by which it might be identified. Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 2 November 1904: p. 4


Paint Melted and Caused Girl’s Death by Blood Poisoning.

ORANGE, N.J., Nov. 13. Little Freda Henke, the fourteen-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Otto Henke of 24 Church Street, this city, is dead at her home as a result of blood poisoning contracted by wearing a papier mache mask at a Hallowe’en party she recently gave a number of her young friends.

At the party all the children wore masks, and there was much romping. The perspiration on the girl’s face melted the paint on the mask and this contaminated an abrasion on her upper lip. New York Times 14 November 1902.

          Fire was a constant theme in the Halloween celebrations of the past. For example, in 1906 an entire Leipsic, Ohio city block, to the value of $100,000, went up in flames because of a Halloween paper lantern mishap. Lives were frequently lost when costumes were ignited by jack-o-lanterns or candles. A Halloween dance could become a Dance of Death, especially when a Ghost Fire was involved. At an April 1908 “Ghost Dance” in New York, a young woman was burnt to death when the alcohol in the following ritual exploded.

Would You Know Whom you Are to Marry?

Then Build a Ghost Fire on Hallowe’en.

          …For centuries young men and maids on the eve of All Saints’ day have invoked ghostly information as to their futures.

There are many methods of doing this—such as holding a candle lighted mirror over your head and walking backward down a crooked stairway as the clock strikes midnight. If you are a girl the apparition of your future husband will cloud the mirror’s surface. If you are a man vice versa….But the oldest as well as most mirth-provoking mode of procedure is the ghost fire.

A ghost fire is made as follows:

A big dish pan is placed in the center of the floor of a dark room. The pan contains some four or five pounds of salt which has been fairly well saturated with wood alcohol. The party gathers around the pan, chanting the incantation quoted above. Each has been given a chestnut, and each chestnut has been marked in some distinguishing way. A lighted match is thrown on the salt, which breaks into a blaze that gives off an uncanny green light. The chestnuts are then thrown in, and the girl whose chestnut pops first will be the first bride. Of course, she must immediately eat the chestnut. BUT—that is not all.

She is supposed to see the face of her future husband arising from the flames! Wyoming State Tribune [Cheyenne, WY] 31 October 1919: p. 7

My friend Nick Reiter of The Avalon Foundation had this to say about what seemed to me a dubious indoor entertainment:

“First off, the amount of alcohol needed to soak 4 pounds of salt is a lot of alcohol. The fire from that wouldn’t so much be explosive, but rather hot and very long lasting. It would be difficult to put out. It would also make the pan hot enough to burn the hell out of the floor….

“Wood alcohol is methanol – not ethanol as in booze, or isopropyl as in rubbing alcohol. They all burn about the same, but wood alcohol is very toxic, both in fume and in ingestion. I would not have wanted to eat a chestnut [roasted that way.]”

A different sort of Halloween divination proved fatal to a Pennsylvania woman:


Miss Minner’s Fatal Effort to Win a Halloween Husband.

Sharon, Pa., Nov. 6. A very peculiar case has come before the local physicians in this city. Miss Luelia Minner, of Charleston, this county, attended a Halloween party, and the guests indulged in familiar Halloween legends. Miss Minner had heard that if a young lady would swallow a chicken’s heart her future husband would be the next gentleman she would meet. The girl tried the experiment and the heart lodged near the windpipe and caused an abscess to form in the throat. She kept gradually growing worse until today, when the matter broke forth and emptied into the windpipe, choking her to death. Deceased was 21 years old and a popular young society lady. Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 7 November 1895: p. 1

Halloween pranks could turn out to be deadly for the pranksters, who were particularly at risk for being shot by irate householders.

 As a result of a Hallowe’en prank two men were shot at Shelby, O., and both may die. Floyd Armstrong and Morris Brower placed cannon crackers in the spouting at Roscoe McCormick’s house. McCormick fired both barrels of a shotgun with deadly effect. Recorder [Indianapolis, IN] 10 November 1900: p. 5

 Or the victims, as in this extraordinary story:


Rochester, NY, Nov. 1 The authorities of Allegany County are looking for the persons who manufactured a skeleton out of animals’ bones which frightened Mary Oldfield of Karrdale to death last night.

          Miss Oldfield, accompanied by two friends, was returning from a Halloween party, where they had listened to grewsome stories until their hair stood on end. When about to enter the woods a rattling of bones was heard overhead, and looking up, the trio were overcome with horror at seeing a skeleton of gigantic proportions sweeping down on them from above. With a cry of terror. Mary dropped dead.

          A searching party found a wire leading from the ground to a tree top, to which was attached a skeleton by a pulley.  New York Times 2 November 1900: p. 5

A very happy and safe Hallowe’en to all of you. Dibs on the KitKats.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Funeral Men: 1856

The Funeral Men The Funeral Mute, Robert William Buss, Museum of London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

We are all familiar with the more usual tokens of death: the picture falling off the wall, the howling dog or hooting owl, the tap of the Death Watch Beetle or the stopped clock. Some of us may also know the less common death omens: the butterfly of doom or ships with black sails, but it is the specifically mortuary tokens of death that fascinate me: the sounds of a phantom funeral, or visions of a spectral hearse or coffin. The following story, which is unique in my experience, features two funeral mutes as the terrifying messengers of death.

‘In the year 1856 we were residing in a rented house in one of the midland counties, with our family and servants, near which temporary residence my husband, an officer in the army, had a command. For reasons upon which I need not enter, a change of position and locality had been much pressed upon the authorities in London, on my husband’s behalf, which, after the expiration of some time, was determined on by them; and we found ourselves likely to go to Scotland; the exact change for which my husband’s friends had asked, and which we each desired, for it was not far from the home of some of those who were very near and dear to us.

‘As there was considerable difficulty in obtaining a suitable and sufficiently convenient house at the place where we wished to reside, my husband went on to Scotland a month before it was intended to take me and our family. I therefore remained with our household in England. With the exception of my children and servants, I was quite alone. Our hired residence, surrounded by considerable grounds and plantations, and situated on the slope of a hill, was quite isolated. No other abode was nearer than a quarter of a mile ; and that was the lodge where our gardener resided. Our drawing- room was on the first floor, outside of the windows of which rose a balcony of iron and wood, connecting this room with my bedroom (which adjoined it), and my husband’s dressing-room, which was furthest off, all of which rooms, by glazed doors, opened on to the balcony in question.

‘One evening, between nine and ten o’clock, in the month of September, I was seated in the drawing-room. My maid had brought me some coffee, and was arranging my work-table and books prior to my retiring to bed, when I arose mechanically and walked out on to the balcony through the open door, as was often my custom, to look at the beautiful landscape in the moonlight. The moon was up, and the whole of the valley below was bright, almost as bright as in the day. Greensward and brook, wood and copse, were seen in the distance; with a large dark mass of stately elms, below which a cluster of Scotch pines stood to the right. The stillness was marked and almost unusual; the landscape lovely.

‘Suddenly, turning my eyes to the left along the balcony, I beheld all at once the figures of two men, dressed as mutes at a funeral, with hatbands, scarves and cross-poles covered with black silk, standing at the glass door of my husband’s dressing room. They did not seem in the least degree spectral, but too truly and too perfectly real. For a brief moment this was my certain impression; but on looking steadily at their forms for a few seconds, they began to have a less substantial, and a more transparent and cloudy appearance. Awestricken and overcome, I fell back through the drawing-room window, with a shriek and a stagger, into a chair. My maid, who was still in the room, rushed forward to my aid; and for a few seconds I believe that I entirely lost my consciousness. On recovering myself partially, but wholly unable to speak many consecutive words, I cried out to her, pointing in the direction of the figures, “Look there—there!”

‘She looked out on to the balcony, and there beheld the two gloomy forms as vividly and keenly as myself. It was a surprise and a shock to us ‘both.

‘She rang for the man-servant, who, coming up, was at once asked if he could see anyone or anything outside his master’s dressing-room door on the balcony.

‘Looking in the direction indicated, he replied that he could not. “There is no one and nothing there.”

‘“Don’t you see those two funeral men?” earnestly asked the maid.

‘“There are no men there,” he answered; at the same time that he walked out, and approached the spot where the figures we still beheld stood.

‘I and the maid watched him as he boldly walked up to the door, into the room, and actually passed through the spectral forms which still stood there. They did not swerve, they did not stir. The dressing-room was as usual, the man asserted. No mortal was there. The man-servant maintained that both the maid and I were dreaming.

‘For a while, the figures seemed to both of us as solid and lifelike as possible. There they stood in the clear moonlight, erect, weird, motionless, and spectral. In a short time they began to grow less distinct, and as it were, cloudy and dim, in their lower parts, but yet, as manifest as ever in the upper; and then, in about a quarter of an hour, they had utterly faded away.

‘I was overcome and puzzled to a degree which I cannot describe and could not measure. The thought of my husband’s safety—for which 1 prayed—smote me at once, and was constantly before me, and yet at the same time I felt a weight of sorrow and a foreboding of loss which so completely took possession of me, that I could neither talk nor cry. Tears would have been a relief; but they did not and would not come.

‘Within an hour, my maid occupying a sofa in my bedroom, I had been induced to retire to rest ; almost glad to be convinced at one minute by the arguments of the man-servant that what I had seen was the result of my imagination, and yet utterly unable either to get rid of the pressing load of anxiety on my mind, or to secure sleep.

‘A night-light burned in my room; and from time to time a few commonplace words had been spoken between myself and my maid. The time passed slowly. Midnight had come; I think I was dozing.

‘All of a sudden we heard a loud and startling knock at the principal entrance of the house; so sudden, so loud, and so startling, that the manservant, who slept on the ground floor, suddenly awakened, speedily rushed to the front door.

‘He opened it as quickly as possible. But as he solemnly and affrightedly affirmed, there was no one there, and no sign of anyone, as he told me at my bedroom door. The moon was still up; my maid and I looked out once again on to the balcony: the landscape was clear. Not a sign. Not a sound. All was still. “These things,” said I to myself, “are some blessed angel’s warning of a coming calamity,” and this thought (for I had always believed in angelic intervention) was upon me throughout the rest of the night. I did not begin to sleep until the morning had broken, and the sparrows were twittering on the roof. But constantly I commended myself to God the Blessed Trinity in prayer.

‘On the following evening, my husband’s brother came to announce the overwhelming tidings that my children were orphans and that I was a widow.

‘ My husband had died almost suddenly of heart disease, at his temporary residence in the north of Scotland on the very night in question; and these strange warnings for eye and ear were no doubt mercifully sent to me to break the severity of the shock which news of a sudden death must have given. Here is the finger of God. How often afterwards, and how fervently, have I prayed to God in the beautiful words of the collect for St. Michael’s Day in the “Book of Common Prayer,” “As Thy Holy Angels always do the service in Heaven, so may they succour and defend us on earth, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” ’

More Glimpses of the World Unseen, Frederick Lee, 1878

The sharp rapping on the door was a common death-omen. Some banshees also knocked on doors, rather than screaming.

Victorian Funeral mutes

Funeral mutes—the “funeral men,” as the maid calls them, were, for a long time, an essential part of a Victorian funeral. They carried wands swathed in black and were stationed mournfully outside the house of the deceased. They also marched in the funeral procession to the cemetery. Mutes were paid by the job and were rarely from the most refined social classes. They were often a figure of fun in Victorian literature and journalism. But there is nothing amusing about these sinister Mutes in Black,  uniquely Victorian messengers of death.

Other death omens with a mortuary theme? Swathe in crape and send to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

You’ll find information about professional and amateur mourners in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.  And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Like a Mournful Gust of Wind

viewing corpse in coffin The Spectre of the Hall, author of Varney the Vampire 1848

As someone who studies death and mourning, I’m always pleased to come across a story—either true or fictional—that mingles mourning customs with a good ghost story. This plausible tale, which is written as fiction, features the traditional night-watch over the corpse plus a sinister aural haunting.


“Well,” said Aunt Sarah Bird, “though I never saw one and hope I never shall, there are many who have, or who thought so at any rate; and I can’t help half believing in them after all. Your father, Mary Horton, if he was here, or Mr. William Day, if he was alive, could tell of an awful thing we once witnessed, which, if not a ghost, must have been something supernatural.”

“Do tell us about it, Aunt Sally,” said cousin Fanny.

We were all sitting in a great ring around Uncle Robert’s blazing hearth. Here were Aunt Sarah, Mary Horton, Elise Parker, cousin Fanny, and the children; on the other side Uncle Robert, Martin Kennedy the schoolmaster, and Daniel Ford and Stephen Ingalls, the hired men. Tiger and I occupied the chimney corner. I must mention that Uncle Robert is a large farmer in one of the old Puritan towns in Plymouth county, and lives in the family mansion, of which a part was built by my great-great-grandfather, who came over in the Mayflower.

It was a dark stormy night without, and the noise of the wind through the ancient elms was terrible.

“‘Twas before we were married,” continued Aunt Sarah, (speaking to uncle,) “when I couldn’t have been more than fifteen—but I must begin further back than that. Old Deacon Mansell of Middleborough, whose grandson died the year Fanny was born, had an only daughter, Charity”

“She married Dr. Garfield,” said uncle, “as long ago as I can remember; they’ve both been dead these twenty years at least.”

“Yes,” said aunt, “but she died before her husband, after they had been married about a year. The doctor was much the eldest, and was a rough man in his ways; they said he was none too kind to his wife while she was alive. It was a match of the deacon’s making, for Charity wanted to have had Stephen Kent, who went off to Genesee. She was a timid kind of a girl; indeed she was brought up so that she hardly knew what it was to have her own way in her life. The old man made her turn off Kent, who wasn’t worth anything but a small farm, and take Garfield, because he had property and was heir to old Mr. Cobb of Carver.

“All the young people then a few years older than I, said the marriage was the cause of her death. From the very day it took place she seemed to fall into a decline, and in less than a year she died of consumption.

“I wasn’t much acquainted with her, but Esther Mayhew, who had lived at our house, took care of her in her last sickness; and when she died, as there was no one there with Esther, our folks let me go over to keep her company.”

“I know the house,” said Stephen Ingalls; “it is around on what they call the five mile road.”

“Col. Davenport owns the place now,” said my uncle.

“The house stands in from the road,” continued Aunt Sarah, “and it looked dreary to me then because there were no trees near it, except some white birch and sumach at the foot of the lane—nothing but a high well-sweep, and a few outhouses that hid themselves behind as if they were afraid of being seen. I remember as plainly as though ’twere yesterday, how gloomy it looked the day I went to see Esther. There was she, and old granny Bolcum, who went away in the afternoon, and William Day, then a young man; he married Esther afterwards, and they moved over to the Vineyard. Garfield had gone down to Boston in the worst of his poor wife’s sickness, and though word had been sent, it took a day to go and a day to come, so that he could no more than get back in time for the funeral.

“In the east room lay the body in the coffin, ready for the funeral, which was to be next day. Dear me! how distinctly I recollect the expression of the face, when Esther took me in to see it; so serene and peaceful that I said it appeared as if the soul had gone to heaven before death. But Esther, who liked her very much, was all tears, and said ‘she didn’t know what to think, for that Charity had never experienced religion.’

“That evening, after granny Bolcum went away, came your father, Mary, who was to sit up with William Day. He must have been then about twenty-five, and as strong and resolute a young man as there was in the Old Colony.”

“He’d have been an active man if he had not gone into business,” said Uncle Robert.

“We sat by the kitchen fire,” continued my aunt, “till about ten o’clock, and then Esther and I went upstairs to bed. I was soon asleep and conscious of nothing, till some time in the night I was awaked by Esther’s suddenly rising up and saying in a startled whisper, ‘What’s that?’

“I should have mentioned that the house is a one-story one, and the only chamber then finished was the one we occupied, directly over the east room.

“She spoke so quick and grasped my arm so tightly I was awake in an instant, and comprehended that she was frightened at something she had heard. I held my breath, and in a moment we both heard a strange sound, that seemed to come from beneath the floor. I was frightened almost out of my senses. Esther had more courage. ‘Slip on your gown, Sally dear,’ said she; ‘don’t be scared—(for I was beginning to cry)—we will go down stairs. I dare say it’s only William Day has fallen asleep and snoring.’

“We hurried on our gowns as well as we could in the dark, and had hardly done so before there came another—a deep, low groaning, heavier than before.

“Esther pulled me down stairs, and we rushed into the kitchen where the watchers were sitting, both asleep, their supper untouched, and the fire light almost gone out. I grasped your father’s knees and he started to his feet; Esther shook William Day and clung to him, crying, ‘O William; wake! wake!’

“‘What’s the matter?’ said your father.” They were both awake in a moment, and listening. Presently the awful sound was again repeated; we all heard it as plainly as you hear me speak. Not a word was spoken for a moment. William Day lighted a candle. Said your father to him, ‘Let us go in and look at the body.’

“But now Esther lost all courage, and held William Day by the arm, saying he should not go; if he did we should die, and so forth. Then your father said, ‘Stay you with the girls, William. I will take the gun and see what this means;’ and he began to do so while he was speaking.

“The east room did not open immediately from the kitchen, but through another apartment at the side of the house. Your father walked in with his gun, thinking, I suppose, that a cat (for cats, you know, are attracted by dead bodies) might have broken in through the window. He had crossed the floor of the side apartment, and had his hand on the latch of the east room door, when there came another dreadful moaning noise, much more distinct and lengthened than either of the others. It makes my blood run cold even now to think of it.

“We clung with all our might to William Day. Your father paused an instant, and we could see that the light for a moment trembled in his hand. But suddenly he flung the door wide open and walked steadily into the dark room, saying with a voice that made the house shake,”‘ In God’s name, Evil One, depart!’ “Immediately, while he walked around the coffin, we heard a noise as of a rushing wind going swiftly about the outside of the house. William Day opened the kitchen door and we went with him and stood upon the door-stone. Your father, seeing that there was nothing in the east room, joined us with the light, and we all stood there together and listened, expecting we knew not what.

“Three times the mysterious sound seemed to encircle the house, each time more faint, till finally it appeared to depart, and gradually die away. As it came the second time your father walked out a little distance from the house, bearing the candle in his hand. The night was pitch dark, and so perfectly calm that the flame of the candle was as steady as it was within doors. Yet we all heard the sound, and when we came to talk of it afterwards, we found it appeared precisely the same to each of us—a singular mysterious whisper, something like a prolonged mournful gust of wind, that went three times round the house against the sun, and then died away.

“We listened some time after it had ceased, till your father came with the light, and then we all went in. He and William Day then walked into the east room and examined the doors and windows carefully, without finding that anything had been moved however, except that the napkin which covered the face of the corpse had been turned down. William was positive that this was not so before; but your father was not sure that he had not done it himself when he went in alone. The face of the dead was unchanged, and both the men said the sweet look of it was enough to frighten away the worst spirit that ever walked upon the earth.

“You may suppose none of us slept much that night; but though one and another of us would often fancy noises coming from the east room like those we had heard, there was no time when we could all agree that we actually heard any. We sat up and talked of it till day-break; your father said it might after all have been our imagination, or it might have been caused by an earthquake, or something that learned men might know about; for the sake of poor Charity he thought, and so did all, that it had better be kept a secret.

“So they made me, who was the youngest, promise very strictly not to tell of it. We have all kept our words so well that none of us, so far as I know, ever mentioned it again, though William Day (who afterwards married Esther) might have talked of it with his wife; they are both now in their graves. Your father and I are the only ones left; and the very names of the persons concerned are almost forgotten—so I think there’s no harm in telling it.

“Dr. Garfield arrived soon after daybreak in the morning, having ridden all night from Boston. He inquired if any one had passed the night at the house except ourselves, and said that in coming through Dodge’s woods about three miles back, he met an old man in a three-cornered hat and black stockings, with a long staff in his hand; the woods were dark and the morning fog obscured the twilight, so that he could not see distinctly, yet it appeared to him, oddly enough, that the old man looked and walked precisely like ‘daddy Mansell’—meaning Charity’s father, who died about four months after her marriage. He said that the old man, whoever he was, walked fast, in the middle of the road, and must have been almost blind, or in a brown study, for his horse would have gone directly over him had he not suddenly jerked him aside.

“I observed your father’s face change as he said this, but was so young at the time I could not understand it. When I grew up, however, and came to know what fathers—yes, and mothers, are capable of doing to their children, then I saw that he must have connected this account of the doctor’s with what had occurred in the night, and suspected in his mind that the awful groans we had heard were the sorrow of a tyrannical parent’s unquiet spirit over the dead body of his heart-broken child. And for my part, foolish as it may seem, I have never been able to account for the mystery in any other way.”

American Review: A Whig Journal of Politics and Literature, Volume 8: October 1848: pp 411-413

In the original article, another paragraph was added in which a sceptic suggested that the noises were a door creaking and cattle breathing out in the yard. There have been reports of mysterious vocalizations coming from corpses as trapped air works its way out.  In The Victorian Book of the Dead there is an account of watchers startled by a dead boy’s laughter.  The detail of “the prolonged mournful gust of wind” going “three times round the house against the sun,” seems to bear out the evil nature of the manifestation: widdershins is the direction of the Devil. The sinister figure of Deacon Mansell (the Deacon Met on the Road?) adds to the darkness of the story.

The custom of sitting up with the corpse would have been taken for granted by the readers of this story. It was a sign of respect for the dead, who, in common humanity, should not be left alone, just as the sick and dying should never be abandoned. While the vigils, particularly where there were only one or two watchers, could be very frightening, there is no truth to the modern suggestions that wakes were a) to make sure the person was actually dead or b) to prevent the corpse from becoming a vampire. That said, there are certainly stories of persons “waking” at their own wakes, and it was well-known that cats and corpses did not mix: in some cultures, a cat or other animal jumping over a corpse could cause the dead to become un-dead; and, to judge by the stories in the papers, cats found corpses an irresistibly tasty snack.  There is a blood-curdling story in The Victorian Book of the Dead about cats madly trying to get into a room containing a corpse.

As for the “awful groans” being the sorrow of a tyrannical parent’s unquiet spirit over the dead body of his heart-broken child, I have my doubts. They seem more like a banshee after the fact.

Other aural or funereal hauntings? Whisper mysteriously to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com


Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The False Funeral: 1860


I never liked my uncle’s business, though he took me when my father died, and brought me up as his own son. The good man had no children. His wife was long dead; and he had an honest old woman for a housekeeper, and a flourishing business in the undertaking line, to leave to some body; but he did not leave it to me, and I’ll tell you the reason.

When I had been about five years with him, and had grown worth my salt, as he used to say, a death occurred in our neighborhood, which caused greater lamentation than any we had heard of since my apprenticeship began. The deceased gentleman was a Mr. Elsworthy. The family had been counted gentry in their day. I should have said my uncle lived in York, and all the world knows what Yorkshire families are. Well, the Elsworthys were of good family, and very proud of it, tho’ they had lost every acre of an old estate which had belonged to them time out of mind. I am not sure whether it was their grandfather’s dice and cock-fighting. or their father’s going surety for a friend, who did something wrong in a government office that brought them to this poor pass; but there was no house in all York where candles went further, and tea leaves were better used up. There was a mother, two sisters, and a cousin who lived with them. The mother was a stately old lady, never seen out of the black brocade. The sisters were not over young or handsome, but they dressed as fine as they could. The cousin was counted one of the prettiest women in Yorkshire, but she walked with a crutch, having met with an accident in her childhood. Master Charles was the only son, and the youngest of the family; he was a tall, handsome, dashing young man, uncommonly polite, and a great favorite with the ladies. It was said there was some red eyes in the town when the story got wind that he was going to be married to the Honorable Miss Westbay. Her father was younger brother to the Earl of Harrowgate, and had seven girls beside her, without a penny for one of them; but Miss Westbay was a beauty, and the wonder was that she had not got married long ago, being nearly seven years out, dancing, singing, and playing tip-top pieces at all the parties. Half-a-dozen matches had been talked of for her, but somehow they broke down one after another. Her father was rather impatient to see her off; so were her sisters, poor things, and no wonder, for grow up as they might, not one of them would the old man suffer to come out till the eldest was disposed of, and at last there seemed something like a certainty of that business. Young Mr. Elsworthy and she struck up a courtship. He was fascinated–isn’t that the word?–at an assize ball, paid marked attentions at the bishop’s party, and was believed to have popped the question at a picnic, after Lord Harrowgate, the largest share holder in the North Eastern Bank, got him promoted from a clerkship to be manager. It’s true he was some years younger than Miss Westbay, and people said there had been some thing between him and his pretty cousin; but a Lord’s niece with beauty, accomplishments, and a serviceable connection does not come in every young man’s way; so the wedding-day was fixed for the first of January; and all the milliners were busy with the bride’s bonnets and dresses.

It was just a month to come, and everybody was talking of the match, when Mr. Elsworthy fell sick. At first they said it was a cold; then it turned to a brain fever; at last the doctor gave no hopes of his recovery, and within the same week Mr. Elsworthy died. The whole neighborhood was cast into mourning. A promising young man, in a manner the only dependence of his family, newly promoted to a station of trust and influence, and on the eve of marriage, everybody lamented his untimely death, and sympathized with his bereaved relations, and his intended bride. I think my uncle lamented most of all. None of his customers, to my knowledge, ever got so much of his sorrow. When he was sent for in the way of business, it struck me that he stayed particularly long. The good man could talk of nothing but the grief of the afflicted family–how the mother went into fits and the sisters tore their hair– how the cousin talked of wearing mourning all her days–and how it was feared that Miss Westbay, who insisted on seeing him, would never recover her senses. The country papers gave expressions to the public grief. There was a great many verses written about it. Nobody passed the house of mourning without a sigh, or a suitable remark. My uncle superintended the making of the coffin, as I had never seen him do to any other; and when the workmen were gone home, he spent hours at night finishing it by himself.

The funeral was to set out for the family vault in the Minster church, at Beverly, about three o’clock in the afternoon. It was made a strictly private affair, though hundreds of the towns men would have testified their respect for the dead by accompanying it all the way. The members of the family, in two mourning coaches, and the undertaker’s men, were alone allowed to follow poor Elsworthy to his last resting place, and the coffin was not to be brought till the latest hour. My uncle had got it finished to his mind, but evidently did not wish me to look at his work. He had a long talk with Steele and Stoneman, two of his most confidential assistants in the workshop, after hours, and they went away looking remarkably close. All was in train, and the funeral to take place the next day, when, coming down his own stairs they were rather steep and narrow, for we lived in one of the old houses of York my uncle slipped, fell, and broke his leg. 1 thought he would have gone mad when the doctor told him he must not attempt to move, or mind any business for weeks to come, and I tried to pacify him by offering to conduct the funeral with the help of Steele and Stoneman. Nothing would please the old man; I never saw him so far out of temper before. He swore at his bad luck, threw the pillows at his housekeeper, ordered me to bring him up the key of the workshop, and kept it fast clutched in his hand. I sat up with him that night. In a couple of hours he grew calm and sensible, but could not sleep, though the house was all quiet, and the housekeeper snoring in the corner. Then he began to groan, as if there was something worse than a broken leg on his mind, and

“Tom,” said he, ” haven’t I always been kind to you?”

“No doubt of it, uncle,” said I.

“Well, Tom, I want you to do me a great service–a particular service, Tom, and I’ll never forget it to you. You know Mr. Elsworthy’s funeral comes off to-morrow at three, and they are very high people.”

“Never fear, uncle; I’ll take care of it as well as if you were there yourself.”

“I knew you would, Tom,–I knew you would. I could trust you with the hearsing of an earl’s coffin ; and for managing mutes, I don’t know your equal. But there’s something more to be done. Come over besides me, Tom; that old woman don’t hear well at the best, and she’s sleeping now and no mistake. Will you promise me”–and his voice sunk to a whisper–“that, whatever you hear or see, you’ll make no remark to any living, and be as cautious as you can about the body? There’s foul play,” said he, for I began to look frightened; “but maybe this leg’s a judgment for taking on such a business. Howsomever, I’m to have three hundreds pounds for it; and you’ll get the half, Tom, the full half, if you’ll conduct it properly, and give me your solemn promise. I know you’ll never break.”

“Uncle,” said I, “I’ll promise, and keep it too; but you must tell me what it is.” “Well, Tom,” and he drew a long breath “its a living man you’re going to put in that coffin in the workshop! I’ve made it high and full of air holes; he’ll lie quite comfortable. Nobody knows about it but Steele and Stoneman and yourself; they’ll go with you. Mind you trust no one else. Don’t look so stupid, man; can’t you understand? Mr. Elsworthy didn’t die at all, and never had brain fever; but he wants to get off with marrying Miss Westbay, or something of that sort. They’re taking a queer way about it, I must say; but these genteel people have ways of their own. It was the cousin that prepared my mind for it in the back parlor; that woman’s up to anything. I stood out against having a hand in it till I heard that the sexton of Beverly Church was a poor relation of theirs. The key of the coffin is to be given to him; it will be locked, and not screwed down, you see; and when all’s over at the vault–it will be dark night by that time, for we don’t move till three, and these December days are short–he’ll come and help Mr. Elsworthy out, and smuggle him off to Hull with his son the carrier. There’s ships enough there to take him anywhere under a feigned name.”

“Could he get off from the marriage no easier?” said I, for the thought of taking a living man in a hearse, and having the service read over him, made my blood run cold. You see I was young then.

“There’s something more than the marriage in it, though they didn’t tell me. Odd things will happen in my business, and this is one of the queerest. But you’ll manage it, Tom, and get my blessing, besides your half of the three hundred pounds; and don’t be afraid of anything coming wrong with him, for I never saw any man look so much like a corpse.”

I promised my uncle to do the business and keep the secret. A hundred and fifty pounds was no joke to a young man beginning the world in an undertaking line; and the old man was so pleased with what be called my senses and understanding, that before falling asleep, close upon daybreak, he talked of taking me into partnership , and the jobs we might expect from the Harrowgate family; for the dowager-countess was near fourscore, and two of the young ladies were threatened with decline. Next day early in the afternoon, Steele, Stoneman, and I were at work, The family seemed duly mournful; I suppose on account of the servants. Mr. Elsworthy looked wonderfully well in his shroud; and if one had not looked closely into the coffin, they never would have seen the air-holes. Well, we set out, mourning-coaches, hearse and all, through a yellow fog of a December day. There was nothing but sad faces to be seen at all the windows as we passed; I heard them admiring Steele and Stoneman for the feeling hearts they showed; but when we got on the Beverly road, the cousin gave us a sigh, and away we went a rattling pace; a funeral never got over the ground at such a rate before. Yet it was getting dark when we reached the old Minister, and the curate grumbled at having to do duty so late. He got through the service nearly as quick as we got over the miles. The coffin was lowered into the family vault; it was more than half filled with Mr. Elsworthy ‘s forefathers, but there was a good wide grate in the wall, and no want of air. It was all right. The clerk and the clergyman started off to their homes; mourning-coaches went to the Crown Inn, the ladies were to wait till the sexton came let them know he was safe out—the cousin would not go home without that news–and I slipped him the key at the church-door, as he discoursed to us all about the mysterious dispensations of Providence.

My heart was light going home, so were Steele and Stoneman’s. None of us liked the job, but we were all to be paid for it; and I must say the old man came down handsomely with the needful, not to speak of Burton ale; and I was to be made his partner without delay. We got the money, and had the jollification; but it wasn’t right over, and I was just getting bed, when there was a ring at our door bell, and the housekeeper came to say that Dr. Parks wanted to see me or my uncle. What could want and how had he come back so soon? Parks was the Elsworthy’s family doctor, and the stranger at the funeral; he went in the second mourning coach, and I left him talking to sexton. My clothes were thrown on, and I down stairs in a minute, looking as sober as could; but the doctor’s look would have sobered any man. “Thomas,” said he, “this has turned out a bad business; and I cannot account it; but Mr. Elsworthy has died in earnest. When the sexton and I opened the coffin, we found him cold and stiff. I think he died from fright for such a face of terror I never saw. It wasn’t your uncle’s fault; there was no doubt he had air enough; but it can’t be helped; the less said about it, the better for all parties. I am going to Dr. Adams to take him down with me to Beverly. The sexton keeps poor Elsworthy, to see if anything can be done; and Adams is the only man we could trust; but I know its of no use.”

The doctor’s apprehensions were well founded–Mr. Elsworthy could not be recovered; and after trying everything to no purpose they laid him down again in the coffin with air holes. The ladies came back, and we kept the secret; but in less than six months after, a rumor went abroad of heavy forgeries on the North Eastern Bank. On investigation they proved to be over fifty thousand, and nobody was implicated but the deceased manager. His family knew nothing about it; being all ladies, they were entirely ignorant about banking affairs; but they left York next season, took a handsome house at Scarborough, and were known to get money regularly from London. They never employed any doctor but Parks; and his medical management did not appear to prosper, for they never were well and always nervous; not one of them would sleep alone or without a light in the room; and an attendant from a private asylum had to be got for the cousin. I don’t think the matter ever left my uncle’s mind; he never would undertake an odd job after it; and all the partnerships in England would not have made me continue the business, and run the risks of another false funeral.

Altoona [PA] Tribune 30 August 1860: p. 1

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Royal Widows and Their Weeds: 1889

Royal Widows and their Weeds

queen victoria mourning bodice 1875-1880 unusually dressy
A mourning bodice worn by Queen Victoria c. 1875-1880 While there is much ornamentation, there is still crape next the buttons. Kerry Taylor Auctions

The Gaulois gives some interesting particulars as to the mourning worn by widows of royal and imperial rank in Europe at the present time. A modification of the English widow’s cap, as worn for so many years by our Queen, would appear to be the form of coiffure at many Courts and the same journal states that an English milliner possesses a monopoly of supplying these to the royal families of Europe. The description given in detail shows that the cap, as worn at foreign Courts, has black lisse weepers. The aged Empress Augusta [widow of Emperor Frederick II of Germany], though she wears in other respects the conventional widow’s mourning, is obliged to wear a really warm cap, owing to the neuralgic headaches from which she suffers. The immense strings fall almost to the carpet when she is seated in her large arm-chair, which is mounted on rollers.

Empress Frederick, Queen Victoria in mourning
Queen Victoria and her daughter, the Dowager Empress Frederick of Germany, in mourning for Emperor Frederick III, who died shortly after assuming the imperial crown.


The unfortunate Empress Charlotte, widow of Maximilian of Mexico, has always been careless of her dress since the great tragedy of her life. In her widowhood and mental alienation she loves to wear the brightest colours, though her attendants have frequently tried to dissuade her from doing so. She often puts red roses in her hair, as she is represented in her portrait by Baudan, in which her remarkable resemblance to her grandfather, Louis Philippe, comes out so strikingly.

Empress Eugenie in mourning
The Empress Eugenie in mourning.


The Empress Eugenie wears the very simplest sort of mourning. Her gowns are of woollen fabric, and fall in plain folds from the waist. Her dressmakers occasionally attempt some variation upon their unstudied simplicity, but the Empress always bids them revert to the untrimmed dresses that she now prefers. The Queen-Regent of Spain has till quite lately worn deep mourning that was almost nun-like in its severity, The dress, very flat and straight, has had a long full train. Upon her head the has always worn a mantilla of a black woollen fabric, without even the relief of a fold of transparent crape. For extra covering, when crossing the gardens or traversing the long corridors of her palace, Queen Maria Christina wears a long black mantle lined with white velvet. She uses two pearl-headed pins that King Alphonso used to admire, for fixing the thick black veil upon her head. For certain occasions of ceremony the Queen-Regent has of late doffed her sombre black and worn a lilac gown but she seems to like to return to the black veil that denotes her widowhood.

Empress Frederick in widow's weeds
Empress Frederick of Germany in widow’s weeds.


Princess Stephanie’s still girlish head— she is but twenty-five— is the latest to wear the royal widow’s cap, under which her fair hair is almost hidden, and the black and white of Austrian widows’ mourning. Some dresses just sent to the Empress Frederick illustrate the etiquette of the first twelve months’ weeds. Among them is a mourning dress in plain English crape, the skirt of which is gathered all round the waist. The Empire bodice has a deep collar of white batiste and cuffs to match that reach to the elbow, A long trained house dress is in black cashmere the front being entirely covered with crape, pleated diagonally across it. The cuirasse bodice has a plastron of crape, the fastenings of which are concealed beneath two bias folds. Large sleeves of white crepe lisse are worn ever the black ones, the latter shewing through. A tea gown, in a soft fabric called woollen velvet; opens over a front of striped black crape. The long train is lined with white silk. The belt that confines the gown at the waist is made of woollen passementerie studded with unshining wooden beads. The collar and cuffs are of thick white serge embroidered with black. Among the dinner gowns is a Princess dress of English crape, the front of which is draped over black silk. Another is in black woollen velvet with train gathered on the back, and trimmed with an embroidery of small wooden beads. On the flat bodice is a deep white collar, like a nun’s, but made of the very finest batiste, in this respect unlike a nun’s. Among the mantles is a long and ample one, intended to be worn in driving, and made of black woollen crape, lined with Astrakhan fur. The young princesses wear black serge gowns with riding habit bodices, and collar and cuffs of black crape lisse. Their evening dresses are black grenadine, closely pleated over dull black silk, trimmed with English crape, and worn with black silk sashes.

Millinery Trade Review, Volume 14, 1889

1889 mourning costume the delineator
1889 mourning costume, The Delineator


Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: King Edward VII had a horror of prolonged mourning, no doubt in part to his mother’s life-long obsession with the trappings of woe. This dislike was framed in a kindlier spirit in an article telling of King George’s wish that general mourning for his father be cut short by a month and that half-mourning be dispensed with entirely.

“King Edward had a deeply rooted objection to prolonged royal mourning because of its untoward effect upon trade, and his son is showing equal consideration to the vast army of shopkeepers and their helpers.” The Illustrated Milliner, Vol. 11 1910

German court mourning was particularly severe. Here is a contemporary view:

The Queen Dowager, widow of King Frederick William IV., fell seriously ill at Dresden, where she had been staying with her sister, the Queen of Saxony, about the time I married. She died early in November, and to my intense dismay I found myself obliged to put aside all my pretty trousseau dresses, and to smother myself in crape, for a person I had never seen. Court mourning was not a joke at Berlin at that time, whatever it may be now. Whenever the notice of it appeared the whole of society covered itself with garments of woe, and every kind of gaiety was instantly put a stop to. Queen Elizabeth, having been a reigning sovereign, the mourning for her was as severe as it could well be, and consisted of long black cashmere dresses, a kind of Mary Stuart cap of black crape, and two veils, one falling over the face, and the other trailing behind to the very ground; the last-mentioned had to be worn indoors, and I remember my mother-in-law insisting on our decking ourselves with it every evening for dinner, in anticipation of a possible visit from the Empress, which event did actually occur two or three times during the period when these trappings of woe were prescribed. In Russia black is never worn on holidays, but in Germany it is different, and even on New Year’s Day we went and offered our good wishes to the Emperor and Empress in our crape dresses and veils, and anything more gloomy I am sure I have never seen, either before or after that, in the whole of my life. My Recollections, Princess Catherine Radziwill, 1904

Mourning dress of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, c. 1880-1890

Mrs Daffodil, by the bye, would disagree with the “girlish” assessment of Princess Stephanie, widow of Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria, who made such an mess of things at Mayerling, She may have been immature when betrothed to the Crown Prince, but she had fallen in love with a Polish Count in 1887, two years before this article was published. When Rudolph resumed his self-absorbed round of pleasure of Vienna, she was quite capable of giving as good as she got and scarcely troubled to hide her infatuation.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


Gates Ajar for a Kid: 1894


But the Gates Will Surely Be Ajar for Him in the Other World.

“Uncle John” Thorpe stood among his flowers one morning thinking how much better they were than the money that bought them.

The front door opened slightly and there came through the crevice a very small boy, much tattered as to clothes and having streaks of the town dirt across his face.

He saw “Uncle John” back among the flowers and said:


“What is it?”

“Say, I want a rose,” and he held out a penny.

“For a cent?”

“Dat’s all I can blow.”

“You’d better let me give you a carnation. It looks just as well in a gentleman’s buttonhole,” with a smile.

“No kiddin’, mister. I ain’t wearin’ flowers. It’s for me pardner.”

“Your partner?”

“De kid dat’s always been wid me. He’s out in t’e hospital and I t’ought he’d like to have a rose.”  “Uncle John” picked out the rarest and sweetest rose of all and took the penny.

The boy went away with the great nodding blossom hugged against his torn waist, and Uncle John was left with the reflection that there are some things in the world as beautiful as flowers.

It was a week later when the door again opened and the same tattered boy, his face unnaturally clean, came in and once more found “Uncle John” at home among his flowers.


“Hello, here; the boy that brought the rose. How’s your partner?”

“Dat’s what I came in about. He’s dead.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Say, mister, do you make dem ‘Gates Ajar’ t’ings for to put on coffins?”

“Yes, sometimes.”

“Well, t’ye boys have chipped in for one and here’s t’e stuff,” and he opened his right hand, which was heaping full of pennies and nickels.

“Uncle John” gathered together the coins and counted them. The total was 76 cents.

“We t’ought for dat we could get somethin’ purty nice fer t’e kid.”

“Yes, indeed; come this afternoon.”

“The boy went away undeceived.

“Uncle John, as he wired together the green strands and the rich clusters of bloom again reflected, and his reflection was that the gates must be ajar for such “kids.”

The Akron [OH] Beacon Journal 19 July 1894: p. 2