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 Corpse and the Dog: 1899

The Corpse and the Dog.

The other day a woman shipped her husband’s remains and a dog over the Central. At Albany she appeared at the door of the baggage car to see how they were getting along.

“How does he seem to be doing?” she asked, with a sniff.

“Who, the corpse?” inquired the baggage master, kindly.

“No, the dog.”

“Oh! He’s comfortable,” replied the baggage man.

“Anybody been sitting down on him?”

“Who, the dog?”

“No, the corpse.”

“Certainly not,” answered the baggage man.

“Does it seem cool enough in here for him?”

“For whom, the corpse?

“No, the dog.”

“I think so,” grinned the baggage master.

“Does the jolting appear to effect him any?”

“Affect who, the dog?”

“No, the corpse.”

“I don’t believe it does.”

“You’ll keep an eye on him, wont’ you?” she asked, wiping a tear away.

“On who, the corpse?”

“No, the dog.”

And having secured the baggage man’s promise, she went back to her coach, apparently contented.

Dallas [TX] Morning News 28 December 1899: 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.

The Masque of the Black Death: Paris in the Time of Cholera

As we head into August, I am reminded of how summer was commonly dreaded as cholera-season.  I have previously covered the grim humor of cholera jokes. Here we return to the theme, with a look at the Second Cholera Pandemic in Paris. Eye-witness accounts from the front lines of any tragic event are always fascinating. Poet Heinrich Heine was in Paris as a journalist in 1832 and gives a vivid description of Death at the Carnival, while this longer account comes from, shall we say, a hands-on narrator.

March 1832 You will see by the papers, I presume, the official accounts of the cholera in Paris. It seems very terrible to you, no doubt, at your distance from the scene, and truly it is terrible enough, if one could realise it any where—but no one here thinks of troubling himself about it; and you might be here a month, and if you observed the people only, and frequented only the places of amusement and the public promenades, you might never suspect its existence. The month is June-like—deliciously warm and bright, and the trees are just in the tender green of the new buds; and the exquisite gardens of the Tuileries are thronged all day with thousands of the gay and idle, sitting under the trees in groups, and laughing and amusing themselves as if there was no plague in the air, though hundreds die every day; and the churches are all hung in black, with the constant succession of funerals, and you cross the biers and hand-barrows of the sick hurrying to the hospitals at every turn, in every quarter of the city. It is very hard to realise such things, and, it would seem, very hard even to treat it seriously.

I was at a masque ball at the “Theatre des Varieties” a night or two since, at the celebration of the Mi-careme.   There were some two thousand people, I should think, in fancy dresses; most of them grotesque and satirical; and the ball was kept up till seven in the morning with all the extravagant gaiety and noise and fun with which the French people manage such matters. There was a cholera-waltz and a cholera-gallopade; and one man, immensely tall, dressed as a personification of the cholera, with skeleton armour and blood-shot eyes, and other horrible appurtenances of a walking pestilence. It was the burden of all the jokes, and all the cries of the hawkers, and all the conversation. And yet, probably, nineteen out of twenty of those present lived in the quarters most ravaged by the disease, and most of them had seen it face to face, and knew perfectly its deadly character.

As yet, the higher classes of society have escaped. It seems to depend very much on the manner in which people live; and the poor have been struck in every quarter, often at the very next door to luxury. A friend told me this morning that the porter of a large and fashionable hotel in which he lives had been taken to the hospital; and there have been one or two cases in the airy quarter of St. Germain. Several medical students have died, too, but the majority of these live with the narrowest economy, and in the parts of the city the most liable to impure effluvia. The balls go on still in the gay world, and I assume they would go on if there were only musicians enough left to make an orchestra, or fashionists to compose a quadrille.

As if one plague was not enough, the city is all alive in the distant faubourgs with revolts. Last night the rappel was beat all over the city, and the National Guard called to arms and marched to the Porte St. Denis and the different quarters where the mobs were collected. The occasion of the disturbance is singular enough. It has been discovered, as you will see by the papers, that a great number of people have been poisoned at the wine-shops. Men have been detected, with what object Heaven only knows, in putting arsenic and other poisons into the cups and even into the buckets of the water-carriers at the fountains. Several of these empoisonneurs have been taken from the officers of justice and literally torn limb from limb, in the streets. Two were drowned yesterday by the mob in the Seine, at the Pont-Neuf. It is believed by many of the common people that this is done by the government, and the opinion prevails sufficiently to produce very serious disturbances. They suppose there is no cholera, except such as is produced by poison; and the Hotel Dieu and the other hospitals are besieged daily by the infuriated mob, who swear vengeance against the government for all the mortality they witness.

I have just returned from a visit to the Hotel Dieu—the hospital for the cholera. I had previously made several attempts to gain admission, in vain, but yesterday I fell in, fortunately, with an English physician, who told me I could pass with a doctor’s diploma, which he offered to borrow for me of some medical friend. He called by appointment at seven this morning, to fulfil his promise. It was like one of our loveliest mornings in June—an inspiriting, sunny, balmy day, all softness and beauty, and we crossed the Tuileries by one of its superb avenues, and kept down the bank of the river to the island. With the errand on which we were bound in our minds, it was impossible not to be struck very forcibly with our own exquisite enjoyment of life. I am sure I never felt my veins fuller of the pleasure of health and motion, and I never saw a day when everything about me seemed better worth living for. The superb palace of the Louvre, with its long facade of nearly half a mile, lay in the mellowest sunshine on our left,—the lively river, covered with boats, and spanned with its magnificent and crowded bridges on our right,—the view of the island with its massive old structures below, — and the fine old gray towers of the church of Notre Dame, rising dark and gloomy in the distance—it was difficult to realise anything but life and pleasure. That under those very towers which added so much to the beauty of the scene, there lay a thousand and more of poor wretches dying of a plague, was a thought my mind would not retain a moment.

A half hour’s walk brought us to the Place Notre Dame, on one side of which, next this celebrated church, stands the Hospital. My friend entered, leaving me to wait till he had found an acquaintance, of whom he could borrow a diploma. A hearse was standing at the door of the church, and I went in for a moment. A few mourners, with the appearance of extreme poverty, were kneeling round a coffin at one of the side-altars, and a solitary priest, with an attendant boy, was mumbling the prayers for the dead. As I came out, another hearse drove up, with a rough coffin scantily covered with a pall, and followed by one poor old man. They hurried in; and, as my friend had not yet appeared, I strolled round the square. Fifteen or twenty water-carriers were filling their buckets at the fountain opposite, singing and laughing, and at the same moment four different litters crossed towards the Hospital, each with its two or three followers, women and children or relatives of the sick, accompanying them to the door, where they parted from them, most probably, forever. The litters were set down a moment before ascending the steps, the crowd pressed around and lifted the coarse curtains, farewells were exchanged, and the sick alone passed in. I did not see any great demonstration of feeling in the particular cases that were before me, but I can conceive, in the almost deadly certainty of this disease, that these hasty partings at the door of the Hospital might often be scenes of unsurpassed suffering and distress. I waited, perhaps, ten minutes more for my friend. In the whole time that I had been there, ten litters, bearing the sick, had entered the Hotel Dieu.

As I exhibited the borrowed diploma, the eleventh arrived, and with it a young man, whose violent and uncontrolled grief worked so far on the soldier at the door, that he allowed him to pass. I followed the bearers up to the ward, interested exceedingly to see the patient, and desirous to observe the first treatment and manner of reception. They wound slowly up the staircase to the upper story, and entered the female department—a long, low room, containing nearly a hundred beds, placed in alleys scarce two feet from each other: nearly all were occupied; and those which were empty, my friend told me, were vacated by deaths yesterday.

They set down the litter by the side of a narrow cot with coarse but clean sheets, and a Soeur de Charite, with a white cap and a cross at her girdle, came and took off the canopy. A young woman of apparently twenty-five was beneath, absolutely convulsed with agony. Her eyes were started from the sockets, her mouth foamed, and her face was of a frightful, livid purple. I never saw so horrible a sight. She had been taken in perfect health only three hours before, but her features looked to me marked with a year of pain. The first attempt to lift her produced violent vomiting, and I thought she must die instantly. They covered her up in bed, and, leaving the man who came with her hanging over her with the moan of one deprived of his senses, they went to receive others who were entering in the same manner. I inquired of my friend, how soon she would be attended to. He said, “Possibly in an hour, as the physician was just commencing his rounds.” An hour after, I passed the bed of this poor woman, and she had not yet been visited. Her husband answered my question with a choking voice and a flood of tears.

I passed down the ward, and found nineteen or twenty in the last agonies of death. They lay quite still, and seemed benumbed. I felt the limbs of several, and found them quite cold. The stomach only had a little warmth. Now and then a half groan escaped those who seemed the strongest, but with the exception of the universally open mouth and upturned ghastly eye, there were no signs of much suffering. I found two, who must have been dead half an hour, undiscovered by the attendants. One of them was an old woman, quite grey, with a very bad expression of face, who was perfectly cold—lips, limbs, body and all. The other was younger, and seemed to have died in pain. Her eyes looked as if they had been forced half out of the sockets, and her skin was of the most livid and deathly purple. The woman in the next bed told me she had died since the Soeur de Charite had been there. It is horrible to think how these poor creatures may suffer in the very midst of the provisions that are made professedly for their relief. I asked why a simple prescription of treatment might not be drawn up by the physician, and administered by the numerous medical students who were in Paris, that as few as possible might suffer from delay. “Because,” said my companion, “the chief physicians must do everything personally to study the complaint.” And so, I verily believe, more human lives are sacrificed in waiting for experiments than ever will be saved by the results.

My blood boiled from the beginning to the end of this melancholy visit. I wandered about alone among the beds till my heart was sick, and I could bear it no longer, and then rejoined my friend, who was in the train of one of the physicians making the rounds. One would think a dying person should be treated with kindness. I never saw a rougher or more heartless manner than that of the celebrated Dr. __ at the bed-sides of these poor creatures. A harsh question, a rude pulling open of the mouth to look at the tongue, a sentence or two of unsuppressed comment to the students on the progress of the disease, and the train passed on. If discouragement and despair are not medicines, I should think the visits of such physicians were of little avail. The wretched sufferers turned away their heads after he had gone, in every instance that I saw, with an expression of visibly increased distress. Several of them refused to answer his questions altogether.

On reaching the bottom of the Salle St. Monique, one of the male wards, I heard loud voices and laughter. I had heard much more groaning and complaining in passing among the men, and the horrible discordance struck me as something infernal. It proceeded from one of the sides to which the patients had been removed who were recovering. The most successful treatment had been found to be punch —very strong, with but little acid; and, being permitted to drink as much as they would, they had become partially intoxicated. It was a fiendish sight, positively. They were sitting up, and reaching from one bed to the other, and with their still pallid faces and blue lips, and the hospital dress of white, they looked like so many carousing corpses. I turned away from them in horror.

I was stopped in the door-way by a litter entering with a sick woman. They set her down in the main passage between the beds, and left her a moment to find a place for her. She seemed to have an interval of pain, and rose up one hand and looked about her very earnestly. I followed the direction of her eyes, and could easily imagine her sensations. Twenty or thirty death-like faces were turned towards her from the different beds, and the groans of the dying and the distressed came from every side, and she was without a friend whom she knew: sick of a mortal disease, and abandoned to the mercy of those whose kindness is mercenary and habitual, and, of course, without sympathy or feeling. Was it not enough alone, if she had been far less ill, to embitter the very fountains of life, and make her almost wish to die? She sank down upon the litter again, and drew her shawl over her head.

I had seen enough of suffering; and I left the place. On reaching the lower staircase, my friend proposed to me to look into the dead-room. We descended to a large dark apartment below the street level, lighted by a lamp fixed to the wall. Sixty or seventy bodies lay on the floor, some of them quite uncovered, and some wrapped in mats. I could not see distinctly enough by the dim light to judge of their discolouration. They appeared mostly old and emaciated. I cannot describe the sensation of relief with which I breathed the free air once more. I had no fear of the cholera, but the suffering and misery I had seen oppressed and half smothered me. Everyone who has walked through a hospital will remember how natural it is to subdue the breath, and close the nostrils to the smells of medicine and the close air. The fact too, that the question of contagion is still disputed, though I fully believe the cholera not to be contagious, might have had some effect. My breast heaved, however, as if a weight had risen from my lungs, and I walked home to my breakfast, blessing God for health with undissembled gratitude. Pencillings by the Way, Nathaniel Parker Willis 1836

We have met Willis, the death-tourist, before, in a story about composting the dead in Naples. The man must have led a charmed life. There was a horrific outbreak of cholera in Naples during his visit, but he went there anyway and seemed to think it barely worth mentioning. In this Parisian episode, not only does Willis wantonly and deliberately borrow a doctor’s diploma so he can visit the cholera hospital, he touches patients “in the last agonies of death,” finding them, quelle surprise! “quite cold. The stomach only had a little warmth.”—unlike Willis’s blood, which was boiling at the attitudes of the doctors.  French physicians believed cholera to be a disease of the poor, who were more to be censured than pitied for their dirty vices and habits. It is no wonder they were dismissive of their dying patients. And it was no wonder that the ball-goers danced and frolicked—any moment could be their last. As Willis describes, the young woman in perfect health was on her deathbed in a matter of hours. The “livid and deathly purple” he notes was a dreadful symptom of cholera: rapid dehydration led to the darkening of the skin from blue to black, hence the disease was sometimes called “The Black Plague” or “Black Cholera.”

As I mentioned in the previous article about the Naples death-pits, Willis was a close friend of Edgar Allan Poe. These letters, which he dashed off and sent to the newspapers as ephemeral sketches, were published in various newspapers as early as 1832. While his book, which opens with this account of his travels among the cholera-afflicted, was not published until 1835, perhaps Willis privately shared with Poe his experiences at that fateful Carnival when the disease first attacked Paris. This article suggests that the cholera episode, published in 1832, in the New-York Mirror inspired parts of “The Masque of the Red Death,” (1842.)

Any other eye-witness accounts of the cholera-waltz or the cholera-gallopade? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe 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.

Eating Holy Clay

Blaps Mortisaga beetle, the grave parasite.

Delving among the sepulchres while searching for macabre tales for The Victorian Book of the Dead I ran across this disturbing ritual.

During my residence at the Lakes I heard of a practice which some writers on Ireland state is frequent in that country; viz., securing immunity from disease by eating holy clay, or, in other words, earth blessed by the priests before being cast into graves. The result of my inquiries, which were numerous, among the peasantry, does not warrant me in agreeing with a writer in the Quarterly Review (vol. 68.), who declares that this “practice is common;” but the following extract from a communication by Dr. Picknell, physician to the Dispensary at Cork, and published in the 4th vol. of the Transactions of the Dublin College of Physicians, is evidence that the habit alluded to is no myth:

“Mary Reordan, a native of Cork, was afflicted with a most surprising complaint, whereby at intervals she discharged, by vomiting, &c., quantities of insects of the beetle species, some more than half an inch long, in all stages of their existence; some as larvae, some as pupae, and some in their winged state, which, as soon as they were discharged, flew about the room. The doctor, in anxiety to elicit every circumstance which might tend to develop the mode of the introduction of these insects, asked the patient had she been in the habit of eating clay? Her answer was, that when she was about fifteen years of age two clergymen of her persuasion died, and she being told by some old woman that if she would drink daily during a certain period a portion of water in which was infused clay taken from the graves of those clergymen she would be secured for ever against disease and sin. She accordingly walked to Kinsale, a distance of twelve miles, where one of the clergymen was interred, and succeeded in bringing away an apron and handkerchief full of the clay from the grave; to this she added some mugs full of clay from the other clergyman’s grave, who was buried in the city of Cork. Her practice was to infuse from time to time, according to the exigency, in a vessel of water a portion of the holy clay, the mixture being always allowed to rest until the grosser particles of the clay subsided. She had been in the daily use of the water medicated according to this disgusting formula. The beetles discharged from the woman were principally of the bleps mortisaga species [sic], which is well known to inhabit churchyards.”*

Reading this, we can no longer be surprised that the superstitious ceremony of waking a body, accompanied as it is with offerings for the speedy release of the soul of the departed from purgatory, is, if at all within the means of the surviving relations, conducted with extraordinary observances.

*The capability of many species of parasitical animals to live within the human being, is well known. Experiments were lately tried in Germany on a criminal left for execution, by giving him in his food, without his knowledge, a few hours before his death, various parasitical insects. [!!!] When the body was opened after execution, many of them were alive and had propagated.

Vacations in Ireland, Charles Richard Weld, London: Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans & Roberts, 1857

The original is found in Extract from a communication of Dr. Picknell, Physician to the Dispensary at Cork, April 4th, 1823. Published in the Transactions of The Fellows of the College of Physicians of Dublin, vol. iv. p. 189.

Devotees scooped up the clay in rags, which were returned to the grave after consuming the holy clay.

The grave looked like a shallow pit, the bottom of which was covered with small stones and rags, scraps of cloth, cotton, and linen. On inquiring why this grave had such a peculiar aspect, I was informed that the clay was all carried away, in order to be infused in water, and drank by Catholics and their cattle, as a cure for disease in the one, and a remedy against sin in the other; and that it was deemed proper in every case when a devotee carried the holy clay away, to bring back the rag in which it was conveyed, and deposit it on the grave. Sketches in Ireland, C.O., Dublin: William Curry, Jun. and Company, 1839.

“Secured for ever against disease and sin.” The sin part I leave to the priests and theologians. But could the clay actually be a cure for man or beast? People all over the world consume clay for various reasons, some of them medicinal and some religious. Dirt and clay do contain some nutrients, like calcium. The 19th-century “Carolina Clay-Eaters,” ate white clay, claimed to be a cure for indigestion. I know persons prescribed clay by their doctors for morning sickness. For the surprising numbers of modern clay-eaters in the US see the section “In the United States” in this entry on Geophagy. An obvious parallel is pica, the disorder where persons crave dirt, chalk, ice, and other non-food substances. It is often linked with social stresses: poverty, pregnancy, and family chaos, as well as physical diseases such as anemia as a result of hookworm. Rural Ireland was rife with all of these stressors, and more. Was holy clay merely the Church’s blessing of a practice born of desperation?

Is holy clay still eaten in Ireland?  Precipitate in a little water and send to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

Undine, of Strange Company, has added to our knowledge of human-insect interaction/ingestion/infestation with this post.  Many thanks, Undine!

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe 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 Ghastly Battle of Flowers: 1894


Canon Benham, at a meeting of the Burial Reform Society, held last Thursday, denounced the Flowers-at-Funerals Craze as being more mischievous than the Crape Craze which it had replaced.

Again and again we’ve assailed in the past

The craze which has roused e’en the clergy at last;

Again and again in these columns we’ve shown

How swiftly the scandal complained of was grown;

Again and again, and in language most warm,

Have we earnestly urged this much-needed reform.

Truth has uttered her protest again and again,

But her efforts, so far, have, alas! been but vain.

Long ago, it is true, there were changes most bold
In the formulae prized by the grim Mr Mould;

Long ago we contrived, once for all to escape

From his gruesome regime of unlimited crape;

His cloaks for the mourners so palpably hired,
His hat-bands diffuse, which he vowed we required.

His trappings and suits of perfunctory woe,

Discarded in turn, all long since had to go.

So far, this was good, but Society soon,

Instead of accepting the change as a boon,

Began to exhibit a tendency strong

To funeral fads that were equally wrong.

Black crape and black velvet had both had their days,

But forthwith there grew up a more mischievous craze—

A craze that grows still in so grievous a way—

The crazy of inordinate floral display.

When the mourners strew flowers on the grave of their dead

As a tribute of love, thee is naught to be said.

The wreath of fair roses affection has twined;

The cross of white lilies that hope has designed;

The sweet-smelling blossoms that fingers most dear

Have arranged, with a lingering touch, on the bier;

The buds that devotion with value invests,

It is not against these that our reason protests.

But what of the wreaths ostentation entwines,

And which, to wealth’s order, the florist designs?

What about those huge crosses, sent merely for show,

Which are symbols at most of conventional woe?

What about those snapped harps ever growing in size,

Those ticketed hearts that in hecatombs rise?

Those anchors in haste through the Parcel Post rushed,

Till beneath their gross burden the coffin is crushed?

These tributes of love and affection? Not they!

They are palpably symbols of vulgar display.

These sent as last tokens of friendly regard?

Bah! Look, and you’ll see that each one bears a card,

Which announces, in letters too large to be miss’d,

The name that it’s hoped will be found in the list

Which the practised reporter, with cynical smile,

Proceeds in due course for the press to compile.

Is it not, then high time, once for all, to put down

This new foible of fashion that’s taken the town?

Is it not, then, high time that the grave of a friend

No longer should serve self-advertisement’s end;

That a practice, by Love to be sacredly used,

Should no longer by snobs be abased and abused;

And that smart self-assertiveness, drawing the line,

Should no longer pollute Death’s inviolate shrine?


Isle of Wight [Ryde, Isle of Wight, England] Observer 14 April 1894: p. 7

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 on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead. 

Pictures of the New York Morgue: 1876

Photograph shows photographing the unknown dead for a French morgue.

The New York Morgue kept a gallery of photographs of their unknown dead

Pictures of the New York Morgue.

New York Mercury.

One picture here is peculiarly striking. It is that of a man with marked features –the face full of fierce intelligence, and having a close resemblance to the great author, Alexander Dumas. There is no appearance of death in the silent face, and through it there beam the characteristics of a man of strong passions and indomitable will. It is a face that a weird painter like Dore would revel in. Mr. mason has many interesting anecdotes to relate concerning his gallery. It appears by his statistics that two-thirds of the person who have been photographed have been identified, and in some instances the result has been the recovery of large sums of money.


On the eighth of August, 1874, a gentleman came to the wharf at the foot of Twenty-sixth street for the purpose of visiting Blackwell’s Island. To his chagrin he was just in time to see the boat leaving the pier. To while away the time he strolled into the morgue, and was examining the photograph gallery, when he was almost struck dumb with astonishment to see the portrait of an intimate friend, who had been missing ever since the early part of October 1871. The missing man had been a wealthy and influential citizen of Columbia county, in this State, and since he had left home, all trace of him had been lost. Inquiry had been set on foot, as the settlement of large estates was involved in the establishment of the fact of his death, but without avail. The photograph at the morgue established the fact of his death. The estates were settled up, and the heirs have to thank the Blackwell’s boat and Mr. Mason’s camera for their fortune.


One of the strangest stories in the photographer’s repertoire is the following: Some years ago the body of a fine-looking, well-dressed man was found floating in the dock, bumping against the piles, and covered with the ooze and slime of the dark river. There was no money in his pocket, no market upon his clothes, nothing save a handkerchief upon which a name had been worked. While the photograph was being taken, the druggist of the hospital standing by, happened to look at the handkerchief, and recognized the name upon it as that of a well-known Philadelphia druggist. The telegraph was at once brought into requisition, and a message was sent asking whether the druggist in question was missing. The answer came back “No.” Still the handkerchief in the possession of the dead man was unaccounted for, and to unravel the mystery further communication was opened with the Philadelphia druggist. Upon inquiry he remembered that some time previous an intimate friend had slept at his house and, before leaving in the morning, had borrowed a handkerchief. The handkerchief and the photograph were shown to him, and he recognized his property and his friend. How the poor fellow had met his death was never ascertained, but mourning friends saved him from the potter’s field.


About six o’clock one morning the porter at the gate of the hospital noticed an elderly gentleman walking along Twenty-sixth street toward the river. There was nothing remarkable in this fact except the evident respectability of the gentleman and the earliness of the hour, for respectable gentlemen are not in the habit of walking along the East river at six o’clock in the morning. Three hours afterward this gentleman was picked up from the water in the dock, dead, and his photograph was taken. Before the day passed, detectives visited the charnel-house. Mr. Bull, a well-known banker, at one time secretary of the American institute, was missing; had any one bearing his description been there? The photograph of the respectable-looking gentleman was shown them. it was that of the missing banker. It transpired on investigation that Mr. Bull had been spending the evening with some friends, and had left them to take the cars at Forty second street depot—he lived out of town. The theory advanced was that he had in some manner become confused, lost his way, and, after walking the streets in a dazed condition, had unerringly walked into the water.


About a year ago a gentleman left his home on Staten Island to come to his business in the city. It was a happy home, for two beautiful and affectionate daughters consoled him for the loss of the kind mother and loving wife who had been called away from life. He was a prosperous merchant, and want had never entered the doorway into which the beaming sun streamed so brightly. The day passed as merrily as the others had, but when night came there was no father there. The agonized daughters, nearly frantic with undefined fear, ran to their neighbors, but  no tidings of their missing parent were to be had. Two long weeks dragged on; detectives were employed, letters written, telegrams sent, but still no tidings. Then, as a last resort, they went to the morgue. There were no bodies on the cold, specter-like marble slabs, no photograph of their father in the gallery. Then somebody suggested to the orphans that they should examine Mr. Mason’s album. They did so, and, as they were turning the leaves, the eldest daughter gave a long, piteous scream that chilled the hearts of the listeners, and fell in a swoon to the floor. She had recognized the portrait of her father.


It is not always, however, that the loved are found in the gallery of death. There came to the morgue one day the body of  a man, a laborer, who had been crushed to death by the falling upon him of a heavy box. A photograph was taken and the body was buried. Some time afterward a woman, evidently drawn thither by curiosity, more than from any set purpose, wandered into the morgue and looked carelessly at the pictures upon the wall. Suddenly her eyes distended, her face paled, she clutched nervously at the thin shawl that was thrown loosely around her, and burst into tears. Somebody standing by noticed her perturbation and asked the cause. She then explained, her voice choked with emotion, that the portrait of the dead laborer was that of her husband. They had been separated for over a year, and, during that time, she had not seen him once. Now she was brought face to face with the picture of his dead body.


At almost any hour of the day there may be found in the narrow limits of the morgue, three or four–,and when there is a “subject” on the slabs, a larger number-loiterers drawn thither either through anxiety or morbid curiosity that draws the idle to such a place. One day there happened to be among the throng, a bright, handsome-looking young man, with the bloom of health upon his cheek, and evidently fresh from the country, the fact being expressed in every liniment of his countenance that he was seeing the “sights” of the metropolis. He, like the rest, looked at the pictures, when he suddenly started, looked closely with a wondering, half-doubtful expression on his countenance. Then he wiped his hands across his eyes, in which tears glistened, and went to the superintendent’s office. He came to make inquiries concerning the portrait of a beautiful, dark-haired girl that had been seen in the gallery. He was too late. The body had been put among those of the unknown dead, and there was no means of distinguishing her resting-place. Then the grief-stricken brother told his story. The portrait he had seen was that of his sister. Only a few years before she had been a bright, winsome girl, honest and industrious, but, with the curse of the working girl a love for finery. One night she did not come home from the shop. It was the old story, and the aged parents wished they had seen their little Maggie dead in her coffin rather than that she had died the living death she had. Soon all trace of her was lost, and they knew that she had been swallowed up in the great vortex of metropolitan sin. The old folks died, and the son went into the country to work on a farm, where his sister’s shame should not be known. He had come up to the city for a holiday, and that visit to the morgue had shown him the picture of that once-loved sister, cold in death, with the hard, cruel lines of sin upon her face. She had been found drowned. The incidents related above are all actual facts, free from the garniture of imagination, and told by Mr. Mason on the hospital porch, with the cool breezes from the river that has so often given up its dead to furnish the subjects for them playing through the trees, while the waves tremblingly lap the shore and seem to whisper for more victims for death’s gallery.

Memphis [TN] Daily Appeal 13 August 1876: p. 2

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.

Wife’s Ashes in a Tin Can: 1897

Aerial of Washington D.C. showing top of Washington Monument


Queer Tale of a Crank

Wanted to Scatter Them from Washington Monument.

From the Pittsburg Dispatch.

Gen. John M. Wilson, Chief of Engineers, United States Army, was sitting in his office in the War Department the other day when a person of very dubious aspect appeared in the doorway. It was a man, with clothing tattered and torn, a two weeks’ beard, and carrying an ordinary tomato can in his hand. A tramp, obviously; the tomato can, accepted as the emblem of Weary Willy in the comic papers, seemed to settle it. But the General is accessible to people of all ranks and conditions, and he bade the stranger walk in and tell his business.

“I’m in hard luck,” said the man, sitting down on the edge of a chair. As he did so he placed the tomato can on a corner of the Gen. Wilson’s desk.

The General assented, as much as to say that the confession was no surprise to him.

“I’ve been carrying this here can around for two weeks,” added the stranger, indicating the receptacle with his thumb.

“Indeed,” said the General, raising his eyebrows slightly.

“It contains the remains of my deceased wife,” the man continued, wiping one eye with the frayed tail of his coat. “She was cremated a fortnight back.”

“You don’t say so,” said the General, this time really surprised, and looking doubtfully at the tin can, as if he wished it somewhere else than on his desk.

“Fact, sir,” replied the stranger. “And her last request was that her remains should be disposed of in a genteel manner. I couldn’t afford an urn. You know one can have an urn at the crematory, but it’s awfully expensive. So I brought ‘em away in this can, and I’ve been carrying ‘em around for two weeks for want of knowin’ what to do with ‘em. Now, I’ve decided, and I’ve come to ask for a permit.”

“A permit for what?” asked the General.

“To chuck ‘em from the top of the Washington monument,” said the man, “and scatter ‘em to the four winds of heaven. That would be rather genteel, don’t you think?”

“I suppose it would,” assented the General with a gasp.

“They told me I’d have to come to you for a permit,” explained the stranger.

“No, sir,” responded Gen. Wilson, decidedly. “You can get no such permit here. The Washington Monument is not intended for burial purposes. Good day, sir.” The general said afterward. “Why, there was nothing in the world to prevent the man from scattering a bucketful of ashes from the monument if he wanted to do so. But if I granted a permit for such a thing, cranks from all over the country would be coming here to distribute the remains of their relatives from the top of the marble shaft. It would never do, indeed.” 

Wheeling [WV] Register 25 September 1897: p. 6 

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe 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.

Poisonous Kisses: A Valentine’s PSA

When kissing your sweetheart’s tender lips, do your thoughts turn to pneumonia, diphtheria, or Streptococcus pyogenes?

No? You’re living in a fool’s paradise. You might want to get out the mouthwash before you read this public service announcement for Valentine’s Day. Who knew that the lover’s salute was the equivalent of snake venom or that there is death in that kiss?


In His Ecstasy of Joy Theodore Bolton Gently Bit the Lips of Pretty Ethel Granger, His Fiancée, and How it Came About That This Unfortunate Caress Was Poison and laid Her in Her Grave.

Kill all stray dogs; muzzle all others; if you are scratched or bitten by a household pet that appears to be out of condition, take the Pasteur treatment quickly, to avoid the possible horror of rabies.

These are the sentiments expressed or acted upon by the Health Departments of most of the big cities now that the mercury is climbing up to “dog day” altitudes. Dread of infection from deadly microbes is one of the easiest read signs of the times.

But suppose the Health Department added to its warnings an admonition like this: “Keep young lovers apart—to permit them to kiss each other may be to condemn one or the other, or both, to an agonizing death from blood poisoning.”

Of course no such official warning has been issued, and would not be regarded if it were; but, nevertheless, such a warning carefully observed by at least one pair of lovers would have prevented a tragedy. A pretty Southern girl, now in her grave, would be alive and in happy anticipation of a September marriage to the man of her choice.

She was a red-cheeked country girl living with her parents near the little Northern Georgia village of Pots Mountain. Her name was Ethel Granger. Theodore Bolton, a railway employe, met her when she had gone to Pickens—the nearest railway town to her home—to do some shopping.

They fell in love, and once or twice a month—when his duties as one of a train crew gave him a day off at Pickens—he went out to her country home “courting.”

They became engaged. Naturally it was quite a trial to both of them that their meetings were of necessity so infrequent. But all that would be changed when they were married and had a home of their own at the station where he could spend every other night.

They were very deeply in love with each other. In May it was a deep disappointment to both that his work kept them apart for a whole month. At last they were to have an evening together.

At dusk she walked down the road to meet him. He was on horseback. When he saw her beside the road he dismounted and took her in his arms, kissing her fondly. As they walked toward her home, he with the bridle rein over one arm, frequent kisses were exchanged. They became very merry, and once he bit her playfully on the lip.

“Oh, you bad boy,” she said. “you’ve made my lip bleed.”

“Never mind,” he answered: “It’s all right. My lip is bleeding too. It’s nothing but a little cold sore. They spent a most happy evening planning their wedding for September, when he was promised promotion and a raise of wages—and then he rode away. He was never to see her again in life, but no presentiment of such a misfortune oppressed them.

Next day she noticed that her lip was slightly swollen. Two days later the inflammation had spread to her other lip. Her parents became alarmed and applied simple household remedies. The swelling continued until the poor girls’ face was unrecognizable.

The country doctor’s efforts produced no favorable result. After a week another doctor was summoned by telegraph. When he arrived the girl was suffering great agony. She had taken to her bed and was delirious at times.

The two physicians held a consultation, and walked out into the fields with the father to break to him the terrible truth.

“It’s blood poison. We can do nothing. It is too late.” They sent for Theodor Bolton, but when he arrived his sweetheart was dead.

To the simple country folk it seemed a stroke of “fate”—something that could not be explained to which they must be resigned. “Blood poisoning” was the official cause of death. If the doctors were able to particularize they forbore doing so.

Human bites are rare, for civilized man almost never uses his teeth as weapons. Nevertheless on an average, six people in this country die from man-bite every year. That is statistics. Undeniably, the danger is sufficiently great to make it wise for the sufferer in such a case to resort promptly to cautery of the injured part as a precaution.

So much being admitted, one naturally asks, “Why is the human bite so dangerous? Is there a virulent germ that commonly inhabits the mouth of man, which, if introduced into the circulation, poisons the blood and is liable to cause death?

Unhappily, this question must be answered in the affirmative. But a proper reply to it involves a certain amount of explanation, inasamuch as the mouth even of the most healthy person usually contains a good many kinds of germs, several of which are “morbific,” or “pathogenic,” as the doctors say—in other words, of disease producing species.

“The human mouth is a veritable microbe farm,” said Dr. D.S. Lamb, Anatomist-in-charge at the Army Medical Museum. “Germs of many kinds live and multiply on the tongue and in the throat; and the average healthy person you meet may, perhaps, have twenty-five or thirty different species in his mouth, including a few dangerous ones, such as those which cause pneumonia and diphtheria. Decaying teeth afford opportunity for the propagation of some tribes of bacteria; others are bred by particles of food caught between the teeth; but most of them feed upon the saliva and other normal secretions.”

Why, then do not the dangerous germs, such as those of diphtheria and pneumonia, when they are present, cause infection? The answer is that, under ordinary circumstances, so long as the system is in a healthy condition, attack by them is successfully resisted. But let a person become sick, or even run down in health, and, the resisting power being lessened, the deadly microbes invade the tissues, feeding upon them, ad as they do so excrete poisons of their own manufacture which are destructive to life.

“Such poisons—at least in some instances—are chemically akin to the venoms of snakes,” said Dr. Marion Dorset, of the Government Bureau of Animal Industry. “For example, the bacilli of diphtheria, growing on the tonsils and neighboring regions of the throat and nose passages, produce an extremely virulent poison, which causes the terrible prostration characteristic of that disease. This poison is what chemists call a tox albumin, and in character is closely related to serpent venom, as well as to the poison of certain deadly mushrooms.”

But to return to the consideration of the human bite and its dangers. It is not the pneumonia or diphtheria germs that carry the peril—which is fortunate, perhaps, in view of the statement of Dr. William M. Gray, the bacteriologist in chief of the War Department. He said.

“A microscopic examination of the sputum of a healthy human being will nearly always reveal the presence of germs of pneumonia. Let me inspect a small quantity of your saliva, and there is little doubt that I can obtain from it microbes which, started to growing on gelatin, will establish a thriving colony of those maleficent bacteria.” If it be not such germs as these that cause the mischief in cases of fatal man-bite, what are the ones responsible?

The answer is microbes of blood poisoning. On this point let Dr. Gray, the foremost authority in this country, speak again. He says:

“There are several species of microbes that cause blood poisoning, but the one that is usually responsible for the trouble in fatal cases of human bite is the Streptococcus pyogenes—a bacterium that is found quite commonly in the mouths of healthy people. Pyogenes it should be explained means “pus-forming.”

Incidentally to feeding on the tissues, when once it gets started, this microbe excretes a tox albumin which, like that produced by diphtheria germs, is chemically speaking, near akin to the venom of the rattlesnake. Whence it appears that, while man, properly speaking, is not a venomous animal, his bite is liable to produce effects not unlike those of serpent poison when introduced into the circulation. Of a certainty, it is offtimes equally deadly.

Plenty of proof of the danger that lurks in human saliva, however, is afforded by its effect when injected into the veins of rabbits, guinea pigs and other small animals. The creatures thus inoculated nearly always die—usually of blood poisoning.

All things considered, it is a good idea to avoid being bitten, in love or in hate, in play or in earnest, by another person. It is too dangerous. Better a toothless lover than one who, through carelessness, mixes bites with his osculation. Even to bite one’s self—a thing which now and then happens—is an accident to be escaped if possible. To be one’s own victim in such a fashion would be a fate too dreadful to contemplate, even in imagination. Lexington [KY] Herald 12 July 1908: p. 7

We might think that this was a freak incident that inspired a one-off, crankish rant against kissing, or perhaps more accurately, against love-bites, but there were dozens of doctors all spewing the same warnings against mouth-to-mouth contagion, some more luridly phrased than others:

So long as rosy and inviting lips are presented by the fair maiden. so long will the ardent lover risk the thousands or millions of microbes that may dwell thereon. But remember the probability that in many instances of the customary kissing, there is a great vicious bloodhound lying hidden, ready to strike his poisonous fangs into the very flesh and bone of the unsuspecting individual, who may afterwards suffer untold wretchedness during the remainder of life, and die a premature death, never knowing what struck him. It is not always apparent on the outside of a person what pain and misery lurk beneath the surface, and which may be communicated to others by a kiss. Pennsylvania Medical Journal, Vol. 2, 1899

The invective is not unlike some Church Fathers railing against marriage (Odo of Cluny compared women to bags of excrement.) or 20th-century anti-venereal-disease warnings. (“She may look clean, but…”)

 The Deadly Kiss

“Remember,” said a Detroit physician to his wife as he was leaving home for a few days, “and do not let the children kiss any one.”

“Is it possible,” asked a surprised third party who was present, “that you consider it necessary to give such instructions as that. Where is the danger?”

Said the doctor: “In my case all kinds of people come to my house and office to consult me and they often wait hours. If one of my children happens to come in they are almost certain to talk to it, and you know almost the first impulse with people who notice children is to kiss them. Bah! It makes me shudder—tainted and diseased breaths, lisp blue with cancer, foul and decayed teeth. You would kill a stranger who would waylay your young lady daughter and kiss her by force, but the helpless, innocent, six-year-old child, susceptible as a flower to every breath that blows, can be saluted by every one who chances to think of it. I tell you it wasn’t Judas alone who betrayed by a kiss. Hundreds of lovely, blooming children are kissed into their graves every year.” “But, doctor, how can a mother be so ungracious as to refuse to allow people to notice her children?” “There need be no ungraciousness about it. Let the mother teach her child that it is not a kitten or lap dog to be picked up and fondled by every stranger, and instruct it to resist any attempt to kiss it. Why, there are agents, peddlers of household ware, who make it a custom to catch up a prattling child, kiss and pet it, and so interest the mother that she will buy something she does not want. I tell you there is death in the kiss. The beloved and lamented Princess Alice of Hesse, took diphtheria from the kiss of her child, and followed it to her grave. Diphtheria, malaria, scarlet fever, blood poison and death lurk in these kisses!” And waving his hand the doctor drove away. Detroit Free Press. Northern Christian Advocate [Syracuse, NY] 15 May 1884: p. 6

To be fair, all the warnings against poisonous kisses came in the pre-antibiotics era. It wasn’t until the 1930s and sulfa drugs that the anti-kiss campaign came to a close, although there was an echo of it in the germaphobe childcare manuals of the 1950s.

I’ve previously discussed the deadly “kissing bug” menace. If you’ll forgive the pun, this young man perished as a result of a “kissing bee.”


Osculations Scare Lad, Who Jumps Aside, Falls on Stick and Dies.

New York, Feb. 15. Skylarking with a bevy of pretty typewriter girls, who were laughingly threatening to smother him with kisses on his fifteenth birthday, George Spencer Millett met death in a strange and for a time most mysterious manner today in the office of the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co. at 1 Madison-av.

Nimbly leaping aside to escape the make-believe embrace of Miss Gertrud Robbins, the boy tumbled to the marble floor with a cry of pain. There was a deep stab wound, as it afterward transpired, just under his heart. Some hours later Miss Robbins, who is twenty-three, was locked up charged with homicide. Later the charge was made merely “suspicious person.”

According to the police, Miss Robbins said she, with a number of other women stenographers, were preparing to leave the office when one of them happened to remember that it was young Millett’s fifteenth birthday. She suggested that each of the young women give him fifteen kisses in celebration of the event. The lad tried to avoid the embraces of the girls and Miss Robbins said that as she drew near him he held something in his hand that looked like a stick, about six inches in length. In the struggle that ensued, she said, the lad fell to the floor and the point of the instrument entered his side. [The “instrument” was an ink eraser, according to other articles.] Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 16 February 1909: p. 1

Someone seems to have taken the warnings of the past to heart.  Now “Burberry Kisses” allows you to lock lips with anyone anywhere–safely–via your smart phone. Where’s the frisson of danger in that?

Any other notable deaths by kiss? Vampires excluded. Buss me at Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com.

Be careful out there, this Valentine’s Day. Mwah!


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.

Queen Victoria and the Governess: 1883

Mourning bracelet given to Princess Louise by her mother Queen Victoria, in memory of her brother, Prince Leopold, 1884 Christies.com

On the date when Her Majesty Queen Victoria joined her beloved Albert in the Other World, Mrs Daffodil presents a story of Her Majesty’s kindness to a mourning governess.


There is so much cruel forgetfulness of the rights of inferiors and servants on the part of the ” privileged classes ” generally, that we are always pleased and refreshed to read the stories which are told of Victoria’s good heart and kind consideration. Grace Greenwood relates the following:

When I was in England I heard several pleasant anecdotes of the queen and her family from a lady who had received them from a friend, the governess of the royal children. This governess, a very interesting young lady, was the orphan daughter of a Scottish clergyman. During the first year of her residence at Windsor her mother died. When she first received the news of her mother’s serious illness, she applied to the Queen to be allowed to resign her situation, feeling that to her mother she owed even a more sacred duty than to her sovereign.

The Queen, who had been much pleased with her, would not hear of her making this sacrifice, but said, in a tone of most gentle sympathy:

“Go at once to your mother, child; stay as long as she needs you, and then come back to us. Prince Albert and I will hear the children’s lessons; so, in any event, let your mind be at rest in regard to your pupils.”

The governess went, and had several weeks of sweet mournful communion with her dying mother. Then when she had seen that dear form laid to sleep under the daisies in the old kirkyard, she returned to the palace, where the loneliness of the royal grandeur would have oppressed her sorrowing heart beyond endurance had it not been for the gracious, womanly sympathy of the Queen, who came every day to her school room, and the considerate kindness of her young pupils. A year went by, the first anniversary of her great loss dawned upon her and she was overwhelmed as never before by the utter loneliness of her grief. She felt that no one in all the great household knew how much goodness and sweetness passed out of mortal life that day a year ago, or could give one tear, one thought, to that grave under the Scottish daisies.

Every morning before breakfast, which the elder children took with their father and mother in the pleasant crimson parlor looking out on the terrace at Windsor, her pupils came to the school-room for a brief religious exercise. This morning the voice of the governess trembled in reading the Scriptures of the day. Some words of Divine tenderness were too much for her poor, lonely, grieving heart— her strength gave way, and, laying her head on the desk before her, she burst into tears, murmuring, “O, mother, mother!”

One after another the children stole out of the room, and went to their mother to tell how sadly their governess was feeling, and that kind hearted monarch, exclaiming, “Oh, poor girl, it is the anniversary of her mother’s death!” hurried to the school-room, where she found Miss __ struggling to regain her composure.

“My poor child,” she said, “I am sorry the children disturbed you this morning. I meant to have given orders that you should have this day entirely to yourself. Take it as a sad and sacred holiday—I will hear the lessons of the children.” And then she added: “To show you that I have not forgotten this mournful anniversary, I bring you this gift,” clasping on her arm a beautiful mourning bracelet, with a locket of her mother’s hair, marked with the date of her mother’s death. What wonder that the orphan kissed, with tears, this gift, and the more than royal hand that bestowed it?

Friends’ Review: A Religious, Literary and Miscellaneous Journal, Volume 36, Samuel Rhoads, Enoch Lewis, eds., 1883

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: It was, indeed, a very kind gesture from Her Majesty, in keeping with this anecdote from the first moments of her reign:

The first act of her life as queen was to write a letter, breathing the purest and tenderest feelings of affection and condolence to Queen Adelaide. . . . Her majesty wrote the letter spontaneously and having finished it folded it and addressed it to “Her Majesty the Queen.” Some one in her presence, who had a right to make a remark, noticing this, mentioned that the superscription was not correct and that the letter ought to be addressed to “Her Majesty, the Queen Dowager.”

“I am quite aware,” said Queen Victoria, “of her majesty’s altered character, but I will not be the first person to remind her of it.” Wit, Wisdom and Foibles of the Great, Charles Anthony Shriner

Her Majesty’s rigidity over the forms of mourning caused acid comment in the papers at the death of her son, Leopold, the Duke of Albany:


Dear Mr Editor, I hope I shall not shock you very much if I let your readers know in confidence that some of us are getting just a wee bit tired of the fuss people still persist in making over the death of the poor dear Duke of Albany. Fancy having to go into mourning at the very commencement of summer for six weeks. It seems too dreadful. A friend of mine, a charming woman, but sadly independent, declares nothing shall induce her to make herself uncomfortable for so long, and that she means to dress as usual next week. Of course nothing can come of her resolve unless some ill-natured friend tells the Court officials, but it is certainly running a risk. Ladies in society who disregarded the Queen’s injunctions about wearing mourning for the Prince Consort, were struck off the Lord Chamberlain’s list and debarred from attending all Court balls, State concerts and drawing-rooms for three seasons afterwards. This, I can assure you, is a very serious punishment. It means social annihilation for the time being, as people do not care to be seen in your company lest they too should incur Royal displeasure. The Queen does not insist upon crape, even her ladies-in-waiting are relieved from this infliction, but she requires that the period of mourning shall be strictly observed. As John Brown used to say, “When Her Majesty mourns, she mourns.” Truth remarks, perhaps a little ill-naturedly, that the Queen seems to take a morbid pleasure in ceremonies of a mournful nature, and to almost revel in all the undertaker’s details as to coffins, services, graves and monuments. Certainly she seldom seems as active and vigorous as when superintending something of the kind. Star 9 June 1884: p. 3

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.

For more on the customs of Victorian mourning, see 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 on Twitter @hauntedohiobook. And visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Dead Man’s Razor: 1888


Odd Experiences of a Barber With His Deceased Customers


 Dead Woman the Worst Subject of the Loquacious Shaver

“Don’t’ be alarmed, sir. We never use that razor on the faces of living men. We call that the ‘Dead Man’s Razor.’”

Grim and hideous enough it looked, too; a long black handle, that insensibly reminds one of the hull of a rakish, piratical craft. Exactly in the middle was rudely scratched a skull and cross bones. The back of the blade gleamed over the ghastly symbol seeming to bring it out in bolder relief. The razor was in a rack in a west side barber shop.

“Just a little fancy of mine,” said the barber, as he slashed the brush around in the lather cup. “Thought it would be better to put that death’s head on the handle, so I wouldn’t be picking it up by mistake and using it on a customer who could turn his head without being helped. Dead men can’t, you know. Most people have an objection to being shaved with the same razor used on the face of a corpse. Don’t know why. Same feelin’, I ‘spose, that prevents a man who would tackle a burglar at midnight from walking through a graveyard at the same hour.”

Rather more loquacious than his kind was this Sir. Tonsor. A cadaverous man with deep set eyes and hair plaster close to his head. A mustache whose ends curled like the horns of a Southdown ram was the only hairy adornment on his face. His hands were long and his fingers were supple. Three of them on his left hand were up in the air when he worked, like the legs of a boy standing on his head. The barber, like all other barbers smelled of pomade and bay rum.


“Haven’t used that razor for nigh on to three weeks, now,” he went on, as he dipped up a brush full of lather; “only wish I had a job for it every day in the week. The pay runs from one dollar up. I’ve had as high as ten dollars, but that included a haircut. Curious, too, the fancies that takes some people. Why, sir, a long durin’ the war I was called to shave a man on Eight street, who had worn a full beard for ten years. His widow, a mighty nice, pretty little woman, got it into her head that her husband didn’t look ‘stylish,’ as she put it, and I took the hair off his upper lip and chin and left him with a pair of side whiskers. All the friends of the family came in to see what sort of a job I had made, and most of ‘em declared that the dead man looked twenty years younger and was just as nat’rel as could be.”

“I guess he must have been about fifty years of age. His beard was gray and he was bald headed, and I tell you he looked pretty well broken up. Consumption, I think it was. The widow didn’t appear to know that the undertaker usually attended to such matters, and she sent one of her boys for me. When I got to the house she says to me, she says: ‘Now, I want my poor, dear husband to look just as nice as possible. I’m going to have a very elegant funeral and everything must be first class. I want you to make him look just like he was when I married him.’ ‘How was that, madam?’ says I, not knowing, of course, how the man looked at that time. ‘Why,’ says she, sort of surprised, ‘he had beautiful side whiskers when we were married, but in the last ten years he let his beard grow, and I couldn’t’ coax him to shave it off, poor, dear man. Now, I want him to look as he used to look.’ ‘All right, madam,’ says I; ‘I’ll do the best I can.’ And if you’ll believe me I blocked out as pretty a pair of whiskers as you’d want to see. Does that razor pull, sir?


“Cases like that, however,” said the barber, “is what you might call rare. I once took a full beard off a corpse and gave him a clean shave, because just before he died a lamp got upset alongside of his bed and singed all the hair off one side of his face. You never saw a family so broken up as that family was. The man had a very heavy, close beard, and when it was all off he looked like another person. There was a terrible scar on his jaw, and his mouth ‘peared to be kind of twisted. Al this was hidden by the heavy growth of hair. I guess his folks had never seen him with a smooth face. When the widow saw him laid out she pretty near went into hysterics. She sorter half believed, I think, that the dead man wasn’t her husband at all. To tell you the God’s truth he didn’t look in the least like he did before he was shaved.

“About three eras ago an undertaker gave me a job out at Harlem. It was a young man about thirty. He had a week’s growth of beard. I shaved him carefully and let his mustache stand. That night about seven o’clock I was sent to come to the house at once. It scared me a little for I thought I might have made some sort of a blunder. When I got there, however, I found that they wanted me to wax up the man’s mustache. That was the way he used to wear it in life.


“I guess you’ve often heard it said that it was nonsense to say that the beard doesn’t grow after death. Well, it isn’t nonsense, and I don’t care who says so. I shaved a man named Farley, on the Bowery, about six years ago, and shaved him a second time before he was buried. Yes, sir, just as true as I’m telling you. He died on a Wednesday night. I did my work early on a Thursday morning, and I never did see such a stiff beard as that man did have. He was dark complected, and the skin on his chin looked almost blue, the beard was so close. He always wore a smooth face. I finished the job, as I said, on Thursday morning. The funeral was set for Sunday. On Saturday afternoon I was sent for again, and I found a very heavy growth of beard on the corpse just as heavy as you would see on a living man. His chin and the sides of his face were black with it. I shaved him again.

“That job made me feel all creepy like. It was like cutting hair off a block of marble. Then his eyes were half open, and, I imagined that he was watching me to see if I was doing the thing right. I got $2 for the first shave, but they couldn’t pay for the second. Said it was all one job. I didn’t kick. If they was too mean to pay I wasn’t mean enough to kick up a row, and a funeral going’ on.

I had one experience,” continued this man of queer experiences, as his razor swept over the customer’s chin, “that I’ll bet knocks out any barber in new York. I shaved a dead woman once!”

The grimace of incredulity on the listener’s face nearly turned the edge of the razor.

“That’s a frozen fact,” said the barber, solemnly, “and the family is living in New York city to-day. I know it sounds rather tart, but you ask any old barber and I’ll guarantee that he will tell you he has shaved living women often enough. I have shaved a dead one. Women don’t have beards? I know they don’t, as a rule. Neither do cows have two heads, nor are calves born with six legs every day in the week, but you’ll run across ‘em once and awhile, you must admit. Same way with human beings. There are lots of women who have hair on their faces, and either shave twice a day or use some sort of a powder. The number is small and the number who intrust the secret to a barber is smaller still. If five hundred women have beards, not more than three out of that five hundred would trust another person with the knowledge. Certainly not half a dozen. Sit up a little higher, please. Because a thing seems out of the usual run that doesn’t argue that it isn’t so, and this experience of mine, while it mightn’t be the experience of one barber in a thousand, is just as true as God made little apples.


“It was ten years ago last April. I was workin’ in a shop on the east side then, having been driven out of my own shop by family troubles. An undertaker who used to give me a good many odd jobs shaving the dead came to me and said, ‘Frank, I want you to come around to my place to-night and go out to Fifty-seventh street. I’ve got something for you to do.’ That was every word he said. Well, I takes that very identical razor you see there with the death’s head on it, and I reaches his undertaker’s shop about eight o’clock. He puts the icebox in the wagon and off we starts.

“When we gets to the house and old gentleman comes to the door and asks the undertaker if that was the barber—meaning me, of course. ‘I am the barber,” says I. ‘Well,’ says he, “I suppose you’ve got good common sense and don’t want to have the feelin’s of a respectable family hurt. I never want you to tell what you did in this house, and I’m going’ to pay you $10 for doin’ it. ‘All right,’ says I. ‘I think I know my business.’ Then the undertaker fetches me upstairs and takes me into a small bedroom. ‘Now it’s nothin’ to be scared about,’ says he, ‘but I want you to shave a woman.’

“Well, sir, you can depend—which side do you part on? You can depend I was surprised, but I said nothin’ at all. The undertaker pulled down the sheet and there I saw the body of a rather stout woman who looked to be forty or forty-five. Her hands were shut tight and her face was all drawn up and twisted. It looked horrible. I gets up a little closer and see that she has hair on her upper lip and chin, and I could tell by the stiffness that she had been shaved before.


“While I was latherin’ up I asked the undertaker why the woman hadn’t shaved herself before she died. It was a month’s growth, I should judge, and I supposed—like most women with beards—she was her own barber. ‘Well,’ says the undertaker, ‘she was crazy for three months—clean gone, a maniac—and never still for a minute. She had shaved herself for more than twenty years and not a living soul outside of her family knew the secret. When she went out of her mind she forgot all about her beard and no one dared to use a razor on her. For the last three weeks she was strapped down in bed, but her head kept wagging from morning till night and from night till morning. Her people don’t want the world to know what has been so long concealed. Do you understand?’

“I just kept on latherin’ and when I got her lathered I shaved her, and when I shaved her I puts up my razor and says to the undertaker, ‘Excuse me, if you please. I don’t want any more such jobs as this. That corpse looks ready to jump out of bed. I’ll shave dead men, and all you want of ‘em, but when it comes to this kind of work, why, just leave me out. I think I can say that I’ve seen some things out of the common, can’t I? Of course, in a hundred dead men’s jobs you see ninety-nine dead bodies with a week’s beard on ‘em and nothing more. The hundredth case might be something strange.

“Shaving a dead man is easy enough, easier, in fact than shaving a living one. Death makes the flesh firm and the razor slides over the face just as if going over ice. Then, if you happen to make a slip there is no blood to tell on you, and a dead man never kicks about not being shaved close enough. Good day, sir.”

New York Herald 7 August 1888: p. 2

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe 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.

Patient, Wife, Corpse, and Widow: 1889

La Dame en noir, Anquetin Louis, 1889
Saint-Germain-en-Laye, Maurice Denis departmental museum


A most remarkable fraud is that of the man Kumf, who was recently imprisoned in Germany for collecting insurance money on his own life. This man was a skilful impersonator, and, disguised as a woman, he applied for an insurance on his own life. As the husband of the applicant he presented himself for medical examination, was accepted, and the policy issued. In course of time he feigned sickness, and was attended by a short-sighted old physician he had selected as a man easily to be duped. One day during his spell of sickness he got up quietly, disguised himself once more as his wife, went to the insurance office, paid a premium about due, and tearfully announced the grievous sickness of the insured. The company seem to have suspected that this illness was not at all genuine, for, having casually asked the name of the attending physician, they sent to that gentleman, whose replies to their questions, however, allayed their suspicions. One day this doctor was called in great haste and told that Kumf was dead. The old fellow does not appear to have been very conscientious or painstaking. On his arrival at the house, he was met by Kumf, this time disguised as the wife or alleged widow, and taken to a darkened room in which lay a corpse. His examination of this must have been nominal, for in a short space of time he quitted the house, leaving behind him the required death certificate. As the bereaved widow, Kumf attended the interment of what purported to be his own body. Still as the widow of himself, he obtained the insurance money on his own life, and his little plot had answered admirably. Unfortunately for him, however, he got intoxicated, first with success and then with liquor, whereupon he neglected to keep up the disguise, went about as the dead man redivivus, was detected, and now languishes in gaol.

The Daily Democrat [Huntington, IN] 17 August 1889: p. 3

NOTE: My question is, where did he get the corpse?

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe 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.