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The Victorian Book of the Dead Blog

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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.

How Mrs Stum Arranged a Funeral: 1875

ONE IN A THOUSAND

How Mrs. Stum Arranged the Details of the Funeral.

If all women were as cool and matter-of-fact as Mrs. Stum! But she is one in a thousand. She was over at Mrs. Moody’s, on Macombe street, the other day, her iron-gray hair combed down flat and her spectacles adjusted to gossip range, when she suddenly arose and said:

“Mrs. Moody, be calm. Where do you keep the camphor bottle?”

“Why?” asked the surprised Mrs. Moody.

“Because they are bringing your husband through the gate on a board! I think he’s smashed dead, but be calm about it! I’ll stay right here and see to things!”

Mrs. Moody threw up her arms and fell down in a dead faint, and Mrs. Stum opened the door as the men laid the body on the porch.

“Is he dead?” she asked in an even tone.

“I think so,” answered one of the men; “the doctor’ll be here in a minute.”

The doctor came up, looked at the victim and said life had fled, adding:

“His back and four or five of his ribs are broken.”

“That’s sensible, that is,” said Mrs. Stum, gazing at the doctor in admiration. “Some physicians would have said that his vertebrae was mortally wounded, and would have gone on to talk about the ‘larynx,’ the ‘arteries,’ the ‘optic nerves,’ and the ‘diagnosis.’ If he’s dead it’ll be some satisfaction to know what he died of. Well, lug in the body and send a boy after an undertaker.”

The men carried the body through to a bed-room, and Mrs. Stum went back to Mrs. Moody, who was revived and was wailing and lamenting.

“Don’t, Julia—don’t take on so,” continued Mrs. Stum. “Of course you feel badly, and this interferes with taking up carpets and cleaning the house, but it’s pleasant weather for a funeral, and I think the corpse will look as natural as life.”

“Oh! My poor, poor husband,” wailed Mrs. Moody.

“He was a good husband, I’ll swear to that,” continued Mrs. Stum; “but he was dreadfully careless to let a house fall on him. Be calm, Mrs. Moody! I’ve sent for one of the best undertakers in Detroit, and you’ll be surprised at the way he’ll fix up the deceased.”

When the undertaker came in Mrs. Stum shook hands and said that death was sure to overtake every living thing sooner or later. She mentioned the kind of coffin she wanted, stated the number of hacks, the hour for the funeral, and held the end of the tape-line while he measured the body.

Several other neighbors came in, and she ordered them around and soon had everything working smoothly. The widow was sent to her room to weep out her grief, doors and windows were opened, and as Mrs. Stum built up a good baking fire, she said:

“Now, then, we want pie and cake and sauce and raised biscuit and floating islands. He’ll have watchers, and the watchers must have plenty to eat.”

When the baking had been finished the coffin and undertaker arrived, and the body was placed in its receptacle. Mrs. Stum agreed with the undertaker that the face wore a natural expression, and when he was going away she said:

“Be around on time. Don’t put in any second-class hacks, and don’t have any hitch in the proceedings at the grave!”

From that hour until two o’clock of the second day thereafter she had full charge. The widow was provided with a black bonnet, a crape shawl, etc., the watchers found plenty to eat, a minister was sent for, eighteen chairs were brought from the neighbors and everything moved along like clock-work.

“You must bear up,” she kept saying to the widow. “House cleaning must be done, that back yard must be raked off, and the pen stock must be drawed out, and you haven’t time to sit down and grieve. His life was insured, and we’ll go down next week and select some lovely mourning goods.”

Everybody who attended said they never saw a funeral pass off so smoothly, and when the hack had landed the widow and Mrs. Stum at her door again, Mrs. Stum asked:

“Now, didn’t you really enjoy the ride, after all?”

And the widow said she wouldn’t have believed that she could have stood it so well.

– Detroit Free Press.

Macon [GA] Weekly Telegraph 4 May 1875: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that, should she ever find herself in a similarly worrying situation, she would be as resourceful as Mrs Stum, (the name means “silent,” in the Germanic tongue) if not quite so painfully candid.

There were, in point of fact, a thousand-and-one little duties to consider when organising a funeral; Mrs Stum’s quiet efficiency touches on several of them: providing the widow with black clothing without her having to leave the house; opening doors and windows, presumably under the “superstitious” belief that it would aid the the dear departed in departing; baking plenty of food for the “watchers,” who would sit up all night to ensure that the dead were not left alone—such vigils were thirsty (and hungry) work. The “hacks” ordered were the carriages to carry the family and friends to the grave and a successful funeral was often judged by the number of carriages following the hearse to the grave.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of “fiends for a funeral,” who relished the rare treat of a carriage ride to the cemetery, while that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio has appropriated the same title for a post about individuals with a peculiar taste for attending the funerals of total strangers.  Undertakers ultimately had to resort to special cards and tickets of invitation to keep away the interlopers. One feels instinctively that Mrs Stum would have instantly spotted these funeral fanciers and turned them out of the cemetery.

For more on Victorian mourning customs in a (mostly) more sombre vein, see The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard.

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.

Cremating Bodies After the Galveston Flood: 1900

carrying dead to cremation after galveston flood
Galveston disaster, carrying dead body to fire to be burned, 1900. https://www.loc.gov/resource/cph.3c23882/

WEIRD EXPERIENCE

Had by Man Who Cremated Bodies After the Galveston Flood.

“Poe and Balzac have contributed to fiction stories that thrill the soul with horror,” said the traveler, “but I have one that rivals the morbid Imaginings of the wonderful writers. It is an actual story, if I am to believe a prominent citizen of Galveston, Texas. He told me the story in all seriousness and, what is more, he is still perturbed on account of it. I will relate it just as he did. The entire country will remember the Galveston flood. More than 10,000 lives were lost. The beautiful beach was strewn with bodies. The survivors of the flood assisted in gathering the dead. Hundreds of bodies were cremated. The beach blazed with funeral pyres. Among the survivors was an old man, vigorous and youthful for his years, who saved five lives by his expert swimming. He is today one of the prominent men of Galveston. He lost thousands of dollars by the flood, being a large property owner on the gulf front. My old friend was walking along the beach assisting in the work of picking up the dead after the storm. He came upon the body of a man lying on the sand. The face was upturned. In a glance he took in the condition of the corpse. The clothing was torn into shreds. The body was gashed, bruised and maimed as all of them were, owing to the timbers and debris that was hurled through the waves. He saw in this one instance a face youthful and handsome, handsome, with eyes closed. It was not distorted or discolored. It was not swollen. Instead the expression was most lifelike. The face was in perfect repose. Stranger still was the condition of the hands. They had a natural life color. For an instant the old fellow experienced a little shock, thinking probably life yet remained in the human frame, though he cannot at this time understand why such an idea flitted through his mind. The body had been washed ashore by the sea and, doubtless, had been lifeless for hours. But he was to be startled more than this. As he stooped over the body, looking into the handsome face carefully to see if he could recognize the man, the eyes opened. They were lustrous and life-like. At the same time the lips parted, showing two rows of white teeth. The old fellow started back in horror. He looked again and the corpse seemed to be laughing at him. Still he thought be must be dreaming. He beat himself in the sides, clapped his hands together, thought of nightmares and illusions and looked again. Still the handsome face smiled on him. He tried to remember where he had seen the laughing countenance before. He could not. He looked toward one of the funeral pyres several hundred yards away and shuddered, but he stooped, picked up the body and carried it on his shoulders to the improvised crematory. As he tossed it from his shoulders into the flames the last thing he saw was the face, with eyes open wide and lustrous and smiling.”

News-Journal [Mansfield OH] 14 July 1904: p. 6

 

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 Tomb-Stone Agent: 1904

salesman sample white bronze tombstone
Salesman’s sample white bronze tombstone. https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/tombstone-salesman-sample-sign-bronze-423029588

The Tomb-Stone Agent.

A monumental salesman

With his monumental gall,

On an unsuspecting farmer

Unexpectedly did call.

 

“Good morning, Mr. Williams;

The sad report is rife

That you’ve lost your loved companion,

Your dear, devoted wife.

 

“As I view your great, broad acres,

And behold your mansion grand,

You’ll grant, no doubt, that much is due

To her ever-helping hand.

 

“And I presume, as custom dictates,

As a last mark of respect,

To one so loved and worthy

Fitting tribute you’ll erect.”

 

“Wa’l, craps is awful porely,

An’ cattle’s mighty low,

An’ taxes gittin’ higher,

An’ everything is slow.

 

“Nothin’ ‘ud please me better,

But es things now appear,

I can’t perform that duty

Much afore another year.”

 

“Now the truth is, Mr. Williams,

Or it seems to me at most,

You value far too lightly

The treasure you have lost.”

 

Then up rose the honest farmer,

The much vexed and worried host,

And he kicked that tombstone agent

Where he sitteth down the most.

 

“I’ll show ye, drat yer picture,

How to throw yer slurs around;

You measly brass-checked agent.

Now git out an’ off my ground.”

 

But the agent, still undaunted,

Like Poe’s visitor of yore,

Never once thought of decamping,

But still lingered in the door.

 

“It’s been hinted, Mr. Williams,

Well the fact is, I am told,

That you are short on sentiment

And not very long on gold.

 

“Although you make a showing

That would indicate success,

There’s talk among your neighbors

That your wealth is growing less.

 

“I know I hev some enemies.

Who told you? That d—n Jones?

I’ll show ’em that I ain’t broke,

Let’s see some of your stones.”

 

“With pleasure. I’ve some nice ones,

And the price within your reach.

Here’s one for fifty dollars,

And, by Jove, it is a peach.

 

“Fer fifty dollars? Nothin—

I want the best you’ve got:

I don’t want no cheap jim-cracks

Disgracin’ of my lot.”

 

“Five hundred! That just suits me;

I guess I’ll let ’em know

That I’m no measly bankrupt,

As Jones is tryin’ to show.”

 

J. P. ASHBY, Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Monumental News, Volume 16, 1904: p. 556

 

 

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.

Smuggling Drugs in Hearses and Corpses: 1922

 

hearse in front of S H Metcaf & Co Funeral Home Grand Rapids 1922
Hearse in front of S.H. Metcalf & Co. Funeral Home, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1922 https://www.grpmcollections.org/Detail/objects/171307

[From an article entitled, Revelations by the Queen of the Underworld, Margaret Hill, Famous “Vamp,” Who Worked in Partnership with the Aristocrats of the Criminal World Trapping Millionaires, Explains How Children Are Wickedly Turned Into Drug Slaves.]

How Drugs Are Smuggled Over the Border in Hearses

“You got a better scheme?” I inquired.

“Oh, yes, Margaret, it is much more certain, and we can handle it in bigger amounts,” George replied, and then continued: “We are bringing the stuff across now in hearses. Nobody bothers a hearse, especially if it does not travel across the border at the same place too often.

“I have got some hearses which were specially built for stowing away the dope. The big, heavy black curtains are all made double, with hundreds of little compartments, which we pack full of packages of drugs. The posts, or pillars, that hold up the top of the coach are hollowed out and the holes are made just the right size to take the small cans of opium. There are eight of these hollow posts, and we can stow away a good big bunch of opium in these eight posts in each hearse.

“The floor of the hearse has a double floor. I have got the cutest little way of getting into this double floor compartment you ever saw. You would never find it in your life. We can carry quite a load of the stuff in that compartment between the two floors of the hearse.

“Of course, when we have the hearse loaded with dope we send it across openly in the middle of the day and drive right past the custom house officers boldly, so as not to attract attention or arouse suspicion. We keep on going until dark, and then drive into a little road in the woods and meet an automobile from New York. Then we unpack the curtains and posts and compartment in the double floor and the automobile takes the stuff on to New York.

smuggling drugs in the shell of a corpse 1922

“Sometimes I get an order for a shipment of dope to a distant city–maybe Washington or St. Louis. In this case we ship the stuff in the shell of a corpse”—

“The shell of a corpse,” I interrupted; “this is a new one on me.”

“Yes, that is what we call it–the shell of a corpse,” George replied. “I thought you had heard of that. Quite a lot of us are doing it that way with long distance shipments.”

”I don’t understand,” I said.

“Well, we get hold of a dead body from the morgue or some undertaking establishment, and we have the undertaker cut a hollow cavity where the lungs and internal organs are. The head and chest and arms are not disturbed, nor the lower part of the body, of course. But in under the ribs all the way down to the hips, when hollowed out, makes quite a big cavity. The corpse is very thoroughly embalmed, and we pack the cavity full of drugs. Then the corpse is dressed with clothes, which include collar, shirt, coat, etc ”

widow at train station with drug smuggling coffin 1922

The Tearful “Widow” Who Never Leaves the Coffin Alone

“Haven’t they ever got on to this trick?” I inquired.

“No, we are very careful. I have made it a rule to send along a woman with the corpse until the coffin has safely passed the border. We have got the nicest, quietest, most demure little lady who dresses up in widow’s weeds. She can pour out a flood of tears that would deceive the sharpest detective’s eyes in the world. We send this girl along with the coffin, and if it is transferred out of the baggage car to the platform anywhere she just trots out and sits down on the edge of the baggage truck or somewhere near, so that nobody comes around to look it over, and nobody bothers her because she looks to be such a pitiful little widow in such sorrow in her bereavement.”

“So that is what you mean by shipping drugs in ‘the shell of a corpse?” I remarked. “Well, there are novelties in the Underworld since I abandoned activities which are new to me.”

The San Francisco [CA] Examiner 18 June 1922: p. 98

 

 

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 Abuse of Mourning: 1906

mourning toque of English crepe with silk veil 1906
1906 mourning toque with crape plumes.

The Abuse of Mourning,

Clara Morris

“Is the wearing of mourning a folly, a cruelty and an act of hypocrisy?” So a woman impulsively burst forth the other day.

And, looking at her inky raiment. I replied: “You are better fitted to answer that question than I am. since you are swathed in it and must know your own motive.” But she swiftly corrected: “I am swathed in black, but not in mourning, for I grieve not at all.”

I was repelled. She saw it and went on: “Yes; I have that same feeling. I shrink from my own act; my self-respect is weakened, since I assumed mourning for purely conventional reasons; because, though formal and unnatural, it is the customary usage of social life, and I dared not face all the petty comments, the on-dits of friends and watchful neighbors that would have followed my failure to do mourning for my own uncle, though he was unworthy and unloved. So I have bowed to the great law unwritten and as a result recognize myself a coward and a hypocrite.”

“You are as severe upon yourself,” I said, “as if you stood alone in your unhappy pretence, instead of being but one of the rank and file of a veritable army of black-draped, conventional mourners, with fares of frowning impatience or of sullen endurance that stamp that woeful garb a mere pretence of sorrow. You are sensitive, and suffer much because you lacked the courage of your convictions. But Heaven grant the last, worst, punishment be spared you!  For, oh! my friend, should some one near and dear–some one most tenderly beloved by you–be taken from you and hidden away in the breast of mother Earth, and you longed to give some outer sign of your passion or grief and loss, nothing would be left you but to don the black wrapping (“Oh. Don’t! don’t!” she gasped) that your own act has turned into an expression of hypocrisy.”

How long are we all to slavishly bow to this unwritten law of mourning, which forces us to adopt a custom inartistic and unsanitary, a blot upon the beauty of the world. a depression upon the nerves and spirits of the entire family, and very often a cruel tax upon the purse, for “mourning” and debt are only too often interchangeable terms. Why can we not break away from this tyrannical old law? There are women who, being widowed, abandon colors utterly and absolutely, just as some mourning mothers find a sorry comfort in wearing densest black as an outward expression of “that within which passeth show,” and their sincerity lends dignity and pathos to the mourning garb. But only think of the thousands who, for aunt or uncle, cousin (distant or near) or for relatives by marriage, resentfully don the purely conventional mourning, that they hate as a restraint and loathe as unbecoming.

1905 man with mourning band on sleeve
Man with mourning band on sleeve, Richard Norris Wolfenden, 1905 https://wellcomecollection.org/works/arkvwma6

Why may we not adopt in such cases the mourning band about the arm, securely stitched to the left sleeve of coat or jacket? It is too modest to mar either costume or suit, while it quietly and effectively announces our loss and expresses our respect.

The etiquette of mourning, like the man who drinks, or is addicted to drugs, demands a steady “tapering off”.” You should pass from crape to plain black–thence to black and white–thence to lavender and gray, and thus gently glide into blues, pinks, etc. But sometimes the deepest mourning is the briefest.

A Mr. Wolfe was visiting my neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Mozart. Mrs. Wolfe was the eldest daughter of Mrs. Mozart, and she, big, handsome woman as she was, died very suddenly. Thereupon Mr. Wolfe became a veritable pillar of black clothing, shirt studs, cuff buttons, tie. gloves, but oh, his hat! The entire neighborhood opened its windows and looked out at that mighty crape band, that actually rose slightly above the crown of his very high hat. We never could be quite sure in Thirty -second street whether a thunder shower was coming up or Mozart’s son-in-law was turning the corner. Well, in four weeks, he took to looking up at the upper window before he rang the bell, in six he brought home violets and waved them at the window before he rang, and in eight weeks the engagement was announced of Mr. Wolfe and the next Mozart daughter, Essie.

“If,” said Mrs. Mozart. “‘it was any other woman, we would have hard feelings, but Essie is so like Leonie it seems all natural and right.”

And so preparations were rushed, as the impetuous widower wooer’s home and business were in Mexico; but Mr. Wolfe bethought him to order his man to remove the crape panoply of woe from his hat. Whereupon he carefully examined it in its nudity, and thus delivered himself: “Take this hat and have it ironed for the wedding. I can’t wear a silk hat in Mexico, and I stand a chance of denting a new one if packed for a journey.” Then sharply added: “What have you thrown that crape down for? Let me have it!”

And he brushed it with his own hands, carefully rolling it over a small ruler, quilted the pins into it, and said; “There, pack that. These Mozarts are big and handsome, but they go off quick, and Mexico is an awful hot place. Oh. Essie, dear, how did the wedding dress fit?” and he kissed her as warmly as though he was not cannily saving crape for her possible death.

When this story had crossed all the back fences, no one doubted the tales of his wealth, for a man like that would get rich with both hands tied behind him. But undoubtedly that abuse of mourning added much to my personal dislike of the custom, which I had already held to be unwise In the extreme.

There is a certain charming lady of world-wide celebrity as an educator, whose for-true home is in Indianapolis, and she lost a lover-husband. who was also brother, guide, companion, friend–in very deed he was her world. In his lifetime he had strenuously opposed the mourning habit; from the sanitary, the artistic, even the religious, standpoint he condemned the wearing of black. Yet, like every other loving, grieving woman, she felt the need of some outward expression of inner sorrow.

“Oh.” she exclaimed, “the dense hopeless despair that black expresses! I have a blessed hope, deep in my heart; but all the color and brightness of my world seems to be misted over–all is gray, gray.”

grey crape half mourning hat Maria Feodorovna c. 1900s
Grey crape mourning hat for Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna, c. 1906 http://www.hermitagemuseum.org/wps/portal/hermitage/digital-collection/12.+costumes%2c+uniform%2c+accessories/1392591

She broke off suddenly; a faint smile crept across her lips, a certain decision of manner came to her. Her dressmaker was summoned, her positive orders given to that amazed artist, and from that hour to this, though the conventional period of mourning has long passed, still that loyal loving widow has faced the criticising world and gone her busy, ever-famous way, clothed all in soft pale gray. Whether in heavy cloth and fur for winter wear, or full evening or dinner dress, with lace and pearls, she is ever and always in the pale gray that, she says, best expresses her; ‘for I am not hopeless, I do not despair because my beloved has gone away, but my life is very, very gray, and must be so to the end. No, I shall never change,” she says, with a patient smile; “when the final summons comes I shall still be wearing gray.”

The Pittsburg [PA] Press 3 June 1906: p. 41

 

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 Coffin Full of Rum: 1904

stoneware jug
Maine stoneware jug https://www.ebay.com/itm/Antique-1800s-Stoneware-Crock-Jug-Ancient-Patina-from-Rural-Maine/362986574819?hash=item5483af93e3:g:OWQAAOSwNZNesMDn

ALIVE IN TOMB PICKLED CORPSE

Maine Man Had Coffin Filled With Rum

WAS SUPPLIED YEARLY

Heir Accidentally Locked in Tomb; But Has Jug of Rum and Forgets Troubles.

One of the old family founders in Somerset county, in northern Maine, left a heritage that just has proved a decidedly serious proposition to one of his heirs.

The family is among the wealthiest in the state. Years ago its pioneer went into Somerset county, and in time became the principal business figure of the section.

As he felt age approaching he put his men at work on the construction of a big tomb in the garden in the rear of the old mansion that stands as one of the show places in the town of Athens. On his deathbed he issued commands as to what his relatives should do with his body after dissolution. He ordered them to place him in the leaden coffin and after it had been stored in the tomb to pour the coffin full of Jamaica rum.

The will went on to explain that the testator couldn’t bear the idea of being laid away in the tomb forever knowing that he would be left to molder forgotten. He wanted his relatives ever to bear him in mind, and his method of jarring their memory annually was this: The will directed attention to the little spout sticking up at the head of the casket. The command was that annually each June, on the anniversary of the squire’s burial, the chief heir should enter the old tomb, bringing a jug of rum, and that he should replenish the supply in the coffin.

The family removed from the old mansion some years ago in order to afford the sons and daughters more advantages in one of the cities of Maine.

Recently the heir upon whom devolves the duty of carrying the jug of rum to the estimable and well-preserved old gentleman in Athens suspended his business engagements for a day and started on his annual trip. He went to Solon by train and, hiring a team at the stable, rode across country. The mansion stands a bit out of the village. When the heir turned in at the gate between the double rows of towering lilac bushes no one in the neighborhood happened to see him. The visitor hitched his horse at the rear of the house, out of sight of the road, and then proceeded toward the tomb. He let himself into it, and when the overflow from the spout indicated that the coffin was filled he started for the door. Now it chanced, says the New York Press, that through age and heaving by the frost one of the flagstones with which the tomb is paved jutted its edge above Its neighbors. In the gloom of the tomb the heir didn’t see the stumbling block and he struck, it and tripped. As he tripped he lunged forward and slammed full tilt against the inside of the half-opened door. The door banged shut and the great catch outside fell into place. The heir was a prisoner in the tomb of his ancestor.

The door fitted very snugly against the jamb. The victim broke his finger nails in the cracks trying to start the door, but it was no use. The portal was immovable. There wasn’t an article in the tomb fit for a lever. As the prisoner crouched at the door feeling around him his hand came in contact with the jug he had partly emptied. He was a temperance man and a churchman, but he realized that this was a case where heroic remedies were required. He tipped up the jug and began to numb his sensibilities.

That night a telegram was started for Athens inquiring the whereabouts of the heir. He had neglected an important business engagement. The telegram was delivered to the postmaster in Athens the next forenoon by a messenger, who drove over in a team and who had rapped on the door of the mansion without getting a reply. Of course the next thing was to open the tomb, and when the door was pushed back the heir was pushed back with it. He was lying against the portal with his jug clenched in his hand and he was fully as dead to the world as his venerable ancestor in the leaden coffin. Both were preserved in the same fluid, applied in different fashion. It took the doctor several hours to sober the heir off. A more gigantic load was never accumulated in that town. But the physician says if the man had not had that rum at hand during his wait in the tomb he would have been taken out a raving lunatic.

The York [PA] Daily 29 July 1904: p. 3

What you might call a “stiff drink….”

I’ve tried, without success, to locate the “mansion” with the tomb in the garden in Athens, Maine. (I’m assuming there is some truth to the story, although that may be an unwise assumption.) Any readers with local knowledge?

 

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.

This Baby Had Hard Luck: 1890

hart's island open trench jacob riis
Laborers placing coffins in an open trench at Hart Island, Jacob Riis https://collections.mcny.org

THIS BABY HAD HARD LUCK

From The New-York Evening Sun.

The funeral of Baby Call-Him-Anything-You-Please took place yesterday, and it was not in the least an ostentatious affair. There were no ceremonies worth mentioning. The casket was a raisin-box, and on it was stamped a great purple bunch of grapes and the word “Malaga.” But it was second-hand when it came to Baby What-Do-You-Call-Him, and was banged up and seedy even for an old raisin-box. But that was the way from the beginning with Baby; he never had even the very smallest chance from the time he came into the world until he left it. If ever there was a case of a start in life with no earthly show whatever it was the case of Baby. Yet he was not a bad baby. In the face of circumstances which would have made the general run of babies protest until they were black in the face, this baby never made it a point to yell.

He even smiled as amiably as he could whenever the remotest chance offered. He never knew exactly how he got here, but he was healthy, and from the very limited glimpses he saw of life and the world he was disposed to like them both. He would have taken a pleasant, humorous view of things if he had not been so unmercifully sat down upon. At times he became desperate and squared off at all humankind with his very small red fists clinched, while he expressed his opinion of the way the world used strangers with all the baby bad language at his command. But they gave him a slug of diluted laudanum on those occasion, and that soon settled the matter. It was no use. He couldn’t propitiate anybody by being amiable, and if he kicked he got stuffed with laudanum. Most babies of his age boss an entire household. If they sneeze there is a panic. If they condescend to smile there is a family festival. If they yell, able-bodied men grovel before them and hardened nurses are flustered. They have flannels and fine linen and millinery, and skilled physicians superintend their diet.

But this Baby didn’t have anything. He hadn’t a name. Nobody bothered enough about him to give him so much as a nickname. He hadn’t even a birthplace that was in any way official. There were some hazy rumors about Newburg, but you couldn’t prove it. When he was three weeks old he came to New-York and started in life. He came in an old valise and in response to an advertisement of somebody who wanted babies.

That was the queerest thing that anybody ever heard of—a person who actually wanted babies. The impression this Baby had got was that the one thing that this world didn’t want was babies. The way he had not been wanted amounted to enthusiasm. But here was a preposterous person who yearned for babies, who doted on them—for a reasonable consideration, of course. The thing struck the people who had Baby in charge as the greatest piece of luck they had had in their lives, and they packed Baby up in the valise and started off by the first train to catch this queer person before the authorities found out she was out of her head on babies and locked her up.

That was the way Baby came to new-York and tackled the world at the age of three weeks. But his guardians were not lavish with him. They didn’t believe in pampering a young man with his way to make in the world. When they left him with Mrs. Roggenthine, up in Eldridge-st., his entire personal property consisted of a piece of calico and a bottle of water.

“He eats water,” they told Mrs. Roggenthine, “and his name is—oh, call him what you please.”

They were lively, pleasant people, Mrs. Roggenthine told the newspaper reports, just bubbling over with humor. They laughed all the time they were with her, and Baby’s solemn dark eyes as he looked at them after the handsome send-off they had given him seemed to strike them as very funny. Of course it did look ridiculous to see a young man with only three weeks’ experience in the world and unable to speak the language, come down to tackle the big metropolis with a piece of calico and a recommendation to a water diet—the big metropolis which many strong men have tussled with only to be floored. And then, of course, there was the comic figure Mrs. Roggenthine cut, as a person, who for a consideration wanted babies and would have them around. It certainly was an absurd situation, and the last Mrs. Roggenthine saw of these pleasant, merry people they were laughing heartily over it as they went away.

There were three people in the party—a man, an elderly woman in black, and a fine, dashing young woman in navy blue. Doubtless they went off and had a jolly little dinner and drank success to Baby and his water bottle. It was very funny. Perhaps they laid a few bets with one another as to Baby’s chances, for they left an address to send to “if anything happened.” Something did happen, as a matter of course. Baby made a game fight of it and tried to rise superior to circumstances and live. But he wasn’t fairly treated: there isn’t a doubt about that. Handicapping is all very well, but there ought to be some ghost of a show for winning left. Baby didn’t even have a ghost’s shadow of a show. Mrs. Roggenthine even took off the bar against everything but water in the way of nourishment, and allowed good milk. But it was no use. The weather was so hot, and Baby had had rather a stuffy ride down here in the valise, and he never got himself together again. He stuck it out until last Saturday night, and then, with a very slight sigh, he gave up his short fight with a world which had been dead against him from the start. He might as well have given in at the beginning, when it was such a settled thing that he was to have no show whatever.

The funeral was from the Morgue yesterday, and the burial was quietly performed in the Potter’s Field. There were sixteen other dead people who had played a losing game in the world buried with him, and as there were not enough services to go around, Baby got left again, as usual. But he got into the one place in all the wide world where he was not in the way, when they dropped him in his raisin box in a little corner of the Potter’s Field trench.

Some people are born lucky and some art not. Baby was not. Yet ether are rumors of some respectable people up in virtuous Massachusetts who might properly have taken charge of Baby. It is even said that an elderly man and a pillar in the church, who lives near Pittsfield, might with justice, if not with propriety, have taken a fatherly interest in him. But Baby’s luck was against it. His mistake in ever coming into the world at all. But to be sure, he wasn’t consulted.

New York [NY] Tribune 16 July 1890: p. 5

The Potter’s Field trench would have been on Hart Island, as it is still today. Pauper infants were often buried in whatever container was available.

IN CIGAR BOXES

Many Little Bodies Find Nameless Graves.

            “We have many people bring us little babes in boxes, ranging in size from a cigar box to a coffin a foot or so long,” said a sexton. “They hardly ever leave instructions, so we just put the boxes at the bottom of some grave we dig for a grown person.”

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 31 January 1892: p. 9

NOTE: The practice of “filling in” a gap at the foot of an adult grave with a child’s coffin, was a source of much pain to bereaved pauper parents. They much preferred that their babies be buried in a plot with other children.

 

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.

Consumption Cottage: 1915

the story of a country house consumption 2
Consumption Cottage A cottage infected with consumption.

Recently I’ve been fascinated by “hoodoo” or “unlucky” or “ill-starred” houses where the body counts pile up. Today, for the upcoming  World TB Day, we visit a house haunted by the ghosts of consumption.

THE STORY OF A COUNTRY HOUSE.

By GEORGE THOMAS PALMER, M. D.,

President of the Illinois State Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis.

One becomes accustomed to lurid tales of disease and suffering in the city slums. The resident of the country town is prepared to believe any sort of story dealing with the unnecessary sacrifice of human life in great centers of population. He hears such stories with a certain smugness and self-satisfaction. He forgets,—if he has ever known,—that there are usually disease breeding slums in every city, town or hamlet, regardless of its size or location.

Over in Effingham County, in the outskirts of a prosperous town, stands an old house, situated pleasantly enough in the shade of two giant maples. The country road sweeps past it and green pastures and fields of corn extend away as far as the eye can see. In the morning, robins and jays and thrushes run riot in the trees. There is something homelike in the very dilapidation of the place.

Certainly this is not slums!

But it is. It is very doubtful if any dark and evil-smelling room in the crowded tenements of Chicago can tell a more ghastly story of the sacrifice of human life than this road-side house in Effingham County.

There is nothing very unusual in its appearance. It is old and unpainted; the weather boards are loose and broken and in many places the fallen shingles have left exposed gaps in the roof. Within, there is a living room of moderate size, the wall paper stripped off and with large spaces where the plaster has fallen and the lath are seen. The smooth coat of the walls is almost gone and the rough sand surface is broken in hundreds of places where nails have been driven. The floor is worn and rough and broken.

Opening from this living room, and similarly dilapidated and out of repair, are two little bedrooms, about seven by ten feet in size and one of these is the scene of the repeated tragedies that have occurred in the house during the past fifteen years.

Consumption Cottage The “death room” in the cottage, where an unusually large number of its inhabitants died of consumption

In this room, incidentally, in the year 1900, a man died of tuberculosis. With the death of this man, his wife and children moved away and another family moved in. In this family was a young woman. And this young woman sickened and, in a few months, she died. She died from tuberculosis. She had slept constantly in the room in which the former householder had died.

And so the second family moved away and a man and his wife moved in and occupied the ill-fated bedroom. Ten years ago—in 1904—the wife of this couple died in the house. She died from tuberculosis.

The young widower vacated the place. Shortly after, there moved in a man and his wife and a family of children. So far as can be learned, they were all in good health at that time. But that was several years ago.

It was not long however, until a son of the household,—a young married man,—sickened and, after a while he died,—from tuberculosis, and his young widow went back to her old home town where she died from tuberculosis, leaving two children who were placed in a charitable institution.

Then came the death of a little child in the “death room”;—a death from miliary tuberculosis,—and the following year, the mother of the family died from tuberculosis and was buried at the expense of the county,— for by this time the disease and the expense and inefficiency which go with it were beginning to render the family destitute.

The year following that in which the mother and infant died, a married daughter succumbed, leaving behind her two children, both of whom are now dead, one certainly having died from miliary tuberculosis.

The next year another grown son of the family became a victim of the disease. In 1913, a married daughter, who had been raised in the house and who had left it as a bride, came back to the ill-starred home and died of tuberculosis, leaving three small children who have been farmed out among relatives of the husband.

Just a few weeks ago, another daughter, twenty-one years of age was claimed as a victim of tuberculosis, dying in the little “death room.”

This seems a shocking record for the ramshackle old house;—but it is not all. One of the daughters, who had escaped death in the place, married a prosperous young farmer and moved away. She became the mother of six children, one of whom died from tuberculosis following whooping cough. And then this young mother died of tuberculosis and her remaining five children were farmed out with friends and relatives.

And then another daughter was married and moved to an adjoining county. When she was but developing into womanhood,—at twenty years of age,—shortly after the birth of her first child—she died of tuberculosis and her baby followed her in death—a victim of tuberculous meningitis.

And now of that ill-fated family but three remain,—the father and two children, a boy of ten and a girl of fourteen. The father is gaunt and emaciated. The two children show evidences of the disease which will probably eventually claim them.

While the death record of the house, as it is now written, seems appalling,–while the story of motherless children and of their dependence is impressive—one can only guess at the extent to which the baneful influence of the place will spread. Already the blight has extended into other communities. Already, perhaps, the infection which will wreck other homes has been implanted.

And yet, tuberculosis is a preventable disease.

It takes no very fanciful imagination to see the dreadfulness of all this; but even to the sordid and the cold-blooded there is a definite and unpoetic appeal. This house is said to have already cost the county of Effingham over $2,000.00 for material aid, for medicine, for doctors and for funerals. And that $2,000.00 has not begun to solve the problem.

The house has enormously increased the “pauper expense.” Tuberculosis is not a disease of paupers; but it is essentially a pauperizing disease.

Illinois Health News, Volume 1, 1915: pp. 69-71

Sixteen–perhaps nineteen, by the time this article was published–victims of a “preventable disease….”  Precisely just how preventable tuberculosis was at this time is open to debate. Many physicians felt that proper diet, rest, fresh air and sunshine would keep the dread scourge from taking root. Others believed that consumption was caused by intemperance and vice (with a side-order of damp sheets and airless rooms) and that only the weak and lazy would succumb, leaving the fittest to survive and strengthen the gene pool. I find it interesting that the author, Dr. Palmer, seems more interested in the public expense, rather than the human toll, as he makes that crack about “inefficiency” in the same breath as noting that the mother was buried at the expense of the county and speaks of the “dependency” of those orphaned children.

The author worked with the Illinois State Board of Health and also edited The Chicago Clinic and Pure Water Journal, which, despite its subtitle of “A Medical and Surgical Journal,” gave “special attention to climatology and mineral water therapy.” In other words, he was something of a water-cure advocate, which, at this late date makes him a medical maverick.  Am I imagining things, or is he hinting that the house itself is the source of infection and that the “death room” is a lethal chamber for all who occupy it?  I’ve certainly heard of sickroom flowers held responsible for carrying “morbific bacteria” and poisonous wallpapers shedding arsenical green to be inhaled or ingested, but neither are cited here. He mentions “slums,” a notorious breeding ground for urban consumption, but there is no suggestion that, despite its disrepair, this house replicates the tenement’s cramped and noxious environment, nor does he remark on how frequently the disease annihilated families.

Despite the bare laths and what looks like mold on the remaining plaster, the metal beds (to prevent bed-bugs) are neatly made with patch-work quilts and someone has made an effort to decorate with a picture over the bed and (Biblical?) prints tacked to the wall. It is a pathetic attempt at respectability in the face of the shadow of death.

As a completely irrelevant aside, is the sentence quoted as the caption on the first image meant to echo Sherlock Holmes’ “It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”?

Other examples of lethal houses? Check to see if you have a hectic flush before sending 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. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

 

The Death of the Doll: 1890

jumeau bebe bride doll 1890

THE DEATH OF THE DOLL.

Twenty-three years ago I was at the village of Bocage, in central France.

In one of the little cottages of that village, into which hunger had accidentally driven me–this story is not an invention, it actually occurred as I relate it–a little girl of perhaps 7 years of age was dying. She was it seems the child of a Parisian, but a Parisian who was born and grew to young womanhood at Bocage.

One morning in May a carriage stopped before the door of Mother Gerard, who now took care of a vineyard, but in her younger days had been a nurse for little children.

A young woman alighted from the carriage, followed by a maid and a little girl, delicate and feeble, but very pretty, nevertheless.

“Mother Gerard,” said the young woman to the peasant, “I have brought my little girl to you; she needs the country air and goat’s milk. Will you keep her for a few months?”

The husband of Mother Gerard made an impatient movement, but before he could speak the young woman said “I will pay you a thousand francs.”

“A thousand francs,” said the man; “she is very sick, and the doctor will have to be paid.”

“Doctor or no doctor,” said Mother Gerard brusquely, “I will take care of your child, Nini; I will care for her as tenderly as I did for you, my nurseling.”

“I am sure of it.”

“Kiss me, little one,” continued the good woman, taking the child in her arms.

The little girl did not wait to be urged, but kissed her affectionately. “You will pay in advance?” said the man.

“Here are the thousand francs; give me a receipt.”

The young mother then brought from the carriage the child’s clothing daintily arranged in a small trunk.

The maid brought a large paper box in which lay a beautiful doll that could say “Mammal” when one pressed a spring.

The little girl had been perfectly silent during this time, but the great tears were rolling down her thin, white cheeks.

When her mother noticed that the child was crying she made an impatient gesture, which she quickly suppressed, but not before Mother Gerard saw it. The little girl also saw her mother’s displeasure, and stretched toward her the little, emaciated hands.

It was a touching appeal, a mute caress, a silent prayer, but irresistible in its eloquence. The maid turned, away her head to conceal her tears. The mother was greatly moved, and taking the child in her arms kissed her again and again.

“My dear Nini, do not cry, do not cry any more. I shall come back for you very soon.”

“Will you surely come?” said the child between her sobs, and covering her mother’s face with kisses; “surely, surely,” she added, clasping her little hands as she did when she said her prayers.

Mother Gerard looked sharply at her former foster child, who turned away her head with a flushed face.

“Will you really come back for her, Nini?” she said in a low tone.

“Certainly.”

“Do not be too long about it,” Mother Gerard said significantly.

“Truly, mamma, you will return.”

“Surely, yes, but do not be impatient. Good-by; take good care of dolly. Listen how beautifully she says ‘mamma!’ ” and the mother made the doll repeat many times its one word, mamma! The child was silent.

“She will be your little girl, and you will love her very much!”

“Oh! yes,” said the child with a deep sigh, almost a sob, and she pressed the doll to her heart. The doll murmured “mamma.”

She really loved the little inanimate thing that called her “mamma!” She spent hours in looking at it, in rocking it, and in talking to it in n low tone, at the same time crying for her own mamma.

“Do not fear, Nini”–she had named it for herself. I will never leave you, never! I am your very own mamma, do you hear? Your real mamma! And she pressed the spring and the doll repeated “mamma!”

Then Nini took it in her arms and hugged it tightly, as if she feared that some one would take it from her.

The consumption was slowly but surely accomplishing its deadly work. Her eyes became more and more brilliant, the bones of her checks more and more prominent. A little dry cough constantly shook the narrow, hollow chest, and her voice became feebler day by day. They wrote to her mother, but received no response.

There is nothing, I think, more pitiful than to witness the slow fading out of a little life, which nothing can arrest, neither science, nor love, nor prayers. This martyrdom of infancy inflicts upon those who must witness it the keenest torture.

Mother Gerard bad learned to love this poor victim of filial affection, for Nini was dying of grief–because she was separated from her mother– much more than of disease, and Mother Gerard knowing this nursed her with the utmost tenderness. Nini came to her in May, and it was now October.

The poor child, feeling that she was no longer a daughter, tried to console herself by imagining that she was the mother of her doll. She lavished upon it all the love that she formerly had for her mother. She was unwilling to be separated from it even at night, and the poor little brain had conceived a singular idea–it was that she was not sick, but that it was the doll, her “dear Nini.”

“She has coughed all night,” she would say to Mother Gerard when she had passed a restless night herself. “You suffer, my dear Nini, but I will cure you. We will cure her, nurse, will we not? How feeble her voice is!” she would add, in listening to the weak sound which the doll made, because the pressure upon the spring grow weaker as the little hands grow thinner.

Hour by hour she would tell her own sufferings, but always attributing them to the doll. At times she would yield to an indefinite despair. She did not know what death meant, but she would cry out with indescribable anguish: “No, I do not want you to die, even to go to heaven.”

She never spoke of her mother to the nurse; but sometimes, when she thought herself alone, they would hear her murmur to her doll: “If mamma would come back Nini would be well.”

In the village the arrival of the talking doll had produced a great sensation. All the children wished to see it, and Sunday most of the little girls came to admire the marvelous toy.

To go to see the little girl from Paris and hear her doll talk had become a sort of fete, and then, Nini was so sweet, so caressing to all who showed friendship for her, or who loved her doll, that she had become the idol of the whole village. The vicar came to relate to her beautiful stories of heaven, where there lived a mamma marvelously beautiful and adorably good.

The good sister who had charge of the village school brought her little images of saints and angels.

One of Nini’s greatest pleasures was to see all little friends come with their doll–dolls of wood, of cardboard, of rags; but she thought them all charming, and talked to them in the most delightful manner and as if they could understand her, and replied to her,

The 15th of August was the doll’s birthday, and all the little girls came with their dolls and brought the doll Nini a bouquet, and one for the real Nini. What a merry day it was for them all!

The bed was covered with flowers, and the doll was so happy that she said again and again, “Mamma!”

Alas! the care of Mother Gerard, the love and caresses of all, the healthful air of the country had been able only to prolong the days of the little sufferer, but altogether were not able to cure her.

They began to count the weeks, then the days that she could be with them.

“She is very ill, mamma’s Nini,” she said, caressing the doll. “She suffers greatly there,” she said, touching the doll s chest.

One evening she sat up suddenly, seized her doll in both arms, looked at it with yearning, shining eyes, and tried to press the spring. The sound came feebly and weakly articulated, “Mamma!”

The child repeated “Mamma” with a voice still more feeble, and fell back on her pillow, but still clasping her doll.

She was dead.

And singular as it may seem, the spring in the doll was broken; the doll, too, was dead!

During all the next day the two Ninis, the two little dead bodies, were left with uncovered faces, surrounded with the last flowers of autumn, white and yellow, mingled with branches of red leaves.

When they dressed little Nini for the last time they found that they would have to use much force to take the doll from her grasp. Mother Gerard would not permit it. She kissed the child once more, and, without trying to account for the strange impulse, she kissed the doll also. Both were put into the coffin, with all that belonged to them dresses and bonnets, little shoes and stockings, and playthings of all sorts.

Then upon the bier, carried by the strongest little girls of the village– alas! it was not very heavy–they put all the flowers they could find; and it was the strangest funeral that one could imagine. All the little girls of the school marched behind, two by two, holding their dolls; and on the way they were joined by others, and each new arrival had her doll. Those who had two dolls gave one to those who had none. All the dolls were dressed in their finest clothes.

When they arrived at the cemetery the children formed a circle around the grave, with their dolls in their arms, and listened to the last prayer for poor Nini. Among the children who had come to bid a last farewell to their little friend and the talking doll–for they regretted the wonderful doll quite as much as they did Nini–there was one who had been a particular favorite of the little invalid.

It was a sickly little cripple, nearly her own age, with a sorrowful, pale face. She almost adored the doll, and when Nini permitted her to rock it she was perfectly happy. She, like the others, had a doll which she loved devotedly.

No ono can know what thought passed through that little brain, but at the moment that the sexton threw the first spadeful of earth upon the coffin she kissed her doll convulsively and threw it into the grave, saving, “Go with Nini!”

This impulsive act so impressed the other children that one after another followed her example.

It was a touching spectacle.

“Go with Nini!” each little one repeated in letting her doll fall into the grave.

One only drew back unable to make the sacrifice. She was 5 years old, perhaps, the child of a poor woman. Her doll was of cardboard, old, dirty and worn, and had lost one arm. She clasped it in her arms and sobbingly said: “No! not in the hole! not in the hole, my Nini! She would be cold!”

The return to the village was, perhaps, sadder than the walk to the grave. The next day the vicar went to Neville and brought back with him fifteen new dolls and gave them to the children in the name of the two Ninis.

In this village for many years after a doll was called a Nini in remembrance of the one which was buried. Translated from the French for Chicago Inter-Ocean.

Harrisburg [PA] Telegraph 21 January 1890: 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.

A Shroud for a Night-dress: 1902

woman's shroud karen augusta
Woman’s burial bodice, https://augusta-auction.com/search-past-sales?view=lot&id=18163&auction_file_id=48

Shroud for a Robe de Nuit

Out in Anaconda, Mont., a rosy, healthy, buxom girl, fresh from her father’s ranch, was making some purposes for her approaching wedding. In company with her mother, she entered one of the principal stores of the city. Neither she nor her mother made any secret of the coming wedding or the object of their shopping tour. It was a great event in their lives, and they took the salesman in the general store quite into their confidence.

“Now,” said mamma, when they had bought a bill that was going to cost papa many a fat steer, “now we want to look at some nightgowns. We want the very nicest thing you’ve got.” The faithful salesman began to pull down the stock. He exhibited all the prettiest things he could find, but nothing suited—the garments were all too plain and unornamental to suit the demands of the mother and bride-to-be. There are limitations to a cow town general store stock, but there are resources as well. The clerk was a man of resources, and when almost at his wits’ end one of his bright ideas came to him. Excusing himself for a moment, he went to another part of the store, rummaged among the boxes and came back with a gorgeous thing of lace and insertion and filmy fabric.

“The very thing,” declared mamma. “Why didn’t you show us that in the first place?”

“Well, you see, ma’am,” said he, “I forgot we had them in stock. We’ve only got two of them, though. Do you think they will do?”

“Do!” exclaimed the girl. “of course they will do. They are just what we wanted.”

So the clerk calmly added 200 per cent to the cost price he found on them, packed the garments in a box and sent the mother and daughter on their way rejoicing.

“Say,” said the salesman to the proprietor, when that gentleman came in half an hour later, “I sold them funeral shrouds that you got stuck with. Sold ‘em to a bride for her trousseau.”

But the bride never knew.

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 23 January 1902: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is not at all surprised by the story above. There is a strange element of sensuality in writings about burial fashions. Women’s burial robes, with their embellishments of lace and embroidery, are lovingly described in the same language used in the fashion magazines for wedding gowns or for tea gowns, so essential to afternoon seductions. It was as if defunct ladies were dressed to seduce Death Himself.

For example:

Scores of boxes, just such as those which New York modistes send home ball dresses announced next day in “Society” columns as a creation by Worth—were uncovered to show examples of the present prevailing styles in shrouds. This is a ghastly name by no means suited to the tasteful burial robes displayed. There was not a hint of winding sheet or cerement in their style. They seemed, indeed, like a la mode demi-toilettes…One of these, which the reporter saw, folded in its box, was of fine cream tinted cashmere, made like a matinee or tea gown, the front traversed by diagonal folds of satin the same shade and ruchings, quillings of the same extended from shoulders to knees, below which were plaited flounces. The sleeves were fully trimmed, and the robe was entirely ready for wear with fine full crepe lisse ruchings at throat and wrists. A carelessly knotted sash of ribbon confined the robe. This cost only $25. Another, of handsome black cashmere, had a front with black satin revers quillings and pipings as heading for falls of black Spanish lace, the skirts ending in flat kilted flounces. A sash of broad brocaded ribbon fell in long lops on one side. White crepe lisse was added inside the lace at neck and hands. The price of this was $50…A woman’s white cashmere robe here was trimmed with satin in Grecian folds, and down the front accurately laid puffs were bordered by machine embroidery, a tiny flower resting in each scallop. The edge of the skirt was composed of broad alternate side kilting of satin and cashmere headed by the embroidery. The New York Herald 11 May 1884: p. 8

Then there was this ingenious lady, who saw the street-wear potential of a garment for the grave:

STOLE A SHROUD TO WEAR

An Atchison Woman Trimmed a Burial Robe and Used It.

Atchison [Kansas] Dispatch to Chicago Tribune.

Burial robes for street dresses is the latest fad, as introduced by an Atchison woman. J.A. Harouff, a local undertaker, missed a woman’s burial robe the other day. Yesterday afternoon he saw a woman on Commercial street wearing the robe. She had adorned with a few fancy frills and trimmings, but there was no doubt as to the identity of the robe, and Mr. Harouff says the dress was a “mighty stylish looking gown.” The undertaker was so astonished that he has decided not to ask for the return of his property. “A woman with that much nerve and ingenuity deserves a reward, no punishment,” he said today. The Washington [DC] Post 17 August 1914: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil has written about the “death drawers,” containing a complete trousseau of death-wear and many other stories on the material culture of mourning. See the “mourning” category for more of this funereal subject. Mrs Daffodil can also recommend the “mourning” posts over at Haunted Ohio (including one on the girl shroud-makers of New York) and in the associated book: The Victorian Book of the Dead, which also has its own “Face-book” page, updated daily.

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.