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

[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 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

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

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 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


Maine Man Had Coffin Filled With Rum


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 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


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.


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 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.