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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A fascinating thought, that last observation…

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

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

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

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

Three Fatal Drops: 1880s

The Dying Artist, Z. Andrychiewicz, 1880s





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

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

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

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

An Incurable Disease.

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

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

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

“Three Drops Only.”

My father said:—”You mean —?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so fell asleep, and sleeping, died.

New Zealand Herald  24 December 1929: p. 14

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

A Grave Man: The Sexton of Spring Grove: 1866

Mind meal at en.wikipedia, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons


The Old Sexton at Spring Grove.

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

Various Ways of Expressing Grief at the Last Scene.

Queer Actions of Superstitious People in Arranging Mounds.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Then again, there is almost more trouble about the


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


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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

Grave-yard Philosophy.

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

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

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

“Time cures all ills.”

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

“There are exceptions to that.”

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

“More flowers than ornaments.”

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

“What do you mean by that?”

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

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

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

All Saints’ Day Is Celebrated in Paris: 1887

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

All Saints’ Day Is Celebrated in Paris.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And after that, what do you do?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beaded French immortelles or funeral wreath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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