Frauds on Undertakers: 1883

 

bangham and company funeral furnishers letterhead 1860

Bangham & Company, Funeral Furnishers, letterhead, c. 1860 https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk

FRAUDS ON UNDERTAKERS.

A man named Henry Russell has lately confessed how he victimised undertakers, an English paper gives the following details About four o’clock one afternoon in May, 1883, Russell, dressed in deep black, walked into the shop of an undertaker in Willesden and asked the assistant if his master were in. The assistant explained that his master would be but a short time, and asked the future customer to be seated. Whilst waiting; for the arrival of the master the assistant engaged the customer in conversation, and, to put it briefly, during the space of about twenty-five minutes Russell simply “pumped” the assistant and made himself master of certain facts and details of the business which proved very useful. The undertaker arrived, and Russell explained in a most becoming manner that his brother-in-law had died that morning, and he had been recommended to place the arrangements for the burial in the hands of Mr __ by Miss J__ who spoke highly of the manner in which he had carried out the funerals of her two sisters whom she had unfortunately recently lost. In this way Russell quite charmed the undertaker, and in the result, having explained the kind of grave, coffin, and funeral he wanted, desired the undertaker to give him a price for the whole thing.

Rapidly the undertaker totalled up the whole cost, which he said would come to £20. “Very well,” said Russell, I will just consult my poor sister, and call upon you later in the evening, when doubtless I shall have a cheque from my brother for you.”

According to his promise Russell called and asked the undertaker to make out the account, and receipt it.

“Ah!” said Russell, “I am very sorry. My brother thought I said £30, and has given me a cheque for that amount, but it matters little; just give me the difference, £10, in gold, will you?

The address of the deceased was in the very best part of Willesden, and the undertaker made not the slightest objection, and promptly handed “Mr James Le Royt” the £10 in sovereigns. Towards nine o’clock Mr Undertaker paid a visit to the address given, and to the servant who answered the door he explained his object in calling. The servant, in turn, called her mistress, to whom the undertaker expressed his regret for the loss of so excellent a husband.

The lady had some doubts about the sanity of her visitor. She told him that he must have mistaken the house, and that her husband was on the premises, alive and well. The undertaker showed her the address given by Russell. and said he felt sure that he had made no mistake. The lady then called her husband, who was having dinner, in order that the undertaker might have ocular proof of the truth of her statement.

Hardly had the first undertaker been gone half-an-hour before another knock was heard, and again the lady of the house was requested to conduct undertaker No. 2 to the death chamber for the purpose of taking the necessary measurements for a coffin. Again the master was shown to be in the flesh— much, we feel bound to say, to the horror of the undertakers, who now realised that they had been the victims of a very clever fraud, both the cheques being worthless.

Whilst talking to the assistant of undertaker No. 1, Russell learned that Mr__ who kept a public-house in the immediate neighbourhood, had often changed his master’s cheques, and before quitting Willesden Russell succeeded in inducing the landlord to cash a cheque of the undertaker’s for £20, which he (Russell) stated had just been paid to him for cloth he had brought down. The signature was, of course, obtained from the receipt for the funeral expenses which Mr__ had given Russell. Russell was very pleased with his visit to Willesden, which, he informed his companion, had resulted in a net gain, after deducting expenses, of £38.

Russell next paid a visit to Bedford; and, just as the assistant of one of the undertakers of the town was closing the shop, Russell, in a very hurried manner, walked up to him and asked him if he could direct him to Messrs B__ and Co., undertakers.

“Yes,” said the assistant, “this is the shop.”

“l am so glad,” said Russell. I have been hurrying all the way from the other end of the town. Is your master in?” The young man replied in the negative, and seeing Russell was overcome, and appeared as if about to faint, he augmented they should adjourn to the hotel bar near, and partake of some brandy. Russell thanked the young fellow and accompanied him to the hotel, where be soon became himself, thanks to the brandy. Russell again thanked the young man, and placed half a-crown in his hand. A conversation ensued, during which Russell learned the name of his master’s bankers and the names of some of his master’s friends in London, and other details, which served him in good stead. Russell then made an appointment for the next day to arrange for the funeral of his sister, who had just died, and who was an old maid, explained Russell, “with a nice long stocking.”

Next day Russell saw the undertaker, and explained that he had been called down from London owing to the death of his maiden sister, which had taken place some two or three days previously.

“When I got to the house,” said Russell, “I found that they had made some arrangements with Mr S__ and that he had actually made a coffin. Well, I find he is a very small man, and I don’t think, considering I am one of my sister’s executors, that I can allow him to carry out the funeral. I come to you because I know a Mr Balman, and having mentioned that my sister at Bedford had died he recommended me to you, as he was a friend of yours, but I don’t see my way clear at all. What am I to do with the other man now he has made the coffin?”

“Oh,” replied the undertaker, “just tell him that you are going to make other arrangements, and then ask him what he wants for the coffin and the trouble he has been put to, and then pay him— that is what I should do.”

“Very well,” replied Russell, “I’ll go down and do so at once, and come back to you.”

A little later Russell appeared, and exhibited to the undertaker his rival’s receipt for £6, the price of the coffin, &c. It may be as well here to tell the story of how he obtained the receipt. Russell went to another undertaker in a small way of business, and explained that his sister had just given birth to a stillborn child, and he would so very glad if he would make a small coffin, see Dr __ and make arrangements for the burial. Russell then asked him whether he had a book showing the different styles of coffins, and whilst the undertaker was hunting for his pattern book Russell managed, to abstract from a case on the counter several printed memoranda forms and envelopes. Then Russell suddenly remembered that he had an appointment to keep in the town, and hurriedly left the shop, promising to come again later in the day. It was on one of the memoranda forms that Russell wrote “Rced. of W. Wesson, Esq., the sum of £6 for coffin for Miss A. Wesson, No. 21, ___, Bedford.”

The production of the receipt, of course, inspired confidence: first it established the fact that a Miss Wesson had died and, secondly, that she was in her coffin. It also showed that Russell was desirous of placing business in the way of Messrs Russell then described the kind of funeral he wanted, with feathers, palls, &c, and asked how much it would come to. “£15,” replied the undertaker. “Very well; make out a bill and I will pay you. I have just got a cheque from my cousin, James Wesson, for £20. The account was duly made out, stamped, and receipted, while Russell said, “I must send £5 back to London to-night, so I think you had better give me your cheque for the balance, and it will save me getting a post office order. Don’t cross the cheque, as it is going to a poor relative to buy black with, and they will want to change it in London.”

The undertaker gave “Mr Wesson” the cheque for £5, and after having fixed the date on which the funeral was to take place and partaken of a glass of wine at the before-mentioned hotel, Mr Wesson bid the undertaker good day. Half an hour later a cheque was presented at the Bedford branch of the Bank for £50, and Mr Wesson requested that the money should be paid in gold. The £5 had been cleverly turned into £50, and a nought placed after the £5. This fraud Russell always pointed to with great pride, and “Undertaker Jimmy,” was never too tired or too busy to tell this story, of course to an admiring circle of selected friends.

Star [Christchurch NZ], 26 November 1891: 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.

The Pleasures of the Grave: 1886

THE PLEASURES OF THE GRAVE.

Some revelations have been made at a recent meeting of the Macclesfield Board of Guardians respecting the lavish expenditure indulged in by poor people on the occasion of their friends’ funerals. It would appear that for a period of about two years the local board of Guardians had been administering relief to an old married couple named John and Elizabeth McManus to the extent of 4s per week. On July 26th the husband died, upon which the widow made preparations for a costly funeral, having in view the sum of £15 which she was  to receive as insurance money consequent upon his death. The smartest hearse and mourning coaches were ordered, the coffin was of the most solid character, and the relatives were all supplied with new mourning attire. In addition to this quantities of beer, wine and spirits were bought. On the very day of McManus’ burial the widow died, having previously ordered that similar preparations for her burial should be made as in the case of her husband. Charlotte McManus, a daughter-in-law, who is likewise a recipient of parish relief to the amount of 5s per week, after John McManus had been interred in the cemetery, set to work to bury her mother-in-law “decently.” She drew the whole £30, and Mr Heathcote, one of the Board’s relieving officers, said she spent £22 of it on the funeral, leaving only a balance of £7 odd. 

The Board of Guardians were highly indignant at this gross extravagance on the part of persons who had been receiving parish relief, and ordered Charlotte M’Manus to produce vouchers of the expenditure. These included, among a hundred other items:—Butter and cream, 2s 9l; two weeks’ charing, 10s; plain, spice, and currant bread, 4s 11d; three dresses, 17s 6d; jacket, 3s 6d; trimmings, 6s 3d; 1lb tea, 2s 4d; bottles of pickles, 1s 6d; 4 lbs lump sugar, 10d; ¼ lb best tobacco, Is; 7lb cheese, 4s 8d; crape, 9s 8d. All this and more was for Mrs M’Manus’ funeral. For John M’Manus there was a spice loaf, Is 6d; two currant loaves, 2s;  2 ½ lb butter 1s 9d; three pairs stockings, 3s 6d; three pairs gloves, 3s 5d; collars, 3d; tie, 6 1/2d; ½-pint sherry, 1s.  July 27th—Liquor, 4s; August 3rd—Liquor, 4s; August 4th—Liquor, 8s; August 5th —Four gallons ale, 6s 8d; cashmere, 12 s; lining, 4s; crape, 5s 4d; jacket, £1 1s; cashmere, 15s 5d; tobacco and pipes, 2s; two pairs women’s kid shoes, 9s 10d; one pair lace shoes, 8s 11d; one pair slippers, 2 6d; boy’s tweed suit, 10s 9d; boy’s black suit, 19s 9d; boy’s hat, 1s 9d. For Mrs McManus, best polished oak coffin, lined with flannel and wadding bed, shroud, and furnishing funeral £2 10s 1d; best hearse and Clarence, £1 15s; driver’s money, 1s 6d; cemetery expenses, 12s 6d; fittings for hearse and coffin; total, £4 19s. The sum of £4 19s was also spent in providing a coffin and hearse for McManus. Refreshments were not forgotten. In the case of John McManus’s funeral, liquor was set down at 23s 8d; bread and butter, 6s 3d; bread and cheese, 5s 3d; and another dubious item, which is vaguely treated under the head of “nourishment,” 5s.

Daily Telegraph.

The Press Supplement [Christchurch NZ] 23 October 1886: p. 1  

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

The Titanic Funeral Ship: 1912

The cable repair ship Mackay Bennett, the “funeral ship” which put out from Halifax and picked up dead bodies near the scenes of the Titanic disaster. The ship carried a large supply of coffins, ice and embalming fluid, an undertaker and a staff of embalmers. The Rev. Canon K. Hinds (on left) was on board to perform funeral services for such bodies as were unrecognizable and too far gone for embalming. The other portrait is of Capt. [Frederick H.] Lardner, the ship’s commander.

The Evansville [IN] Press 23 April 1912: p. 1

190 BODIES BROUGHT IN,

116 BURIED AT SEA

Captain of the Morgue Ship Tells of the Picking Up of Corpses Which Floated Upon the Waves.

ALL WORE THE LIFE BELTS OF SHIP

Ninety Bodies Were Picked Up in One Morning, Being Found All at Once and Looked Like Gulls.

[United Press Leased Wire Service.]

His Majesty’s Dock, Halifax, April 30. Loaded down with 190 bodies of victims of the Titanic disaster, the Mackay-Bennett made port today, after having buried at sea 110 bodies, some of which had been identified. Captain Lardner who commanded the death cruise, with a broken voice, declared that his vessel was unable to bring to shore all of the dead recovered.

Beside the captain sat the benevolent-looking round-faced Canon Hinds, worn by the heavy duties that had fallen to him through the cruise.

 “Why were those bodies burled at sea?” the captain was asked.

The grizzled old sea captain shook his head sadly and a pained expression swept his weather-beaten face.

“They were members of the crew,” he said, “most of them, and we could not care for them. When we left Halifax we took on board all of the embalming fluid in the city. That was only enough to care for seventy bodies. It was not expected that we would find bodies in such great quantities. The undertakers didn’t think these bodies would keep more than three days at sea, and as we expected to be out more than two weeks, we had to bury them. They received the full service for the dead before they slid over the rail.”  

Buried at Sea.

Fifty-seven identified victims of the Titanic disaster were buried at sea from the Mackay-Bennett. They had been crushed between huge cakes of ice and were wholly unrecognizable. Identification being possible only by means of names sewed in the pockets. A list of those who were consigned to the deep follows:

Mauritz Adahl, Pedro Ale, Thomas Anderson, Ragozzi Abele, Rossimore Abbott, John Adams, W. Butt, A. Boothby, G. Butterworth, E. T. Barker, Patrick Connors, Yosep Drazenouf, J.J. Davies, James Farrell, Leslie Gelinski, J.S. Gill, Anvers Gustafsen, A. Hayter, G. Hinckley, Henry D. Hansen, Reg Hale, W. Hinton, Adolph Humblein, A.C. Hell, T. Hewitt, Eric Johansen, Edward Keating, Valet of George D. Widener; James Keller, R. W. Leison, Charles Louch, Edward Lockyer, D. Lily, Jaen Mouros, Mrs. Mack, Mrs. N. McNamee, Mary Mangan, M. Mays, Moussor Novel, Blank Olsen, E.W. Petty, C.G. Ricks, J.M. Robinson, J. Stone, Fred Sutton, W. Saunders, Wm. Sage, Philip J. Stokes, Ernest P. Tomling, F. Tamlyn, Thomas Theodaid, Catavelos Vassilios, W. Vear, Leslie Williams, W. Watson, O. S. Woody.

“Those who were buried at sea,” continued the captain, “were mostly badly mutilated and the undertakers said they would not keep. They had bean struck by spars or floating wreckage. “Night closed down on us Sunday night with bodies still around. We commenced work again on Monday morning at daylight, but bodies were scarce. We got only 26 that day. We searched 15 minutes in and out along the line of wreck. At night we marked the floating wreckage with a drifting buoy so we could find it readily in the morning.

Ninety In One Morning.

“Tuesday morning bodies were numerous again. We picked up ninety bodies before noon. Then the weather came on thick and in the afternoon we recovered only 29.

“We found no two bodies together. All. were floating separately. No two were clasped In each other’s arms or anything like that. In one place we saw them scattered over the surface looking like a flock of gulls. They looked just like gulls with the white ends of the life belts fluttering and flapping up and down with the rise and fall of the waves.

“A great many of those recovered were injured when the Titanic went down,” said Captain Lardner, when he was asked why so many of the bodies brought in were bruised and broken.

“When the water swept her decks many must have been rushed before it and carried against stanchions, spars and others parts of the vessel. All of those picked up wore life belts and they rod upright in the waves, the belts carrying them high above the water.”

Then the captain continued his outline of the cruise, consulting the log before him from time to time.

“All day Wednesday we were in thick fog and it was blowing hard from the southwest. We saw nothing all day. About midnight the weather eased up and we shaped our course back for the bodies. At 5:30 Thursday morning we found one drifting near us. We let her drift until daylight and then commenced work. We picked up 87 bodies that day. Thursday I got a message saying the Minia was coming out to assist us. She arrived about 45 minutes after midnight Friday.

“At daylight the two ships commenced searching together. At noon I picked up 14 more bodies and then we started for Halifax because we had as many on board as we could look after. We experienced bad weather on the way in.”

Captain Lardner outlined the methods of caring for the bodies after they had been picked up.

Five Men In a Boat.

“We had five men in each small boat,” he said. “When they went out to look for bodies they kept within sight of the bridge of the Mackay-Bennett and we signalled them by wig wagging. When they picked up four or five bodies, if the weather was heavy, we would bring them in. If the weather was calm, they could handled seven or eight in a boat. The bodies were hoisted on board and when they were searched, the contents of the pockets and their valuables were placed in canvass bags having on them the same number as that on the body. In this way we made some identifications, long after the bodies were taken aboard.

“We brought in the bags of all who were buried at sea and some of those committed to the deep may yet identified by the contents of these bags. We covered a square of sea about thirty miles long and thirty miles wide, about

sixty miles northeast of the scene of the disaster. All of the bodies found were In the cold water, north of the gulf stream.

“No bodies that we found contained any bullet wounds.”

The captain then related the confusion In the identification of George D. Widener.

“We thought it was Widener first, because the body had letters addressed to Mr. Widener but the quality of the underclothing worn by body was not such as would be worn by a first class passenger. His overcoat bore the Initials E. K. His head was terribly crushed and the body would not keep so we burled him at sea. Mr. Widener’s son after examining the envelope containing possessions found on the body, said he was certain that the body was of Edward Keating his father’s valet.

“I feel certain that all of the passengers picked up have already been identified and that the unidentified were members of the ship’s company. I feel sure that those buried at sea were  practically all either seamen, stewards or other employes of the White Star company.

“I think there were about 18 or 20 women among the bodies we picked up. We have quite a lot of jewelry taken from both men and women. I don’t how much cash we took from the bodies.” Lardner said that he did not believe that the Minia would succeed in securing many more bodies, unless she ‘strikes a streak of them.’

“The Minia had seven bodies aboard when the Mackay started for Halifax.”

UNLOADING CARGO OF DEAD, PICKED UP OUT AT SEA

Mackay-Bennett Arrived at Halifax This Morning With Decks Piled High With Corpses.

MOST GRUESOME PICTURE EVER SEEN

Astor’s Body in a Plain Wooden Box Just Like That Used for the Other Bodies of Victims.

[United Press Leased Wire Service.]

Halifax, April 30. The pitiful few of the Titanic’s victims retrieved from the broad waters of the Atlantic reached port today. The Mackay-Bennett, with the bodies on board, was reported off the first buoy at the harbor entrance at eight o’clock (Atlantic time), and immediately afterward, at signal from the bells in the churches, the flags on every building in the city were dropped to half staff.

As the Mackay-Bennett slowly steamed up the three and one-half miles of the harbor the bells in the church towers tolled solemnly at minute intervals and thousands of the city inhabitants hurried to points of vantage along the water front to catch the first glimpse of the ship with her cargo of dead.

All shipping under orders immediately cleared from the harbor channel. The Mackay-Bennett was given a clear track up the center of the bay with nothing to impede her progress. About the government dock, where she was to be berthed, a hundred blue clad sailors, with mourning bands on their round caps and on the sleeves of their blouses, leaped into boats and rowed out to form a patrol to keep craft away from the great naval dock where the vessel was to be tied up.

At the same time a detachment of British bluejackets from the cruiser Niobe marched on the pier and cleared it of every one not holding an official pass. They carried side arms and they were instructed to keep everyone away.

They then placed an awning entirely about the portion of the dock assigned to the Mackay-Bennett and prepared the covered gang-plan which was run out as soon as the death ship was berthed.

Under a white marquee on the dock, the view of which was shut off by the awnings that had been arranged, more than one hundred coffins and rough boxes had been piled tier on tier. Near them were the undertakers and embalmers, who were to care for the bodies. As the Mackay-Bennett came into sight down the harbor, the undertakers, embalmers and ambulance helpers put on long brown coats and began to arrange the coffins, opening them and laying them out in great long rows ready for the silent occupants who could already be seen piled on the decks of the approaching cable repair ship.

Only Woman Present.

Among the undertakers was a Miss O’Neill of St. Johns, brought over to Halifax to care for any bodies of women that might be aboard the Mackay-Bennett. She was the only woman on the dock just before the Mackay-Bennett hove in sight.

The mourners, after their long vigil, did not hurry to the dock when the whispered word went through the city: “She’s coming!” Warned by the White Star and government officials that a visit to the dock would be useless, they planned to go to the Mayflower curling rink, where the bodies were to be taken immediately upon being unloaded.

A squad of naval Red Cross men mixed a dozen buckets of thick evil smelling disinfectant and sprinkled the entire dock, the covered gang-plank and the pile of coffins. The atmosphere of a morgue pervaded the pier.

As the Mackay-Bennett drew into the dock a boat already manned hung from the starboard davits. It was dropped and a line brought ashore. Within five minutes the vessel was safely docked, with heavy hawsers holding her stern and bow. As she swung in she looked her part of: morgue ship. She was seaworn and weather-beaten after her long cruise and piled high on her afterdeck were rows upon rows of darkened dirty white pine rough boxes. Along her starboard deck amidship were scores of loosely tied bundles of every imaginable color, evidently the clothing taken from the bodies picked up. Each bundle was marked with a large square of burlap on which was printed a number. On board were representatives of the White Star line who had boarded the vessel at the entrance to the harbor. They warned everyone the dock against attempting to board the vessel and proceeded with arrangements for taking off the bodies.

At that time only two mourners were on the dock. They were the maid of Mrs. William Augustus Spencer, Eliza Loretta, and J. A. Kenyon, Connecticut, searching for his brother. Mrs. Spencer’s husband was lost on the Titanic. As the undertakers boarded the death ship, the dead for whom no coffins had been provided could be seen lying on the deck amidship.

Like Mummies.

Some of the bodies were wrapped close as mummies in burlap and canvas and bound with heavy twine. Others lay uncovered in long rows, a heterogeneous mass of arms and legs and heads. These bodies the undertakers began to remove at once, carrying them on stretchers to the waiting wagons. A huge tarpaulin was lifted from amidship and another great group of dead were uncovered.

Evidently no care had been possible for them. They lay stretched beneath the big canvass with arms and legs in cramped positions, soaked with sea salt and with sea stains like red-brown wine stains on every face. Distorted features twisted out of all shape and giving each face a horrible grimace marked every face and staring, unseeing eyes leered from the death group as the undertakers prepared to move the bodies.

Outside the gate of the dock yard group of mourners had been held because they had not been given passes. They had passes to the morgue, but the dock yard authorities refused to honor them. Besides these there were but few about the place. There was no crowd of idle curiosity seekers clamoring for a glimpse of the gruesome freight. Halifax went on quietly about its business passing with averted faces the death wagons that hurried through the street.

A long double row of bare headed sailors, dressed In dirty blue overalls, was stretched from the group of dead amidship to the covered gangplank. The undertakers lifted a body, placed it in a loose canvass stretcher and the sailors lifted it. It was passed down the row from hand to hand until it came to the gangplank. There undertakers grasped it, placed the body in a rough pine box. lifted the box to a wagon, and it was off to the morgue.

Within ten minutes after the Mackay-Bennett docked bodies were leaving the ship at the rate of one a minute, The unidentified bodies were taken off first. They were in a big group that lay amidship uncovered and unembalmed.

The body on board the Mackay-Bennett supposed to be that of George D. Widener may not be the Philadelphia millionaire.

Captain Richard Roberts of the yacht of John Jacob Astor, after a conference with Captain Lardner of the Mackay-Bennett, declared he was satisfied that the body of Astor was on board but that it was possible that the body identified as Widener may be that of his valet.

‘Valets often wear their master’s clothes without removing the name tags,” said Captain Roberts, ‘and the body on board was identified as Mr. widener by the name on the clothing, The head Is badly crushed and it would be impossible to identify the features.

“From the description given me,” continued Roberts, “I am satisfied that Colonel Astor’s body is on board. I did not see the body as it is nailed up in a rough coffin on the after deck.”

A coffin pulled from the pile on the after deck of the Mackay-Bennett was opened and Captain Richard Roberts of the Astor yacht looked at the body it contained. After gazing at it for a moment he turned away saying:

“It is he.”

Captain Roberts had made certain that Colonel John Jacob Aster’s body was in the coffin. Among the unidentified dead was the tiny figure of a baby girl, apparently about two years old. The child’s body had been picked up by one of the crew of the Mackay-Bennett. It was floating on a bit of wreckage. By no means could the little body be identified..

The rough crew of the Mackay-Bennett took charge of the body and It will be buried In Halifax at the expenses of the sailors.

For two hours the work of removing the bodies went on with the regularity of clock work. The wagons gave out and the hearses of all the local undertakers were pressed into service. At 11 o’clock (Atlantic time) no move had been made toward getting off the huge pile of coffins that reared high on the after deck of the ship.

Captain Lardner gave out the following statement regarding the death cruise: 

“We were commissioned to bring all the bodies found floating, but owing to the number found and weather conditions it was impossible to carry out instructions and some were committed to the deep after service by Canon Hind.

“We left shortly after noon on Wednesday, the 17th of April; fog and bad weather delayed us on the run out and we did not arrive until Saturday night at 8 o’clock. On Sunday, at noon, having asked all ships to report us if they passed any wreckage or bodies, we received a communication from a German steamer Rhine to the effect that in latitude 41.20 north longitude 49.30, she had passed some wreckage and bodies. The course was shaped for that position north SS4 east. Later in the afternoon we spoke to the German ship Bremen and they reported they had passed three large bergs in latitude 42 north, longitude 49.20 west.

“We arrived on the scene at eight o’clock Sunday night, stopped and let ship drift. In middle watch, wreckage and a few bodies were sighted. At daylight the boats were lowered and although a heavy sea was running, 51 bodies were recovered that day.”   

The Daily Gate City [Keokuk IA] 30 April 1912: p. 1

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

Poor Polly Buried: 1892

parrot cage 1917

POOR POLLY BURIED.

Killed by Cold Water or Watermelon.

A Funny Funeral in Noe Valley.

Obsequies of a Dead Bird—Taken to the Grave in a Goat Carriage.

There was a strange scene in Noe Valley, away out Castro street, on Thursday and those who witnessed it will not soon tire talking of it. To most of those who took part in it the occasion was fraught with more of curiosity than of deeper interest, but it was not so with all. In a little front parlor at 1414 1/2 Castro street stands a big empty birdcage. Rising from the top of the cage a staff on which a flag, hoisted half mast high, tells the visitor that the one time occupant is dead. All around the little doorway where she fluttered in and out bits of black and white still further emphasize the fatal fact, and bouquets of flowers fitted into feeding and drinking cups and hanging from the swinging perch where Polly used to swing are tokens to her memory.

It was only a parrot, this recent dweller within those walls of wire, but seldom has a bird left more sincere mourners behind it, and many a man or woman would be proud to think that such an elaborate funeral was in store for him or her. Less than two years ago this poor parrot was hatched out in the wilderness of Panama. John Stranaghan, an honest sailor lad, came into possession of the bird on one of his coast-wise trips and brought it to his uncle’s home in Noe Valley. Just one year ago was presented to Mr. and Mrs. Augustus Tache, and in their pretty little home on Castro street the bird really began to live the life that has now so suddenly ended. The parrot’s name was Loretta, but owing to the difficulty parrots find in pronouncing the letter T she called herself Lora, and those who knew her and loved her learned to accept the abbreviation. Lora was the pet of the entire neighborhood, but she was the apple of Mrs. Tache’s eye.

There were tears in both of Mrs. Tache’s eyes last evening as she related stories illustrating the genius and accomplishments of “poor Lora.” In appearance the bird had been quite like any other green parrot with gold trimmings. Her size was roughly but kindly stated by Mr. Tache, who is a carpenter, “She just fitted into a box 13 by 3 inches,” said he. And there stood the box on a pedestal just in front of the empty “cottage.” It was a dainty box, more like a young lady’s glove box than a coffin, covered with baby blue silk and lined with the same in quilted squares. Yet in it poor Lora had been laid out. By the silken handles on either side the pallbearers had carried it to the grave side, and there in the darkened parlor it now stands with the other evidences of a woman’s strange devotion to the memory of a dead bird.

The lessons that Lora learned in her home on Castro street seem all to have been good ones. She could not only talk and whistle like other parrots, but as a singer she had an enviable record, Her singing of the chorus of “Auld Lang Syne” is said to have made many of the residents of Noe valley weep copiously, and Mrs. Tache herself was very much overcome last evening in endeavoring to give the reporter an idea of Lora’s rendition of “Amid the Raging of Sea.” “She had a sweet and lovely voice,” said this fond mistress of a pretty pet, but Mr. Tache did not seem to agree with her. There was also a slight difference of opinion as to the cause of Lora’s demise. Both agreed that the parrot died of cholera morbus, but Mrs. Tache declared that the disease was due to Mr. Tache feeding the bird on watermelon, while the latter contended that death had been due to too frequent bathing at the hands of Mrs. Tache.

Whatever the cause, poor Lora was taken ill on Monday last. She was “off ‘her feed,” as Mr. Tache puts it, all the afternoon, and when night came she could muster up no words from her voluminous vocabulary save “Poor Lora! Poor, poor Lora.” It should be mentioned here that she never referred to herself as Polly, and never made the stereotyped suggestion regarding the proverbial cracker. Just as Monday was turning into Tuesday Mr. and Mrs, Tache, snugly stowed away in the ad joining bedroom, heard a terrible scream. They knew at once that Lora was on her last legs. Mrs. Tache promptly got out of bed and went to the rescue. She also did what a mother would have done for a dying child. She took the bird to her bosom and sat with it on her own bed. Poor Lora lived but a short hour longer. After the one shrill scream there came but these words, “By by, Lora, by by!” They were the last words indeed. Written by the. afflicted mistress these words are still pinned to the wires of the empty birdcage. The writer and her husband are as subdued in their grief as if a child had been taken away.

The funeral took place at 4 p. m. on Thursday. The neighbors turned out in goodly numbers. The house at 1414 1/2 Castro street was crowded, and there were more flowers than city officials have sometimes been honored with. But the most unique feature of the occasion was the hearse. The son of a neighboring groceryman offered the services of his goat wagon. Certainly nothing could have been better suited to such a service. The goat was a well trained animal and did not run away. Two little girls, Gay Spencer and Maggie Delmore, carried the casket out of the house and placed it in the little wagon. Then taking their places, one on each aide, and the other children walking two by two behind them, they led the way up Castro street to Clipper, where in the garden of Mr. Stranaghan, at 424, a grave had, been dug to receive all that remained of Lora. The older people stood by when the blue casket was exchanged for a coarser one, and when the earth was filled in above the lowered coffin there was more than one genuine sob audible. On the top of the little mound in that Noe valley garden flowers faded in the warm sun of yesterday and the incident will no doubt soon fade from the minds of most of the participants, but the grief of that honest couple at 1414 ½ Castro street is as touching as it is strange, and yet it may not be so strange after all, for their ten years’ union has not been blessed with children and “Poor Lora” could talk and sing and cry, and now “Poor Lora” is dead.

The San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 20 August 1892: p. 4

[Note: It’s rather interesting that the Chronicle’s headline was so jocular. Subsequent syndication of the same story in various papers such as The Clarion [PA] Democrat 29 September 1892: p. 7, treat it more respectfully.

BURIAL OF A PARROT

WHOLESALE MOURNING OVER A MUCH LOVED HOUSEHOLD PET.

Unfortunate Creature Said “By By, Lora, By By,” and Yielded Up the Ghost–The Funeral Was a Large One and the Furnishings Were Gorgeous.

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.