Shipping Corpses and a Haunted Car: 1882, 1891

[Fake Wells-Fargo corpse-shipping tag.]


In Which a Dead Man Got Up Out of his Coffin and Vanished

From the Reno Gazette

Wells’ Fargo & Co.’s express car, No. 5, is said to be haunted. The messengers on the run between San Francisco and Ogden have been exercised over the fact for some time, and when the car was sent to Sacramento several weeks ago to be overhauled and repaired they expressed much satisfaction, and were firm in the belief that the car-builder would kill the ghost and return the car to the rail free from all demoralizing influence. In this they were disappointed, for the messenger who left San Francisco  Tuesday night was visited by the unseen power and put to a deal of trouble. The ghost came in and tumbled the boxes of freight about, tolled bells, and made sweet music, and called the messenger by name. The last trip the car made before it was taken from the track, the messenger heard strange noises on the roof. His thoughts were on his duty, and he came to the conclusion that robbers were waiting an opportunity for entering the car. He cautiously opened the door and took a look at both ends, but found everything quiet. He could see nothing unusual and returned, closed the door and was walking back to the mailing-table when down came a box of cooked shrimps and a band-box. The freight was ranted about and finally left in the same place. The mysterious din was indulged in  until the train was nearing Terrace Station, in the eastern part of the State, and the messenger had about made up his mind to take to the sage-brush, when all was still again.

On one occasion when they had a corpse in transit, the head and trunk of a man’s body was seen to rise up from the casket, take a good look around the car, calling the messenger by name, and then vanish. The car was in the train several years ago when an accident occurred just west of Truckee, killing Conductor Marshall and an express messenger, and since that time these mysterious noises have been frequent, much to the discomfiture of the occupants. The express boys say car No. 5 is known to all the company’s employes, and they all tell the same story for the truth.

Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 28 February 1882: p. 9

Wells-Fargo was well-known for shipping corpses. Tuberculosis, known as consumption, was usually a death sentence before antibiotics. The dry air and sunshine of the western United States was said to be beneficial for sufferers, who were sent west, hopefully to recover, but more often to die. This express company found an ingenious and heartless way to exploit the deaths of consumption patients under the guise of reuniting loved ones.

How an Express Company and an Undertaker Whack Up on Consumptives.

[St. Louis Globe-Democrat.]

The Wells-Fargo Company does some queer things in the way of business, but the strangest perhaps is a new line, worked up by one of the shrewdest agents of the country at Denver. Colorado is a sort of last chance of consumptives, and pretty generally they die there. Most of them are supplied with money from home in regular installment, so when they die not enough coin is found among their effects to pay an undertaker. Undoubtedly many of them would be buried by the county, but right here’s where the company gets in.

It has a contract with an undertaker who takes charge of the body, embalms it, and gets it all ready for shipment. Then the Fargo agent wires to the agents in the towns from which the deceased received letters. If any relatives can be found it is a sure thing, and nine times out of ten enough friends can be found to put up a check for the undertaker’s charges and transportation. When this has been done the body is shipped to the friends or relatives by fast train, and turned over by the agent. The company makes a fat annual profit out of this melancholy business–“the corpse industry,” they call it—it is a good snap for the undertaker, and this county is saved just so many dollars. Many a time there have been three to four corpses at once in the company’s “cooling room” at Denver awaiting notice from friends in just this way. It is a cold day when W.F. & Co., can’t discover a new way to turn an honest penny.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 9 August 1891: p. 20

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

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