A Modern Mummy: 1880

A. Beier, Undertaker and Embalmer, 1902

EMBALMING A MODERN MUMMY
Friends of the Deceased Would Call To Pay Their Respects.

[New York Herald.]

Strange, grewsome stories have been yielded by the old morgue, but what is doubtless the most remarkable tale of all was told yesterday by Undertaker Ferdinand Brown, of Sixth street. Brown has often spoken of the matter, but only now, after 14 years, does the strange incident reach the public.

Mummies are common in Egypt, but they are not looked for in New York City. Yet one could be seen in the morgue in this city from August 12, 1878, to July 5, 1880, sitting in one of the rooms of the deadhouse, placed there on private exhibition by Undertaker Brown, who had not been paid his fees by the relatives of the man. The person whose body was thus disposed of was Otto Berger, a German, who was born in Baden-Baden, and came to this country in 1875.

Berger was an eccentric individual, and when he died, penniless, in the city insane asylum, there was no one to prevent the disposition of the his body made by the undertaker. His father was the head servant for the Grand Duke of Baden in Carlsruhe. The son was wild, however, and some difficulty with a woman compelled him to leave Germany and come to this country. His old habits did not leave him in the new land, and though he worked now and again at his trade of upholstering, he went on frequent sprees.

He continued correspondence with his parents, and often they sent him money in answer to his urgent appeals for help. Finally they wearied of his repeated demands and his father wrote him that he could do no more for him, and that he would have to shift for himself.

Otto then resorted to various expedients to get money. An ingenious friend inserted a death notice in a newspapers and sent it to the father, requesting at the same time that he forward a sum of money necessary to pay the funeral expenses.

The Duke’s head servant was deeply affected by the news of the death of his wayward son, and he promptly forwarded the sum asked; thanking the friend of his son for looking after the body.

The poor old retainer’s money furnished the means for another long spree for Otto. Berger made the acquaintance of Carl Schmidt, a painter, who lived at No. 197 Seventh street. He took up his quarters with him, and they became fast friends. He did not give up his drinking habits, however, and his dissipations finally drove him insane.

Schmidt had him placed in the insane asylum on Ward’s Island, where he died two months after he was admitted, on August 11, 1878.

Schmidt determined to give the body of his friend a decent burial, so he gave it in charge of Undertaker Brown, who embalmed the body, and wrote to Berger’s father, in Carlsruhe, asking what disposition should be made of it. Great was his surprise when he received a reply from the perplexed father to the effect that he had already paid the funeral expenses, but if he had been deceived by a trick he was indifferent as to what became of his son’s body.

The idea then occurred to the undertaker of mummifying the body and putting in the morgue as an object of interest and curiosity.

He received permission from Register Nagle in writing to keep the embalmed body for six weeks, in case no offensive odors arose, until he heard from Germany. After that he readily had the permit extended. Brown then, by repeated embalmings, succeeded in hardening the body until it was like stone.

It was placed in a sitting position in a room in the morgue for two years, and there Brown and Schmidt took their curious friends and those who knew Berger in life.

The body was dressed as in life. Brown one day took a crowd of friends to the morgue. The body had been removed and was not to be seen.

“I didn’t want to have a petrified corpse here,” Morgue Keeper White said to him, “so I had it buried in potter’s field. I didn’t think it was right to exhibit such a thing in the morgue.

Brown never wrote Berger’s family of the disposition he was making of the son’s body, and for two years hundreds of persons gazed at the mummy in the New York Morgue. When I saw Mr. Brown last night he said he had grave doubts that the body was buried. He thought it had gone to some museum.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 13 October 1894: p. 14

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This article talks about the “extreme embalming” trend, where the dead are displayed in life-like poses.

https://www.the-sun.com/news/5049666/extreme-embalming-dead-funeral-pose/

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the DeadThe Ghost Wore BlackThe Headless HorrorThe 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.

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