Consumption Cottage: 1915

the story of a country house consumption 2
Consumption Cottage A cottage infected with consumption.

Recently I’ve been fascinated by “hoodoo” or “unlucky” or “ill-starred” houses where the body counts pile up. Today, for the upcoming  World TB Day, we visit a house haunted by the ghosts of consumption.

THE STORY OF A COUNTRY HOUSE.

By GEORGE THOMAS PALMER, M. D.,

President of the Illinois State Association for the Prevention of Tuberculosis.

One becomes accustomed to lurid tales of disease and suffering in the city slums. The resident of the country town is prepared to believe any sort of story dealing with the unnecessary sacrifice of human life in great centers of population. He hears such stories with a certain smugness and self-satisfaction. He forgets,—if he has ever known,—that there are usually disease breeding slums in every city, town or hamlet, regardless of its size or location.

Over in Effingham County, in the outskirts of a prosperous town, stands an old house, situated pleasantly enough in the shade of two giant maples. The country road sweeps past it and green pastures and fields of corn extend away as far as the eye can see. In the morning, robins and jays and thrushes run riot in the trees. There is something homelike in the very dilapidation of the place.

Certainly this is not slums!

But it is. It is very doubtful if any dark and evil-smelling room in the crowded tenements of Chicago can tell a more ghastly story of the sacrifice of human life than this road-side house in Effingham County.

There is nothing very unusual in its appearance. It is old and unpainted; the weather boards are loose and broken and in many places the fallen shingles have left exposed gaps in the roof. Within, there is a living room of moderate size, the wall paper stripped off and with large spaces where the plaster has fallen and the lath are seen. The smooth coat of the walls is almost gone and the rough sand surface is broken in hundreds of places where nails have been driven. The floor is worn and rough and broken.

Opening from this living room, and similarly dilapidated and out of repair, are two little bedrooms, about seven by ten feet in size and one of these is the scene of the repeated tragedies that have occurred in the house during the past fifteen years.

Consumption Cottage The “death room” in the cottage, where an unusually large number of its inhabitants died of consumption

In this room, incidentally, in the year 1900, a man died of tuberculosis. With the death of this man, his wife and children moved away and another family moved in. In this family was a young woman. And this young woman sickened and, in a few months, she died. She died from tuberculosis. She had slept constantly in the room in which the former householder had died.

And so the second family moved away and a man and his wife moved in and occupied the ill-fated bedroom. Ten years ago—in 1904—the wife of this couple died in the house. She died from tuberculosis.

The young widower vacated the place. Shortly after, there moved in a man and his wife and a family of children. So far as can be learned, they were all in good health at that time. But that was several years ago.

It was not long however, until a son of the household,—a young married man,—sickened and, after a while he died,—from tuberculosis, and his young widow went back to her old home town where she died from tuberculosis, leaving two children who were placed in a charitable institution.

Then came the death of a little child in the “death room”;—a death from miliary tuberculosis,—and the following year, the mother of the family died from tuberculosis and was buried at the expense of the county,— for by this time the disease and the expense and inefficiency which go with it were beginning to render the family destitute.

The year following that in which the mother and infant died, a married daughter succumbed, leaving behind her two children, both of whom are now dead, one certainly having died from miliary tuberculosis.

The next year another grown son of the family became a victim of the disease. In 1913, a married daughter, who had been raised in the house and who had left it as a bride, came back to the ill-starred home and died of tuberculosis, leaving three small children who have been farmed out among relatives of the husband.

Just a few weeks ago, another daughter, twenty-one years of age was claimed as a victim of tuberculosis, dying in the little “death room.”

This seems a shocking record for the ramshackle old house;—but it is not all. One of the daughters, who had escaped death in the place, married a prosperous young farmer and moved away. She became the mother of six children, one of whom died from tuberculosis following whooping cough. And then this young mother died of tuberculosis and her remaining five children were farmed out with friends and relatives.

And then another daughter was married and moved to an adjoining county. When she was but developing into womanhood,—at twenty years of age,—shortly after the birth of her first child—she died of tuberculosis and her baby followed her in death—a victim of tuberculous meningitis.

And now of that ill-fated family but three remain,—the father and two children, a boy of ten and a girl of fourteen. The father is gaunt and emaciated. The two children show evidences of the disease which will probably eventually claim them.

While the death record of the house, as it is now written, seems appalling,–while the story of motherless children and of their dependence is impressive—one can only guess at the extent to which the baneful influence of the place will spread. Already the blight has extended into other communities. Already, perhaps, the infection which will wreck other homes has been implanted.

And yet, tuberculosis is a preventable disease.

It takes no very fanciful imagination to see the dreadfulness of all this; but even to the sordid and the cold-blooded there is a definite and unpoetic appeal. This house is said to have already cost the county of Effingham over $2,000.00 for material aid, for medicine, for doctors and for funerals. And that $2,000.00 has not begun to solve the problem.

The house has enormously increased the “pauper expense.” Tuberculosis is not a disease of paupers; but it is essentially a pauperizing disease.

Illinois Health News, Volume 1, 1915: pp. 69-71

Sixteen–perhaps nineteen, by the time this article was published–victims of a “preventable disease….”  Precisely just how preventable tuberculosis was at this time is open to debate. Many physicians felt that proper diet, rest, fresh air and sunshine would keep the dread scourge from taking root. Others believed that consumption was caused by intemperance and vice (with a side-order of damp sheets and airless rooms) and that only the weak and lazy would succumb, leaving the fittest to survive and strengthen the gene pool. I find it interesting that the author, Dr. Palmer, seems more interested in the public expense, rather than the human toll, as he makes that crack about “inefficiency” in the same breath as noting that the mother was buried at the expense of the county and speaks of the “dependency” of those orphaned children.

The author worked with the Illinois State Board of Health and also edited The Chicago Clinic and Pure Water Journal, which, despite its subtitle of “A Medical and Surgical Journal,” gave “special attention to climatology and mineral water therapy.” In other words, he was something of a water-cure advocate, which, at this late date makes him a medical maverick.  Am I imagining things, or is he hinting that the house itself is the source of infection and that the “death room” is a lethal chamber for all who occupy it?  I’ve certainly heard of sickroom flowers held responsible for carrying “morbific bacteria” and poisonous wallpapers shedding arsenical green to be inhaled or ingested, but neither are cited here. He mentions “slums,” a notorious breeding ground for urban consumption, but there is no suggestion that, despite its disrepair, this house replicates the tenement’s cramped and noxious environment, nor does he remark on how frequently the disease annihilated families.

Despite the bare laths and what looks like mold on the remaining plaster, the metal beds (to prevent bed-bugs) are neatly made with patch-work quilts and someone has made an effort to decorate with a picture over the bed and (Biblical?) prints tacked to the wall. It is a pathetic attempt at respectability in the face of the shadow of death.

As a completely irrelevant aside, is the sentence quoted as the caption on the first image meant to echo Sherlock Holmes’ “It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside.”?

Other examples of lethal houses? Check to see if you have a hectic flush before sending to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

 

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 Death of the Doll: 1890

jumeau bebe bride doll 1890

THE DEATH OF THE DOLL.

Twenty-three years ago I was at the village of Bocage, in central France.

In one of the little cottages of that village, into which hunger had accidentally driven me–this story is not an invention, it actually occurred as I relate it–a little girl of perhaps 7 years of age was dying. She was it seems the child of a Parisian, but a Parisian who was born and grew to young womanhood at Bocage.

One morning in May a carriage stopped before the door of Mother Gerard, who now took care of a vineyard, but in her younger days had been a nurse for little children.

A young woman alighted from the carriage, followed by a maid and a little girl, delicate and feeble, but very pretty, nevertheless.

“Mother Gerard,” said the young woman to the peasant, “I have brought my little girl to you; she needs the country air and goat’s milk. Will you keep her for a few months?”

The husband of Mother Gerard made an impatient movement, but before he could speak the young woman said “I will pay you a thousand francs.”

“A thousand francs,” said the man; “she is very sick, and the doctor will have to be paid.”

“Doctor or no doctor,” said Mother Gerard brusquely, “I will take care of your child, Nini; I will care for her as tenderly as I did for you, my nurseling.”

“I am sure of it.”

“Kiss me, little one,” continued the good woman, taking the child in her arms.

The little girl did not wait to be urged, but kissed her affectionately. “You will pay in advance?” said the man.

“Here are the thousand francs; give me a receipt.”

The young mother then brought from the carriage the child’s clothing daintily arranged in a small trunk.

The maid brought a large paper box in which lay a beautiful doll that could say “Mammal” when one pressed a spring.

The little girl had been perfectly silent during this time, but the great tears were rolling down her thin, white cheeks.

When her mother noticed that the child was crying she made an impatient gesture, which she quickly suppressed, but not before Mother Gerard saw it. The little girl also saw her mother’s displeasure, and stretched toward her the little, emaciated hands.

It was a touching appeal, a mute caress, a silent prayer, but irresistible in its eloquence. The maid turned, away her head to conceal her tears. The mother was greatly moved, and taking the child in her arms kissed her again and again.

“My dear Nini, do not cry, do not cry any more. I shall come back for you very soon.”

“Will you surely come?” said the child between her sobs, and covering her mother’s face with kisses; “surely, surely,” she added, clasping her little hands as she did when she said her prayers.

Mother Gerard looked sharply at her former foster child, who turned away her head with a flushed face.

“Will you really come back for her, Nini?” she said in a low tone.

“Certainly.”

“Do not be too long about it,” Mother Gerard said significantly.

“Truly, mamma, you will return.”

“Surely, yes, but do not be impatient. Good-by; take good care of dolly. Listen how beautifully she says ‘mamma!’ ” and the mother made the doll repeat many times its one word, mamma! The child was silent.

“She will be your little girl, and you will love her very much!”

“Oh! yes,” said the child with a deep sigh, almost a sob, and she pressed the doll to her heart. The doll murmured “mamma.”

She really loved the little inanimate thing that called her “mamma!” She spent hours in looking at it, in rocking it, and in talking to it in n low tone, at the same time crying for her own mamma.

“Do not fear, Nini”–she had named it for herself. I will never leave you, never! I am your very own mamma, do you hear? Your real mamma! And she pressed the spring and the doll repeated “mamma!”

Then Nini took it in her arms and hugged it tightly, as if she feared that some one would take it from her.

The consumption was slowly but surely accomplishing its deadly work. Her eyes became more and more brilliant, the bones of her checks more and more prominent. A little dry cough constantly shook the narrow, hollow chest, and her voice became feebler day by day. They wrote to her mother, but received no response.

There is nothing, I think, more pitiful than to witness the slow fading out of a little life, which nothing can arrest, neither science, nor love, nor prayers. This martyrdom of infancy inflicts upon those who must witness it the keenest torture.

Mother Gerard bad learned to love this poor victim of filial affection, for Nini was dying of grief–because she was separated from her mother– much more than of disease, and Mother Gerard knowing this nursed her with the utmost tenderness. Nini came to her in May, and it was now October.

The poor child, feeling that she was no longer a daughter, tried to console herself by imagining that she was the mother of her doll. She lavished upon it all the love that she formerly had for her mother. She was unwilling to be separated from it even at night, and the poor little brain had conceived a singular idea–it was that she was not sick, but that it was the doll, her “dear Nini.”

“She has coughed all night,” she would say to Mother Gerard when she had passed a restless night herself. “You suffer, my dear Nini, but I will cure you. We will cure her, nurse, will we not? How feeble her voice is!” she would add, in listening to the weak sound which the doll made, because the pressure upon the spring grow weaker as the little hands grow thinner.

Hour by hour she would tell her own sufferings, but always attributing them to the doll. At times she would yield to an indefinite despair. She did not know what death meant, but she would cry out with indescribable anguish: “No, I do not want you to die, even to go to heaven.”

She never spoke of her mother to the nurse; but sometimes, when she thought herself alone, they would hear her murmur to her doll: “If mamma would come back Nini would be well.”

In the village the arrival of the talking doll had produced a great sensation. All the children wished to see it, and Sunday most of the little girls came to admire the marvelous toy.

To go to see the little girl from Paris and hear her doll talk had become a sort of fete, and then, Nini was so sweet, so caressing to all who showed friendship for her, or who loved her doll, that she had become the idol of the whole village. The vicar came to relate to her beautiful stories of heaven, where there lived a mamma marvelously beautiful and adorably good.

The good sister who had charge of the village school brought her little images of saints and angels.

One of Nini’s greatest pleasures was to see all little friends come with their doll–dolls of wood, of cardboard, of rags; but she thought them all charming, and talked to them in the most delightful manner and as if they could understand her, and replied to her,

The 15th of August was the doll’s birthday, and all the little girls came with their dolls and brought the doll Nini a bouquet, and one for the real Nini. What a merry day it was for them all!

The bed was covered with flowers, and the doll was so happy that she said again and again, “Mamma!”

Alas! the care of Mother Gerard, the love and caresses of all, the healthful air of the country had been able only to prolong the days of the little sufferer, but altogether were not able to cure her.

They began to count the weeks, then the days that she could be with them.

“She is very ill, mamma’s Nini,” she said, caressing the doll. “She suffers greatly there,” she said, touching the doll s chest.

One evening she sat up suddenly, seized her doll in both arms, looked at it with yearning, shining eyes, and tried to press the spring. The sound came feebly and weakly articulated, “Mamma!”

The child repeated “Mamma” with a voice still more feeble, and fell back on her pillow, but still clasping her doll.

She was dead.

And singular as it may seem, the spring in the doll was broken; the doll, too, was dead!

During all the next day the two Ninis, the two little dead bodies, were left with uncovered faces, surrounded with the last flowers of autumn, white and yellow, mingled with branches of red leaves.

When they dressed little Nini for the last time they found that they would have to use much force to take the doll from her grasp. Mother Gerard would not permit it. She kissed the child once more, and, without trying to account for the strange impulse, she kissed the doll also. Both were put into the coffin, with all that belonged to them dresses and bonnets, little shoes and stockings, and playthings of all sorts.

Then upon the bier, carried by the strongest little girls of the village– alas! it was not very heavy–they put all the flowers they could find; and it was the strangest funeral that one could imagine. All the little girls of the school marched behind, two by two, holding their dolls; and on the way they were joined by others, and each new arrival had her doll. Those who had two dolls gave one to those who had none. All the dolls were dressed in their finest clothes.

When they arrived at the cemetery the children formed a circle around the grave, with their dolls in their arms, and listened to the last prayer for poor Nini. Among the children who had come to bid a last farewell to their little friend and the talking doll–for they regretted the wonderful doll quite as much as they did Nini–there was one who had been a particular favorite of the little invalid.

It was a sickly little cripple, nearly her own age, with a sorrowful, pale face. She almost adored the doll, and when Nini permitted her to rock it she was perfectly happy. She, like the others, had a doll which she loved devotedly.

No ono can know what thought passed through that little brain, but at the moment that the sexton threw the first spadeful of earth upon the coffin she kissed her doll convulsively and threw it into the grave, saving, “Go with Nini!”

This impulsive act so impressed the other children that one after another followed her example.

It was a touching spectacle.

“Go with Nini!” each little one repeated in letting her doll fall into the grave.

One only drew back unable to make the sacrifice. She was 5 years old, perhaps, the child of a poor woman. Her doll was of cardboard, old, dirty and worn, and had lost one arm. She clasped it in her arms and sobbingly said: “No! not in the hole! not in the hole, my Nini! She would be cold!”

The return to the village was, perhaps, sadder than the walk to the grave. The next day the vicar went to Neville and brought back with him fifteen new dolls and gave them to the children in the name of the two Ninis.

In this village for many years after a doll was called a Nini in remembrance of the one which was buried. Translated from the French for Chicago Inter-Ocean.

Harrisburg [PA] Telegraph 21 January 1890: 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.

A Shroud for a Night-dress: 1902

woman's shroud karen augusta
Woman’s burial bodice, https://augusta-auction.com/search-past-sales?view=lot&id=18163&auction_file_id=48

Shroud for a Robe de Nuit

Out in Anaconda, Mont., a rosy, healthy, buxom girl, fresh from her father’s ranch, was making some purposes for her approaching wedding. In company with her mother, she entered one of the principal stores of the city. Neither she nor her mother made any secret of the coming wedding or the object of their shopping tour. It was a great event in their lives, and they took the salesman in the general store quite into their confidence.

“Now,” said mamma, when they had bought a bill that was going to cost papa many a fat steer, “now we want to look at some nightgowns. We want the very nicest thing you’ve got.” The faithful salesman began to pull down the stock. He exhibited all the prettiest things he could find, but nothing suited—the garments were all too plain and unornamental to suit the demands of the mother and bride-to-be. There are limitations to a cow town general store stock, but there are resources as well. The clerk was a man of resources, and when almost at his wits’ end one of his bright ideas came to him. Excusing himself for a moment, he went to another part of the store, rummaged among the boxes and came back with a gorgeous thing of lace and insertion and filmy fabric.

“The very thing,” declared mamma. “Why didn’t you show us that in the first place?”

“Well, you see, ma’am,” said he, “I forgot we had them in stock. We’ve only got two of them, though. Do you think they will do?”

“Do!” exclaimed the girl. “of course they will do. They are just what we wanted.”

So the clerk calmly added 200 per cent to the cost price he found on them, packed the garments in a box and sent the mother and daughter on their way rejoicing.

“Say,” said the salesman to the proprietor, when that gentleman came in half an hour later, “I sold them funeral shrouds that you got stuck with. Sold ‘em to a bride for her trousseau.”

But the bride never knew.

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 23 January 1902: p. 10

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil is not at all surprised by the story above. There is a strange element of sensuality in writings about burial fashions. Women’s burial robes, with their embellishments of lace and embroidery, are lovingly described in the same language used in the fashion magazines for wedding gowns or for tea gowns, so essential to afternoon seductions. It was as if defunct ladies were dressed to seduce Death Himself.

For example:

Scores of boxes, just such as those which New York modistes send home ball dresses announced next day in “Society” columns as a creation by Worth—were uncovered to show examples of the present prevailing styles in shrouds. This is a ghastly name by no means suited to the tasteful burial robes displayed. There was not a hint of winding sheet or cerement in their style. They seemed, indeed, like a la mode demi-toilettes…One of these, which the reporter saw, folded in its box, was of fine cream tinted cashmere, made like a matinee or tea gown, the front traversed by diagonal folds of satin the same shade and ruchings, quillings of the same extended from shoulders to knees, below which were plaited flounces. The sleeves were fully trimmed, and the robe was entirely ready for wear with fine full crepe lisse ruchings at throat and wrists. A carelessly knotted sash of ribbon confined the robe. This cost only $25. Another, of handsome black cashmere, had a front with black satin revers quillings and pipings as heading for falls of black Spanish lace, the skirts ending in flat kilted flounces. A sash of broad brocaded ribbon fell in long lops on one side. White crepe lisse was added inside the lace at neck and hands. The price of this was $50…A woman’s white cashmere robe here was trimmed with satin in Grecian folds, and down the front accurately laid puffs were bordered by machine embroidery, a tiny flower resting in each scallop. The edge of the skirt was composed of broad alternate side kilting of satin and cashmere headed by the embroidery. The New York Herald 11 May 1884: p. 8

Then there was this ingenious lady, who saw the street-wear potential of a garment for the grave:

STOLE A SHROUD TO WEAR

An Atchison Woman Trimmed a Burial Robe and Used It.

Atchison [Kansas] Dispatch to Chicago Tribune.

Burial robes for street dresses is the latest fad, as introduced by an Atchison woman. J.A. Harouff, a local undertaker, missed a woman’s burial robe the other day. Yesterday afternoon he saw a woman on Commercial street wearing the robe. She had adorned with a few fancy frills and trimmings, but there was no doubt as to the identity of the robe, and Mr. Harouff says the dress was a “mighty stylish looking gown.” The undertaker was so astonished that he has decided not to ask for the return of his property. “A woman with that much nerve and ingenuity deserves a reward, no punishment,” he said today. The Washington [DC] Post 17 August 1914: p. 6

Mrs Daffodil has written about the “death drawers,” containing a complete trousseau of death-wear and many other stories on the material culture of mourning. See the “mourning” category for more of this funereal subject. Mrs Daffodil can also recommend the “mourning” posts over at Haunted Ohio (including one on the girl shroud-makers of New York) and in the associated book: The Victorian Book of the Dead, which also has its own “Face-book” page, updated daily.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Cow’s Moo Kills Child: Stories of Being Scared to Death

screaming

Does anybody remember the 1958 William Castle film, Macabre, where movie-goers got life insurance in case they died of fright? It is that sensational theme—death by terror—that we focus on today. We casually toss around phrases like: “I was scared to death!” “I just about dropped dead when I heard the news!” Is there fear or perhaps an uneasy memento mori under these words?

It was axiomatic in the newspapers of the past that people could die of fright. We might call it something different now: Broken Heart Syndrome, takotsubo or stress-induced cardiomyopathy. Typically, past news reports spoke of persons “frightened (or thrown) into convulsions.” Doctors certainly knew about things like heart failure, but it is interesting how often “dying of fright” is cited as a cause of death in thousands of news items. Whether or not it was true; it was certainly believed to be true. It may have simply been a journalistic convention–a convenient way to explain an unexplained death, or a way to make a story more sensational.

Here’s a snippet from a longer article that gives some standard contemporary medical wisdom about death from fear:

FRIGHTENED TO DEATH The Shock Which Ends Life With a Broken Heart

[British Medical Journal.]

The serious effects of shock to the nervous system, especially by fright, are constantly witnessed, the results being most commonly syncope and convulsions. Death itself is, fortunately, comparatively rare. It is reported in the newspapers to have occurred at Brockley on March 21st, in the case of a girl aged eighteen, who was frightened to death by a man dressed as a ghost, near the Deptford Cemetery. The pathology of emotional death is of great interest, and varies in different cases. In some instances a fatal issue results from sanguineous apoplexy; in others, and much more frequently, from shock to the heart. Examples of the former are recorded by Dr. D. Hack Tuke in his “Influence of the Mind Upon the Body.” Thus a woman at Bradford received a fright from a man throwing a stone against her window. He had previously threatened her. She soon afterward complained of numbness, and rapidly became insensible. There was right hemiplegia. She died in seven hours, and on post-mortem examination a clot of blood was found in the left lateral ventricle….[I]f the heart, as in Hunter’s case [John Hunter, the eminent doctor and surgeon for whom the Hunterian Collection is named], be strongly contracted on its contents and the blood expelled, one efficient cause of syncope with fatal results is present. Probably this was the pathological explanation of this unfortunate girl’s death from the silly practical joke played upon her. She arrived home after her fright in the road by the Deptford Cemetery at Brockley looking very ill and excited. She is said to have taken off her water-proof, drawn a chair to the table to take supper, then fallen forward with her head on the table, and died after a short struggle. Mr. Hollis, the medical man who was called in, made a post-mortem examination and reported that all the organs were healthy, but that the state of the heart, combined with the fright, would account for death. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 29 September 1883: p. 10

Thunder, lightning, trains, mad dogs, earthquakes, sudden noises, glare from an automobile headlight, comets, Fourth of July fireworks, encounters with tramps and the insane: all were mentioned as causes of death by fear. Burglars were a particularly common cause of death, so common, in fact, that if you read that a lady, frightened by a burglar, dropped dead of heart failure before the alarm could be raised, The End, you’ve pretty much covered that category.

A more interesting cause of death was the apparition. In this case, the “ghost” was the lady’s doppelgänger, which she rightly understood as an omen of her own death.

Mrs. Coombes, Wife of one Coombes, a Chairman; her Death was occasioned by a Fright, being far gone with Child; for going into the Cellar, to all Appearance well, she gave a great Shriek, her Husband running down to her to know the Reason, she declar’d she saw her own Apparition in a Winding Sheet, standing before her; nor could any Arguments deface the Impression made on her Mind, so strongly did she believe it. She sickened immediately, and died soon after. Whitehall Evening Post Or London Intelligencer [London, England] 3 January 1761: p. 2

DIED OF FRIGHT

Miner Sees an Apparition and the Scare Proves Fatal.

[Susquehanna (Penn.) Cor. New York Press.]

Robert Montgomery, a well-known resident of Wanamie, Penn., recently died from fright or a belief that he had been warned of his approaching death, and that he had a premonition that he could not live.

Montgomery, who was a brave soldier in the war, was employed in a coal mine near Wilkesbarre. Tw weeks before he died he said that when working he head a peculiar noise in the mine. He paid no attention to it.

Soon a strange feeling came over him as though there was a strong draught circulating through the mine, and he became chilly. He looked up from oiling the machinery at the repetition of the strange noise. He said he felt as though there was some one else there besides himself, but he could not see any one.

Then he beheld something white like a man’s figure. It moved as though floating in the air and kept a certain distance from him. He spoke to the apparition, but it made no answer and soon disappeared.

Montgomery made search, but did not find anyone. He told his friends that he regarded the wraith as an omen of death. He at once gave up his position, and in two days took to his bed, although he had no specific sickness which the physicians could discover. He continued to talk of the wraith, and said it was of no avail to take medicine because he was doomed.

His friends tried to dispel his thoughts about death by saying that the “supposed” wraith was a man sent into the mine by the company to see if he performed his duty. But Montgomery would only believe that it was an omen of death, and gradually grew weaker until he died. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 5 December 1896: p. 11

Fake ghosts/supernatural creatures were one of the most popular causes of death by fear; they also drove a surprising number of the nervous into hopeless insanity.

MINER SCARED TO DEATH

Zanesville, O., Dec 25. Howard Mills, a miner living near Coaldale, was scared to death about midnight by some boys who rigged up a “ghost,” which with the aid of some thin paddles with hooks to swing through the air, was able to emit unearthly groans and shrieks. Mills was confronted with the machine while returning home late at night, and was so overwhelmed with the terrific noise and the suddenness of the apparition that he dropped dead in his tracks. He was a stalwart man, 47 years of age, and the father of six children.The Ohio Democrat [Logan, OH] 2 January 1902: p. 1

At Preston, England, two boys, Richard Foreshaw and Robert Mawdsley, have been committed for trial for manslaughter in frightening a young girl to death. They got a coffin and tied a string to it, placing it in a path where it would be passed by some young factory girls at dark and by drawing it along gave the girls a severe fright, from which one of them died the next day. Pittsfield [MA] Berkshire County Eagle 3 December 1858: p 2

At Bowling Green, Kentucky, a short time since, Miss Rochester, daughter of W. H. Rochester, died of fright occasioned by a rude boy having run after her, on her way to school, with a mask or false face on him. She ran, in her fright, into a pond of water, whence she was carried to her father’s house, where—when nature was exhausted by frequent convulsive or apoplectic fits—she expired: aged 5 years and 5 months. American Sentinel. Washington [DC] Globe 2 September 1833: p. 2

There is a tradition that [at “The Old Mansion”] an invalid wife was frightened to death by her husband placing a hideous mask at the window of her sick room, and that this husband, while enamoured of his housekeeper, affected great grief at his wife’s funeral, sitting his horse backward and demanding a sheet for his tears. Growing out of this tradition is another ghost story to the effect that the spirit of this woman haunted the house for many years and that groans, screams, stealthy footsteps and other fearful sounds, drove tenant after tenant away from the place. A History of Caroline County Virginia, Marshall Wingfield, 1924: pp. 356-58

The Frankfort Journal of Aug. 17th, has the following—In a school at Turin, superintended by the nuns of St. Joseph, the children having lately made a disturbance by uttering cries, the sisters threatened them with the apparition of the devil, if they continued to make a noise. Soon after, on a signal given, there appeared a chimney sweep dressed in a frightful garb, with horns and a fiery looking mouth. The children were so much frightened that some of them fainted. At the noise caused by this scandal, the house and street were soon filled with a crowd. At length the Rector of the parish came, and put an end to the shameful exhibition, but not till several of the children had died of terror.” Washington [DC] Globe 5 October 1833 p. 3

A LESSON TO PONDER ON.

William B. Drees, of Minster, is a raving maniac and thereby hangs one of the saddest tales that pencil ever sat down. It is a lesson of horror to the practical jokers, who are all too numerous.

Drees was a young man, his age being only twenty-four. As he was of a highly excitable temperament, he was early singled out a victim of those who foolishly believe pranks that cause terror and suffering to others are fun. One of those strange black nights when monstrous forebodings and awful shadows creep upon him, who is solitary and alone in its racking silence, a party of these crept noiselessly upon him, as he stood guard in an immense deserted factory and clothed in white sheets, suddenly arose about him as so many ghosts, uttering the most dreadful groans. Affrighted beyond measure he fled wildly into the outer darkness, running until he fell from sheer exhaustion. It was a great joke and excruciatingly funny, and the jokers almost split their sides with laughter, until they heard that Drees had been picked up in convulsions. Then they had some doubts about it and when they saw him started for the asylum shackled hand and foot, they realized the criminal folly of which they had been guilty. Portsmouth [OH] Times 11 April 1908: p. 6

A few nights ago Henry Waters, a youth, whose home is near Youngstown, Ohio, was aroused from his sleep by something in the room. He sat bolt upright in bed. The moon shone through a window, and as young Waters looked towards the light he saw a tall figure in ghostly attire slowly approaching. He spoke, but the ghost made no reply. Then he grasped his revolver, and thus armed and thus emboldened said: “If you are a man I kill you; if you are ghost this won’t hurt you.” He pulled the trigger and report came, but as with quick motion the ghost lifted an arm Waters heard the bullet rebound against the headboard of the bed. This sent a cold chill through the youth, but he discharged his revolver again and again, and then, wild with fear, hurled it at the intruder. At that moment the ghost threw off his disguise, several other parties to the joke came laughing in and lights were struck. The merry-makers had drawn the bullets from the pistol, leaving enough powder to make a report, and at each discharge the play-ghost had thrown a bullet against the headboard. All this the practical jokers expected Waters to enjoy, as he was a jovial fellow, but they found him first dazed, then incoherent, then raving, and now, as his parents fear—a maniac. New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette [Concord, NH] 16 March 16 1882: p. 2

While fainting at the sight of blood is a cliché, dying at the sight of it was actually not uncommon.

New York, May 22. Fright resulting from the discovery that the front of her shirt waist was covered with a crimson stain was responsible, physicians believe, for the death of Mrs. Kate Harding, a widow, 33 years old, of No. 301 Webster Avenue, Parkville, who was accidentally stabbed in the breast by a sharp-pointed bread knife in the hand of her sister, Mrs. Rose Logomasin, this morning. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 23 Mary 1908: p. 2

A singular death is reported from Darion, England. A young lady, the daughter of a surgeon, happened to go into a kitchen where a butcher was in the act of killing a brace of ducks. Seeing blood running from one of the birds she fainted and, being removed to a couch, died almost immediately. Death is supposed to have resulted from the shock occasioned to the nervous system, the young lady having a great aversion to the sight of blood of any kind. Macon [GA] Telegraph 10 August 1865: p. 3

Sudden Unexplained Death Syndrome is a recognized, if elusive disease, perhaps related to the Old Hag. This man seems to have had something similar.

HIS FOES

Attacked Him in a Dream and Wilcox Died of Fright When He Woke Up.

Marion, Ind., September 20. Peter S. Wilcox, aged 60 years, awoke his wife at 4 o’clock this morning by springing up in bed and fighting an imaginary foe. Mrs. Wilcox attempted to rouse him from what appeared to be a dream, but before she could do so he fell back on the bed and died. Physicians declare he had died of nightmare.

Mrs Wilcox said her husband was subject to nightmare and that he had been frightened a number of times, believing he was murderously attacked. She said he often told her of what he had experienced in the dreams and that he feared he would not recover from the shocks. Wilcox apparently was in excellent health. He owned a large fruit and garden farm and worked yesterday. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 September 1906: p. 1

Others did not have to dream, their enemies were real.

 DIED OF FRIGHT

Caused By Her Husband’s Threat To Kill Her.

The curtain fell on the final act of a remarkable domestic tragedy when Mrs. Florence Buehler expired in the County Hospital. The woman actually died from fright.

Her husband was Ernest Buehler, and her life for a long time had been most unhappy. Several months ago she applied for a divorce, but friends effected a truce between herself and her spouse. Two weeks ago, however, the family troubles again became acute when Buehler threatened his wife with a revolver. The woman left her home at 5220 Maplewood Avenue with the purpose of visiting a lawyer’s office, but was waylaid by Buehler, whose actions became so menacing that Mrs. Buehler in her terror fell unconscious. In this condition she was taken to the hospital.

Buehler was arrested, and in a cell in the Twentieth Precinct Station pricked his wrist with a pin, causing great loss of blood. He was then removed to the County Jail Hospital where he succeeded in killing himself.

Meanwhile Mrs. Buehler hovered between life and death. Two days ago she was told of her husband’s suicide. This news intensified the first shock, and she sank rapidly until death came to her relief. It is not known that the couple had any relatives in Chicago. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 19 September 1900: p. 6

Animals could also die of fright:

The Lafayette Courier says that a farmer on the line of the Valley Road, near Delphi, had a valuable colt frightened to death a few days since, by the whistle of a locomotive. The colt was over two years old, and one of the farmer’s sons was engaged in breaking him to harness. While standing near the track of the railroad, a train came thundering along—the engine gave a shrill and long continued whistle, which so frightened the animal that he plunged forward, and after running about fifty yards, fell dead. The Vincennes [IN] Weekly Western Sun 25 April 1857

While the parade was passing Rohrbacher & Allen’s store Friday, a horse owned by F.F. Fenn of Tallmadge dropped dead. He was frightened to death by the big elephant. It is said he burst a blood vessel. His remains were at once removed to the bone yard. Akron [OH] Daily Democrat 15 September 1899: p. 4

Captain Godfrey, of the 7th Cav., said: “I once saw a cat frightened to death. It was one that used to play with my children at West Point. It was playing around the baby carriage with a child, when Prof. Bassey’s big dog came up. He made a grand rush at the cat, but stopped within 10 feet of it. The cat braced itself up, bowed its back, assumed a defensive attitude, and prepared for war. I drove the dog off, and going to the cat, put my hand on its back, when it fell over. It never moved. It was dead. There was no frothing at the mouth, nor any of the contortions seen in fits. The cat was simply scared to death.” The National Tribune [Washington, DC] 25 December 1890: p 5

At the Brighton review of English volunteers a horse, died of fright. He was near the 18 pounder battery when it was fired, and at the report he leaped suddenly up and fell dead— the cause, a rupture of the great vessels of the heart, through terror. Vincennes [IN] Gazette 31 May 1862

Our Dumb Chums could also be the cause of sudden death. This piece is from James Rodwell, who wrote so eloquently about the perils of rats in a previous post.

Unhappily, however, these rat-frights do not always terminate so harmlessly as in the preceding cases…The “Presse,” of Paris, some time ago related an extraordinary case of death from fright. A young woman was passing near the Rue Cadet, when she suddenly fell to the ground, exclaiming “The rat! the rat!” At first nobody could comprehend the meaning of her exclamations; but on being taken into a druggist’s shop, and placed on a chair, a rat was seen to run from beneath her gown. It was then evident that the rat, which had come from a sewer just as she was passing, had got between her legs, and that, when she fell from fright, it had concealed itself under her clothing. She was taken home to her friends, in a state of delirium, which lasted four days, during which time the only words she uttered were “The rat! the rat!” but on the evening of the fourth day she expired.

Now here was a melancholy occurrence arising out of this immoderate fear of rats. What had the rat done to her? Nothing whatever, except hiding in her clothes, and making its escape as soon as possible. Yet from the veriest fear she becomes deranged, and dies a maniac. The Rat: Its History & Destructive Character, With Numerous Anecdotes, by James Rodwell, (Uncle James.) 1858

FRIGHTENED TO DEATH BY A CAT

Animal Jumps on Bed in St. Louis Hospital and Patient Dies From the Shock

Shortly before the death of Mrs. Mary Ziegler of 1210 North Spring Avenue, St. Louis, a cat gained entrance to her room in the hospital, where she had undergone a critical operation. The cat clawed at her and frightened her to death.

It was near midnight before the physician in charge had succeeded in getting her to sleep. The nurse, wearied with her constant watching, was also asleep.

The patient awoke to find a cat on her bed. Then followed a shriek and a howl. The woman’s cries awakened the nurse, who rushed in to the room to find a gray cat tearing the covers around the patient. The nurse made a clutch at the animal, but it eluded her hand and, leaping from the bed, ran from the room. She chased it through the halls and it was finally cornered and put out of the building. When the nurse returned to the ward the patient was shaking with terror, and it was found that he shock had wrecked her nervous system. She died before morning. Evening News [San Jose, CA] 7 August 1906: p. 3

Near Chappell’s Gap, Ky., a three-year-old girl was frightened to death by a gander which had attacked her.Daily Public Ledger [Maysville KY] 7 April 1911: p. 1

COW’S MOO KILLS CHILD

Baby Frightened into Convulsions When Wandering Bovine Puts Head in Window

Investigation by Dr. H. Albert McMurray, coroner of Westmoreland County, into the death of James Henry Pershing, 3-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Pershing of Grapeville revealed that the child literally was frightened to death.

Several days ago the boy was playing when a cow at pasture in a lot adjoining the house looked in at an open window of the room where the child was. As the little one glanced toward the window the cow mooed loudly.

With a scream the child collapsed and went into convulsions. A physician was unable to give the boy any relief, and death ensued twelve hours later. Greensburg (Pa.) Dispatch Philadelphia Record. The Tulsa [OK] Star 18 December 1915: p. 7 

A Lady Frightened to Death. The Rockingham (Va.) Register states that Mrs. Dietrick, wife of Mr. Jacob Dietrick, residing near Mt. Crawford, in that county, was frightened to death a few weeks since. Her little daughter for sport threw a tree-frog upon her lap, which began jumping up towards her face, and so frightened her that she died in two or three days. Daily National Intelligence [Washington, DC] 15 June 1852: p. 3

I assumed 20th-century medical advances would wipe out “death by fear,” but the term lingered on. I was surprised to see a 1994 news story about a man who, the police said, apparently died of fright while accusing another driver of trying to run him over. Any later examples? And have any of you actually seen a death certificate where the cause of death is “fear?”  Notarize and rush to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

 

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.

The Merry Widow at the Resort: 1920

 

frock for lighter mourning swiss 1922

Some Ways of a Widow.

Did you see her last week—the Merry Widow? She was here in all the crowds, walking up and down the corridors of the hotels, sitting in all the cafes, at the street corners buying roses—all in black, deep black from head to foot.

With a crepe veil to her heels, a widow’s ruche, a widow’s bonnet, a dress so short that it looked like a little girl’s high-heeled slippers, silk stockings and an entrancing display of white neck and well rounded arms, seen quite clearly and most becomingly through the shadowy thinness of her gossamer frock!

Blonde she was, and tall, and rosy was she and pink and white, and, oh, so fetching, so alluring, so intriguing!

No! she wasn’t some one just made up for the part; she was a widow, a real widow. Her husband had been dead three great, long months, and she was out here looking for a substitute.

She was quite frank about it, they tell me.

Every time she heard of a nice, comfortable, middle-aged man, she inquired anxiously, “Is he married?”

Every time she passed in her drives and perambulations a handsome house, surrounded with fine, ample ground, she said quite naively, “I wonder who lives there. Now, if I could find somebody who would give me a house like that ”

And she likes the town immensely. Oh, immensely. There were so many good looking men here—prosperous, don’t you know, and well groomed! They looked as if they knew how to take care of a wife.

Oh, she was quite respectable—member of the church, and all that kind of thing—and yet b-r-r-r! it makes me shiver to think of her.

I wonder if there are many like her in the world? Absolutely cold­-blooded, calculating, going out to look for a husband as if they were looking for a cook or a gardener? So much for so much!

Yellow hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks, a taste in dress, a soft voice, nice white hands and a cooing way of talking. For Sale in the Open Market! Who’ll buy? Who’ll buy?

How long will it be before the Merry Widow finds a husband, do you think?

She won’t take just anybody—she’s very particular.

What She Demands.

He must have plenty of money, oh, plenty! And know how to spend it. She wants a limousine, of course, and a touring car, and she’d like a roadster—one that she can drive herself. And she must have a town house, or, anyhow, a town apartment, and something in the country. Any simple little thing will do, so that there are enough bathrooms, and not too far from the country club.

The man must have position, either in business life or in the clubs. She couldn’t stand it to be married to a “nobody.” But, outside of these little things, she’s very broad-minded. Education, refinement, character, principle, reputation, brains, kindness, honesty, courage—what do all these things amount to anyhow? They won’t even pay for new tires on the new car.

Love, fidelity, faith, trust, deep respect, true devotion—they talk about those in the best sellers. The Merry Widow isn’t in the least interested—not in such minor matters.

And yet—I haven’t a doubt that some one will fall in love with her and marry her before the year is out.

And not one of his friends will apply for a letter of guardianship or try to send him to the home for the feeble minded, on the day the engagement is announced.

I’m glad I saw the Merry Widow and heard her talk, and watched her sweet little manoeuvres. I thought her type was as extinct as the dodo.

And here she is, alive and busy, just as she was when grandmother wore a hoop skirt and did her hair in ringlets and thought no delicate-minded woman should ever listen to a proposal of marriage without sinking into a swoon.

We don’t change so awfully fast, after all, do we?

South Bend [IN] News-Times 6 September 1920: p. 5

Hearse Seen on Way to Wedding is an Ill-Omen: 1904

classical hearse 1904

Hearse Met on Way to Wedding: Death Follows.

A strange wedding tragedy was the subject of investigation by the Plymouth, England, coroner yesterday.

On Wednesday Mary Dicker, the wife of a laborer, set out with her husband and daughter for the church where the latter was to be married to a young man named Menhennitt. On their way the wedding party met a funeral procession, and Mrs. Dicker was so much affected by this evil omen that she trembled violently all the way to the church, and declared that some calamity was bound to follow.

In the evening the bridegroom’s father gave a wedding party, and Mrs. Dicker, who seemed by that time to have recovered form her fright and to be in the best of spirits, was asked to sing a song. She did so, while still sitting in her chair.

In the middle of the song she fell forward and it was thought that she had fainted. She was carried into an adjoining bedroom, and a doctor was sent for, but before he arrived the morning’s ill omen had been fulfilled and she was dead.

It appeared that she had suffered a good deal from heart trouble, though the symptoms had disappeared during the last 12 months. Dr. Croft Symons stated that death was due to syncope brought on by the excitement of the morning.

A verdict of “death from natural causes” was recorded.

Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 18 February 1904: p. 5

It was a popular superstition that seeing a hearse or a mourning coach on one’s wedding day was a deadly omen for the marriage. There was also a belief that a bride who saw a hearse on her wedding day would lose all of her children.

On a foggy morning last week…a bridal party consisting of two young women with enormous bouquets, and two very nervous looking young men, drew up in a four-wheeler at the entrance to a registry-office, situated in one of the meanest of the mean streets off Islington. Just as they were all alighting, a hearse, meandering along in the fog, collided with the cab, and for the moment the wheels became interlocked. Bridegroom, bridesmaid, and the best man were in no way disconcerted. But, alas! For the poor little bride the harmony of the day was broken. Bursting into tears she declared that nothing would induce her to get married “with a hearse for an omen.” And neither laughter, chidings, nor entreaties served to shake her resolve. Back into the cab she got, bouquet and all, and in a few minutes the very woe-begone quartet drove off. Inangahua Times, 7 April 1897: p. 4

The Islington bride sensibly postponed the festivities, while the following bride did not. A word to the wise…

BRIDE’S FATAL SUPERSTITION

Portsmouth, Eng. While a Portsmouth woman was going to church on her wedding day her taxicab overtook a funeral procession. She regarded it as an ill omen and was disposed to postpone the ceremony, but was dissuaded by friends. The bride, however, was depressed. A fortnight after she became ill and died. Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times 16 September 1920: p. 16

 

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.

Father’s Ghost Fetches the Dying

Father's Ghost Fetches the Dying Image from http://ginva.com/2011/01/creative-gravestone-architect-and-design/
Father’s Ghost Fetches the Dying Image from http://ginva.com/2011/01/creative-gravestone-architect-and-design/

For Fathers Day weekend, a fatherly “fetch” tenderly carries off two family members.

A Danbury Ghost Story

Woman Saw Dead Father Carry Her Mother Away – The Mother Found to Have Died at the Same Time.

Danbury, Conn., March 19. As Mrs. C. W. Lee of 55 Jefferson Avenue, this city, lay on a bed of sickness, it is declared that she saw the apparition of her father, Oliver B. Pettit, formerly of Brooklyn, who died sixteen years ago, enter the room across the hall, where her mother was, and carry her out in his arms.

Mrs. Lee avers that she distinctly saw her father walk through the hall, and heard him call his wife by name, and ask her to go away with him, pleading with her until she consented. At first, the wife, Mrs. Margaret Pettit of 39 Grove Street, Brooklyn, refused, but her love for her husband evidently overcame her fear, and the daughter saw the stalwart form of her father emerge from the room and disappear with his wife in his arms.

Mrs. Pettit had been visiting her daughter, and, although not ill, was in the habit of spending the morning hours in bed. Yesterday she remained in her bed later than usual, and it was at noon that her daughter saw the vision. Calling for her husband, Mrs. Lee told him what she had seen, and Mr. Lee, hurrying to the room of his wife’s mother, found her dead. Her death must have occurred at exactly the moment when Mrs. Lee saw her father enter the room. A physician later said that Mrs. Pettit died from heart failure. The New York Times 20 March 1900: p. 1

I thought this was an interesting version of a “fetch” story, where the ghost was seen literally carrying off the dying.  The story appears in The Ghost Wore Black.  A few months ago, while researching background for The Victorian Book of the Dead, I was surprised to find a sequel.

HER FATHER’S SPIRIT

Beckoned to Her, and Though Recovering, She Soon Died.

When Mrs. Charles Lee died, at Danbury, Mass., last week, it was in peaceful resignation and with the conviction that her father’s spirit was bearing her away.

She had been waiting for five days for his coming—ever since she saw the ghostly visitor bear away her mother in that strange vision. That it was not the malady from which she had been suffering that caused Mrs. Lee’s death there is the testimony of the doctors. She was convalescing from an operation, and, so far as it was concerned, was out of danger.

That Mrs. Lee became conscious in some mysterious way that her mother, Mrs. Margaret Pettit, was dying, there can be no doubt. Mrs. Pettit left her home at No. 39 Grove Street, to go to nurse her daughter in Danbury. When Mrs. Pettit went to bed on Saturday night she was apparently in excellent health.

Her daughter gave the first news of the mother’s death. She told her husband that something had happened—that her mother was dead—and then Mrs. Lee swooned.

When Mrs. Lee had partly recovered she told those about her of her vision. She said she had seen the spirit of her father, who has been dead for 16 years, enter her mother’s room and say:

“Margaret, come with me.” She had seen her father take her mother in his arms, and, as they moved away they paused before Mrs. Lee, she said, and her father paused and beckoned to her, saying she would soon follow them.

Since that vision Mrs. Lee has hovered on the borderland between life and death. A great part of the time she has been delirious or in a state of coma. But in her lucid intervals she talked constantly of the vision and of her own summons.

Nothing could shake her conviction that her father’s spirit would return for her. When she was perfectly sane she said she was only waiting. She knew she would never get well.

She spoke of it when her husband and son were called to her bedside, and she said good bye to them. She told them she believed that they would soon join her, that the summons was for all of them, and that the family would be united in the beyond.

She died with her mother’s name on her lips. Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 28 March 1900: p. 3

Other Fathers Day posts: about a ghostly image of a father and daughter appearing in a window after his death. A father who followed his child, literally, to the grave.

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.

Winning a Widow: 1892

woman in deep mourning holding a purse 1895
Woman in mourning with purse, c. 1895 http://collections.eastman.org/objects/508472/woman-in-deep-mourning-holding-purse?ctx=d44de10e-d6d8-455e-9ecb-56dc744f3663&idx=16

WINNING A WIDOW

EVERYBODY WAS AT THE WEDDING EXCEPT MISS BECKETT

A Story of a Village Courtship from Indiana—The Wedding Excited a Deal of Interest Because the Groom Was an Undertaker, Who Had Buried Many.

Undertaker Samuel Pavey and Mrs. Sarah Milliken, who has been known in Aristotle, Ind., for twenty-five years as Achilles or Kill Milliken’s widow, were married recently in the presence of everybody in this village except old Miss Beckett. Miss Beckett would have been present if she had not left her sickbed last week to call on Mrs. Milliken and inquire into the particulars of the engagement. After this imprudence she had a relapse and has been unable to leave her bed. She was propped up at the window all the afternoon, however, and saw everybody that went in or out of church.

Undertaker Pavey has buried all of the dead here for the past sixty years. He is now a tall, thin man. with close cropped white hair and smooth shaven face, and always dresses in black, as becomes an undertaker. Only the oldest citizens can remember when he looked any different from the way he looks now. His wife died forty years ago, and he has kept shy of all maidens and widows ever since. Years ago he was abandoned by the most persistent match makers as a hopeless case.

The widow of Kill Milliken is an estimable lady, a great maker of cakes for the church festivals and clever at crocheting worsted tidies, with a large number of which the chairs and the sofa in her front parlor are adorned. As there has been a good deal of curiosity about her engagement and marriage, she has consented to a public statement. She is a short, fat woman, with hair of a peculiar shade of yellow, which she got by using the hair dye which was advertised extensively in connection with her picture and letter of recommendation. She says that Mr. Pavey had never shown any signs of preference for her whatever, nor had she thought of him as the successor of Kill until ten days before the marriage.

About that time he knocked at her front door at half past 11 in the morning. It was a Wednesday and the Widow Milliken was deep in the dough, as that is baking day through this whole town. She looked out through the blinds of the window next the front door and saw who it was. As she had known Mr. Pavey so many years she just wiped the flour off her hands upon her apron and opened the door.

Mr. Pavey went into the parlor and sat down in the cane-seat rocker with the green worsted tidy with blue ribbons through it. He set his tall hat carefully on the floor beside him and then said: “Good morning, Sarah Milliken.”

“Good morning, Mr. Pavey,” said Mrs. Milliken. She said that she accented the Mr. so that Mr. Pavey might understand that she had noticed his not calling her Mrs. Milliken, as he was accustomed to do. Mrs. Milliken also says that she had a sort of premonition that something was coming.

“It can’t be that the Gompers girl is dead?” she said anxiously.

“No,” said Mr. Pavey. “But life is uncertain, Sarah Milliken.”

“No one should know that better than you, Samuel Pavey,” said the widow with one of her sly laughs.

But Mr. Pavey did not laugh as he went on: “Sarah, you are getting along in years. You will soon be in need of my services.”

“I haven’t even sent for the doctor yet, and I won’t need you till he’s done with me,” said the widow, bridling and pouting.

“Do you remember the first Mrs. Pavey?” said the undertaker, paying no attention to her and pursuing his own gloomy reflections.

“I was a little girl when she died,” said Mrs. Milliken.

“Yes,” said Mr. Pavey, “you had just married the late Mr. Milliken five years before. You remember that she had the best funeral this town ever saw, not excepting old Captain Lander’s funeral, which cost five dollars, as I should know, if anybody. As I said, Sarah, you are getting old. If you marry me I will do as well by the second Mrs. Pavey as I did by the first.”

“You always would have your joke, Sam,” said the widow. “What will everybody say?”

“We are both getting old,” said Mr. Pavey, still paying no attention to what the widow was saying. “Life is uncertain. There is no time to lose.”

So Mrs. Milliken said, “All right, Samuel; whenever you say.

“Ten days is long enough. I’ll see the pastor this afternoon.”

Then they shook hands, and Mr. Pavey put on his hat and went away, looking quite gay and chipper as soon as the door closed on him, for he did not know that Mrs. Milliken was watching him through the blinds. Two minutes afterward she had called Mrs. Meek, her next door neighbor, to the back fence and had told her all about it. Ten minutes afterward by the clock on the court house Mrs. Meek, having left her bakery in charge of her daughter Lizzie, had on her bonnet and shawl and was bearing down the street, telling everybody she met. Cor. New York Sun

The Durham [NC] Daily Globe 30 June 1892: p. 3

 

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.

Courting in the Graveyard: 1882

tredegar iron works cast iron cemetery bench 1910
Cast iron cemetery bench. https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/bench/YQFceqvcUyV79A

Courtships in Old Graveyards

“I don’t think there is as much genuine love-making in Saratoga nowadays as there used to be years ago,” said old Sexton Palmerston, as he leaned on his spade. “They all seem to be going for money. Why, I haven’t had four genuine love cases in the graveyard this year. Now, when a man is going for money you don’t see him bringing his girl over here.”

“How does he act when he is going for money?” I asked.

“Why, he spends his time around the florists, he heaps presents on her, keeps her room full of flowers, hands chairs on the balcony, always stands ready with a music programme, looks after her mail, always compliments her clothes, and___”

“And what else?” I asked, impatiently.

“Why, the courting-for-money lover even looks after his sweetheart’s table. He even goes and bribes the head cook to send her chicken livers en brochette, woodcock and Spanish mackerel. The cooks always have these delicacies for guests provided and they are well paid for them. O! he gives his girl an elegant time, but there’s no love in it.”

“But how does the all-for-love young man go to work?” I interrupted.

“Why, he don’t fool around at a distance,” said the old sexton, “with bouquets, and chairs, and programmes, and nice breakfasts. He just quietly walks his sweetheart over to the graveyard, and, sitting on one of those benches out under the trees yonder, he takes her hand. He sits right down and attacks her heart. He don’t fool around buying flowers for her eyes, nor candies for her tongue, nor perfumes for her nose; he just gets his arm right around her heart, and when it begins to throb, and when her cheek gets red and warm he knows that girl is hisn’. (Don’t stand so near the grave or it’ll cave in.) Why, that girl would rather have one hour of our warm graveyard courting than 400 years of such iceberg courting as I see going on over in the States parlors. I’ve seen this courtin’ goin’ on for forty years. (By jiminy, there’s a bone! I’m getting too near that other grave.) I see old grey-headed men every day riding up here in carriages who courted their wives in this graveyard forty years ago. There’s R.L. Stuart, the wealthy sugar refiner__”

“But he’s an old bachelor,” I interrupted.

“Never mind that. I tell you, my benches could tell why he never got married. He loved the girl well enough, and__”

“But who else do you remember seeing here?” I asked.

“Why, there was Mr. Winston of the Mutual Life. He used to walk around here thirty years ago, with a beautiful blonde girl. I can see him now kissing that girl—but I’m not going to tell all I know. Andrew H. Green, he married a girl he courted in my graveyard. Fernando Wood used to have a seat here, and Charles A. Dana, he used to know, forty year ago, all about flirting in a graveyard. Old General James Watson Webb used to walk the young ladies up here forty years ago, and his son, the Doctor, why he could never get along at all in courting Miss Vanderbilt till he got her away from the stuck-up States Hotel, and found himself one day in one of my seats. I knew Vanderbilt would lose a daughter that night. I tell you, these graveyard seats mean business every time. Dd I ever have any Senators or Governors on my seats? Why, of course. Senator Kernan courted two girls at once in this graveyard, and President Arthur knows where all the best seats are. They needn’t be ashamed of it either, for Hamilton and DeWitt Clinton used to do the same thing when they were boys. Boys will be boys,” continued the old man, as he jumped out of the grave, “and girls will be girls. Girls with big hearts like to be loved, and fellows with big hearts will kiss and love them. I don’t care how straight their parents make them sit up and down at the States, they will occasionally get away and come up here in the graveyard to act natural, and I’m the last man to hinder ‘em. Why I often keep these graveyard gates open till nine o’clock when there are genuine lovers enough around to warrant it. I don’t mean flirters. I mean real, genuine lovers.”

“But how do the lover manage down at Long Branch and over at Newport, where they have no graveyards handy?” I asked.

“I don’t know, but they have mating places somewhere. I ‘spect they sit out in the sand under the bluffs, or sit around under umbrellas in the pavilions, or get in dismal corners on the balconies. They’ve got to—by gosh, they’ve got to!”

That’s what the old Saratoga graveyard philosopher said. Saratoga Cor. N.Y. Commercial Advertiser.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 6 September 1882: 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 hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.

A Daisy of a Hearse: 1885

john marston hearse nad cab builders 1887
1887 advertisement for a hearse builder. https://greatgardensofthedead.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/victorian-funeral-procession-a-medieval-tradition/

Had a “Daisy.”

“Come out through the back way and see my daisy!” he chuckled as he rubbed his hands together.

“What! gone into the funeral flowers business on your own account? Yet, after all, why not? An undertaker might as well furnish the flowers as the coffin.”

“Come on. There–how does that strike you?”

“That’s a hearse–a new one.”

“But it’s the daisy I was speaking of. Isn’t she spic-span and shiny?”

“Very nice.”

“I should smile. It lays over anything of the sort in this town, and don’t you forget it! Get in and lie down and let me bob the springs to show how easy it rides.”

“No. thank you.”

“You go on! There’s points about a hearse the public ought to know. Get up on the driver’s seat.”

“Excuse me, but I prefer a family carriage.”

“Oh, pshaw! But you are too thin-skinned. Just notice these springs. I tell you it will be a positive pleasure to ride above ’em. The dish of those wheels is absolutely perfect, and such a finish!”

“Yes, very nice hearse.”

“You bet! Say, it will be a proud hour in my life when I hitch a span of white horses to that vehicle and prance around to the house of the late deceased. Lands! But won’t the other undertakers look blue! Say, feel of these curtains–pure silk.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Go on, now! Hang it, but when an undertaker puts up his cash for a regular daisy like this you newspaper fellows ought to encourage him. Just remember that the old-fashioned way of carrying a body around in a lumber wagon and then gaze on this! Just notice how these rear doors open to admit the coffin.”

“Very handy.”

“Handy? Why, man, it’s superb! Have you noticed the glass in the sides?”

“Seems to be very good.”

“Good! Why, it’s the finest in the world–the very finest! I wanted something to show off the coffin, and here it is. I tell you, the late deceased ought to feel proud to ride in such a vehicle! You can say in your paper that it knocks ’em all out. Say, how are you on styles?”

“What styles?”

“Coffins and shrouds, of course. Come in a minute. I’ve got a new thing in shrouds—something you are bound to appreciate, and I’m after a patent on a coffin with an air-receiver in it. Say! do me a favor. Let me enclose you in my new coffin and see how long the supply of air will last you. I’ll bet a dol–”

But the reporter had gone.

Bristol [VT] Herald 9 July 1885: p. 4