NOTE: I have left the capitalization, spacing, and spelling as they were printed.
The Complete Business Equipped In Its Entirety
THAT IS THE
A.N. Johnson Undertaking Co.
THERE IS NO FUNERAL DIRECTORY THE ENTIRE COUNTRY SO WELL EQUIPPED TO TAKE CARE OF FUNERALS AS THAT OF A. JOHNSON. NOT MAKESHIFT, SO-CALL-ESTABLISHMENT WITH JUST ENOUGH OF EQUIPMENT TO THE TRADE OF UNDERTAKING, DEPENDING UPON LIVERYMEN, EXPRESSMEN AND HACKMEN TO MAKE UP FUNERAL, BUT UNDER ONE ROOF EVERYTHING DESIRED AND NECESSARY FOR COMPLETE FUNERAL.
ONLY UNDERTAKER WITH DOUBLE SERVICE
SERVICE HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE BEST, SO CONCEDED BY THE ENTIRE PEOPLE OF NASHVILLE. THE ONLY UNDERTAKER WHO OWNS SNOW WHITE PINK SKINNED ARABIAN HORSES, BEAUTIFUL, GENTLE AND WELL BEHAVED. THESE MAGNIFICENT STEEDS COST THE PUBLIC NO MORE THAN THE VARIOUS VAREGATED AND OFF COLORED HORSES WHICH ARE FURNISHED IN COMPLETION. THERE ISN’T EVEN A CHILD IN NASHVILLE BUT WHO KNOWS JOHNSON’S BEAUTIFUL HORSES WHEN HE SEES THEM.
THE ONLY UNDERTAKER WHO HAS EVER EMPLOYED AMBULANCE SERVICE FOR COLORED PEOPLE. WE DO NOT USE THE SAME VEHICLE FOR THE LIVING AND THE DEAD. AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CONVEYANCE ALTOGETHER. OUR AMBULANCE PROTECTS THE PATIENT NOT ONLY FROM THE COLD IN THE REAR BUT THE PATINET IS IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT APARTMENT FROM THE DRIVERS IN THE FRONT.
Funeral Cars THE LARGEST NUMBER, MOST ELEGANT AND VARID ASSORTMENT OF ANY UNDERTAKER ANYWHERE.
Child’s Funeral Car.
THE ONLY UNDERTAKER WHO FURNISHES A SMALL WHITE SILVER MOUNTED FUNERAL CAR FOR CHILDREN; DRAWN BL SMALL SNOW WHITE PINK SKINNED HORSES, AND THE ONLY UNDERTAKER PREPARED TO GIVE YOU A CHILD’S FUNERAL.
Black Funeral Car
UDOUBTEDLY THE MOST HANDSOME AND ELEGANT, PIECE OF ARCHITECTURE CARVED EBONY IN THE CITY.
White Funeral Car
WE HAVE THE TWO MOST BEAUTIFUL SNOW WHITE FUNERAL CARS MADE; SO THAT IN ANY EMERGENCY WE ARE PREPARED WITH A SUFFICIENCY TO ACCOMMODATE THE PUBLIC.
Royal Purple Funeral
THE ONLY UNDERTAKER ANY WHERE WHO FURNISHES A ROYAL PURPLE FUNERAL CAR, NOT A WHITE OR BLACK HEARSE WITH PURPLE CURTAINS, BUT THE HANDSOMEST WOOD CARVED DRAPED PURPLE CAR THROUGHOUT THAT HAS EVER BEEN MADE, SPECIALLY BUILT FOR US.
Automobile Service Employed
THE A. N. JOHNSON CO., WERE THE FIRST TO INSTALL AUTOMOBILE SERVICE IN NASHVILLE. NOT A MAKE SHIFT SERVICE JUST TO “GET BY,” CALL IT AUTO SERVICE, WHEN IT IS A TRUCK, TEN LIZZIE SERVICE. We COULD HAVE GOTTEN ANY OF THE WELL KNOWN TRUCK, DAILY SEEN IN DELIVERING MILK, GROCERIES AND FREIGHT ABOUT THE CITY AND ALTERED, REMODELLED AND CHANGED THE BODY TO CARRY THE DEAD, BUT WE NEVER DID BELIEVE IN MAKE SHIFTS TO SERVE TO OUR PEOPLE WE COULD HAVE BOUBHT A HALF DOZEN “FLIVVERS” FOR THE PRICE OF ONE OF OUR MACHINES, BUT WE DIDN’T BELIEVE IN CHEAP THINGS FOR OUR PEOPLE. OUR AUTOMOBILE SERVICE CONSISTS OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, ELEGANT, HANDSOME AND APPROPRIATE FUNERAL CARS, LEMOZINES, SEDANS, AND TOURING CARS MADE. MC-FARLAN, CHANDLER, STUDEBAKER, PACKARD AND WINTON SIX MODELS. JUST THE VERY BEST THAT GENUIS, TALENT EXPERIENCE AND CAPITAL HAVE PRODUCED. THEN THIS OUTFIT DOESN’T COST ONE CENT MORE THAN THE CHANGED TRUCK AND TIN LIZZIE SERVICE. WE SIMPLY CAN’T HELP GETTING THE HELP AND WE DESERVE THE SUPPORT OF THE PEO—
In times of funerals, when the family is destressed and the people come in crowds, then there is needed a “Directing Genuis” possibly the intermate friends called to serve as pall bearers have never before performed such services, the society has ceremonies, others occupy their space at the church and in part, there are hundreds of things arising from time to time which need attention and you need a man quick, accurate, alert, sane and with executive ability to act for you. You don’t want balks and blunders when you have funerals, and you don’t have them when you have A. N. Johnson. That’s why you hear people say they want A. N. Johnson for their undertaker. They know he knows how to care for the body, how to care for the distressed family, how to take care of and seat the most people and have quietude and not confusion. The entire atmosphere and the moral of the people is different when Johnson serves.
A. N. Johnson has the education and the experience in embalming. From the beginning of the modern methods, more than a quarter of a century ago, he was one of the leading and has kept abreast of the time in the science, art and every technique of embalming. He employs all the methods and materials suited to the particular case under treatment and the result is universal satisfaction. Much of the burden of grief is passed when your loved ones are restored to that beautiful appearance and expression that they wore when their loving smiles greeted you. Then it is safe and sanitary. You get the service of the master, the expert, the man who knows embalming when A. N. Johnson does it.
We Have the Apartments
The morgue is one of the essentials of embalming. If the surgeon can give you the best results by taking the patient to a well equipped hospital, just so can the embalmer employ his morgue when he has every facility for scientific embalming. Embalming has become almost universal, while it was rarely done in years agone. So has the morgue come into use. When allowed, we remove the remains to our morgue which is equipped with every appliance and facility for preparing the dead. Embalming at the home when preferred, but we have every facility for the removal of the dead to our morgue and with our well opportioned Chapel we have the opportunity of serving our people as well as the finest undertaker in the largest cities of the world.
We Are Not Jobbers
We have the most complete line of Caskets, Coffins, Robes and Funeral Furnishings to be had in our own place of business. We buy from the best manufacturers throughout the entire country. We buy the best that each makes and do not keep a sample or two and have to order a coffin whenever we have a call. You can get the plainest wood Coffin or the most costly Metallic Casket made, right out of our house. There is nothing created that is good, desirable or elegant but that we keep it in our place of business.
This is a vital question in our business. We charge no more for carriages and horses than the others. Our auto carriages or limousines are furnished at the same price to our people as are charged for horses, if the ride in carriages. Because our Cortege is the finest it is sometimes inferred wrongly that our prices are higher. It is not so. Whatever we sell it is bought for cash and at the best price and we limit our profit to the most reasonable rate and you pay less for what you get from us for better service and material. In fact, you select what you want at the price you want to pay as shown to you when you need our services.
Come and visit our place, see how well we are prepared to furnish funeral service. When you need a carriage or an auto, call us up or come and see us.
A circumstance occurred last week at Portree, Isle of Skye, which may be added to the many chapters recording the fidelity and attachment of dogs to their masters. A rumour spread through the town one morning that on the previous night the dogs had torn open the grave of a young man who had died of fever, and was interred some weeks previous. So painful and shocking an occurrence caused great excitement in Portree; but in the course of the day Sheriff Fraser and others, having inquired into the facts of the case, found the facts to be not only of a less revolting nature, but fraught with the deepest interest.
When the young man was buried, his dog followed the funeral to the churchyard, and was with difficulty removed. It returned again and again to the spot, and, unobserved, had dug into the grave until it reached the coffin. At Portree, as in many other parts of the Highlands, the people bury their dead in a very superficial manner, making only shallow graves. The dog had gnawn through the coffin when the fact was discovered, but the body of its dead master was untouched; and there the faithful animal was found looking into the grave.
“I doubt,” says our correspondent, “if there be on record a more striking instance of canine attachment; for you must bear in mind that four or five weeks had elapsed since the interment, and the churchyard is six miles from the house where poor Norman’s father lives.”—Inverness Courier.
The Christian Recorder [Philadelphia, PA] 17 August 1861
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Although there is some controversy over the tale, it was only three years before this story that John Gray, the master of Greyfriars Bobby, died and was buried in Edinburgh’s Greyfriar’s Kirkyard. His little Skye Terrier is said to have spent 14 years sitting on his late master’s grave, dying in 1872.
Dogs faithful unto death were a staple of 19th-century lore and legend. Here is another, less grewsome example, from 1817:
In the parish of Saint Olave, Tooley Street, Borough, the churchyard is detached from the church, and surrounded with high buildings, so as to be wholly inaccessible but by one large close gate. A poor tailor, of this parish, dying, left a small cur dog inconsolable for his loss. The little animal would not leave his dead master, not even for food; and whatever he ate was forced to be placed in the same room with the corpse. When the body was removed for burial, this faithful attendant followed the coffin. After the funeral, he was hunted out of the churchyard by the sexton, who, the next day, again found the animal, who had made his way by some unaccountable means into the enclosure, and had dug himself a bed on the grave of his master. Once more he was hunted out, and again he was found in the same situation the following day. The minister of the parish hearing of the circumstance, had him caught, taken home, and fed, and endeavoured by every means to win the animal’s affections: but they were wedded to his late master; and, in consequence, he took the first opportunity to escape, and regain his lonely situation. With true benevolence, the worthy clergyman permitted him to follow the bent of his inclinations; but, to soften the rigour of his fate, he built him, upon the grave, a small kennel, which was replenished once a day with food and water. Two years did this example of fidelity pass in this manner, when death put an end to his griefs; and the extended philanthropy of the good clergyman allowed his remains an asylum with his beloved master.
Canine Pathology, Delabere Pritchett Blaine, 1817
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.
For more stories in a funereal vein, see The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard, a look at the popular and material culture of Victorian mourning.
It’s “Bad Poetry Day,” a time to celebrate the very best of bad doggerel. I have to admit that I find a guilty pleasure in really bad poetry, particularly on mortuary subjects. Here are a few favorites.
THE UNION FOREVER
It seems that people differ
On the subject, very grave,
Of how to tend their bodies
When they’ve flunked their last close shave.
But as far as I’m affected
When I go to meet my Maker,
I’ll be happy and contented
With a union undertaker.
Some people speak of burning
So they’ll beat the Devil to it—
While others hold that later
They may need themselves and rue it;
But as far as I’m affected
When I go to meet my Maker,
I’ll be happy and contented
With a union undertaker.
Some people want a Parson,
While some others want a Priest.
Some players want no gallery,
While others want a feast—
But as far as I’m affected
When I go to meet my Maker,
I’ll be happy and contented
With a union undertaker.
I want a union label
On the lapel of my shroud;
I want the coffin union-made,
And no scabs in the crowd.
I want my union card to show
Saint Peter’s ticket taker
That I was sent to Glory
By a union undertaker.
St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 12 April 1919: p. 10
This one just rollicks along when read aloud:
THE UNIQUE HOTEL.
(See Murray’s Scotland,” page 169).
My friends and my relatives know very well
I yearn for the novel and striking— Just now there’s the strangest north-country hotel
Evoking my rapturous liking. The notice (in language sufficiently terse)
Recording its varied resources, Concludes with, “good stables. Superior hearse,
With suitable feathers and horses!”
The wines may be bad and civility nil,
The furniture aged and fluffy, Wax candles appear twice-a-day in the bill,
And all may be gloomy and stuffy. Such minor discomforts let cavillers curse;—
Eclipsing the painfullest courses, You’ve but to recall that “superior hearse,
With suitable feathers and horses.”
Suppose, as by rail you’re approaching the spot,
Your train will persist in colliding
Along with another and “getting it hot,”
Or smashing to bits in a siding; Though sadly your friends may regard your reverse,
While shedding the tear it enforces, At least they can get a “superior hearse,
With suitable feathers and horses.”
Suppose you are spending a holiday there
With hopes of lost vigour regaining By climbing up mountains and breathing the air,
And find it incessantly raining; As daily the weather grows dismally worse,
And hope from your bosom divorces, You’ll guess why they keep a “superior hearse,
With suitable feathers and horses.”
Suppose, when they give you your “little account,”
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.
Winter set in very early that year, and it was extraordinarily cold. By late fall, they were cutting ice two feet thick on the canal, and storing it in the great ice houses which then lined the banks. A certain man had died, when the weather was at its coldest, and I was one of the three men chosen to keep the night watch.
The body was laid out in the parlor of the home on an old-fashioned bier, which was too short, as he was a very tall man, and was covered with a black pall, which hung down over the feet. There was no fire in the room, and the window was opened about two inches, with the result that the corpse was frozen as hard as marble. Notwithstanding this, the undertaker left a jar of some embalming fluid, with which the body was to be covered every two or three hours. We three sat in another room, and punctually at the proper hours performed this gruesome function, whiling away the rest of the time as best we might.
Just as the clock struck midnight we heard one of the women come downstairs to prepare some coffee and food for us, and I suggested that before we partook of it we should attend to the body again. We crossed the wide hall, the wind moaning in gusts around the house, and the freezing atmosphere already chilling our blood, and entered the parlor. I went in first, the candle in my hand. I had taken two or three steps when I stopped, simply appalled. One leg of the frozen corpse was rising and falling beneath the pall, silently, but unmistakably, as though kicking in convulsive agony. Peterman, a powerful young German, who was next to me, caught sight of it the next moment, and, throwing his hands, with a cry of “My God!” fell fainting to the floor.
How long I stood gazing at the ghastly movement I do not know. The hot tallow fell unheeded from my hand, until it formed a little mound. At length I was aroused by Peterman coming to his senses, and commencing to vomit terribly. This changed the current of my thoughts, and I ran out for a basin. Before I could return he saw the leg move again, and fell in another swoon. Finding him thus, my fear suddenly left me, and I was determined to solve the mystery. I walked to the bier and pulled back the pall.
I found there a lean and savage black cat, gnawing at one of the frozen legs, and the arching of whose back, in the effort to tear the flesh, had caused the horrible appearance. Though I knocked it away and kicked it, the brute, with eyes glowing like coals, sprang back each time to its awful meal and I dared not touch it with my hands for fear a bite or scratch from those tainted fangs and claws should cause blood poisoning. It was literally mad with hunger. At length I fetched a long, heavy bootjack, and beat it over the head with that until it lay still, when I threw it out of doors. The only way it could have gotten in was through the window, but how it squeezed through such a narrow aperture is a mystery. Peterman was sick in bed for months after the shock, while as for our third companion, he ran at Peterman’s first scream and did not appear at all.
Sidney Journal, December, 1897
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil thanks Mr Rich Wallace of the Shelby County Historical Society for unearthing this dire eyewitness account of an event which occurred in Cynthian Township, Ohio in the fall of 1880. In a case of art imitating life, the Ohio author, Ambrose Bierce [1842–1914] wrote the equally dire “John Mortonson’s Funeral,” published in Can Such Things Be?  The ignorant and superstitious held that if a cat jumped over a corpse, the dead person would become a vampire.
For more tales of malign cats, please see this post at the Haunted Ohio blog. The story above is also found in The Face in the Window. Other stories of cats as a menace at wakes may be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead, available as a paperback here and at other online retailers (or ask your library or local bookstore to order it) and for Kindle.
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.
Where They Come From and the Various Buyers Found for Them.
The hearse is a long lived vehicle. Even though put to constant daily use on paved city streets a hearse will last fifty years. It is built of good materials to begin with, and is always carefully driven and handled.
In the course of time, what with constant exposure to all sorts of weather and with repeated washings, the springs will rust and the wood decay, and there comes at last a time when the hearse is practically worn out. That doesn’t mean that the days of the old hearses are over; very rarely is it so worn out that it must be broken up. The old hearse is sold to a hearse builder or to a carriage and hearse builder, who may take it, making some allowance for it, in part payment for a new hearse; and then this purchaser may sell it again just as it is to somebody who can still get some use out of it, though commonly he repairs and refits it first, or perhaps almost entirely rebuilds it and then puts it on sale.
So just as there are second hand pianos, second hand steam boilers, second hand almost everything on earth, there are also second hand hearses.
An undertaker may go out of business and his stock be sold at auction. At such a sale only undertakers or dealers in hearses would be likely to bid, and here hearses in good or fairly good shape might be bought at a low price. If bought by a builder and dealer in hearses they would be repaired and put in order and sold as second hand.
Styles change in hearses just as they do in all things else and the city undertaker may want a new hearse of the latest design and most modern equipment, in which case he would turn in his old hearse though it may still be a perfectly good vehicle and buy a new hearse.
While it is common the city undertaker how wants the most modern thing in hearses it might be that the undertaker in some smaller, but thriving place might come to have the same desire. In such a town there might set up in business a new undertaker, with a complete modern equipment, including a modern hearse. To compete with the newcomer the old undertaker might buy a new hearse and give the old in part payment.
So the hearses sold as second hand come from various sources and some of them may be still very good hearses, though perhaps old fashioned. The builder or dealer who had bought such a hearse might take off its roof and put on a new covering, thus completely changing its appearance, modernizing it, and upon any of those hearses he would expend in repairs, refitting and reconstruction whatever amount its condition might warrant. Some second hand hearses are sold very cheap, but a thoroughly good second hand hearse brought into first class condition might bring half as much as a new hearse of the same class.
Second hand hearses are sold, mostly in the country, to undertakers in smaller communities whose use they serve well and once such hearses were sold from here over a wide part of the country. Years ago there was sold in New York a second hand hearse to go to the Indian reservation in Oklahoma Territory. In these days there are in the West big manufacturing establishments turning out hearses as well as other vehicles, and those establishments now supply hearses both new and second hand, in the various regions within their respective natural shipping distances, so that the business in second hand hearses from here is now confined largely to a region within a few hundred miles of the city.
There are sold numbers of second hand hearses for export. New hearses of American construction go to various foreign lands and so do second hand hearses. For export the second hand hearses are not only repaired and put in order, but they are refitted and in every way equipped to meet the requirements of the funeral customs of the countries to which they are sent. Such second hand as well as new hearses of American manufacture are sold in Central America, the West Indies, South America and South Africa.
A new hearse of very elaborate construction and with expensive fittings might cost $5,000. The great majority of the hearses seen in this city cost new from $1,200 to $3,000 each.
It is estimated that there are in use in New York city about six hundred hearses whose total value would probably approximate a million dollars.
The Sun [New York NY] 2 May 1909: p. 34
BUY SECOND HAND HEARSES
There is one kind of vehicle that appreciates in value more than an automobile and that is a second hand hearse. Kent & Smith’s stable which is selling surplus goods sold a hearse yesterday to Eben C. Getchell for $15, which cost new between $300 and $400, and sold another of a later model to W. Perkins for $50 that when new cost $1500. The $15 hearse is of ancient vintage having been owned by Messrs. Putney & Welch when in the livery business. Horse drawn hearses are now out of style except in the winter time when it is impossible to make the trips to the cemeteries by automobiles, the motor hearse now taking the place of the ordinary wheeled variety. Friends of Eben gazed on him in astonishment yesterday as he drove the hearse behind his steed which was traveling at funeral pace in keeping with what looked like a sad occasion. His dog appeared to be the other mourner. Eben is a dealer in odds and ends and the addition of second hand hearses increases his line.
The holiday’s signature bird is a rara avis in terms of apparitions. The most commonly reported ghostly turkey story from haunted England is a somewhat peripheral one of a monk, killed for a sexual indiscretion, who gobbles like a turkey in Turkey Cock Lane, Rye.
Another gobbling ghost, or perhaps a poultry-geist, was this entity from Epworth Rectory.
Robin Brown’s account to John Wesley, as recorded by Samuel Wesley
The first time Robin Brown, my father’s man, heard it, was when he was fetching down some corn from the garrets. Something knocked on a door just by him, which made him run away downstairs. From that time it used frequently to visit him in bed, walking up the garret stairs, and in the garrets, like a man in jack-boots, with a nightgown trailing after him, then lifting up his latch and making it jar, and making presently a noise in his room like the gobbling of a turkey-cock, then stumbling over his boots or shoes by the bedside. He was resolved once to be too hard for it, and so took a large mastiff we had just got to bed with him, and left his shoes and boots below stairs; but he might as well have spared his labour, for it was exactly the same thing whether any were there or no. The same sound was heard as if there had been forty pairs. The Epworth Phenomena: To which are appended certain Psychic Experiences recorded by John Wesley in the pages of his Journal, collated by Dudley Wright, 1920, p. 51-52
The creatures were frequently mistaken for ghosts when they haunted churchyards.
A short time ago some persons had been frightened by a ghost said to appear in Hampstead Norreys Churchyard. It was reported slowly to raise its head to a gigantic height, make some unearthly noises, and then quickly disappear. At length, on investigation, the ghost proved to be a large white Turkey Cock that had taken to roosting on a white tombstone. On the approach of any one he had raised himself from his sleep, and with gobbling and flapping of wings had vanished behind his resting-place. A Glossary of Berkshire Words and Phrases, Vol. 41, Barzillai Lowsley, 1888: p. 25
And a little girl in Wales mistook a fowl for a fae.
The inmates of H___dd, an upland farm-house in the mountainous district close to the foot of the Snowdon, were thrown into much confusion by the entrance of a little girl in a state of great alarm. She had seen, on the other side of a low wall, the king of the fairies (Brehin Twlwyth Teg) and he had spoken to her. This district had in former days been much frequented by these little people. An old woman, who was sitting on a bench in the chimney corner, asked the girl to describe the stranger—‘He had a red cap on, and his nose was red, thin, crooked, and very long; he had on a tippet like those worn by some young ladies going to the top of Snowdon in the summer. She did not see his feet. She could not understand what he said, but he certainly did speak, and he shook his head at her when he did so.’ Just at this time, “Throll, throll, throll’ announced that his fairy Majesty was at the door. The old woman declared the language to be identical with that used by the fairy which had vanished about fifty-five years ago on being unintentionally touched with a bit of the bridle by her father near Clogwyn Coch. Fairies, she said, could not bear to be touched with iron. Just at this time, to the great consternation of the family, after another ‘Throll, throll, throll’ speech, the door opened, and in walked a neighboring farmer, followed by, instead of fairy royalty—a fine turkey-cock! None of these birds are reared or kept within many miles of this farm, and no clue has been obtained as to where the strange visitor came from. Carnarvon Herald. Worcester [MA] Palladium 17 June 1846: p. 1
In this unique case, the official business of the Royal Mail was stymied by a fowl apparition:
A HEADLESS GHOST
Superstition rarely stands in the way of the extension of postal accommodation or convenience; but a case of the kind recently occurred in the west of Ireland. Application was made for the erection of a wall letter-box, and authority had been granted for setting it up; but when arrangements came to be made for providing for the collection of letters, no one could be found to undertake the duty, in consequence of a general belief among the poorer people in the neighbourhood that, at that particular spot, “a ghost went out nightly on parade.” The ghost was stated to be a large white turkey without a head. Twenty-Second Report of the Postmaster General on the Post Office, London, England, 1876, p. 9
But in the annals of ghostly turkeys, this one kicks the stuffing out of all the rest.
A most bizarre apparition was reported in a West Country newspaper in a letter from Mr Edgar T. Bond following a paper of mine in 1957. It concerned a friend of Mr Bond’s, referred to as ‘John’, a retired detective-inspector of the Metropolitan Police who was formerly a guard to the Royal Family. He was thus a trained observer and not subject to nervous hallucinations. He lived in a cottage near St Austell alone with his housekeeper, ‘Mrs C.’ The cottage had a Victorian wing added, with a drawing room and a sash window which came to within a foot of the ground and overlooked the garden path. Mrs. C. had an aunt who lived up-country, and this aunt had a curious obsession. Several times she was known to say: ‘You will always know when I die, because I shall appear to you in the form of a white turkey.’ Eventually she became ill and Mrs C. had to rush to her, leaving John alone.
That same evening, about dusk, John had settled down in his own little sitting room in the old part of the house with his pipe and the morning paper, when suddenly he became conscious of a faint sound: tap-tap-tap! He sat up and listened. The house was very quiet, and for a while, nothing broke the stillness save the tick of the old grandfather clock. Then he heard it again, apparently from the direction of the drawing-room: tap-tap-tap.
He proceeded to investigate. A powerful man and an ex-policeman to boot, John was not given to nerves, but when he reached the drawing-room even he confessed, later, to being a bit startled. Standing on the path outside the big sash window, and solemnly pecking at the glass with its beak, was a large white turkey.
For a moment he was so surprised that he could only stand and stare at it. Then, retracing his steps, he went out of the front door into the garden. There was the bird, sure enough, about twenty feet away and still pecking at the window pen; but as he moved slowly towards it, it made off across the lawn and disappeared into the bushes beyond, beyond which was a stone wall four feet high.
John followed it at once, quite confident he would have no difficulty in catching it, but although he searched around everywhere until dark he neither saw nor heard any further sign of it. From the moment it entered the bushes it vanished completely.
The next morning he made enquiries in the village as to whether anyone else had seen it, but without result. Apparently no one in the neighbourhood, in those days, kept turkeys at all, let alone white turkeys.
Shortly afterwards he had a letter from Mrs C. to say she had arrived just in time, as her aunt had died that same evening. When she returned to St Austell and they compared notes they found that the actual time of the old lady’s death was approximately the same as that at which the white turkey had appeared at John’s cottage.
John was convinced at the time that it was an ordinary bird, and so it may have been. In the article which prompted Mr Bond to write his account, I had stated my conviction that many animal ghosts are real flesh-and-blood creatures which on rare occasions can be drawn involuntarily into the vortex of certain human situations and so act the part of ‘ghosts’. The Fate of the Dead, Theo Brown, pp. 75-76
A fascinating thought, that last observation…
Other ghostly gobblers? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com who wishes all who celebrate it, a Happy Thanksgiving!
Well. I was pluming myself on knowing most of the English turkey ghosts, but must bow to this astounding collection of turkey horrors from Ireland by Dr Beachcombing!
Brian C. sends the best from the British tabloids– Sunday Sport, 1991: Thanks, Brian!
I am not fond of Thanksgiving. It’s not that I’m ungrateful; I just don’t see any merit in a holiday based on overeating and football. That and I still shudder at the time a hostess insouciantly defrosted the frozen turkey on top of the drier overnight in a paper bag, leading to hours of projectile vomiting for the whole assembly.
This may explain why you will not find here any heart-warming tales of juicy birds swimming in gravy, dressing, and cranberry relish, but rather a mean-spirited account of vindictive turkeys. Long before the invention of the deep-fat turkey fryer so loathed by the underwriting community, dangerous turkeys were in the news.
While I have only seen wild turkeys at a distance–they look like miniature velociraptors—they are said to be very aggressive and territorial. They are bulky, have sharp beaks and claws, and their heavy wings can do serious damage. One mocks a turkey at one’s peril and it is not wise to wear red around them. The males read the color red as signifying an invading turkey cock and will attack, a motif found in many of these stories. Having heard from those who keep them that domesticated turkeys are rather stupid—I would not have expected that they could do as much damage as these stories suggest.
In Belmont county, Ohio, an old gobbler attacked and killed a playful young puppy because he persisted in chasing the young turkeys. New Ulm [MN] Weekly Review 13 November 1889: p. 2
Turkeys on a Rampage.
Rising Sun, Md., Enraged at his red handkerchief, two large turkey gobblers attacked R.B. Marshall while he was walking near the home of George Nesbitt, owner of the birds, and it required the combined efforts of both Marshall ad Nesbitt to drive the turkeys off.
The birds beat Marshall’s legs with their wings, bruising him severely. He yelled lustily and Nesbitt ran to his aid. Using light sticks as clubs they managed, after a sharp fight, to rout the angry gobblers. St. Tammany Farmer [Covington, LA] 9 May 1908: p. 5
TURKEY ATTACKS ARTIST;
SERIOUSLY INJURES HIM
London, June 9. A Staffordshire artist, while sketching near Hanley was attacked by a turkey and had an exciting encounter with the bird lasting a quarter of an hour.
The turkey approached the artist from behind and made a sudden attack. With his sketch block he aimed a blow at the bird’s head, but missed and then sought refuge behind a tree. The turkey pursued him and injured him quite severely. A party of golfers finally came to the rescue and killed the turkey. Los Angeles [CA] Herald 10 June 1910: p. 16
GOBBLER ATTACKS AUTO
Wins Fight With Bird Mirrored in Varnish of Car.
Prof. Frank W. Magill of Danville, Pa., drove his new highly polished automobile out into the country the first day after receiving it and stopped along the road to chat with a farmer friend.
Up strutted a fine turkey gobbler, which caught a glimpse of its reflection in the polished sides of the machine. The bird immediately challenged the newcomer and with beak and claws flew at the car.
The old bird fought until it was exhausted and the side of the auto was a wreck. The Kentuckian [Hopkinsville, KY] 19 July 1919: p. 10
[A squib from an 1899 Michigan paper told the same story about a new, highly polished buggy.]
When [Mr. Alexander Wedderburn of Chesterhall,] was between three and four years old, having provoked a fierce Turkey cock, by hallooing to him,—
“Bubbly Jock, your wife is a witch,
And she is going to be burnt with a barrel of pitch.”*
The animal flew at the child, laid him flat on the ground and seemed disposed to peck his eyes out, when he was saved by his nurse, who rushed in to the rescue with a broom in her hand.
[*The author says that he doesn’t know the meaning of the rhyme but heard it himself as a child, applied to turkey cocks. Karen Davis, author of More Than a Meal: The Turkey in History, Myth, Ritual, and Reality, says that the term comes from “bubbly”—“snotty” and “Jock” or “Jack,” meaning a rustic boor. So the turkey’s wattle makes it look like a snotty-nosed peasant. A salutary lesson in not mocking a turkey!] The Lives of the Lord Chancellors and Keepers of the Great Seal of England, Volume 6, John Campbell, 1847
Attacked by a Turkey
Frank Stadden narrowly escaped having his eyesight destroyed and his nose bitten off by an infuriated turkey on Monday morning. But here’s the story in brief;
John McCool sold a number of turkeys to Mr. Austin and one of them flew into a tree. Finding it impossible to coax the gobbler from its perch Frank Stadden was appealed to. Frank loaded his blunderbuss and brought the fowl to earth, but it was only slightly wounded and, when he attempted to capture it, the bird showed fight. It struck at Frank, drove its talons into his hands, bored holes into his face with its beak and greatly disfigured his proboscis. Seeing that Frank was getting the worst of the battle Mr. Austin ran to his assistance with a club and dispatched the gobbler. However, in striking at the turkey Austin’s aim was not at all times accurate, and Frank received one of the blows intended for the bird which caused a big blue-black lump to appear with remarkable rapidity upon the polished portion of his cranium. Mr. Stadden asserts that never in his lifetime has he encountered so ferocious a turkey as this particular gobbler, and says he is inclined to the opinion that either its father of its mother was a great American eagle. The Princeton [MN] Union 21 December 1911: p. 2
Only rarely was there a happy ending when a turkey attacked a child.
Charleston, April 24. A mare belonging to John Cooper was the heroine in a savage attack which a large turkey gobbler made upon a small child of Mr. and Mrs. Cooper at their residence, the gentle animal taking a position with surprising intelligence directly over the prostrate form of the little boy and with his [sic] head fighting off the infuriated bird as it tried to scalp the child. The gobbler weighed 24 pounds. It was a magnificent bird and was admired by all who saw it. No harm had ever come, however, to the child, and it seems that I was never thought necessary to especially guard against any attacks of the kind. While the child was at play in the yard, the gobbler attacked him and knocking the child prostrate, was savagely pecking at the head and tearing the flesh, as it closed its beak and pulled at the skin and hair. The child was heard to cry in pain, but it was a minute or two before he could be reached, and when the call was answered, the mare was found enedeavoring to protect the child form the attack. As the gobbler viciously flew and pecked at the child, the mare would put her head in the way and receive the beak. The horse had seen the gobbler attack the child, and with wonderful intelligence and a sense of devotion, she came to his assistance and protection and perhaps saved his life or serious injury. As it was, the child’s head was badly pecked and the scalp torn in places, but the wounds will speedily heal and fortunately the little fellow will not be marked in life.
It is needless to add that a turkey dinner was served at the Cooper home yesterday. The handsome bird was introduced to the axe on short order after its attack upon the child and he is now getting the picking, so to speak. Evening Post [Charleston, SC] 24 April 1911: p. 9
This was the more usual outcome.
A Gobbler Attacks a Child
English, Ind., April 26. An enraged turkey gobbler tore the nose and part of the upper lip off and destroyed an eye of a small child belonging to Geo. R. Cutter Thursday. The babe was in the yard, dressed in a red gown, which enraged the bird. Drs. Brent and Hazelwood hope to restore the nose and lip by stitching, but the eye is torn from the socket. Daily Public Ledger [Maysville, KY]26 April 1895: p. 3
A Child Killed by a Turkey Cock
An inquest was held at the Police Office, Cheadle, Staffordshire, last Monday, before Alderman Flint, to inquire into the death of a grandchild of a Mr. Finney, of the Cheadle Park farm. It appeared from the evidence of William Philips, one of the farm servants, that on Friday afternoon last, while some of the family were absent at Cheadle Market, the child in question—a remarkably fine boy about two years old—was playing about in the yard with him, and that while he was at work the child slipped away, and went, as he supposed, into the house, but presently, on inquiry being made for the child, it was found to have gone into a field at the further end of the yard, where, on a search being made, it was found lying with its face downward, quite dead, a flock of turkeys being about twenty yards off. From the evidence of Phillips, it appeared that a kind of feud existed between the child and the turkeys, he having on a former occasion killed several of the young ones with a stick, wince which time the “old cock bird (to use the witness’ expression) had made pecks at the child.” Mr. Thomas Webb, surgeon, deposed, that on being sent for to the child the only visible mark of violence found upon it was upon the jaw or lower part of the face, which might have been caused by a turkey’s wing, and was not such a mark as would have been caused by a kick from a horse, but he stated that, as there were horses in the field, he examined the ground closely, but could not discover any horses’ footmark near where the child lay. The coroner and jury, together with the medical man, went to view the locus in quo and the deceased, and upon their return the former addressed a few remarks to them, suggesting that, although there was no positive evidence of the manner in which the child came by its death, there could be very little doubt, looking at the evidence which had been brought before them, that it had been caused by the turkey. A verdict to that effect was accordingly rendered. London Times. 8th. Constitution [Washington, DC] 28 October 1859: p. 2
I have my doubts about the previous verdict, but was surprised to find an account of a turkey killing a man:
The victim was Judge Samuel Spencer, of the first North Carolina Supreme Court. He was very old and infirm and had been placed in a chair under a tree in his yard.
“He died in 1794. His death was caused by a most singular circumstance. He had been in ill health, and was in the yard, sitting in the sun. A large turkey gobbler was attracted by some part of his clothing [his hat], which was red, for which color turkeys have a great antipathy.
“The turkey attacked the judge most furiously, and before assistance could rescue him, so severely was he injured that he died in a short time from the injuries.” [Another account says that the gobbler put a spur into the Judge’s temple, killing him.] The History of North Carolina, John Wheeler Moore
In addition to live killer turkeys, there were many reports of families poisoned by eating them. The reason was not always understood, although there were stories of ptomaine poisoning and of cattle dying of “lump jaw” being fed to the poultry, who then died of cholera and were served at table. This last story is an intriguing murder mystery.
POISONED TURKEY SENT TO KILL WHOLE FAMILY
San Francisco, Nov. 29. An attempt to poison the family of Adolph Ottinger, a retired railroad ticket broker, by means of a poisoned turkey sent to his home Thanksgiving, became known today, when the police admitted that they were searching for the would-be poisoner.
The turkey was left in the kitchen of the Ottinger residence during the temporary absence of the Chinese cook. Believing it was the gift of some friend, Ottinger ordered the cook to place it in the pantry until one already being prepared for the table was disposed of.
The following day it was noticed that the turkey had assumed a peculiar color, and becoming suspicious, Ottinger carried it to a chemist who found a large quantity of arsenic in the dressing. There is no clew to the identity of the person leaving the turkey nor to the motive for attempting the murder of an entire family. Los Angeles [CA] Herald 30 November 1909: p. 3
As a side note, Adolph Ottinger was much in the news, including three attempts to burn his mansion and murder Mrs Ottinger  and several arrests for various financial irregularities. A longer article on the poisoning said that the turkey was found on the sidewalk between the Ottinger residence and a police detective’s home by the Ottinger’s chauffeur and that the bird poisoned two grapefruits kept in the same icebox, sickening Mr and Mrs Ottinger.
I wish you non-aggressive and wholesome turkeys for the upcoming Thanksgiving. I will be crouching in the corner in a defensive posture.
The days are filled with the plague-rattle clamor of cicadas. Dying locusts buzz and smear underfoot on the sidewalk, raising visions of scorpion-tailed locusts swarming out of the Pit of the Book of Revelation. It is an evil season….
What with locust resentment, the Zika virus, dive-bombing stink-bugs, and the fact that I am a tick-magnet, I am not an admirer of the Insect Kingdom. Pocket your killing jars, or perhaps don your beekeeping coveralls and veils—today we’ll be pinning down some cases of Death by Insect.
Spider bites, bee-stings, and lethal centipedes may be taken as read, as may deaths from insect-vectored disease. I am more interested in what you might call the personal touch: deaths directly caused by insects with undeservedly benign reputations.
Flies, however, have long been regarded with suspicion in the medical community. One popular slogan stated, “Every fly is a messenger for the Angel of Death.” [Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times-Leader 24 April 1911]
The zoöphagic William Buckland is remembered for having eaten blue-bottle flies; he said that he found it difficult to decide which was the nastier dish: mole or fly. Buckland seems to have suffered no ill-effects, unlike the old woman of the whimsical rhyme, and these unfortunates:
Swallowed a Fly
St. Louis, Sept. 7. Eugene Dixon swallowed a fly Tuesday afternoon and died yesterday. He was playing in the kitchen and was laughing heartily at some incident which had happened when he swallowed the fly. About an hour afterwards he became so ill that it was necessary to call a physician. Notwithstanding the efforts of the medical attendant the child grew worse very rapidly and died in terrible agony. Worcester [MA] Daily Spy 8 September 1894: p. 3
Is there an explanation or did some juvenile illness coincide with the swallowed fly? Perhaps this story holds the answer:
FLY PAPER KILLS A MAN BY PROXY.
Daniel Miller, of Arcola, Swallows a Poisoned Insect and Dies.
Arcola, Ill., Sept. 21. The most singular case of poisoning that has ever occurred in this section happened last night. Dan Miller, aged 60, was eating supper, and accidentally swallowed a fly that had been on fly paper. Miller lived about three hours. Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 22 September 1895: p. 5
Arsenic, commonly found in fly papers might explain the child’s “terrible agony.”
The Daily Mail delights in gruesome stories about the immense and disgustingly mobile creatures infesting human ears, eyes, and noses. Such things might have occurred even more frequently in the past when window-screens were less common and children spent more time out of doors.
KILLED BY A BEETLE IN HIS EAR
Atlantic City, Dec. 1 After suffering for months from headaches and acute pains in the head, Somers Braddock, 9 years old, did at the home of his parents here. Doctors had treated him and had failed to locate an apparent cause for his illness. An autopsy was performed and a dead beetle was found in one of the boy’s ears. Lexington [KY] Herald 2 December 1907: p. 8
A labourer died on one of the flat boats on the Levee at New Orleans on the 8th, of a disease which baffled his physician. A post mortem examination took place, and upon examining his brain, it was discovered that an insect of about an inch long, known by the name of a centipede or a thousand legs, had crawled into his ear, causing thereby an excruciating death. Maine Cultivator and Hallowell Gazette [Hallowell, ME] 24 July 1841: p. 2
We must question whether this next dire and improbable story happened in this exact way or whether it has more in common with tales of reptiles said to inhabit the stomachs of unwary drinkers from springs.
CHILD KILLED BY A BEETLE
A correspondent writing from Ashley, pa., August 23, says: A post-mortem examination has just been held upon the body of a two years old child of Mr. Louis Schappert, a butcher residing in this place, which died a day or two since in great agony. It was taken suddenly and violently ill, and nothing could be administered that seemed to give any relief. Its body swelled to nearly twice its size, and it died vomiting blood. On the opening of the stomach of the child, the cause of the singular illness and death was discovered. In the coating of the stomach, with the huge horns firmly imbedded was an enormous stag beetle. The only explanation that could be given as to the manner of the insect getting into the stomach was that given by the child’s mother, who stated that the night the child was taken sick, and a few moments before the first symptoms, it had asked for a drink. The mother gave the child a drink from a cup containing water and sitting on a chair beside the bed. There is no doubt that one of these horned beetles had fallen into the cup while flying about the room, and the child drank it with the water. Eastern Argus [Portland, ME] 7 September 1871: p. 4
We’ve read before about Butterflies of Doom—black moths and winged insects as tokens of death. This multi-colored angel of death played a more direct and deadly role as a child was
LURED TO DEATH BY BUTTERFLY
Child Reached For It and Was Killed by Fall From Fire Escape.
New York, June 15. Mary Fletcher, 6 years old, fell from the third floor fire escape at No. 1813 Amsterdam Avenue, yesterday afternoon, and was killed.
The child had been permitted by her mother to play on the fire escape. A large butterfly alighted on the brick wall near the child, and she made an attempt to catch it. In her excitement she fell through the opening. New Haven [CT] Register 15 June 1899: p. 8
The U.S. Bureau of Entomology made a shocking revelation about the Brown-tail moth.
MOTH CAUSES TUBERCULOSIS
Brown-Tail Variety Has Already Killed a Government Agent
(Washington Dispatch to New York World)
The announcement that a New England woman is seriously ill from the “brown-tail moth rash” is causing alarm in states where the pest is spreading. The bureau of entomology is making constant war on the brown-tail moth, but it is on the increase.
“We lost one of our men from the effects of the rash caused by the hair of the caterpillar going into his lungs and pores,” said Dr. L.O. Howard, chief of the bureau.
C.L. Marlatt, assistant chief of the bureau, said:
“The brown-tail moth exercises a very deleterious effect on health. The hair which cover the caterpillars of this moth are strongly nettling and not only are they so from accidental contact with a caterpillar which may fall on clothes, face, neck or hands from an infested tree, but also from the myriads of hairs which are shed by these caterpillars when they transform to the chrysalis state.
“Breathed into the lungs, the hairs may cause inflammation and become productive of tuberculosis. Thousands have suffered from brown rash. All of the assistants who have been connected with the government work with these pests in the New England states have been seriously poisoned. Two of them had to give up their work and go to the southwest to try to recover from pulmonary troubles, super induced by the irritating hairs of the brown-tail moth. The death of one man on the work was due to severe internal poisoning contracted in field work against larvae.
“This insect is a most undesirable neighbour, even if it were not responsible for great injury to orchards and ornamental trees.”
The brown-tail moth was imported by a florist in Somerville, Mass., twenty years ago, probably on roses from Holland or France. Its presence was not discovered until 1897, when it had made much headway.
Dr. Howard believes the moth can be killed out if the people will fight it. Evening Times [Grand Forks ND] 23 November 1911: p. 4
The caterpillar of the moth does cause skin irritation and breathing difficulties, but we cannot blame it for tuberculosis.
On the other hand, I recently saw a headline about a motorcyclist being choked by an inhaled moth. (In a related note, a dense swarm of mayflies caused multiple motorcycles to crash and closed a bridge in Pennsylvania.) What are the odds of that happening?
BOY KILLED BY MOTH
Flies Into His Mouth, Lodges in Windpipe and Prevents Breathing
Owensboro, Ky., Oct. 18. Almost instant death from swallowing a candle moth was the fate that befell 10-year-old Jessie Moore, son of George Moore, of Whiteville, this county. The moth passed into the boy’s windpipe, and altho a physician was in the house at the time, he could do nothing to save the child’s life.
The boy and his father were sitting in front of a fire. The former had fallen asleep in his chair with his mouth slightly open. A large moth fluttering around a lamp on a table nearby suddenly flew into the boy’s open mouth. The father saw it and supposed that the boy would be awakened, but was alarmed when instead he became black in the face and was apparently thrown into convulsions. In an adjoining room with a smaller child of the Moore family was Dr. McDonald of Whitesville and he was quickly called into the room to see the boy, but the lad died in a few seconds. The moth had gone into the boy’s mouth and lodged squarely on top of the windpipe, completely shutting off his breath. Fort Worth [TX} Star-Telegram 18 October 1907: p. 11
I am not sure if this next item is just a fictional tale for the papers or whether night-moths are really such crack shots with a pistol. It sounds like an episode of House.
KILLED BY A MOTH.
Princess Caravella, a singularly lovable woman, had been entertaining a party of friends at dinner at the Caravella Palace in Naples, and, as she had promised, to attend a ball towards midnight, she went to her bedroom to lie down for a few minutes’ rest to refresh herself for the dance.
At 11 o’clock her maid entered the room to awake her, whereupon the Princess asked her to return a little later, and. twenty minutes afterwards, when she returned, the girl found her mistress still lying on her bed with scarcely a muscle of the face changed, but stone dead, with the mark of a tiny bullet in the region of the heart.
The maid’s shrieks quickly brought the Prince and the whole household to the room, and within ten minutes the judicial and police authorities arrived. It was clear that no stranger had fired the shot, since the bedroom was situated on the third floor, and no one had entered the gates of the palace between the hour of ten and midnight.
At length the Prince was arrested on a charge of having murdered his wife with the little pistol which lay by her side on the table, and one chamber of which was empty, colour being lent to the accusation by the fact that he was notoriously jealous.
His trial resulted in acquittal, partly in consequence of an extraordinary piece of testimony which was produced in court by one of the police officials. The testimony he related was this: A couple of days after the murder, on the removal of the seals from the door to the bedroom, he made a careful investigation of the apartment, and had found on the floor by the bedside one of those enormous night moths, the bodies of which are almost as thick as a man s thumb, and which abound in Italy. He declared that the moth’s wings were badly singed, as if it had flown against the candle that stood on the table by the bedside.
He produced the math in court, and then proceeded to point out to the judges that some of the powder on the insect’s wings was apparent on the black ebony and gold stock and trigger of the little revolver which had been found on the table with which the shooting had been done.
He then called the attention of the judges and the jury to the phenomenal facility with which the trigger yielded, and advanced the argument that the Princess had been killed by the night moth, which, he alleged, must have flown into the room, attracted by the candle-light, and falling with singed wings on to the table, had discharged the revolver in the violence of its contortions. Hastings Standard 18 July 1914: p. 1
These horrifying tales brought back childhood memories of reading about hapless South American villagers overwhelmed and eaten by army ants, leaving behind only skeletons.
Killed by Ants.
A broken-hearted mother, a peasant woman living near Schlang, Bohemia, is weeping over her discovery a few days ago refuting the popular belief that red and black ants, while a nuisance, are no menace to life or limb.
The woman, going out to labor in the fields after nursing her babe, laid the infant on the ground in the shade and went to work. After a while the child began to cry violently. The mother, thinking that it simply wished to be taken up, paid no attention to it.
The cries increased in violence at first, and then gradually died away, presently ceasing entirely. When the mother had finished her task and returned to her infant she at first thought it had been stolen. Her attention was attracted to a swarming heap of black ants, and on approaching was horrified to see one hand of the child sticking out of the mass of insects. The baby had ceased to breathe. Its eyes had been eaten out, and the insects, swarming into its throat, had literally choked it to death. Denver [CO] Rocky Mountain News 17 March 1902: p. 3
COUPLE KILLED BY ANTS
El Paso, Tex., Aug. 17. Jesus Gonzales and his wife, Maria, unknowingly camped on a nest of desert ants while crossing the country here and were so terribly bitten by the insects that they succumbed at the hospital later. Grand Forks [ND] Daily Herald 18 August 1908: p. 3
Reports of spider deaths almost always follow the same monotonous thread. Here are two of the more singular cases.
To demonstrate the potent character of molecular influence, I would refer you to an incident that occurred in San Francisco, Cal., where a lady, Mrs. Jervis, was bitten by a poisonous tarantula. She lingered for six months in continual agony, her blood literally drying up, till she was reduced to an absolute skeleton. Three months before her death her entire right side became paralyzed; yet, strange to say, the hand had a tendency to crawl, and the fingers incessantly moved like the legs of a spider. The encyclopaedia of death and life in the spirit-world, John Reynolds Francis p. 77-8
I’ve written before about people who died from accidentally swallowing spiders. This fellow apparently did not read the papers as he wantonly and deliberately ate three spider egg sacs.
A singular death, reported by a correspondent of the Louisville Courier-Journal occurred in Tishomingo County, Mississippi, a few days ago. Mr. Pennington, a stout healthy farmer, living about four miles from Iuka, had a slight chill last Sunday. The day before he was in excellent health. Monday morning he felt the approach of another chill and lay down on the bed. After lying awhile he remarked to a member of his family that he had heard it said that spider-webs “were good for chills,” and that he believed he would try the remedy, whereupon he rose from the bed and gathering from the wall or ceiling of the room a web in which were three “spider balls,” as they are called, swallowed them without more ado. Very soon his throat, lips and the whole of his face were greatly swollen by the action of the poison. Who has not seen hundreds of young spiders not so large as a pin-head, swarm from one of these balls when broken open? And who, but this ill-fated Mississippian would ever have thought of swallowing a spoonful of them as a remedy for the chills, or for anything else. Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 20 August 1870: p. 2
Potato bugs/beetles, while bad for the potatoes, do not usually bother people. Any explanations for this unusual case of insect toxicity?
At Piqua, Ohio, last week, Rev. W. L. Fee picked a quantity of potato bugs off his vines and placed them in a tin can; then pouring boiling water into the can, he stood over it to watch its Christian effect on the enemy, but soon became very ill and it was concluded the vapor had poisoned him. Cleveland [OH] Leader 2 June 1871: p. 3
I was surprised to find no human-roach fatalities. As a student I lived in a subterranean apartment infested with roaches the size of Medjool dates. They were an insolent, cowardly bunch, fleeing under the sofa at the flick of a light switch. I always feared they would swarm me in my sleep or perhaps burrow into my skull through the ear….
ROACH KILLED BIG COBRA
Monster Reptile Meets Death in a Most Unusual Way.
Rex, the king cobra at the Bronx Park, the largest reptile in captivity and the deadliest snake on earth, is dead.
He was murdered while he slept, in the most cowardly and atrocious manner—by a little black roach. The king of all snakes had suffered indignities for some weeks, and the ignoble way his earthly career was ended was the climax. Last Sunday a week ago Raymond L. Ditmars, the curator of reptiles at the Zoo, who had been noticing the irritability of Rex for more than a week, tempted him with a choice water snake, the prize dainty for a cobra. While Rex was swallowing this morsel he was held and a tumor cut from the left side of his jaw. If he had not been taken advantage of in this fashion he couldn’t have been overcome. He got well from the operation.
Rex ate only on Sundays, and this time of the year he slept most of the time between meals. Last Sunday he had a square meal and, snake-like, went to sleep. He did not stir after this meal.
Yesterday morning Keeper Charles Snyder, whose special pet Rex was, noticed that the snake was lying particularly still. When he poked him with a stick the snake didn’t move and Snyder investigated. Rex was dead. He hadn’t been sick and bore no marks of violence. This puzzled the keeper.
Dr. W. Reid Blair, the veterinarian, was called in to perform an autopsy. It was thought something the snake had eaten had disagreed with him, but the autopsy proved this theory unsound.
Upon further cutting up it was found that the cause of Rex’s death lay in his head. The head was cut open, and inside the brain was found a little black roach, still alive. This roach had bored into the cobra’s cranium. This is the first case of the kind on record. The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 30 January 1910: p. 6
Even though I have found no actual roach fatalities, there is this unsettling report, which suggests that the roaches were using the children as appetizers.
The following interesting letter from Mr. Herbert H. Smith, the collector and naturalist, gives a vivid picture of the roach nuisance in the tropics:
“Cockroaches are so common in Brazilian country houses that nobody pays any attention to them. They have an unpleasant way of getting into provision boxes, and they deface books, shoes, and sometimes clothing. Where wall paper is used they soon eat it off in unsightly patches, no doubt seeking the paste underneath. But at Corumba, on the upper Paraguay, I came across the cockroach in a new role. In the house where we were staying there were nearly a dozen children, and every one of them had their eyelashes more or less eaten off by cockroaches–a large brown species, one of the commonest kind throughout Brazil. The eyelashes were bitten off irregularly, in some cases quite close to the lid. Like most Brazilians, these children had very long, black eyelashes, and their appearance thus defaced was odd enough. The trouble was confined to children, I suppose because they are heavy sleepers and do not disturb the insects at work. My wife and I sometimes brushed cockroaches from our faces at night, but thought nothing more of the matter. The roaches also bite off bits of the toenails. Brazilians very properly encourage the large house spiders, because they tend to rid the house of other insect pests. The Louisiana Populist [Natchitoches, LA] 12 February 1897: p. 4
Bed-bugs are hardly benign insects, but they seem to have grossly exceeded their brief in this case:
Killed by Bedbugs.
A remarkable case of the death of a woman was reported recently from Franklin township, Beaver County, Pa. The death occurred while the woman was suffering with a violent attack of headache, to which she has been subject for nearly three years. For the past three years she has been living in an old house which was badly infested with bedbugs. Shortly after moving into it she began to be troubled with a strange type of headache, which seemed to increase in violence with each returning attack until at times she was rendered unconscious by the severe pains, which she often described as resembling a heavy weight or pressure on the top of her head. The strange nature of the case and his inability to render aroused the attending physician’s curiosity, and with the consent of the bereaved husband, he cut open the skull after the woman’s death. He found firmly lodged on the top of the brain in a clotted mass, a large number of bed-bugs. How they got there baffles all who have heard of the case. The doctor has placed his strange find in alcohol and has sent an account of the case to a medical school in New York. Patriot [Harrisburg, PA] 17 February 1888: p. 3
Naturally, I have to add the caveat that the sufferer, the physician, and the medical school are unnamed, in the time-honored manner of urban legend. And Harrisburg is a long way from Beaver County.
We began with flies, let us finish with maggots because while flies are the messengers of the angel of death, their maggots get you coming and going…. Maggots do have their place–in genuine corpses and possibly for cleaning out infected wounds. But they are a dreadful way to die.
EATEN BY MAGGOTS
PITIABLE CASE OF AN OLD MAN FROM BARBER COUNTY
A very pitiable case of an old man, friendless and unable to care for himself is at Dudley’s sanitarium on North Market street. About a week ago an old man drifted in here from Barber county. He stayed at a place on the corner of Harry and Hydraulic avenues and became very ill with diabetis [sic] and was unable to care for himself. He was removed to the city hospital and remained there two days. As he was absolutely penniless, the hospital could not afford to keep him and he was taken to the county jail. He was placed in a cell and made as comfortable as possible. As the man was helpless and unable to take care of himself, he was soon in a horrible condition. Yesterday a Mrs. Cox, who does much work among the poor classes, found him there and arranged to have him removed to the Dudley place. The men who moved him, had to protect themselves with handkerchiefs soaked in alcohol, while they washed and dressed him in clean clothing. It was found that he was practically being eaten alive by maggots. The sight was too horrible for some of the men to stand and they had to retire from the room. Many think that the city needs a hospital under police supervision where unfortunate cases like this can be cared for until arrangements can be made for a proper home for them. The Wichita [KS] Beacon 4 July 1899: p. 5
Many might think that a better class of pesticide was what was needed, to control the flies.
One might say that such things would not have happened to the gentleman above, if he had had someone to look after him. But maggots will find a way.
EATEN BY MAGGOTS Horrible Death of a Woman at Milwaukee.
Milwaukee, Wis., Aug. 13. Mrs. Anna Beatty, who lived with her family at Bay View, last evening, died a most horrible death. About two weeks ago a fly got into one of her nostrils, and it was some time before she was able to remove it, and when she did an itching sensation remained and her nose and throat began to swell. She became alarmed, and a week ago Sunday a physician was called. Since that time Mrs. Beatty had been suffering in a manner almost indescribable, and the doctors say a similar case is unknown to medical science. It is stated that soon after she was taken sick maggots were discovered in her nose and throat, and for several days Mrs. Beaty had been unable to swallow anything like food. Her death was the result of having been literally eaten up by maggots. She died in the greatest agony, and her affliction was a puzzle to the doctors. Upon examination of the body it was found that the partition of her nose was gone, a hole had been eaten through the roof of the mouth, the soft palate had disappeared, and the throat was frightfully eaten. St Paul [MN] Daily Globe 14 August 1890: p. 1
Other dire deaths by insect? “The worms crawl in; the worms crawl out…” chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Mike was buried on Tuesday afternoon. That is, the first interment occurred then. The second burial was late in the evening. News of Mike’s death was not published in any paper and no carriages followed the body to the grave, but there were many mourners and the grief was sincere.
Mike was buried in the animal burying ground on Convent Heights, opposite St. Nicholas avenue, near One Hundred and Thirty-first street, where already had been buried the bodies of two cats, three canary birds, one parrot and “Snoozer,” a fox terrier, all of them pets of their owners, as well as friends of the children who live “in the block.”
Mike was a tame white rat, who belonged to a family who live at the corner of One Hundred and Thirtieth street and St. Nicholas avenue. He was an enterprising rat. He lived, when at home, on the top floor, and daily he would go through the open windows to the wide ledge which runs the entire block, and passing through the open windows of the other flats make informal calls on the neighbors. It was quite a common occurrence when a family was at breakfast, or lunch or dinner, to see Mike suddenly appear on the table and help himself to a portion of whatever food appealed to him. Sometimes he would disappear with the food in his mouth as quickly as he came. At other times, he would sit up on his haunches and eat, holding the food in his paws as a squirrel holds a nut.
Sometimes his calls lasted for several hours, and at other times he would scamper through a flat, return in a few minutes to the parlor, jump into a chair, then to the window sill and ledge and continue on his route. The housewife found Mike in the most unexpected places; in beds, closets, clothes baskets and bureau drawers. One morning he called in for breakfast on a family and was allowed to help himself. When he had finished he curled himself up like a kitten on one corner of the table and went to sleep. He slept for an hour, the removal of the dishes and other noises not disturbing him.
Strange to say, Mike would not eat cheese, but he was fond of cocoa, milk, potatoes, corn, meat, and especially of lettuce and similar green stuff. He was often seen scurrying homeward along the ledge, carrying a choice morsel for future use. His owner estimated that Mike brought home on an average about a teacup full of forage daily.
Mike was not popular with all the persons on his list. It is rumoured that he was pushed from the ledge by an enemy. However that may be, one of the Rogers twins found him on the sidewalk on Tuesday afternoon badly hurt. Mike was at once taken to his home, where he died in a few minutes. The body was put in a fancy, gold-embossed candy box, lined with blue silk. A white ribbon was tied around the box.
Burial arrangements were then made. The owner led the procession ,carrying a spade. The Rogers twins came next, and then followed the single file Jay, Georgie, Balance, Teddie, John, Vinnie, “Sluts”—which is short for Slattery—“Fatty” and his sister Grace, Ethel, Margaret Reade, and a dozen others.
Great care was taken to prevent the “Eight avenues,” as the juvenile residents of that avenue are known, from learning of the event, and making trouble. After mike had been properly interred a big cannon cracker was fired as a salute and the procession retraced its steps. Later it has rumoured that the “Eight avenues” had learned of the burial and were about to steal the body. The procession was quickly reformed and marched to the grave. The body of Mike was disinterred and reburied in another spot.