Gloomy Coffin-Makers Go on Strike to Recover their Cheerfulness: 1903

The Coffin Maker Has a Just Kick.

Because the employees of two of the largest coffin factories in New York feel that they have the same right to laugh and be merry, in spite of their daily toil, that is given to the majority of mankind, they are out on strike. A thousand workmen have laid aside their tools and say they will not take them up again unless they are assured of a nine and one half-hour workday and a three-hour day on Saturday. They have been toiling among the coffins for ten hours six days a week. The more sensitive of the workmen complain that it makes them gloomy and melancholy to fashion tenements for the dead ten hours a day and right up to quitting time on Saturday. The somber associations of the coffin factory, they assert, are not easily got rid of, with the result that they do no recover their cheerfulness and attain a frame of mind to enjoy their leisure until late on Sunday, which curtails their pleasure and renders them undesirable associates for their friends. “A fellow can’t help thinking of his own end when he is hammering these dead boxes together, a striker is quoted as saying. “You get in the habit of wondering who is going to occupy the coffin and often you have a notion that it will be yourself. We’re not a gloomy lot naturally; all we want is an opportunity to be cheerful out of business hours.” The striking coffin makers will have the profound sympathy of professional joke writers, usually the most solemn and serious-minded of men. The right of the coffin maker to appreciate and enjoy the humor of the comic supplements in the Sunday newspapers is a sacred one, and if his hours of toll paralyze his power of laughter he has a perfect right to strike or choose another occupation, say undertaking. It is not, however, the usual thing for men to take seriously the duties with which they are most familiar. Only a short time ago an undertaker in a nearby city gathered up and put together the horribly mangled remains of a man who had been dashed to death by a fall over a cliff 500 feet high. While he worked he whistled, “There’ll be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.” And the majority of those, who day after day are thrown in contact with death and suggestions of the dark and narrow house speedily lose the innate sense of fear and awe that controls those who seldom contemplate the common end of man.

Salt Lake [UT] Telegram 25 June 1903: p. 4

Mrs. Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Readers with an curiosity about matters mortuary may find the following post on the girl shroud-makers of New York to be of interest. The young ladies, who seem a cheerful lot, mention the coffin department and how quickly they became used to working with these reminders of mortality. The article was followed by a discussion of shrouded spectres: shrouded ghosts and superstitions about the habiliments of death. You will also shudder at a recent post on phantom coffin makers as an omen of death.

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.

Other stories of funerary workers appear in The Victorian Book of the Dead, which can be purchased at Amazon and other online retailers. (Or ask your local bookstore or library to order it.) It is also available in a Kindle edition.

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

Funeral Drill: 1912

FUNERAL DRILL.

Two stories are told quite seriously by a contributor to London ‘Truth, which it is difficult to accept at face value. The first relates a system of funeral drill to which a wife in the shires declares she has been subjected. She writes:

“Sir,—Some months ago I married ___, who is a well-known but eccentric man. After the honeymoon we retired to his estate, when began the annoyance of which I complain.

Every Wednesday a hearse and several mourning coaches are driven up to the front door, and mutes carry down from my husband’s bedroom a coffin which is supposed to contain his remains!

Draped in widow’s weeds, and accompanied by several of the servants, I have to follow this, my husband marshalling the procession, and directing the proceedings generally!

‘Be careful; do not ram the rails,’

‘Bend your head more reverently, dear,’

‘Slower, please,’

‘Keep your distances; it looks so slip-shod.’

The coffin is raised into the hearse, and I and several of the householders occupy the coaches, whilst the gardeners and others follow on foot, my husband drilling us until the funeral service is completed, even to the lowering of the coffin into the grave!

I can scarcely hope that this letter will not be intercepted, but should it reach you, will you publish it, that your readers may know to what length a man will go in indulging his peculiarities?”

Mataura [NZ] Ensign, 26 February 1912: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: That gentleman’s eccentricities were not as singular as one might think. The Divine Sarah was celebrated for allegedly sleeping in her coffin, or, at the very least, posing for photographs in it:

Sarah Bernhardt posing in her coffin.

A certain lady who is not over-religious, in the usual acceptation of the term—Madame Sarah Bernhardt—has her whole life toned and seasoned and solemnised by the presence of the grim, even if dainty, case in which her mortal remains are to be interred. She has got a new coffin to replace the old one, which some time ago, along with her other personal effects, was seized by her relentless creditors. The present coffin is daintily lined with blue silk, and at the head has a soft little pillow trimmed with Valenciennes lace. It is Sarah’s grim humour to sleep in her coffin sometimes; and, to be quite consistent, she dresses herself in something not unlike a shroud. But usance dulls the edge of appetite, and this funeral fad of the Divine Sarah has a tendency to make the coffin a joke and the grave a jest.

Roses and Rue: Being Random Notes and Sketches, William Stewart Ross, London: W. Stewart & Company, 1890: p. 168

Returning to Mr Funeral Drill’s eccentricities, “peculiarities” is perhaps the kindest euphemism for such tastes. The lady’s statement about the note being intercepted suggests alarming and sinister possibilities. If this were a Gothic Novel written by a lady with three names, our heroine would be a great heiress, wooed in a whirlwind courtship and married before she could discover her husband’s morbid fancies. Then, one day, the funeral drill would go on without her and the coffin would be buried, the lady’s absence explained by an indisposition which would shortly lead to a permanent residence in the South of France for her health, despite no one seeing her en route. Her tragically early death in France would be announced and shortly thereafter Mr Funeral Drill would remarry….

Mrs Daffodil suggests that after the first few repetitions of this macabre ritual, the lady should have taken steps to ensure that the next funeral was no drill, but the genuine article.

For more on Victorian funerals and mourning, please consult The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard, also available in a Kindle edition.

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.

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

The Irish at the Gates of Death: 1917

Irish bog oak mourning brooch, c. 1860, Victoria & Albert Museum

THE IRISH AT THE GATES OF DEATH

In Ireland the living are dominated by the dead to an extent unknown probably in other countries. It is a willing servitude, based upon two powerful sentiments—the constancy of Irish family affection, and their Catholic solicitude for the eternal welfare of those they love whose mortal existence has been brought to an end. Death, as the extinction of-life, as a farewell for ever to the warm^ precincts of the cheerful day, is not regarded as a matter of very great importance. No race faces death, whether on the battlefield or anywhere else, with more unconcern than the Irish, or, when lying on the bed of sickness, accepts with more resignation the doctor’s pronouncement that there is no hope. They can pass into the eternal silence with a joke on their lips. I have heard a story of a dying Irishman who, when asked by the priest, in the course of the administration of the last religious rites, whether he was prepared to renounce the devil and all his works, exclaimed, “Oh, don’t ask me to do that, your reverence. I am going to a strange country and I don’t want to make myself enemies.”

If there is any concern in the mind of the dying, it arises from some uncertainty as to what may happen in that strange country, the other world. This feeling finds expression in the quaintest and most wayward fancies. Canon Sheehan, the author of Luke Deimage, and other novels of Irish life, who was a parish priest in county Cork, relates that an old farmer after receiving the last sacrament of extreme unction said to the priest: “I want you to say a word to rise me heart for me long journey, your reverence. Will the Man above have anything agin me in His books?” This dread simile was prompted by sad experiences of the land agent’s office, arrears of rent and the fear of being thrown out of house and home. “I’m sure,” replied the priest, “Almighty God has pardoned you. You have made a good confession, and your life has been a holy and a pure one.” “And did your reverence give me a clear resate?” asked the old farmer. Here was the land agent’s office again.  “I’ve given you absolution, my poor man,” said the priest. The dying man was satisfied. Thanks, your reverence,” were his last words. Another story I have been told shows the droll forms which the same thought assumes in the minds of relations. A farmer who was dying had occasional fits of coma, or profound torpor. The doctor advised the wife, when one of those attacks came on, just to moisten the lips of the patient with a little brandy. “Doctor, dear,” cried the poor wife, with reproach in her voice, “is it to go into the presence of his Maker with the smell of spirits in his breath you’d be havin’ him?”

It is to the family that the visitation of death brings terrors and obligations. At first it has a crushing and stupefying _ effect by reason of the void it makes in the domestic circle, and, afterwards, it entails a lasting devotion to the memory of the loved one who has passed away. So long as a member of the family lives, the dead, in a sense, never dies in Ireland. They survive in the prayers that are said for them, morning and night, in the Mass on each anniversary of their death, in the weeping and wailing over their graves, years upon years after they have been laid to rest. You rarely if ever hear among the peasantry the expression “dead and gone.” Death is simply a passage from one life to another. What you do hear is, “She’s in Heaven,” “God sent for her,” or “He’s with God,” telling of the life of the dead hereafter, of their eternal companionship with angels and saints.

The custom of “waking” the dead, with the drinking, smoking, and conversation of the large company of neighbours who assemble in the house of mourning, appears incongruous and repulsive to those who are unacquainted with its remote origin or the kindly and humane motives which underlie it. The wake is a very old institution. It existed among the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. Shakespeare and Scott give instances of medieval revels in honour of the dead. The custom survives in a different form, but with somewhat identical motives, among the Irish, almost alone of the ancient peoples.

“Waking” means, for one thing, “watching.” The English way of leaving the corpse shut up in a room, all alone, would be most repellent to the Irish nature. It would be regarded as a desertion of the dead. The Irish keep close company with their dead until the very last moment of the burial. The body is clothed in a shroud, made in imitation of the habits worn by certain Orders of Friars, and in the hands, crossed reverently on the breast, is placed a crucifix. The walls near the bed are hung with clean white sheets on which are pinned bunches of flowers, laurel leaves and holy pictures. Lighted candles, seven in number, are placed on a table. They are symbolical of hopes and aspirations relating to the dead. That he or she has been cleansed of the seven deadly sins—pride, covetousness, lust, gluttony, anger, envy, and sloth ; that he or she possessed the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost—wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, and the seven principal virtues—faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and that the relatives joined their sorrow with the seven dolours of Our Blessed Lady—the prophecy of Simeon that a sword of sorrow should pierce her soul; the flight into- Egypt; the loss of Jesus in the Temple ; meeting Jesus with His Cross ; the standing beneath His Cross; the receiving the Body of Jesus; and the burial of Jesus. The room is frequently sprinkled with holy water to banish any evil spirits that may be hovering round. All this is in part a survival of the public lying-in-state of the bodies of great personages, a ceremonial that, once rather common in Ireland, is now reserved for ecclesiastical dignitaries and national heroes.

The Irish people are at all times addicted to companionship, to association with their fellows, and the desire for it is strongest perhaps when death has visited them nearly. We know that we are mortal and ephemeral; that nothing is more certain than that death will come. Every day almost we are reminded that death is the common fate of all in reading our newspapers and meeting with funerals in the streets. Yet there is always an element of the terrible and incomprehensible in the sight of one that is near and dear to us, one, as we know from long experience, capable of the most loving thoughts and deeds in our regard, lying there inert, deaf to familiar voices, unconscious for ever of the joys and tenderness of domestic life. A chill runs down one’s spine, as though the icy coldness of death emanated from the remains and penetrated subtly into one’s frame, and we seek for consolation and support in the sociability of the living. And the neighbours, ever quick in showing sympathy, crowd in to ease the sting of death, to cheer up the spirits of the bereaved, to distract them for a while from the crushing thought of their irreparable loss.

First entering the room where1 the corpse lies the visitors kneel and say a prayer for the eternal salvation of the departed soul. Afterwards in the kitchen, snuff, pipes and tobacco, whisky and stout are served to the company. The dead person is in his house for the last time, and, as host for the last time, dispenses hospitality. What he would do, but can do no longer, those who love him best do for him. Memories of his kindliness and good nature are revived by the neighbours. “’Tis he that had the bright smile and cheery word whenever you met him, and no matter what you might want of him, sure you had only to say the word to get it with a heart and a half.” Stories are told by the elders, and politics discussed; forfeits may be played by the young of both sexes, or, more likely, riddles given for solution. But the Irish are most reverent in the presence of sorrow and nothing unseemly is permitted in these efforts to give relief to the relatives from cares that weigh heavily on their spirits. Manifestations of grief are not entirely suppressed, but they are confined to the chamber of death. In some parts of Ireland it is believed that the soul of the dead person is detained on earth by tears and lamentations, and that not until the sorrow of the relations is appeased can it turn contentedly to face the eternal judgment. To a young widow who was sobbing by the death-bed of her husband, I heard the remonstrance addressed—”Don’t be crying that way, asthore; or you’ll keep him from his rest.”

Here and there throughout the country where waking has been abused by excessive indulgence in drink, the authorities of the Catholic Church have tried to abolish it altogether. It is therefore not so common as it used to be, especially in the towns and the larger villages. Religious services have been substituted for the ancient observances. The body is removed from the house to the parish church, where it remains for the night in its coffin resting on a bier near to the high Altar ; and in the morning the Mass for the Dead is said before its removal for interment. There could hardly be a more notable example of the influence of the Church. The Irish are slow to adopt new ideas. They are among the most conservative people in the world in their adhesion to traditional habits and customs. Especially do they resent any innovation which touches their dead. It is their deep and reverential respect for the Church, rather than their instinct as to what is right and proper, that induces them to part from their dead for a night. They bow their heads in submission, but so heavy lies the immemorial past upon them that in their hearts they doubt whether in doing so they are quite loyal to their dead.

In the case of the keen (Gaelic caoine) or funeral lamentation— one of the eeriest death chants to be heard from the crushed heart of sorrowing humanity—the Irish also adhere to a custom held sacred by their remotest ancestors. It has come down to us from the Pagan era. Walker, in his Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, says the object originally was to propitiate the gods by proclaiming the genealogy, rank, possessions and virtues of the dead person. Spirits whose requiem was not thus sung were liable to be condemned eternally to a state of unrest. Geraldus Cambrensis, the Welsh writer who visited Ireland in the twelfth century, describes this funeral song or wail as it was practised in Christian times. Its purpose then was to sound the praises of the dead without regard to any supernatural or religious motive. The keeners, in the course of their chanting, put a number of questions, as if with a view to discovering why it was the person lamented had died. If a man, whether his wife was faithful to him, his sons dutiful, or good hunters or warriors? If a woman, whether her daughters were fair or chaste? If a young man, whether he had been crossed in love, or if the blue-eyed maidens had treated him with scorn? The keen of the twentieth century differs very little in form or spirit from the keen of the twelfth century. The cries of lamentation usually take the form of questions which are asked in a half-singing, half-reciting and sobbing voice. “Mo cushla machree (pulse of my heart), why did you die from me? Wasn’t it you that was the best of husbands and fathers, giving joy to all that knew you, and wouldn’t those that love you go through fire and water to save a hair of your head from being hurt?” The piercing wail of a mother for a favourite son is most heartrending to hear.

“Ah, Michael, me ville astore (my ten thousand treasures), sure your like was not to be found on all the broad acres of Ireland, and your death has cast a shadow on the country that no sun will ever disperse.” In towns the keen is cried in the room where the corpse is being waked before the start of the funeral. In rural districts, where the journey to the graveyard is often long, the keen breaks out at intervals, and then the whole countryside rings with the weirdest lamentation.

To have “a grand buryin’ with all the neighbours at it” is the last thing the Irish peasant desires of this world. A farmer who married a penniless girl was asked why he made so poor a match. “My wife,” he answered, “has thirty brothers, uncles and cousins, and if I was to die to-morrow her faction could give me as long a funeral as the King of England.” It is an object of solicitude long before the end is felt approaching. During a visit to the remote parts of Donegal I was told so great was the difficulty of getting a coffin made that many people gave the only carpenter in the district sheaves of oats or a sack of potatoes annually by way of a retaining fee for this service when they died. I remember a curious case that came for decision before a bench of magistrates in my native city of Limerick. An undertaker was asked by an old maid to make her coffin, and his proposal “to complete the job” for £4 was thought by her to be reasonable enough. When the coffin was finished the undertaker brought it to the woman’s house and received £2 as part payment; but being unable to obtain the balance he was reluctantly obliged to summon her. The defence set up by the woman was that the undertaker was not only to supply the coffin, but bury her respectable for the £4, and as he had not yet fulfilled the latter part of the agreement she submitted that he was not entitled to be paid the remaining £2. The case, which caused much laughter in court, was dismissed. Then the old maid turned to the undertaker and said, “As soon as you perform your part of the contract, I’ll not be behindhand in completing mine.” Wandering beggars, lone creatures who have no one belonging to them, who tramp the countryside for a living, carrying all their worldly goods on their back, are known to stint themselves of food in order to add an odd penny or sixpence, now and then, to the sum of money, kept in a secret hiding-place in their clothing, and intended to pay the expenses of the burial. An old fellow of this class who, feeling ill, sought refuge in a workhouse and died there, had a piece of paper, with his little hoard—the slow accumulations of many a hard year—on which he had written: This is to bury me. Bury me decent, or I’ll haunt you.” Thus all through life he was providing against what he would have thought the last misfortune and final disgrace—a pauper’s coffin, and a grave in the “yellow hole,” as the workhouse pit is called. Some years ago it was the custom of the poorer classes, when they were unable to afford a coffin, to make the corpse beg for it. The body was laid on a board outside the door on a Sunday with a plate to receive the coppers of the people on their way to Mass. Sometimes imposture was practised. On one occasion a woman placed a sixpence on the plate and began to take up five pennies.

“Arrah, ma’am,”: cried the supposed corpse, “be generous wance in yer life and don’t mind the change.”

Ireland is noted for its big funerals. The whole parish, and sometimes the countryside, turns out to pay the last tribute of respect. It is the rule also in rural districts for strangers who meet with a funeral to turn back and accompany it for some distance at least. “Who is it that’s dead?” they will ask, and when they are told they will add, “Well, well, may the journey thrive with him,” “God rest his soul,” or “Wisha, God be with him, whoever he is.” Burials are so well attended that they have come to convey the idea of the largest possible numbers. A man out for a day’s shooting asked a lad whether he had seen any rabbits on his way.  “Yes, sir, whole funerals of them,” was the reply. Comedy often follows closely on the heels of tragedy in all circumstances of life and death in Ireland. At any rate family pride in a large funeral softens bereavement. Condolences take that form on the way to the grave. “If your father could only sit up in his coffin, and see the grand funeral he’s havin’, wouldn’t he be mightily pleased?” “Well, oughtn’t you to be consoled and made proud by so fine a funeral?”

Vanity and ostentation are very prevalent in Ireland, and most so, perhaps, among the poorer classes. It is a point of honour to have a fine funeral. But a funeral is fine by reason of the numbers of unhired cars and unhired mourners attending it. These manifestations of neighbourly sympathy and respect give to funerals in Ireland an unostentatious dignity. There is an entire absence, even in the cities, of that hired ornate ceremonial of the great hearse and horses with plumes, and mutes in tall hats and frock coats and wreaths of flowers, that make burials so extravagantly expensive to the poor in England.

Another reason why, apart from neighbourliness, funerals are so well attended is that they afford opportunities for revisiting family graves. When the coffin is committed to earth and the prayers are said, the mourners disperse through the graveyard, and soon from all quarters are heard the wildest bursts of grief. The rain may be falling pitilessly, and the graveyard engulfed in a dense humid atmosphere. But the wet and the mud are unnoticed, discomforts accepted as a matter of course. Moved by the overpowering impulse of their revived affection and sorrow for those that are no more, the mourners fling themselves prostrate on the ground, passionately kissing the mounds and flagstones, pressing closer and closer to get as near as possible to their long-buried but still darling dead, babbling almost incoherently expressions of the fondest love. Then they sit back on their haunches, and raise the keen, swaying their body to and fro, clapping their hands in time with the rhythm of their lamentations, and weeping the bitterest tears of affliction.

It is a scene in which Irish history, life and character are epitomized: the dust of saints, the ruined abbey, the broken cross; the crowded dead; hemlock, and deadly nightshade; weeping and wailing; the love that always endures; and, casting a tender light over it all, the hope of a glorious resurrection

The Occult Review January 1917: pp. 37-43

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.

Tales from the Presidential Crypts

 

Garfield monument
President James A. Garfield’s tomb, Lake View Cemetery, Cleveland, Ohio

President’s Day is Monday, so today let’s look at some dead presidents—particularly stories of a few strange incidents at presidential tombs. Some 19th-century newspapers wrote about presidential graves suffering from neglect or disrepair like the overgrown grave of Thomas Jefferson in 1873, where student vandals had chiselled and chipped all the letters off of the granite monument or the once-popular tomb of William Henry Harrison, which was described as looking like a shabby bread oven in the 1890s. The tomb had been built on a hill overlooked the Ohio River. Steamboat captains would sound a reverential whistle and notify their passengers so that they could bare their heads at the simple brick vault, but the bricks were crumbling into dust by the time Harrison’s grandson came to the Presidency.

There have also been cases of genuine desecration of presidential graves: the infamous attempt to steal the body of President Lincoln from his Springfield tomb, vandals uprooting a cross at the head of John F. Kennedy’s grave in January,1970 and more vandalism there in December of 1997. And this strange disturbance at President Reagan’s grave by a person whose hobby is apparently desecrating as many presidential graves as possible. Such things happened more often in the past than one might expect, starting with George Washington.

Relics of the Father of His Country were avidly collected. One disgruntled gardener tried to collect the skull of George Washington, but was foiled.  Below, a Washington biographer describes the old Washington tomb, which may still be seen today at Mount Vernon and also the condition of the General’s body.  Prior to this description, the author fumes at a sacrilegious daguerreotypist offering to take pictures of tourists with Washington’s original tomb, aggressively peddling his services to people getting off the excursion boats.

This vault and inclosure were erected many years ago, in pursuance of instructions given in the following clause of Washington’s will: “The family vault at Mount Vernon requiring repairs, and being improperly situated besides, I desire that a new one, of brick, and upon a larger scale, may be built at the foot of what is called the Vineyard Inclosure, on the ground which is marked out, in which my remains, and those of my deceased relatives (now in the old vault,) and such others of my family as may choose to be entombed there, may be deposited.”

The old vault referred to was upon the brow of a declivity, in full view of the river, about three hundred yards south of the mansion, on the left of the present pathway from the tomb to the summer-house on the edge of the lawn. It is now an utter ruin. The door-way is gone, and the cavity is partly filled with rubbish. Therein the remains of Washington lay undisturbed for thirty years, when an attempt was made by some Vandal to carry them away.  [1831]The insecure old vault was entered, and a skull and some bones were taken; but these comprised no part of the remains of the illustrious dead. The robber was detected, and the bones were recovered. The new vault was then immediately built, and all the family remains were placed in it. Mr. William Strickland, of Philadelphia, who designed the composition on the lid of Washington’s coffin, and accompanied Mr. Struthers when the remains of the patriot were placed in it, in 1837, has left a most interesting account of that event. On entering the vault they found everything in confusion. Decayed fragments of coffins were scattered about, and bones of various parts of the human body were seen promiscuously thrown together. The decayed wood was dripping with moisture. “The slimy snail glistened in the light of the door-opening. The brown centipede was disturbed by the admission of fresh air, and the mouldy case of the dead gave a pungent and unwholesome odor.” The coffins of Washington and his lady were in the deepest recess of the vault. They were of lead, inclosed in wooden cases. When the sarcophagus arrived, the coffin of the chief was brought forth. The vault was first entered by Mr. Strickland, accompanied by Major Lewis (the last survivor of the first executors of the will of Washington) and his son. When the decayed wooden case was removed, the leaden lid was perceived to be sunken and fractured. In the bottom of the wooden case was found the silver coffin-plate, in the form of a shield, which was placed upon the leaden coffin when Washington was first entombed. “At the request of Major Lewis,” says Mr. S., “the fractured part of the lid was turned over on the lower part, exposing to view a head and breast of large dimensions, which appeared, by the dim light of the candles, to have suffered but little from the effects of time. The eye-sockets were large and deep, and the breadth across the temples, together with the forehead, appeared of unusual size. There was no appearance of grave-clothes; the chest was broad, the color was dark, and had the appearance of dried flesh and skin adhering closely to the bones. We saw no hair, nor was there any offensive odor from the body; but we observed, when the coffin had been removed to the outside of the vault, the dripping down of a yellow liquid, which stained the marble of the sarcophagus. A hand was laid upon the head and instantly removed; the leaden lid was restored to its place ; the body, raised by six men, was carried and laid in the marble coffin, and the ponderous cover being put on and set in cement, it was sealed from our sight on Saturday the 7th day of October, 1837. . . . The relatives who were present, consisting of Major Lewis, Lorenzo Lewis, John Augustine Washington, George Washington, the Rev. Mr. Johnson and lady, and Mrs. Jane Washington, then retired to the mansion.” The Illustrated Life of Washington, Hon. J[oel] T[yler] Headley, 1860 

This narrator claimed to have been present at the removal of the Washington bodies to their new tomb.

William H. Burgess, who lives in Alexandria, Va., assisted, in 1836, in building Washington’s new tomb at Mount Vernon. He says: “I was a lad then, but I remember that in removing the bodies of George and Martha to their present tomb we decided to open the coffin. I looked in and saw General Washington’s face. The body was well preserved, and the features were intact. There was nothing to indicate the time he had been dead. A minute after exposure to the air there was a collapse, and nothing was recognizable. The face looked like his pictures.” Repository [Canton, OH] 8 June 1889: p. 2 

Several decades after the gardener’s attempt to get a head, there was another dire rumor about Washington’s skull. 

WASHINGTON’S HEAD SAFE

No Truth in the Tale of the Tomb Desecration

[From our Regular Correspondent]

Herald Bureau,

Corner Fifteenth and G Streets, N.W.,

Washington, Sept. 29, 1887.

The story that the head of Washington was stolen from Mount Vernon and carried to Paris by curiosity hunters is pronounced by Dr. G.M. Toner as an unqualified falsehood.

The remains of Washington were removed from the old and original coffin about fifty years ago and placed in the marble sarcophagus made for that purpose, which was not only to keep out the air but so constructed and fastened that it would be next to impossible for anybody to violate the sanctity of the seals without having uninterrupted access to them for many hours.

THE SKELETON INTACT IN THE TOMB.

When the remains were transferred from the old coffin to the marble receptacle many members of the Washington family were present, with persons of prominence, and they all certified to the fact that the skeleton was all intact. After the sarcophagus was put in its place the iron grated door was locked and the key thrown into the Potomac. The old lock is still in good preservation and has never been tampered with.

During the Rebellion the grounds at Mount Vernon were held sacred and the hand of the vandal was never known to have desecrated any part of the tomb or its surroundings.

WATCHING NIGHT AND DAY.

The last resting place of Washington has been vigilantly watched ever since the present tomb was erected. Though some distance from the mansion, every device known has been used for many years to alarm the superintendent of the grounds. Now electric wires communicate with the house, making it impossible for any one to even attempt to open the iron doors.

The story, therefore, that the skull of Washington was ever removed or even profaned by the touch of vandals, Dr. Toner says, is utterly without foundation. In 1849 the Washington heirs loaned to Mr. Clark Mills the original cast of Washington’s face, made during life by the celebrated sculptor Houdon. It was never returned, but in its place, a copy which Mr. Mills claimed was in better condition than the original, was sent to the Mount Vernon mansion. It subsequently passed into the possession of Mr. McDonald, the sculptor, and is supposed to be in his possession still. Speculation was rife for a time as to who had the original. It was not, however, stolen, and is probably still in New York. New York Herald 30 September 1887: p. 6 

Those pesky, overwrought headline composers were at it again in this article about an incident at the McKinley vault. There was an actual event, but no attempt to blow up the tomb. 

VANDALS AT CANTON

Guards at McKinley’s Tomb Attacked

WANTED TO BLOW IT UP

That is What is Generally Believed. Great Excitement.

Dastardly Plot at Canton

Attempt Was Made Last Night to Blow Up McKinley’s Tomb.

Canton, O., Sept. 30 A strange story comes from Westlawn cemetery, where a company of regulars from Fort Wayne, Mich., is guarding the vault in which the body of the late President McKinley lies. It is to the effect that the guard on duty on top of the vault last night fired a shot at one man who refused to heed his challenge; that the shot was diverted by another man, who appeared from another direction, and that an effort was made to stab the guard.

Private Deprend was on guard duty on top of the vault at a point commanding the entrance below and the approach from the rear. Shortly before 7:30 o’clock  he saw what he took to be the face of a man peering from behind a tree about forty feet from his post. He watched it for twenty minutes, he says, and at 7:45 o’clock saw the man hurry to a tree ten feet nearer. He challenged the man to halt, but this was not heeded, and the fellow approached nearer. Deprend levelled his gun and aimed to shoot for effect, but just at that instant, another man, who came toward him from the opposite side, caught the gun, threw it up, and the bullet spent in the air.

This same man struck Deprend on the right side of the abdomen with a knife or other sharp weapon, cutting an L-shaped gash in his overcoat an inch and a half long each way, and a smaller one in his blouse. The flesh was not broken, but was bruised under the cuts in the clothing. Deprend, in the struggle, fell and rolled down the side of the vault.

Lieut. Ashbridge, officer of the day, was in front of the vault and rushed to the top on hearing the shot, but the men made their escape. All members of the company, on hearing the shot, hurried to the vault, and, besides searching the cemetery, the guard was increased.

Deprend is said to be an excellent soldier, and to have a fine record with his officers. He says the man who attacked him was masked, but that the first one he saw was not masked. He saw the latter carried a white package in his right hand and something that glittered in his left.

Since the incident stories have been told in camp of some incendiary conversations overheard in the crowds that have visited the cemetery, including one today, alleging that some stranger said: “Lots of people would like to see this whole thing blown up.”

Canton, O., Sept. 30. Eight prisoners broke from the county jail here Sunday by sawing out the bars of a window opening from a court between the jail and court house. They had five minutes start when discovered. Bloodhounds were immediately put on the trail.

Canton, Sept. 30. The city is astir today over the assault on Guard Deprend at the vault in which McKinley’s body rests. Some advance the theory that one man who broke jail here last night made the attack in an effort to secure a rifle, with which to protect himself against pursuing officers. The belief is general, however, that the attack was part of a plot to blow up the tomb. Riverside [CA] Daily Press 30 September 1901: p. 1 

A later article quoted a sentinel who described three men who had spoken to him as he was guarding the tomb. “One asked how long sentinels in front of the vault gates were kept on duty. I told him half an hour at a time. He asked me if there were other guards. I told him several on the hill, over the vault and at other places. The second man said he did not see the use of all this fuss: that no one would try to do any harm now.

“The third man said he was mistaken; that there were lots of people who would like to see the whole thing blown up.

“No, I had no suspicion that any of these men would have any interest in or would sympathize with any act of violence. I think they were speaking of the disposition of other classes who might be prompted to such acts.” Morning Herald Lexington KY] 1 October 1901: p. 1, 8.  

One can see how this might have been twisted by an overzealous journalist into an actual attack on the monument, but the men’s remarks might equally seem suspicious: like reconnaissance for some dastardly mission. 

Other papers sneered at the event as the product of a nervous guard’s brain.

The marauder scare at Canton, as nearly as we can make out, was not caused by beings in the flesh, but by spirits which are supposed to haunt cemeteries. It is not likely that there will be any further difficulty with such uncanny presences, if the officer in command of the detail will carefully exclude spirits from the camp. The Evening Times [Washington, DC] 1 October 1901: p. 4 

In fact, “Particular inquiry was made as to Deprend’s sobriety. The time, it is said, established beyond all reasonable doubt that he had not been drinking….The most common belief is that the sentinel was over-wrought by the loneliness of his position; that his nerves were taxed, and that imagination contributed to some of the details related in good faith. The post is regarded as particularly isolated and depressing to a man guarding it at night.” Morning Herald [Lexington, KY] 1 October 1901: p. 1, 8. 

There was definitely something to the notion of the job being particularly depressing. [See this post on Tombstone Madness.] Here is the story of a soldier who apparently had a breakdown while guarding the Cleveland grave of President Garfield. This was before the immense tomb we see today was finished. I have not found others, so the journalist may have exaggerated.

A Soldier Becomes insane While Guarding Garfield’s Tomb.

Cleveland Dispatch to Philadelphia Press.

Joseph Kashinsky, a private in Company H, Tenth U.S. Infantry, on duty at Garfield’s grave, in Lake View Cemetery, has become insane, and has been taken to Detroit for cure. The peculiar form of insanity is melancholia, and a peculiar state of affairs came to light when the case was looked up. The men on the guard dread their duty, and several cases are reported of men committing offenses for the purpose of getting punished.

Anything or any device is used to get away from the ghostly array of mounds and tombs. This is said to have driven Kashinsky insane and his incoherent language and actions carry out the impression. One man, a veteran, said: “I dread the duty, although I am not afraid of it and do not complain, but on the younger the strain is intense. Many tricks are resorted to to escape the night watches.” Kashinsky is a young Pole, but ten months a soldier, twenty-one years of age, and until this trouble came a light-hearted, healthy young man. Cincinnati [OH] Commercial Tribune, 2 April 1883: p. 2   

Some newspapers attributed the young man’s insanity to the “Curse of Guiteau” (another post, another time), a malign hoodoo widely reported to have killed and driven dozens of people insane. 

There had been an attempt to snatch Garfield’s body before it was placed in the temporary tomb in Lake View Cemetery so guards were felt to be necessary. “The guards are almost essential to protect the tomb from the relic fiends as from the ghouls. The guards assert that were it not for their presence, and the wire screen or fence, which completely surround te tomb, that the crowds that visit it would chip off, break up and carry away vault, casket and all as relics. As it is they break twigs from adjacent trees, reach through the wires and pluck blades of grass, pick up pebbles or anything else they can seize upon.”  New Ulm [MN] Weekly Review 14 February 1883: p. 1 

The Garfield tomb was a popular tourist attraction. In 1882 there were complaints of littering, theft, vandalism, and harassment of bereaved visitors  by the “picnic masher element.”  Lake View Cemetery decided to close its doors to the public on Sundays, except for “proper persons” who could apply for a ticket of admission. [Source: Cleveland [OH] Leader 22 August 1882.] 

There was much resentment expressed in some newspapers about the expense and the “farce” of keeping up a guard of soldiers at Garfield’s grave and eventually the guard was withdrawn July 1, 1886. With this event, as well as the finishing of Garfield’s permanent tomb, a story emerged about some genuine bodysnatching: 

When Secretary Endicott ordered the guard removed from Garfield’s tomb the family and friends of the dead President were alarmed. Detectives informed them that an organized band of body snatchers had plotted to desecrate the sepulchre. It was finally decided to remove the remains to an obscure vault in another corner of the cemetery. This was accomplished in darkness by a party of four chosen friends. Pittsburg [PA] Dispatch 19 February 1890: p. 1 

The article goes on to describe how four prominent Cleveland business men, friends of the Garfield family, got a key to the holding vault, got Garfield’s immensely heavy coffin out of its sarcophagus, and carried it in complete darkness to an obscure vault in a little-visited section of the cemetery. Then they resealed the sarcophagus, locked the door, and went home, sworn to secrecy. Apparently one of the men hurt himself so badly in carrying the heavy coffin that he never really recovered. The article goes on to describe how people paid their respects at an empty sarcophagus, little knowing of the “necessary deception.”   

Today Garfield’s massive monument at Lake View Cemetery is said to be haunted by mysterious lights and perhaps the apparition of the man  himself. 

Our last case concerns some truly odd events at the holding vault where the body of President Warren G. Harding and his wife were kept until the Harding Monument could be built.  

Harding’s Tomb Guards Are Annoyed

Marion, O. Jan. 3. Lieutenant R.H. Harriman, commander of the guard detachment stationed in Marion cemetery to guard the vault in which reposes the body of the late President Harding, supplement a previous order, today issued instructions to the twenty-six men in his command to make every effort to capture a marauder, who, since the formation of the guard detachment, has continually annoyed the perpetual guard of six men. Gruesome disturbances including bugle blowing at midnight, ghostly noises by prowlers and throwing of stones in the direction of the vault make up the offense with which the individual or individuals will be charged if captured.

  Several time soldiers have caught glimpses of a man and on several occasions have shot at him. Early one morning a guardsman chased a man for over half a mile.

  It is believed by Lieutenant Harriman that the continual disturbances represent an attempt to frighten the men and to break the morale of the detachment. It is also thought that possibly people came to the cemetery to rob the graves of flowers. Elyria [OH] Chronicle Telegraph 3 January 1924: p. 8 

An Associated Press story added that “at first it was thought it was small boys, but when the disturbances kept up, the guard took it more seriously.” So seriously, that Lieut. R.H. Harriman, the commander of the tomb guards, ordered his men to shoot directly at anyone causing a disturbance. The article said also “Riot guns have been sent from Fort Hayes, at Columbus headquarters for the guard detachment here, and these loaded with buckshot will be used if the disturbances continue.”  

It seems unlikely that flower thieves or pranksters would be flitting about the cemetery, risking being shot. The stone throwing and ghostly noises almost suggest poltergeist manifestations.  

It’s a curious thing that the stories about Garfield, McKinley and Harding all refer to events at holding vaults, rather than their finished tombs. Is there something about corpses in transit or bodies not yet laid to rest that encourages graveyard intruders? 

Any other stories of presidential tomb disturbances? Signal by dark lantern to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

You’ll other tales of disturbed graves in The Victorian Book of the Dead, also found on Amazon and other retailers in paperback and for Kindle.

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.

 

Tickled to Death over her Christmas Gift: 1897

M.H. Rice Monumental Works, Kansas City, Missouri, 1898

ORIGINAL AND UNIQUE

He was a genial-looking, bald-headed man of 59, but when he heard us talking about Christmas gifts he sobered up a little and said:

“I am also going to take advantage of the occasion to make a gift. Ah! poor Mary!”

“What’s the matter with Mary?” asked one of the drummers.

“Mary was my wife, sir. She has been dead these five years.”

“Oh! that’s it? Please excuse me. I thought perhaps you were speaking of a sick or crippled child.”

“You are excused. Yes, Mary was my first wife, and she was a treasure. She will not know that I am making her a Christmas present, but I shall do it as a matter of duty and love. It is in the baggage car ahead.”

“Isn’t that rather queer to make a Christmas gift to a dead person?” asked the drummer after a silence lasting a minute or two.

“I think it is,” was the reply, “but it must serve to show that I treasure her memory. It cost $25, and stands four feet high. I do not think I could have got a more suitable gift. If she could speak I know that she would express her great satisfaction.”

“Might I ask the nature of the gift?” was the cautious query.

“Oh! certainly. It is a fine Italian marble headstone to mark Mary’s grave. I hope to have it set up on Christmas eve.”

“You–you have waited five years to get that headstone?”

“Yes, sir. I have been busy getting married twice again and burying a second wife, and have Just get around to it. Next Christmas I shall present the other one with a similar Santa Claus gift. I think the idea original and unique, don’t you?”

“No, sir!” stiffly replied the drummer, as he rose up.

“What’s the matter?”

“I am, going out for a smoke, and I had as soon tell you that I think you are a blamed mean man! I suppose you’ll buy your third wife a coffin for a Christmas gift won’t you?”

“No, of course not. No, sir, I wouldn’t do such a thing as that. I’ve already selected her gift”

“And may I ask what it is?” sneered the drummer as he moved away.

“You may, sir–you may. I have bought a lot in the cemetery and had the deed made out in her name, and she’ll be tickled half to death over it!”

Los Angeles [CA] Times 19 December 1897: p. 41

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

No Funeral Balks and Blunders When You Have A. N. Johnson: 1917

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

Our Horse

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.

Ambulance Service

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—

Conducting Funerals.

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.

Embalming

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.

PRICES

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.

Nashville [TN] Globe 21 December, 1917: p. 3

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

The Undertaker’s Revenge

The Lowry Mausoleum, Ironton, Ohio

Today’s guest-narrator tells the bizarre and gruesome story of an undertaker’s revenge.

The story began innocently enough in Ironton, Ohio in 1933, when Dr. Joseph Lowry was found dead in his bed. He was thought to have had a stroke and was laid to rest next to his late wife in his $40,000 mausoleum in Woodland Cemetery. His estate amounted to around $300,000.

Official suspicions were first aroused when a key to a safe deposit box was found in the Lowry house, but the box could not be located. It was whispered that several of Lowry’s strong boxes had been emptied by his sister Alice Barger and nephew Clark, who were said to have borrowed money from Lowry in the past. An autopsy was ordered, but on the exhumation morning when the authorities needed a key to the mausoleum, the Bargers were nowhere to be found. Eventually the authorities burned a hole through the heavy metal doors with a welding torch.

Dr. Lowry’s body was autopsied at a local funeral home. There was no sign of a stroke. In addition to previously unnoticed marks of asphyxiation, a surprise awaited. …

But Mrs Daffodil will let the author tell the story in her own discursive way:

Many years ago I ran across a story called “The Coffin with the Plate Glass Front or The Undertaker’s Revenge” by Jean Dolan, which was part of the Ohio Valley Folk Research Project, a collection of locally-collected folk-tales. Part of the story concerned a doctor disemboweled by an undertaker, which, as I am a lover of the grim and gruesome, I filed away for future reference, assuming it was just a folktale.

Then, as I was writing Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio, I spoke with a genealogy librarian from Briggs-Lawrence County Public Library in Ironton, Ohio. She told me about some of the hauntings at the library and mentioned something about a disemboweled doctor who had formerly lived on the site.

Alarm bells went off. I had assumed the story was just a story, but the librarian graciously sent me newspaper clippings about the sensational story to prove that it wasn’t a fake.

Was he murdered? Why were his insides removed? Here we enter into the realm of conjecture. What follows is entirely speculative, based on local hearsay, gossip, and innuendo, sometimes a more reliable source of truth than the most carefully sworn testimony:

The story goes that when Dr. Lowry’s wife Sarah died in 1931, he ordered a very expensive, custom-made polished wood coffin. When it arrived, it had a slight scratch. Dr. Lowry noticed it at once. The undertaker murmured that it could easily be repaired. The French polisher could be on the job within the hour….

Dr. Lowry cut him short. It wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t be imposed upon with shoddy, second-rate goods. He insisted on being shown the coffins in stock and selected one, a top-of-the-line model, to be sure, with the genuine imitation mahogany veneer but a good deal less costly than the custom-made coffin. Dr. Lowry knew perfectly well that the custom coffin could be fixed but perhaps he was having second thoughts about the Dear Departed, or it may have been one of those minor economies that keep the rich richer than you and me.

The undertaker had not insisted on payment when the order was placed. He went home with a splitting headache and his wife put cool cloths on his forehead while he railed against the miserly doctor. He was his usual unctuous professional self by the time he next saw the doctor at the funeral. But he had the coffin taken up into the loft of the carriage house and covered with a horse blanket. On sleepless nights he brooded over the unpaid coffin invoice.

So when the news came that Dr. Lowry was dead, the undertaker danced a little jig of delight. He had sworn that Lowry would go to go his eternal rest in that expensive casket but it had been made for the Doctor’s wispy little wife and the dead man’s bulging midsection made it impossible to close the lid. Piece of cake, said the undertaker, preening himself on his ingenuity.  He simply scooped out the internal organs, shoveled in a few handfuls of excelsior, stitched up the now much‑diminished belly, and voila! Not only was the coffin a perfect fit but the old man looked trimmer than he had ever looked in life. The heirs congratulated him on how well the old man looked. Only a few people seemed puzzled by the corpse’s diminished height. Oh well, they went away thinking, the dead always look smaller… It had been a simple matter to take up the old man’s legs a bit so the undertaker could cram him into the coffin crafted for the five-foot Sarah.

Soon, however, rumors began to fly around the town that the old man’s death wasn’t altogether a natural one. There was some suspicion that someone had helped the old boy along—either by poison or a pillow over the face.

Dr. Lowry was removed from his $40,000 mausoleum in his plate-glass-fronted coffin. The autopsy revealed a startling secret, but not the one expected. When questioned, the undertaker admitted that he’d taken a few liberties with the old man’s innards. Motivated entirely by spite, he said cheerfully. The undertaker led the authorities to the place he’d buried the remains of the Doc, but the parts in question were too far gone to be analyzed for poison.  Any possible case against the heirs was dismissed for lack of evidence.

It is said that Dr Lowry haunts the Briggs-Lawrence County Public Library in Ironton—the site of Dr Lowry’s former home where he was found dead….He has also been seen roaming the cemetery in search of his missing insides.

Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio, Chris Woodyard

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is grateful for her guest’s ghost story contribution. Another story involving a doctor, poison, a ghost, and entrails, may be found at the Haunted Ohio blog. One wonders if the disemboweled Dr Lowry’s ghost could have been placated by the substitution of ersatz entrails: trimmings from a local slaughterhouse perhaps or bits of an opossum run over by a motor-car?

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. 

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.

Shipping Corpses and a Haunted Car: 1882, 1891

[Fake Wells-Fargo corpse-shipping tag.]

THE HAUNTED CAR

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

From the Reno Gazette

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

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

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

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

AN INDUSTRY IN CORPSES
How an Express Company and an Undertaker Whack Up on Consumptives.

[St. Louis Globe-Democrat.]

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

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

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

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

What the Cemetery Superintendent Sees: 1896

Forest Hills Cemetery gateway, Roxbury, Massachusetts, 1905

QUEER THINGS IN SILENT CITIES

What the Superintendent Sees.

Pathetic, humorous, and strange incidents are continually occurring in cemeteries. The public never hears of them because the cemetery superintendent isn’t often a talker. He doesn’t tell things unless he is asked. The stories of some happenings he declines to relate, regarding them as professional secrets. Above all, he of course never mentions names. The burying ground is one of the greatest places on earth to study character. The superintendent knows it and he is a most proficient student. His practiced eye detects the alleged mourner who simulates his grief, and in a moment he spots the financial skinner who is either cheese-paring expenses or making a spread to impress funeral participants to such a great extent that the display may be a sort of financial investment. In most cases friends and relatives who are not sincere mourners make strong and clever attempts at deceiving observers. Some, however, do not care, and family feuds are ofttimes carried to the side of the grave.

There was recently an instance of a woman laughing and chatting like a parrot a few minutes after the burial of a child. Then there are cases in which the wounds of sorrow made by the deaths of friends or relatives are so deep that the bereaved ones never recover. Some of this class visit and decorate the graves of their dead every day in the year, rain or shine. There are others, however, wounded just as deeply, who cannot bear the cemetery, but sit at home and suffer in silence.

The Curious and Superstitious.

The bane of a graveyard is the curiosity-seekers and the superstitious. People of the former class have a morbid love for funerals that is ghoulish. They gloat over the grief of the mourners, and feast their eyes on the face of the corpse if they get an opportunity. The abnormal appetite of these people seems never satiated. Their faces are so familiar to cemetery-keepers that they are missed if they neglect to attend a single funeral. Superstitious people are still plentiful. They wouldn’t enter a burying ground at night for a million dollars, and many of them wouldn’t go into a vault even in the daytime, not even if they were accompanied by an electric arc light and a cannon. A few days ago a remarkable superstition came to light at Graceland. One of the managers was walking in a driveway when he was approached by an old woman, tottering and bent with age. In one hand she carried a crumple strip of paper. Approaching, she said: “I’m looking for an open grave, sir. Can you tell me where to find one?”

“Yes, there is one right straight north of here—the seventh lot,” was the reply. “But why do you want to find an open grave?”

‘Well, you know, one of my granchillern’s got the scarlet fev’r, an’ I’ve writ the name of the disease on this here piece of paper. If I kin just drop the paper in an open grave, where it’ll git buried, the disease’ll leave the chile an’ go down in the grave.”

When asked for a look at the paper, she unfolded it and held it out. On the scrap was scrawled in a lead pencil, “skarlit fevr.” When the old woman was handed back her slip she hurried to the grave. The man watched her. When she reached the hole she stopped for a moment, and seemed to be muttering some incantation over the opening. Then she stretched her arm out straight over the middle of the grave, with the back of her hand down. In a moment her fingers, which had been tightly closed, opened. The light breeze lifted the “skarlit fevr” charm from her palm. It fluttered in the air an instant, and fell into the grave. The poor old creature was satisfied. With a contented, feeble smile, she turned and hurried away as fast as possible.

Wax Flowers and Coffin Plates.

Very frequently the family of the deceased removes the name plate from the coffin and has the flowers which were used preserved by dipping them in wax. The flowers are made in the form of a wreath. The silver plate is placed in the middle and the whole is placed in a glass case to be hung In the parlor. Then, after some one comes along and makes the remark that it is “mighty bad luck to have such a thing in the house,” the relatives take down the case and carry the plate to the cemetery and ask the superintendent to have the body taken up that they may put the plate back on the coffin. This has happened so often at every cemetery that the employes do longer smile when the superstitious man with the plate wants a coffin exhumed.

At Oakwoods cemetery there is a remarkable and apparently inexplicable mystery, for many years the authorities there have been finding candles just inside the great high iron fence which surrounds the grounds. In every instance the candle has been lighted and extinguished at once before any of the tallow has melted. Sometimes three candles are found bound together by a strip of a linen handkerchief. They are always found so close to the fence that whoever left them evidently reached between the iron bars and dropped them within. Scores of the candles have been found, and Superintendent Drew always has a fresh drawer full in his office. Many guesses have been hazarded as to the cause of the strange practice. The theory which seems most plausible is that it is a hoodoo charm performed by negroes the night of the burial of one of their kin.

Is the Grave Secure?

Quite frequently people ask cemetery superintendents to open the graves so that they may see if the corpse has not been stolen or disturbed. This is especially the case when graves are very much sunken. It is very seldom that the authorities will listen to the request. The suspicions are almost invariably groundless and explanations are made to the friends showing them the uselessness of disinterment. Body-snatching is almost unknown in in these days. The only cases that may occur are when the deceased has been taken away by some unusual disease which scientist would like to investigate. For all ordinary scientific study the hospitals and poor-house furnish an abundance of bodies. Sometimes before the coffin is lowered into the grave some mourner is already figuring on having the corpse exhumed before very long to see if it has been disturbed. One day at Oakwoods a mourner, who was unwilling to trust the records, walked the fence and scratched a cross on the railing opposite the grave which was in the single grave section. In a few weeks he came back and wanted the grave opened. He was so persistent that Superintendent Drew consented. The man wanted the grave opened which was exactly opposite the notch. The records and chart showed the grave of the gentleman’s relative was next to the one which he wished opened. He kicked up a great row, but the superintendent stood by his records and opened the grave indicated on the chart. It was the right one. The mourner had not been careful in making his mark, and had placed it a little to one side and directly in front of another grave, only a foot away. The coffin was taken up. The dead had not been disturbed and the man was satisfied.

Flower Thieves.

The only kind of thieves and robbers that bother the burying ground is the flower thief. She, for this brand of thief is almost invariably of the feminine gender, comes with the blossoms in the springtime and she haunts graveyards all summer long unless she is detected. Decoration day before last, at Mount Greenwood Cemetery, two enterprising flower sellers and stealers had a narrow escape from being mobbed. A man drew up a wagon filled with potted plants near the station. Great crowds were getting off the train and he sold flowers right and left. Although he was selling them by the dozen on every hand, for some strange reason his supply seemed no smaller at the end of an hour than when he began. Presently, when the salesman’s wife was caught stealing flowers in the cemetery, his never-decreasing supply of floral goods was no longer a mystery. As fast as the purchased flowers were placed on graves the wife stole them and carried them back to the wagon. When caught she was surrounded by a crowd of a thousand people and came near receiving rough treatment.

Superintendent Rudd of Mount Greenwood is one of the oldest and most experienced cemetery managers in Chicago. The many years he has been in his present position have given him great experience with the general public.

“I could tell you things which you would scarcely believe,” said Mr. Rudd.

“Incidents transpire in cemeteries which if told exactly as they occurred would receive little credence. One thing which would occasion great surprise is the little real sorrow and grief caused by death.

Grief Arithmetically Measured.

 “Most husbands are not hurt very much by the death of their wives. I don’t think over 20 per cent really feel badly wounded at heart when they hear the clods fall on the coffin lid. Wives are less heartless. About 40 per cent of wives, twice as many as the husbands, care considerably when their life partners are buried. Very few care when old people die. But when a mother leaves her child in the ground there are few instances when her heart is not almost broken. We once had a striking exception. A mother had just buried the third of her children who had died in quick succession of scarlet fever. The husband and wire had come from the grave to my office and were waiting for some papers. Tears were rolling down his cheeks, but the woman laughed and talked as if she were at a reunion in a beer garden. Finally the poor man could bear it no longer. Raising his clinched fist and cursing her, he advanced toward his wife and told her if she didn’t shut her mouth he would shut it for her.

“I remember one young man whose grief at the burial of his wife was heartrending. He screamed and cried until be could be beard clear across the hill. He threw himself on the coffin, and when it was lowered he tried to jump into the grave. Friends held him, and he was taken away almost fainting. Within a month the young man married again.

No Waking the Last Sleep.

“Very often in the winter husbands place their dead wives in the vault, and In the spring bring out wife No. 2 to see No. 1 put in the ground. Once an undertaker had occasion to open a coffin which was in our public vault. It was in the depth of winter, and the thermometer was below zero. The corpse looked very life-like, and after the undertaker went away he made some little remark about it. The little remark was repeated. It grew like a weed. It was enlarged and exaggerated until it was told over the entire neighborhood that a woman in a trance lay buried in the vault. The gossips did not stop to think that the body had been frozen solid for nearly a month. These stories, by the way, about people being buried alive are mostly manufactured for sensational purposes. I never heard of an authentic case, and I never met any one else who ever did.

Tricks of the Social Faker.

“Some queer and peculiar things are done out here by money ‘skinners.’ Who are thinking of saving every penny as much as they are of their grief. Two or three of the mourners will come out before the funeral and express their doubts as to whether we have a lot good enough for them. Then they conclude to place the remains in the vault temporarily.

The day of the funeral everything is imposing. The coffin is rosewood, or covered with plush or broadcloth, and there is a long line of fine carriages. Some time after the funeral the mourners will slip out to the cemetery, buy a single grave in the poorest, cheapest spot, and, without buying the $3 pine coffin-box, bury the casket in the ground. I remember well a heart-broken husband who came out to the cemetery to buy a lot and make arrangements for his wife’s funeral. The poor fellow could not restrain his feelings. Two big tears glistened in his eyes, and his voice quivered. He looked up at me through his glistening tears and said:

“‘Yes. It’s hard to (sob) bear. An’ it’s an awful (sob) trial (sob) to come out (sob) here and select this (sob) lot. I was wo-wonderin’ if you (sob) co-couldn’t gimme a little discoun-count for cash.’ (Long-continued sobbing.)

“I had another experience with a mourner of much the same character. ‘Now, I’ll tell you,’ he said, ‘there are going to be a lot of swell, rich people out here at my wife’s funeral tomorrow. They don’t any of ’em own lots here, but when they come out tomorrow and see what a magnificent place you’ve got they may buy. Well, you know, of course I’m sort of bringing ’em out here, and maybe you might sell ’em some lots several, perhaps and well. I didn’t know but you might feel like giving me a little commission on all the lots you might sell to any of em.”

Repentance and Black Stockings.

“A widower came to my foreman once with a proposition that had never been heard of before. Several months previous the man had buried his wife. He was a cheese-parer on money matters, and, I guess, he saved all he could on funeral arrangements. At the funeral, of course, only the face was exposed. The rest of the body could not be seen, and no one but the widower knew how well or how poorly it was arrayed. Evidently he got to thinking the matter over and decided he hadn’t given his dead wife a square deal. Well, sir, he came to my foreman with a long pair of black stockings, and wanted his wife taken up so that be could put them on her.”

All of the large cemeteries have had more or less experience with people who have been so unfortunate as to lose a limb. One day a man from Pullman appeared at Mount Greenwood with a tiny coffin, about nine inches long, under his arm. He had in the coffin two of his fingers which had been cut off by a buzz saw. Instead of throwing them away or burying them in his back yard he brought them to the graveyard, purchased a lot, and buried the fingers. Several years ago a woman, living on the South Side, had a leg amputated. It was buried in a family lot. Recently the woman died. Her relatives had the leg taken up and placed in the coffin. They said they did it so that she would be perfect in heaven.

Some Recent Legislation.

Cemetery people all over the state are laughing at the ridiculous law passed by the Legislature in regard to the use of wire designs for holding flowers. The law makes it unlawful for these designs to be used in any way a second time.

“It is one of the most laughable things 1 ever heard of,” said Superintendent Rudd. “I presume the law was passed on the theory that the wire might become infected with contagion. Of course that is preposterous, especially if the designs are repainted. I guess if the truth were known it would be found that some manufacturers had some new design they wanted to get on the market. Perhaps they persuaded the Legislature to cripple the old designs.”

Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL[ 21 June 1896: p. 23

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

A Father’s Vow: 1882

A FATHER’S VOW

He Declares That His Dead Children Shall Never Leave Him

He Has Their Bodies Embalmed, and the Casket Placed in a Room Where He Keeps Them for Twenty Years.

[Philadelphia Press]

A funeral took place in Palmyra, N.J., on Tuesday last, which furnishes the sequel to one of the most remarkable cases ever known. The bodies of three embalmed children, which had been preserved by an eccentric father for twenty years, were interred in one grave, the father having died three months before, and the remaining members of the family being unwilling to perpetuate his singular ideas, in violation of common custom.

In 1859 Henry Coy lived in a comfortable old-fashioned dwelling, on the northeast corner of Front and Cooper streets, Camden. His family then consisted of himself, a wife and two children—one a girl of five years and the other a curly-haired, handsome boy of two. Mr. Coy was a surgical instrument maker, engaged in business in this city, on Eighth street, near Walnut, and afterward in the neighborhood of Second and Dock streets. He was regarded as a skillful man at his trade, and was said to be worth money, but his reticent disposition and disinclination to mix in society prevented any specific inquiry as to his exact financial standing. People who knew him in a business way, however, were content to spread the rumor that he was a man of no inconsiderable wealth. His entire time out of business hours was spent with his family, to whom he appeared devotedly attached.

THE FATHER’S STRANGE CONDUCT

Soon after the war began, Mrs. Coy died, after giving birth to another child—a girl. She was buried, and after that the father seemed more than ever in love with his children. The little daughter was rather a delicate child, and in 1862 she was taken ill and died after a few weeks’ sickness. Unceasing attendance at the little one’s bedside, and the constant loss of sleep, seems to have strangely affected the fathers mind. He would not permit any of the neighbors to touch or even look at the dead body, and declared that it should never leave his sight while he lived. And the eccentric man then went to work to accomplish that purpose. With the assistance of a mysterious stranger the little corpse was subjected to an embalming process and then incased in an air-tight casket and carefully deposited in one of the upper chambers of the dwelling. Old-time residents of Camden remember well that it was a popular superstition that the spirit of the child used to regularly appear at the windows in a supplicating attitude, and the house was said to be haunted. All attempts to see the mummified corpse or to learn the truth of the queer story were fruitless, and in a few months there were not many persons who gave it credence. Some time between the latter part of 1863 and the summer of 1864 observing people noticed that the baby had disappeared, and the previous appearance of a physician’s chaise at the door a dozen times during the week led to the believe that the infant had died and had been embalmed, as the first one had been. The doctor was a strange one, and nothing could be gleaned from him. Just when the boy died is not known, but it is supposed that he followed not long after the second death, and was also put in a casket and laid alongside his brother and sister.

MOVING THE BODIES

In 1866 the story of the mysterious embalming was renewed, and for some unexplained reason it was whispered about the upper part of Camden that Mr. Coy was a Mormon; that he had a dozen or more wives concealed in the house, and that every night prayers were said over the bodies of the dead children. There appeared no just foundation for these stories, for the father was rarely seen on the street, and during his brief absence from home the dreary-looking old house seemed entirely deserted. The upper stories were never opened, and cobwebs collected over the windows and under the eaves. The man became such a thorough mystery that all efforts to ferret out his secret were abandoned, and the gossips were obliged to build their startling stories of ghosts and uncanny noises by night purely from imagination. Mr. Coy left Camden for a time, and, it was popularly supposed, took the bodies of his children along with him; but nothing definite was known of his movements nor of the truth of the rumor, until five or six years later, when he moved. It was then noticed that three oblong boxes were carefully packed in a wagon, and the father drove away with them.

Nothing more was heard of Coy until his recent death was announced, and then the story of twenty years ago was either forgotten or deemed too incredible for revival. The triple burial at Palmyra on Tuesday, refreshed the strange tale in the minds of a few, and it was shown that the rumor had been correct.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 6 May 1882: p. 10

Henry is buried at the Epworth Methodist Church Cemetery under a stone which reads “Henry – Sarah Coy and Family.”

A chapter titled “Bone of My Bone: Collecting Corpses, Relics, and Remains” in The Victorian Book of the Dead tells of other mourners who just could not let go of their loved ones. 

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