Winning a Widow: 1892

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

WINNING A WIDOW

EVERYBODY WAS AT THE WEDDING EXCEPT MISS BECKETT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Hart Island: 1900

hart's island open trench jacob riis
Laborers loading coffins into an open trench at the city burial ground on Hart’s Island, c. 1890, Jacob A. Riis https://collections.mcny.org/Explore/Highlights/Jacob%20A.%20Riis/?gclid=Cj0KCQjwy6T1BRDXARIsAIqCTXoo4zKXrtfdt_L9PWnQKBnuj5O1hkVxPkcOMapfHsbz8Xu9-pGirccaApeZEALw_wcB&gclid=Cj0KCQjwy6T1BRDXARIsAIqCTXoo4zKXrtfdt_L9PWnQKBnuj5O1hkVxPkcOMapfHsbz8Xu9-pGirccaApeZEALw_wcB

The unwanted, lost and unidentified dead of New York are still buried in the same Potter’s Field on Hart’s Island. Modern descriptions of burials on Hart Island are an eerie echo of the story below.

BURIED IN POTTER’S FIELD

The Grewsome Trips of the Fidelity

Her Daily Cargo of Pauper Dead

Scenes at the City Cemetery, Hart’s Island. [sic]

Among the boats that may be seen on the East River any day is a small craft bearing the name Fidelity. People to whom the various vessels are only slightly known see nothing peculiar about the boat, because she is like hundreds of little vessels on the East and North rivers used for conveying freight and passengers between points where the larger vessels do not make landings. But to the river men and to the people who spend their time near the east waterfront the little boat is known as “the deadboat.”

She belongs to the city, has a crew of four deckhands, besides a mate, an engineer and a fireman, and is commanded by Captain Edward McEvoy. This boat makes the tour of the city institutions on the East River daily and collects the bodies of the dead and takes them to the Morgue. Randall’s Island, Ward’s Island, Blackwell’s Island and the Harlem Hospital all contribute to the grewsome cargo which is landed every evening at the Morgue, where the bodies of the homeless and the friendless are also taken.

“We have dull and busy seasons,” said Captain McEvoy, “but we can usually count on about two a day from Randall’s Island, about three a day from Ward’s Island, and Blackwell’s Island gives us about ten a day. The North Brother Island dead are taken care of by the Health Department; the Harlem Hospital, at One-hundred-and-twentieth-st., is good for about three a day.”

THE FIDELITY’S CARGO

All the bodies as they come aboard are handled by the deckhands and are piled on the after deck, covered with tarpaulins, and when the Fidelity steams down the river with her load for the Morgue, passengers on passing vessels would never suspect the character of her cargo.

Twice a week in the winter months and three times a week during the warm season the Fidelity makes a trip to Hart’s Island, where the bodies from the Morgue which have not been claimed or identified are buried in Potter’s Field, or, as it is officially, the City Cemetery.

“It’s all the same after you are dead,” said a man who had made the trip, “but if you want to know the advantage of passing away among friends make a trip to Hart’s Island on a burying day.”

The boat’s load, which varies in size from thirty to one hundred boxes, stands on the dock and in the hallways of the Morgue, ready to be taken away early in the morning. Every box is furnished with a card which contains the name, age, sex, cause of death, etc., of the subject, or, where the name is unknown, a number corresponding with the one on the Morgue records, by which everything that is known on the body may be ascertained. The marks on the box also show whether the person was a Catholic or a Protestant, when that fact may be ascertained.

“How many ye got to-day?” the deckhand asked one of the Morgue helpers who assist the regular attendants for their board and what they can pick up from undertakers in the way of tips for helping with the claimed bodies.

“Oh, it’s a small day. Ten big and twenty-seven little ones.” That meant that there were ten large coffins and twenty-seven coffins with children’s bodies to be taken away. The cargo was taken on board with less care and ceremony than would have been devoted to a like number of boxes in the hands of a transportation concern marked “Handle with care,” the boat moved away from the dock, which was littered with old and broken coffins, and the trip to Potters Field began.

AT HART’S ISLAND.

The distance to Hart’s Island is about fifteen miles, past the City Hospital, Penitentiary, Almshouse, Maternity Hospital, Insane Asylum, House of Refuge, Idiots’ Asylum, Infants’ Hospital, North Brother Island and about six miles beyond Fort Schuyler, on Throg’s Neck and Willets Point. At the landing there were several officials in the uniform of the Department of Correction and three men in convict’s stripes.

“Didn’t expect you to-day,” one of the officers called in greeting to the captain, “you had such a big load yesterday.”

The boat was made fast and the bodies, which had been transported by the Charities Department, were transferred to the custody of the Department of Correction. The three convicts loaded the boxes into a wagon and it started on its first trip to a trench about one hundred yards from the landing.

John Bopp, the Superintendent of Potter’s Field, who has been in charge of the place for thirty years, and in spite of the nature of his work and the surroundings, retains a cheerful disposition, said:

“We have about fifty convicts here, who are detailed from the Workhouse, but some of them object to handling the coffins, so we select three men who are willing to take the job and give them a ration of whiskey after every load has been disposed of. These men have to do no other work, and, while they think they have ‘a graft,’ the other convicts, although they envy them the whiskey, call them ghouls.”

The wagon brings the bodies to the open trench, which is 45 feet long, 15 feet wide and 7 feet deep, and into this the boxes are placed after Frederick Bartels, the assistant superintendent, who is serving his seventeenth year at the Field, has scratched the number on the box with an instrument called a scriber. The long ends of the trenches run east and west, and the bodies are placed in them facing north and south, heads to the edge. A row of twenty-five is placed at each side of the trench, and on this layer of fifty a thin covering of earth is placed until more bodies are received, when the trench is “tripped” by the convicts. This is the term for the process of taking the earth off the boxes before the next layer is put down. This is repeated until the trench holds three layers, or 150 bodies, when it is covered with earth, and built up about a foot. When this has been done a new plot for 150 bodies is laid out and numbered. A record is kept of the place occupied by every box, and the books which are kept by Mr. Bartels show all particulars necessary for identification in case a body should be claimed by friends or relatives.

All the coffins marked with a cross are buried in the Catholic plot, on the north end, and separate trenches are devoted to nameless children, unidentified bodies and boxes from the colleges, of which latter there are nine or ten every week.

The records show that since the City Cemetery was founded, in 1869, 110,751 bodies have been buried there. Last year’s contribution was 4,377, of which 1,829 were credited to the “Outdoor Poor,” 362 to Bellevue Hospital and 435 to the Foundlings. There is a special plot for soldiers’ graves, in which about forty bodies are buried, the last being two victims of yellow fever, who contracted the disease in Cuba and died at North Brother Island. This plot is marked by a handsome monument and is decorated every Memorial Day. Several attendants who died on the island are also buried in separate graves.

One enclosure contains the bodies of two little children whose mother asked that they might be kept separate from the others so that she might know where the little ones were laid away, and near the south end of the field is another child’s grave, the existence of which is unknown to the little one’s parents or friends. Some years ago, so goes the story, a man was going abroad with his family, and as they boarded the ship an attendant noticed the deathly pallor of the infant in the mother’s arms. Examination showed that the child was ill, and before the vessel sailed the child was dead, and the body was left for burial. The story reached Potter’s Field before the body arrived there, and in the hope that the names of the parents might be learned a separate grave was made of the body, but all efforts in that direction have failed….

“The men who work in the trenches where the bodies are laid away have a grewsome job,” said an officer of the Department, “and one for which the ‘drunk and disorderly’ on the island don’t envy them; in fact, being put in this gang is by no means a mark of distinction, and yet they see less mourning than the men who work in a private cemetery. There relatives and friends stand about the open graves and weep for those who have passed away. Here the bodies come, are carted to the trench, lowered and covered with earth, and that is all. No one knows, no one cares; a hundred and fifty make a trench full, and then a new hole is dug. Men grow accustomed to all kinds of work, and there’s probably no convict gang in the New-York institutions where there is less of the blues than among the helpers at Potter’s Field.”

New York Tribune 1 April 1900: p. 6

Note: This is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead. In the book it is preceded by a look at the New York Morgue in 1868.

 

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.

No Flowers: 1891

all flower gates ajar
Gates Ajar funeral flower arrangement, private collection

NO FLOWERS AT FUNERAL

But You Can’t Defeat an Enterprising Florist

[Chicago Mail.]

“Remember that that ‘Gates Ajar’ must go up to Brown’s before 9 o’clock to-morrow morning,” said a Wabash-avenue florist to one of his employes the other afternoon, “and don’t forget that it is to be an n.f. affair and that you’ll have to keep our eyes open.”

“What is an n.f. funeral?” I ventured to ask, after the young man addressed had left us.

“No flowers,” sententiously answered the proprietor.

“That means, then, that you are taking flowers to a funeral where they are prohibited?”

“Precisely.”

“Do so frequently?”

“Every day.”

“Then ‘no flowers’ really doesn’t mean no flowers after all, does it?”

“It doesn’t if we can help it—rest assured of that. We are here to sell flowers. The funeral trade forms an important part of our business, and we have to protect ourselves against the anti-floral cranks as best we can. The ‘no flowers’ order is a fashionable fad and nothing else. It originated in New York years ago at a funeral of one of the Vanderbilts, who requested that no flowers should be displayed during his obsequies. I was working for a new York florist at that time, and I well remember what a flutter this innovation caused among the tradesmen in our line of business. They did not care about losing the single Vanderbilt job, but they feared that such an example in the ultra-fashionable world would be followed by its general adoption. Thus a whim of fashion might deal a severe blow to the floral trade. The leading florists immediately held a conference and it was unanimously decided that the great funeral must not be permitted to set the fashion and inaugurate an anti-flowers era. Several very costly and elaborate floral pieces were prepared, but I spite of all we could do the orders of the deceased were obeyed to the letter and we were unable to get a solitary flower inside the Vanderbilt residence. An attempt to bribe the servants failed, as they had received ironclad instructions not to permit a floral offering of any kind whatsoever to be taken inside the house. This ultimatum fell like a wet blanket upon our hopes, but still we determined not to quit the field without making one last bold ‘bluff.’ A magnificent ivy cross was made—one of the finest that ever was seen in this country. I was about six feet high and was composed of a mass of English ivy leaves and tendrils. It represented a good round sum, let me tell you, and a good deal of work. But there was not a bud or a flower in it anywhere. Just before the time appointed for the exercises to begin we took the cross to the Vanderbilt residence, and, as we expected, were stopped at the door by a liveried lackey, who denied us admission.

“But there must be no delay about this matter, we insisted. ‘It must go in and at once. Come now; we have no time to parley with you.’

“’You can not come in.’

“’We must.’

“’I have strict orders not to admit any flowers. I can not do it.’

“’But there are no flowers in this. Look at it for yourself. It was built entirely in accordance with the wishes of the family. You have no orders against admitting ivy, have you?’

“He hesitated. Just then something round and hard dropped into his hand. He was lost. A moment later that beautiful cross stood at the head of the casket. I shall always remember the remark of my companion as we left the house: ‘Well, Jim. We’ve beaten the old man cold at his own game.’”

Talk about push and business enterprise! Are there any limits beyond which they can not go?

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 8 August 1891: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “anti-flower cranks” came in several flavours:  reformers who felt that the tributes contributed to the extravagance of Victorian funerals; those who found them vulgar; and those who had medical grounds. Here is an argument from the latter:

The reformers suggest that the notice of the death which appears in the papers should end with the announcement: “No flowers.” A novel argument against the sending of these tributes is that the petals of the flowers serve to keep the germs which are given off from the dead body, and in the case of people who died from infectious diseases they may become a positive source of danger, and…be absolutely death dealing. Then again the custom of preserving these wreaths is denounced by many medical men, who contend that they, containing as they do morbific bacteria, are a constant source of danger and a menace to the healthy life of those who afterward occupy the rooms. Evening Star [Washington, DC] 14 February 1891: p. 12

“No Flowers at Funeral” is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead, which contains other stories about floral tributes at funerals in its look at the popular culture of Victorian death and mourning.

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.

 

Cholera in Hamburg: 1892

Hamburg cholera hospital
Taken at the Marienkrankenhaus cholera ward in Hamburg. 1892 https://www.mopo.de/hamburg/16-8-1892-der-tag–an-dem-die-cholera-nach-hamburg-kam-13244746

HAMBURG A CITY OF DEATH.

Dreariness and Desolation, Mourning and Misery on Every Hand, All Pleasure Forgotten.

THE CITY’S VAST COMMERCE BLOCKED

And All Who Could Possibly Flee From the Plague-Stricken Place Have Gone.

THE SCOURGE SPREADING ALL OVER THE FREE PORT.

Personal Investigation of Affairs in the Stricken City by a Dispatch Correspondent—Sad Sights on Every Street—The Plague Not Confined Now to the Poorer Portions of the Place—Hospitals Crowded and the Ambulance Service Inadequate—The Hotels Without Guests—All Sorts of Vehicles Brought Into Requisition for Burial Purposes—Wagonloads of Coffins Jostle Against Funeral Processions on the Way to the Cemeteries—More Than 100 Children in One Asylum All Orphaned by the Plague—The Undertakers Too Busy to Go to Bed—Grief-Stricken Husbands, Wives and Parents Driven to Suicide—A Number of Other Sad Incidents of the Scourge.

[By Cable to the Dispatch.]

Hamburg, Sept. 8 [Copyright.]

This city, usually at this season one of the gayest places in Europe, an aristocracy of merchant princes who live in elaborate style in beautiful houses with magnificent surroundings, where no element of pleasure is lacking, is to-day a city of death and desolation, of mourning and misery, a city of coffins and hearses, of Rachaels weeping for their children, of children crying for their parents, of wives mourning their husbands and husbands mourning their wives. Hamburg’s vast commerce with all nations is at a standstill. Her miles of wharfage are lined and double-lined with idle steamships and sailing vessels, and only an occasional tug or lighter disturbs her waters. Her families have fled from the great houses and beautiful grounds of Hohenfeld and Uhlenhors, on the one side of the Alster, and from Harvestshade and Dotherbaum on the other. Her hotels are vacant save for an occasional benighted traveler, and her schools, theaters, opera houses and concert halls are closed. Almost All Travel Suspended.

The first intimation I had of the manner in which the plague is regarded on the Continent arose out of the circumstances that every railroad guard on the route from London after I reached Belgium looked at me with curiosity when he read the word Hamburg on my ticket. I was the only passenger on the Bremen express who got off at Hamburg Saturday evening, and the others shut their windows when they saw the name of the station, as if they feared that the deadly atmosphere of the polluted suburbs would penetrate the smoke and steam and innoculate them with the deadly virus in the railway carriages.

The station was only half lighted, and deserted save for the station master and a single porter who carried my luggage a quarter of a mile before he could find a conveyance to take me to a hotel– conditions somewhat different from the usual bustle of the omnibuses, cabs, hotel runners and railway servants.

Desolation Over All the City.

The streets, even in the central part of the town, were all but deserted, the tables outside of the cafes were without occupants and desolation was upon the city.

When I drove up before the great Hotel de’l Europe, beautifully situated upon the Alsterdamm, a tree-lined terrace facing the blue waters of the Binnen-Alster, there were so many dress coats in the corridor that I at first fancied that the Hamburgs were celebrating the plague after a manner suggested by Poe in “The Masque of the Bed Death.” It turned out that all the waiters were gathered in the hall to discuss the prevailing topic, owing to lack of business and the dread of remaining in the rear rooms alone.

I was the first guest to arrive at the hotel since it had been depopulated more than a week before. They were delighted to see me. The proprietor was on the sidewalk to bid me welcome before I had alighted from the cab. Three or four porters struggled for the honor of bringing in my luggage. Two pages fought for my umbrella, and a retinue of servants escorted me to the bridal chamber.

All the Big Hotels Deserted.

The hotel was absolutely empty, save for two guests who could not get away, and the employes, and the loneliness of the echoing halls and stairways impressed me as nothing else had done with the actuality of the presence of pestilence. The same state of affairs, I learned, existed at all the other big hotels. There were but two or three guests at the Kronprinen, the Hamburger and the Victoria, and only one at the Hotel Street.

The waiter who served my supper that evening, where I sat alone in a big dining hall, among empty tables, beamed with pleasure when he took my order. He made a brave effort to ameliorate the gloom of the situation by informing me that the head waiter on his way home the night before had met three great luggage vans, each drawn by six horses, and piled high with coffins of the cholera victims and had followed them part way to Ohlsdorf cemetery, for the entertainment afforded when an occasional box of human clay fell into the street.

A Peculiar Way to be Cheerful.

The waiter made a further effort to be cheerful by bringing me a copy of the Hamburger Correspondent, containing a table of statistics showing the number of deaths up to that morning.

I visited some of the cafes and beer gardens during the evening. There were few people present in any of them, and they did not keep up the German reputation for boisterous merriment. One the contrary, they were very quiet, and they talked even less in the streets on their way home, seeming to shrink as they passed other streets, as if they feared the cholera fiend might be lurking at the corners ready to spring out and strike them down.

A new phase had come upon the plague during the latter part of the week. It had previously been confined to the lower classes who live in the suburbs of Hamm and Hammersbrook and in Spitalerstrasse, Steinstrasse and other densely populated streets along the poisoned Elbe. In the latter part of the week it began to break out in the upper part of the city, far from the noxious waters, where Prof. Koch thinks it originated. The Hamburg newspapers have made no comment upon this circumstance, and of course it does not appear in official returns, which only deal in totals.

Some Singularly Sad Cases.

I heard of several cases. One of these under exceptionally sad conditions was that of O. W. Pollitz, a native Hamburger, formerly a well-known business man of. Boston, where he married an American. lady. He has lived in Hamburg with his daughter and son-in-law for several years. Last Thursday his wife was in Berlin and his son-in-law in Boston when his daughter was taken very ill. He sat up all night to nurse her, and at 5 o’clock in the morning was stricken down with the dread malady. The physician ordered the immediate removal of the wife and child, and at 3 o’clock on Friday afternoon the old gentleman died raving in his last moments for someone of his loved ones to come to his bedside. The infection had been brought into his house by a charwoman from Hamm.

A wealthy Hamburg merchant, the pride of whose life was in three sturdy boys, aged respectively 7, 8 and 10 years, saw them all die on Sunday within five hours of one another.

A Babe Left Alone With Its Millions.

Two of the editors of the Hamburger Nachrichten died last week, and I was told of a child of 6 months who is the sole survivor of a father, mother and four brothers and sisters and will inherit millions. Driving with a well-known citizen of Hamburg yesterday he pointed out one of the most beautiful houses, with extensive grounds, on the Schwanenwick, whose lord and master had succumbed a few days before, he having refused to leave the city when his family fled, and laughed at their fears.

All this time the people from the infected districts come and go as they will in the public streets and public places. Funerals are ceaselessly passing through the city, and the improvised police ambulances are carrying patients through the most densely populated thoroughfares at all hours of the day and night to the Neues Allgemeines Krankenhaus, or hospital, in the suburb of Oppendorf, or to the Altes Allgemeines Krankenhaus, in the heart of the town.

Continual Reminders of the Scourge.

It is almost impossible to realise, without having experienced it, the depressing effect of these continual reminders of the presence of the disease and death. Turn from one street, where a funeral is passing and a wagonload of new coffins is on its way to the mortuary, and one meets perhaps two or three more hearses with attendant mourners, and an ambulance containing a hospital attendant and a dying woman wrapped in blankets. All these public funerals one meets in the better parts of the city, and they are aside from the daily quota of unfortunates who are carted away at night and buried in a long trench in the Potter’s field.

From morning until night these dreary processions are wending their way to the cemeteries, and from morning until night the hearses are hurriedly returning thence for new employment, and groups of “Leichenbetter,” or professional mourners, curiously clad in knee breeches, buckled shoes, white-ruffs and birettas, are hurrying from one place to another, as their services are required.

Undertakers Too Busy to Go to Bed.

The undertaker men are so worn out with long hours of work that it is no uncommon thing to see two or three of them asleep in a hearse returning from a burial. Those mourners who cannot afford the trappings and the state of woe for their dead, and yet will not let them be buried by cold municipality, engage all sorts of vehicles for the conveyance of the black biers to a final resting place for the remains of their beloved. I have seen coffins jolt by on  baggage wagons and butchers’ carts, with sobbing women clinging to the driver’s seat, and little children sitting stolidly behind wondering what it is all about.

On Sunday I witnessed a peculiarly pathetic sight. A carriage containing a very young husband and wife robed in black, she weeping bitterly on his shoulder, while the tiniest of silver-mounted coffins, covered with flowers, on the front seat, told the story of their grief.

Two subsidiary tragedies growing out the epidemic were reported on Tuesday. One was that of a carpenter who had lost his wife and three children and who blew out his brains, and the other that of widow of a well-to-do merchant, who succumbed Sunday. She drowned herself the Aussen-Alster.

There are 110 children who have been committed to one asylum alone, all orphaned by the cholera.

THE HAMBURGER’S DIET.

AT PRESENT IT IS ONE OF THE MOST ABSTEMIOUS KIND.

Nothing Eaten That Hasn’t Undergone 130 Degrees of Heat–Butter, Cheese and Fruit Dealers Doing No Business at All—Advice of Physicians In Case of Choleraic Attack–Nervousness the Surest Way to Bring on the Sickness.

The Hamburger’s diet at present is a careful one. The best motif is not to eat anything that has not undergone 130 heat, a temperature that is said to be fatal to the cholera bacilli. The consequence is that dealers in butter, cheese and green groceries are doing no business at all. Salads are forbidden and fruits are not to be considered at all. Everyone washes with water that has been boiled, and even then uses a 5 per cent solution of carbolic acid in it. The entire city reeks with disinfectants. In all the public buildings salts are strewn upon the stairways and halls and piled in the corners. The same is true of private offices and hotels, where waiters and pages are continually spraying themselves and the guests with various disinfectants. The street sprinklers emit an odor of carbolic acid, and when one goes into a restaurant a waiter brings him a bottle of sanitas to put into the water in which he washes his hands. Barbers advertise in their windows that their shaving water is disinfected, and at the door of the shops that are open are signs informing prospective customers that all sanitary precautions are observed within.

Medical Advice Given Free of Charge.

The newspapers publish daily the advice of eminent physicians as to the procedure to be taken in case of choleraic attack. The leading instructions generally are “not to be nervous.” The physicians say that nervousness about the disease is the surest way to bring it on, and point out many instances in which the malady has been thus acquired–advice which is doubtless very valuable to nervous people.

I was the first newspaper reporter to arrive in Hamburg after the outbreak of the plague, and the only other who visited the city was from the new London paper, The Morning, and he is an American. The London Times and Standard have correspondents in Hamburg, the former journal’s representative being the British Vice Consul there, but these two have been content to send the official figures of seizure and death, and to keep away from the infected districts.

It was not difficult to find out who, in the mind of most Hamburgers, is responsible for the epidemic that has already cost almost, if not quite, 5,000 lives. It is Dr. Krauss, Medical Inspector of the Board of Health. His friends say that he did not report the case of cholera which was reported to him by a sub-inspector on August 18 because he was unfortunate in his first test, in which he endeavored to discover if the bacilli were, those of Asiatic cholera, and it was the necessity of making a second test that prevented his reporting the case for five days. Others say that he paid no attention to the case when it was first reported, and that he is notoriously neglectful of his duties.

The Medical Inspector Has a Big Pull.

I was told that on the day that Prof. Koch and Dr. Roth came from Berlin to investigate the origin of cholera Dr. Krauss could not be found, and that six messengers who were sent out to search for him when it was learned of the prospective visit from Berlin were unable to find him. Motions have been made in the Board of Health for his removal, but he is said to possess a large purse, and will doubtless hold his position.

I learned something else that does not appear in the Hamburg newspapers. At the registry office of the Board of Health on Monday I was given an official return of the seizures and deaths from cholera. The total was then 6,124 cases and 2,676 deaths. The same night Director Cortes, of the Ohlsdorf Cemetery, gave me a list of the burials of cholera victims for the same period, which amount to 4,032, which is exclusive of those buried in other cemeteries, and of 100 or more which appeared in the death returns but had not yet been buried. I was told at the Registry office that the doctors were so busy caring for patients that they did not always have time to report every death.

A Visit to Hospitals and Morgues.

Through the courtesy of Acting United States Consul Charles H. Burke, The Dispatch reporter was yesterday invited by Dr. Sthamer, private secretary of Senator Hachmann, who is chief of police, to visit the two cholera hospitals, and the other municipal institutions for the control of the epidemic. Dr. Sthamer is a fine-looking, powerfully-built young man, with the scars of several Heidelburg duels upon his face.. He tells a story of meeting an American who introduced himself while Sthamer was a student at Heidelburg and asked to be permitted to witness some of the students duels. He granted this privilege and the American was present. A lady afterward pointed him out as “Mark Twain,” and Dr. Sthamer says that he read, a year or so afterward, “A Tramp Abroad,” particularly that part of it relating to Heidelburg, with a great deal of interest. Our first visit was to the mortuary on Borgtelder strasse, near the old general hospital. A vacant lot had been temporarily converted into a morgue, and a large wooden shed erected. As far as we could see in Borgfelder strasse long lines of mourning carriages stretched back on both sides of the street, relieved at long intervals by pallbearers, with their nodding plumes and sombre trappings. A throng of children gathered at the entrance of the mortuary, but they were as hushed and silent as their elders. Gloom was upon the locality.

Many Compelled to Wait for Hours.

This was the spot where the bodies of the better class of cholera victims were buried, those whose friends could afford carriages and professional mourners. So many funerals were in progress, however, that some, mourners were compelled to wait hours for an opportunity to bring their dead to the hearses.

A glance along this double line of mourning carriages gave some idea of the impartial manner in which the plague selects its victims from old and young. In one carriage four tearful children sat, evidently on their way to the burial of father or mother–or perhaps both. In another a young widow sat alone. In others fathers and mothers were waiting for the hearses to bring out the bodies of their children.

At least ten hearses were in the mortuary yard, and a score of men were handling the coffins, while group, of the professional mourners in their somber uniforms gathered about that particular corpse that they were paid to mourn, and directed its transportation to the hearse. In a shed were perhaps 20 bodies of men and women, all wound about in white disinfecting cloth and emitting the powerful odor of carbolic acid. Each corpse had a paper pinned to its wrapping, bearing a number which corresponded to the names that were registered by the mortuary clerks.

Terrible Mortality Among the Children.

Men were lifting these bodies into the coffins, others were screwing down the coffin lids, and still others were carrying the coffins to hearses under the direction of a chief of staff with the same regularity and industry that one witnesses in a well-regulated workshop. In the corner of the shed nearest the door were six little coffins ranged in a row, some with wreaths of flowers upon them. Each was decorated with a label which contained the name and age of the victim and name and address of its parents. The greatest age that had been reached by the former occupants of these small bodies was 4 years. On the tiniest coffin of all there was a mark drawn across the printed form in the place where the age should have been recorded.

This spot was gruesome enough, but it was cheerful compared with the mortuary where those victims who are buried by charity were prepared for their final resting place.

IN THE CHARNEL HOUSE.

OVER 400 HUMAN BODIES AT ONCE  PREPARED FOR BURIAL.

A Stack of Coffins All Around, Higher Than a Man’s Head–Half a Dozen Vans Being Loaded at a Time, the Drivers Chaffing and Laughing Unconcernedly–Some of the Bodies Contorted in All Sorts of Shapes–From Mortuary to Hospitals.

I visited the charnel house Monday with a member of the staff of the Hamburger Nachrichten. Here, in the edge of an old graveyard whose tombstones were falling down and whose graves were overgrown with weeds, were more than 400 human bodies in various stages of preparation for burial. On one side of an improvised road way was a stack of coffins higher than a man’s head, and at least 20 feet long, from which four workmen were loading a great van in preparation for a night trip to Ohlsdorf. Two or three other vans were waiting for a chance to load, and the drivers and workingmen were chaffing and laughing as if theirs was. a most ordinary and commonplace occupation.

The Most Grewsome Sight of All.

Further along, from a carpenter’s wagon, was being unloaded an installment of new coffins. But the most ghastly sight that I have witnessed in this city of horrors was at the other side of the road. Here, on the floor of a tumble-down shed, were laid the corpses, just as they had been brought from the hospitals after death, of 120 men, women and children. Most of these bodies were arranged in the coarse bed dress of the hospitals, but there were others in the tattered garments in which they had been brought from their homes when stricken down, showing how quickly the deadly malady had done its work.

These bodies were contorted in all sorts of shapes, just as death had left them. The body of one man who had died in a suit of underclothes, with his stockings on, had his knees drawn up almost to his chin, and as this circumstance caused him to take up more than his share of room on the floor of the shed, he had been laid sideways, and the bodies of two children were at his head and feet The body of a woman was bent back nearly; double, just as she died in an awful spasm, and others had their arms stretched above their heads as they had struggled before the vital spark left them.

Some of the Most Horrible Scenes.

Among these corpses, staring with their dead eyes open, worked a dozen men, straightening the rigid limbs into shape and wrapping them about like mummies in the disinfecting clothes in which they were to be buried. Each body was then fastened with heavy string to a narrow board reaching from head to feet, in order that it might remain in proper shape, and then, in a further shed, they were piled one above the other on racks until their coffins should be made ready. The comparison is a brutal one, but the racks with their enshrouded occupants reminded me of a packing house where slaughtered sheep were being prepared for transportation.

From the new mortuary we drove to the general hospital in Lohmullen strasse. I had visited this institution upon my arrival in Hamburg, and seen Dr. Yolasse, the head of the institution. He told me it was impossible for him to show me through the hospital, as it was absolutely forbidden, both because the physicians and attendants were so busy ministering to the dead and dying, and because a visit was attended by great risk to the visitors.

All Hope Abandoned by Many.

On this day, Monday, a crowd was gathered in the outer gate of the hospital, and one ambulance carriage after another was bringing in patients. I caught glimpses as these carriages passed of the terrified white faces of men and women who believed, as they drove under the arched portals, that they left hope behind. Many of these carriages were followed to the gate of the hospital by friends and relatives who had run miles to catch what might be, and probably would be, a last glimpse of the afflicted. These were stopped in all instances by a cordon of police on duty before the hospital, and before the great building were weeping women and children, mingling with the vulgar throng whom curiosity had drawn to the scene.

Inside the hospital, on the occasion of my first visit, I witnessed one of the pathetic scenes that are common enough in Hamburg just at present A little girl of 15 or 16, of the most pronounced type of German blonde beauty, with tears running down her cheeks, stood with a letter in her hand begging one of the attendants to take it in to her mother. The attendant, a big, coarse-looking fellow, refused gruffly.

A Message That Couldn’t Be Sent

While I was watching the scene one of the corps of physicians passed and said, sharply:

“Why don’t you take letter in?”

“Her mother is dead and was taken away last night,” whispered the attendant.

“Why don’t you tell the girl then?” queried the doctor, as he passed on.

But the attendant, for all his familiarity with suffering and bereavement, and for all his gruff manner and coarse features, had not the heart to tell the weeping child the truth, and when I left the hospital she was still waiting with the letter in her hand and great tears dropping down upon her calico gown.

There was no difficulty in getting into the old hospital under Dr. Sthamer’s auspices. He sent in his card and Dr. Yolasse at once came into the corridor and announced his willingness to show us the entire institution. He said he had refused permission to enter to newspaper correspondents ‘because one from a Vienna newspaper had published a report to the effect that cholera patients were dying so fast that their bodies were stacked up like cordwood in the hospital. Dr. Yolasse explained that since the cholera epidemic had broken out all the other patients had been removed from the institution except about five or ten who were too ill to bear transportation. The hospital was, however, soon full, and it became necessary to prepare new accommodations, and as a result, six barracks, capable of accommodating from 20 to 30 patients each, were erected in the hospital yards. These were all filled, there being nearly 1,200 cholera patients under treatment in that one place. No new cases were being brought in that day, all further patients being carried to the Neues Krankenhaus in Oppendorf.

COFFINS IN HUGE PILES.

PITIFUL SIGHTS ON ALL SIDES WITHIN THE BARRACKS.

A Double Row of Beds, All Occupied by Patients Suffering Terrible Tortures–Dead and Dying All Around—Hearses by the Half Dozen Waiting to Carry the Victims Away–A Post Mortem Examination of Each Body Held by the Physicians–Identification of the Corpses.

Dr. Yolasse has 43 physicians under him on his medical staff, and 258 nurses and attendants. As we passed in the hospital yard two hearses drove in, and I noticed a great pile of coffins behind the barracks. “Yes,” said Dr. Yolasse, “there are a few being buried from here, but only 20 or 30 a day.”‘ It was a pitiful sight that met our eyes as we entered the first barrack. On a double row of beds on either side of the room lay women in all stages of disease and death. The occupant of the bed nearest the door had drawn her feet up so that they almost touched the small of her back. Her face was almost black, and her eyes were turned so that only the whites could be seen. “She is not suffering,” said Dr. Yolasse. “She is past it. She is dying–all but dead.”

Sorrowful Sights on Every Hand.

Next to the dying woman’s couch was that of a rather pretty young girl, with black eyes and hair, who watched her neighbor’s death struggles with apathy, and took no notice of the presence of strangers. Farther down the room, a Sister of Charity bent over the bed of a dying woman, and at the furthest end two stout nurses were lifting a corpse from a bed to a stretcher, and they presently passed us carrying it out.

Each bed contained a patient, some of them writhing and moaning, others tossing restlessly, and still others seeming to rest quietly. We looked in at the doors of the other barracks, where the scene was much the same–dead and dying men and women and busy nurses and doctors.

“Just come down to the end of the garden,” said Dr. Yolasse, “and I will show you the dissecting room. You see, we make a post mortem examination of each body to see if it is real cholera that they die of.”

We passed a number of coffins on the way to the end of the garden, some with numbered lids screwed down, others with the lids half off, revealing naked bodies. Within, four or five hearses were waiting under the shadow of the trees, and a number of men and women were attempting to identify friends and relatives in the corpses that were being continually brought from the hospital. The dissecting room remains an unpleasant memory in my mind. Two or three physicians were at work there.

Peculiar Exemption of the Nurses.

Dr. Yolasse told me that out of his staff of physicians, nurses and attendants who were continually at work among the cholera patients, only two had caught the disease, and only one of those had died, while done of the noncholeraic patients who were obliged to remain in the hospital after the cholera patients were brought there had been attacked by the malady.

From the old hospital Dr. Sthamer next took me to the new hospital, in the beautiful suburb of Oppendorf. This is said to be the finest hospital in Germany. It contains 87 separate bedrooms, capable of accommodating from 30 to 40 patients each. Enough of these were in use to contain 1,100 cholera patients, the whole institution being in charge of Prof. Rumpf. Here new patients were constantly arriving in the police ambulances, at least 20 being brought in during the two hours that we remained in the place. Prof. Rumpf showed us everything with the utmost readiness.

This hospital, like the old Krankenhaus we had just left, was scrupulously clean and run on a perfect system. We looked into several of the cholera wards. In one there were several small children, one being convalescent and a great favorite of the physicians.

Prof. Rumpf works with the assistance of 40 doctors and 240 nurses and attendants. He believes that the epidemic is abating.

TREATMENT OF CHOLERA.

SALT WATER INJECTED IN VEINS OF THE FOREARM.

Nobody Succumbs to the Disease While an Attendant at Hospital or Cemetery–Great Expense for a Steamship Company–The Utmost Poverty and Destitution in the Worst Parts of Town–What a Berlin Correspondent Saw.

I asked both Prof. Rumpf and the doctor we had just left what their treatment for cholera was. Both seemed disinclined to discuss the question generally, but each had the same method of reviving patients brought in in a comatose condition. This was to open a vein in the patient’s forearm and inject a solution of one-half one per cent of salt.

Prof. Rumpf said that of all his staff of physicians and nurses, not one had been seized with cholera. In the Ohlsdorf cemetery, where 260 men are digging and filling the graves of cholera patients day and night, only one has succumbed to the disease, and of the hundreds of men who are employed taking cholera patients to the hospitals in ambulances and removing infected clothing and bedding from the houses, not one has, so far as reported, acquired the malady.

After our visit to the new hospital we drove to Sandthor Quai, and took the police boat across the Elbe to Amerika Quai, where the barracks of the Hamburg-American Packet Company are situated. Here 600 Russian emigrants were awaiting the removal of the quarantine restrictions to on to America in much more comfortable quarters, probably, than the aristocratic prisoners of the Normannia in New York bay.

Where the Cholera Epidemic Started.

There are here commodious houses, a large yard, fine bathtubs and closets under the constant inspection of the police. It is from these barracks, however, Prof. Koch declares that the cholera epidemic started. He thinks that, as all water the emigrants there used, together with the excreta, were poured into the at this point without being disinfected, the cholera originated with them.

Dr. Stahmer and Acting Consul Burke think that the disease was brought into Hamburg from Havre. However that be, there are no cases of sickness among 600 Russians on Amerika Quai.

One woman, who seemed very proud be pointed out, had just been sent from the old hospital in Hamburg. She supposed to have the disease, but after days under surveillance was sent back as healthy person. All these emigrants are compelled to bathe at least once a week, and all seemed perfectly healthy during our visit yesterday.

A Steamship Company Does Its Duty.

Dr. Sthamer and Acting Consul Burke both speak in the highest terms of the conduct of the Hamburg-American Packet Company in the present circumstances. They are co-operating with the authorities in every respect in order to put (town plague. The 600 emigrants now in quarantine are fed and quartered at the expense the company and will be until the American quarantine is removed. I have visited the infected districts of Hamburg–Steinstrasse and Spitalerstrasse. These streets are along the quays of the Elbe and Horn and Hammersmask here. The utmost destitution and misery prevails, and the residents live in constant dread of the prevailing terror. The houses are wretched abodes in alleys that run into and abut upon alleys, and an odor of disease is in the air.

A correspondent of a Berlin paper says that he has, in Steinstrasse, seen children eating oats that they had picked out street refuse in his presence, and feasting upon vegetable refuse they found in streets. I saw nothing of this.

One Death for Every Thirty Persons.

The same correspondent says that he visited a house, the door of which was so low that he had to stoop to get in, and stairs of which were composed of a ladder, with a rope for balusters. Up on this ladder he professes to have found a tiny room in which he could not stand upright, where lived, slept, and worked a shoemaker, his wife, his grown-up daughter, and five younger children. I could not find this house.

Nevertheless, nearly 3,000 people have died from cholera from Steinstrasse alone, a percentage of 1 in 30 of the population.

It is a pitiful thing to see these poor people gathered in groups in their filth, waiting in a pathetic misery until an unseen enemy shall clutch at their vitals. Some of these courts are in the real valley of the shadow of death. The visitor feels under a pall. There is a horror in the air, for no one can be sure that the next inhalation of the breath of life may not contain the germ of death.

The police ambulances are never away far from the street, and no man knows whether it will be himself or his neighbor who will next be borne to the hospital, and thence to a grave in a trench in Potter’s field.

There is little doubt, however, that the plague is abating. The cool weather of the last few days has done more to bring this about than anything else, and unless the disease should obtain some new foothold where it has not already decreased the population, Hamburg may soon regain her former place in European civilization.

Pittsburgh [PA] Dispatch 9 September 1892: p. 1

 

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.

She Paid the Bill: 1900

white hearse with ponies

She Paid the Bill.

“No, I haven’t any news of importance for you,” said M. J. Cullen, the undertaker, “but I can tell you a mighty nice little story, the truth of which my books will verify. It is about the noble action of a little girl who came to me about fifteen years ago. She was then about twelve years of age, and despite the fact that her outward appearance suggested parental negligence, she appeared to have a noble and honest heart. It was about seven o’clock of a cold July evening when she walked into my office almost frozen and crying bitterly. She asked to see me, and when I made myself known she stopped crying and told me a very pitiful story, that would soften the heart in the coldest of persons.

She said she lived near my stable; that her father was a drunkard and her mother was dead. She and a little brother seven years of age, of whom she thought the world, were cared for by the neighbours when the father was on a spree, and despite the father’s misconduct the little girl could not be induced to leave him. She kept the house and prepared the meals. She bore her lot philosophically and tried to be happy, but her whole peace of mind was almost wrecked when after about two weeks’ sickness her little brother died. He was her pet, and the two were much attached to one another.

She again burst into tears, and between heavy sobs she said that on account of her father’s evil ways there was no money in the house, and she did not know how her little brother could be buried. She had been told that the city would bury the remains, but when she looked into the manner in which such a burial would be performed—that the coffin would be a plain pine box and that instead of a hearse a waggon would take him to the cemetery she became almost frantic, and would not allow it. She then pleaded with me to bury her brother. She wanted him to have a white coffin, a white hearse, with white horses, and his remains to be taken to the cemetery. Crying bitterly, she said, ‘I will give you my word of honor to pay you as soon as I get the money.’

I was much touched by the story, and went to the home of the child and there learned the truth of her statement. The dead boy was laid on the bed, which was neatly made up by the little girl. I immediately took charge of the funeral, and complied with the every wish of the child; I never expected pay, and, although I thought of the story for some time after, I never expected to see the child again.

Not long since, while seated in my office, a handsome, well-dressed young lady entered, and, addressing me by name, called me aside. She asked me if I remembered her, and I was compelled to acknowledge my ignorance. Imagine my surprise when she told me of a little ragged child of fifteen years ago. ‘I am that little girl,’ she said, ‘and I have come, according to promise, on my word of honor to pay you the bill.’ ‘I looked over the books and found the account, and she paid it. She was married well, and her husband is a prominent and prosperous business man.”

Pauper burials and the interment of the dead in large cities, Frederick Ludwig Hoffman, 1919

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: For the poor, a pauper’s burial in Potter’s Field was as much to be shunned as going to the Workhouse. We have seen how unfortunates beggared themselves providing “decent” funerals for their loved ones and paid sums they could ill-afford into burial clubs, the resulting insurance money covering perhaps only part of the costs of a proper burial.

Here is what Mr. Wild, an undertaker, testifying about conditions in the London slums, says about the disbursement of those funds:

In benefit societies and burial clubs there is generally a certain sum set aside for the burial, which sum is, I consider, frequently most extravagantly expended. This arises from the secretary, or some other officer of the club being an undertaker. When a death takes place the club money is not paid directly: it is usually paid on the club or quarterly night following. The member dying seldom leaves any money beyond the provision in his club to bury him, consequently the widow or nominee makes application to the secretary, who tells her that he cannot give any money to purchase mourning for herself and family until the committee meets; this may be three months after the death; but, says the secretary, “give me the funeral, I will advance you a few pounds upon my own account;” so that the widow is obliged to submit to any charge he may think fit to make. I do not mean to be understood that this is always the case—I am sorry to say it is of frequent occurrence.

Report on the Sanitary Conditions of the Labouring Classes, Edwin Chadwick, 1843

Decades later, the fleecing of the bereaved poor continued:

The following is typical of what happens almost every day. A father of four children, who was insured for £7 died. The widow informed an undertaker who called at the house that she was unable to make the funeral arrangements until she had received the money. ‘Do not let that trouble you,’ said the man. You can pay when convenient.’

“The widow is still wondering how the cost of the funeral amounted to exactly £7. The secret is that the insurance agent communicated the news of the death and the amount of the policy to the undertaker, at the same time drawing the usual commission for his trouble.

“When the woman returned from the ceremony she had not a penny left in the world, and for long her children have been pinched with the want of food. How long shall these men be allowed to fleece the poor in life and rob them in death?”

Star 28 October 1905: p. 4

The young lady who found a kindly undertaker to trust her for his fees was fortunate indeed!

For other stories of undertakers and mortuary mishaps, Mrs Daffodil is pleased to recommend The Victorian Book of the Dead.  See also this previous post on the funeral arrangements for the son of a poor widow.

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.

 

Fiends for a Funeral: The Amateur Mourners

mourning print widow by grave 1846
Mourning Print, 1846, complete with swooning mourner.

In the 19th-century press there was a slight, but revealing collection of stories about funeral fanciers. These were mourners without portfolio, who attended funerals merely for the fun of the thing. As this fashionable undertaker reports, they do not seem to be ghouls, but are generally sympathetic souls.

FASCINATED BY FUNERALS

People Who Are Mourners Regularly, and Find Comfort in so Being.

[New York Sun.]

“Do you see that nice-looking little old lady over by the stained window?” asked a fashionable undertaker of the reporter. “I mean the quaint, respectable-looking little personage, with the black satin dress and the black crape shawl.”

The reporter saw her.

“Well,” continued the undertaker, with an appreciative smile, “she’s as fine a regular attendant as any establishment in this city can produce. I send her an invitation to all my nice funerals, and I have sometimes sent a carriage for her when I knew mourners would be scarce. She is never really happy unless she is at a funeral. She won’t touch weddings, as most women will; her sole amusement, so to speak, is a first-class funeral;” and the undertaker looked over to the old lady with a tender professional interest.

“I have some other nice people on my list,” he went on. “One of my most graceful mourners live in Forty-eight street, and seldom gets down this way, but she hardly ever passes a day without a funeral, and I never saw her at one when she couldn’t’ shed tears with the best of them. She’s one of the heart-brokenest ladies I ever had for a ‘regular.’ Does she really feel badly? Well, I should say she did, most decidedly. She always has a word to say to the family, if she thinks they need comforting, and is very careful to learn all the particulars. Why, she can tell me all the details about some of my own funerals that I had forgotten years ago. She’s as good as a set of books.

“Oh, no, there’s nothing hysterical about these cases at all. I’ve got some men that do just the same thing. There is one now. He’s a curious customer. I sometimes lose sight of him for six month, and then all of a sudden he’ll turn up and not miss a funeral. Of course, I couldn’t ask the women folks why they came, but I asked him one day. He said he couldn’t describe exactly the kind of feeling it gave him, but he thought it sort of quieted his mind and soothed his feelings like. He made one remark about it that I never could quite get the hang of, though I dare say it had a certain sort of meaning for him. He said, ‘ I haven’t got any friends at all myself, and so I like to go to funerals.’ A lady volunteered almost the same kind of remark to me once after she had been to four or five of my best funerals. She said, ‘It makes me feel kind of friendly, you know, and then they are kind to me, and, besides, I feel afraid and solemn, and it always does me good.’

“I think it would be unjust to call it mere curiosity that brings them here, though I have noticed that some of these people watch every detail with the most intense curiosity. They seem fascinated by the presence of death, and their sympathies are moved by the grief of the living. You might think they were very solemn people but the contrary is the case. Some of them are remarkably cheerful, in fact. That little old lady is always very pleasant and vivacious after the ceremony is over. She always comes up and shakes hands with me and is as agreeable a person as one would wish to meet.

“There’s an unusually lively and pleasant gentleman living in the Ninth Ward who occasionally drops in at my funerals. He does not make it a point to go to them, but, as he says himself, he can never get past them. He told me he was obliged to go in; no matter how important business might be, he would forget all about it as soon as he saw the hearse and carriages. The first time I saw him at a funeral I thought he was certainly one of the nearest relatives. He is a very large, round-faced, benevolent-looking gentleman, that would be observed in any crowed. On this occasion, after he had looked at the deceased person for a few moments, he became greatly overcome with emotion, and someone led him to a chair. Each one of the mourners supposed, of course, that he was known to the others. He wept throughout the discourse, and after it was over shook hands all around with the mourners, and showed a good deal of fervent, and, I have no doubt, genuine sympathy. I did not know until some time after that he was a dummy—that’s the name we sometimes call them by. This man is really as jolly a fellow as you ever met, and they say he has been requested to leave theaters more than once, in case he would not subdue a particularly substantial laugh which he possessed. In fact, most of these people who love to go to funerals are good-hearted people. It is not true, as has sometime been said, that they are touched a little in the head. The fact seems to be that they are emotional and sympathetic, and are strongly affected by any awe-inspiring scene. Even young girls and boys have now and then a fancy for funerals, though none of them can say why. Most of them say it makes them feel better, but if you ask where or how, they cannot say. They all watch everything as though in a sort of a dream.

One of my best hearse drivers used, as a boy, to be a regular attendant at funerals. One day he came around to my stable and asked if he might help us. I let him do so, and after a while he used to take a hand regularly in keeping the hearse in order. When he got old enough to go to work his father had to bring him to me—he wouldn’t work any-where else. If you ask him why he likes this business, he’ll tell you he don’t know.”

A slim, middle-aged man here addressed the undertaker, and was received by that personage in a most friendly manner. The slim man suggested that there might be some way he could be of use before the services were done.

“Now, there’s a man,” said the undertaker, “who is interested only in the mechanical part of the business. He goes to almost all my funerals, but seems to feel no special sorrow or sympathy. His whole mind is taken up with the conduct of the funeral. To suit him, the business must be done with the most solemn exactitude. He said to me the other day that if he could only once have complete charge of a large funeral he would be happy for the rest of his life.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 25 August 1883: p. 11

Mrs Daffodil has also posted about “Fiends for a Funeral.”

Moving beyond the amateurs de deuil, there were also hired professional mourners (some cities had mourners’ unions!) and, of course, con-men–and con-women, who followed the coffin.

AT MANY FUNERALS

When Arrested She Wails Some More and Borrows From Judge.

LIVED OFF HER TEARS

Wore Reversible Coat With Gray Inside to Turn When Work Was Done.

It will be some time before Clara Howell, professional mourner and weeper at funerals, will be back at her vocation again. She has been arrested by Policeman Burdette and was released by Justice Gavin on her promise to go to Littleton, where she has relatives, and remain there. Incidentally she “touched” the justice for 25 cents to pay her fare out of the city.

Clara Howell continually wears a black scarf, which extends over her head and under her chin. She never has been seen on the street or at funerals without it.

She was arrested at Miller’s undertaking establishment, Seventeenth and Curtis streets, by Burdette, who had been watching her.

She has been in the habit of begging, says the policeman, and never overlooks a chance to ask for money. But it in the role of professional mourner that she shines.

Slipping quietly into an undertaking chapel or even a private home where funeral services are being conducted she would take a seat and begin to weep. Naturally some of the relatives of the deceased person would be anxious to learn the identity of the mourner and in many cases would address her, whereupon the disconsolate one invariably would say that she was acquainted with the departed one and incidentally call attention to her own poverty.

On such occasions it was easy to beg or borrow and, in this manner, Clara Howell succeeded in “getting the coin.”

The woman wears a reversible coat, one side being black, for mourning purposes, and the other gray, for street wear.

Policeman Burdette received many complaints concerning the woman from undertakers and finally decided to arrest her on a charge of vagrancy.

The Denver [CO] Post 8 March 1910: p. 6

Shirley Jackson has written about 1960s funeral fanciers who were in it for the food following the obsequies.  I have heard from a woman who lives in Manhattan, that there is an entire class of women who scan the obituaries for women’s funerals. Then they attend and condole with the bereaved husband, pretending to be a good friend of the deceased wife. Object: matrimony with the hapless widower.  Apparently these women recognize that there is a limited window of opportunity in which to snap up the grieving male before he is captured by some casserole-toting neighbor.

Are you a fiend for a funeral? Did you meet your spouse at a wake? Put on an expression of genuine sympathy and send to Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com

Similar (and more bizarre) stories are found in my book: The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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

A Burial by the Tracks: 1893

 

Mount Rockwell Montana

THEY BURIED HIM.

I never read or hear of the mountains that I do not recall a story told by a conductor of a train on the Great Northern road. We were going to Butte. The train had just crossed the river at Great Falls. From that point the road begins its eastern ascent of the range whose tops are whitened with the snow all the year round. A wide plain spreads out between the line of the road and the range. As the train was getting a “fresh hold on the rails,” as one of the party expressed it, the conductor stood on the rear platform of the coach and looked steadfastly at one spot until it was lost.

“Got a claim anywhere round there?” asked a traveler who had noticed the conductor’s longing look.

“A kinder of a claim,” he replied, “but not the kind you’re thinkin’ of.” How he came to tell us makes no difference now. Here is what he told:

“’Bout a year ago, I think it was, a young man was put on the train by the conductor who brought him to where I take it. He had been east. His folks lived down there, I believe. He had been west a good many years, was a cowboy, then a deputy marshal, then a boss of a ranch, and then he got to speculatin’ in Anaconda. He had lived the sort of a life out here that a man was expected to live in them days.

“He was a hard citizen, and then a good one. Blest if I know just where he quit off, but he did. He finally got to lovin’ a girl and just when he was havin’ it the wust way, she ups and marries a good-for- nothin’ that came out here and got to clerkin’ in a rag house. Then the young man I am talkin’ about he goes east to wear out his feelin’s I reckon. And he was gone all summer. They said he was at the seaside. I thought when I heard that, as how he would not last long. When a man quits this climate to go to the seaside there must be something mighty bad about his case. If a man can’t get cured here he needn’t go anywhere else.

“Well, when he was put in my care there were four or five of the boys with him. They had heerd he was comin’ back, and they met him away down this side of St. Paul. And they nursed him all the way, and fed him just as if he had been a sick girl. He was lookin’ out of the winder of the car all the time, day an’ night, but wasn’t sayin’ nothin’. When we got to Great Falls he looked out of the car winder and smiled. It was the first time the boys had seen him do that since they met him, an’ they thought he was getting’ well. He asked ’em to set him up in his berth so he could see. And he looked at the mountain tops out there, covered with the whiteness of God, and the foot of the mountains that is washed by the purest water this side of the divide.

“The train was just gettin’ a good hold on the rails when the poor fellow sank back and the next thing I see the boys was takin’ the piller out from under his head. Then I knowed it was all over. Then one of the boys came to me and asked me if I would take $1,000 to stop the train. I told ’em I couldn’t do anything of that sort. They said money was no object. Then I asked ’em what was up, and one of ’em told me that he (meaning the dead man) had made a last request that he be taken from the train and buried in sight of that mountain that had the snow on it–the one that caught his eyes first after we had come over the river, They said they had promised him they would. I asked ’em where they would get a box and they said a man as good as he was didn’t need no box; that the angels would take care of him as soon as he was laid away.

“I asked ’em what they would do if the train wasn’t stopped. They held a short parley and said in a most respectful way, which I understood, that they had to carry out the wishes of the deceased at all hazards; that they could stop the train if I didn’t. I understood ’em. I pulled the cord and went forward, and while the engineer was mendin’ the locomotive, which got out of sorts jest then, the funeral procession moved out, and the dead was buried out there in full sight. It so happened that we got the locomotive fixed just as the funeral was over, and we took the pallbearers into Butte that night.

“And I never pass that spot that I don’t look out where they laid him. I ain’t never seen any of the pallbearers since, and I don’t know the name of the young man that they buried. Do you know, gents, that his grave is green all the year round? I once thought of puttin’ up a gravestone at his head, but thinks I, it’s none of my business, and, besides, the boys said the angels was goin’ to take care of his body, so I thought I wouldn’t be intrudin’ on any angel’s business. It was the only time, though, that my locomotive ever got anything the matter with it.” Chicago Tribune.

The Anaconda [MT] Standard 16 April 1893: p. 9

 

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.

Something Advantageous: 1840s

Lizars, William Home, 1788-1859; Reading the Will
Reading the Will, William Home Lizars, 1811 https://artuk.org/discover/artworks/reading-the-will-212575/view_as/grid/search/keyword:will/page/1

SOMETHING ADVANTAGEOUS;

OR, A FAMILY FRACAS.

I once attended a very poor old man of the name of Jordan, in his last illness. I call him poor, but yet he was not in want, and had about him the comforts of life. When he was near his end, he said to me—

‘Doctor, I want to know the truth from you. I am not in the habit of being flattered by the world. There was a time, indeed, when it ‘fooled me to the top of my bent;’ but that was long ago. Do you not flatter me, but tell me your real opinion. Shall I soon die, or shall I linger on a brief career, in a world I am quite willing to be done with?’

‘You desire me,’ replied I, ‘to be candid with you, and I will. You are on your death bed.’

‘How soon shall I be immortal?’

‘That I can not say. But your hours, so far as human experience can teach me to predict, are numbered.’

He was silent for a few moments, and a slight spasm passed across his face.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘it is the lot of all. I have lived long enough.’

‘Is there no friend or relation, Mr. Jordan,’ said I, ‘to whom you would wish to send? You are here, as you have often told me, quite alone in lodgings. Perhaps you would like to revive some old recollections before you leave the world.’

‘Not one,’ he said.

‘Are you so completely isolated?

‘Most completely. I have tried all relations, and found them wanting. But still I have remembered them, and made my will. It is now between the mattress and sacking of this bed, and Mr. Shaw, the only honest attorney I ever met with, and who resides in Lincoln’s Inn Fields, will carry my intentions into effect I was rich once in early life. How dark a day.’

‘What day?’

‘To-day. How dark and misty it has come over, doctor.’

His sight was going fast, and I felt certain that it would require but little patience, and a small sacrifice of time to see the last of Mr. Jordan.

‘Yes,’ he continued, speaking in an odd, spasmodic fashion. ‘Yes, I was rich, and had many a crawling sycophant about me, many smiling faces at my board; but there came a reverse, and like fair flowers at a sudden frost, my kind friends hid their heads. I was nearly destitute, and thinking and believing that the ties of blood would be strong enough to bind to me, in my distress, those with whom I claimed kindred, and who had been delighted to claim kindred with me, I went to them, a visitor.’

‘And failed.’

‘And failed, as you say. They dropped from me one by one. Some remembered slight offenses; some were never at home; some really thought I must have been dreadfully improvident, and, until they were convinced I had not, could not assist me. Doors were shut in my face—window blinds pulled down as I passed. I was shunned as a pestilence — my clothes were in rags — my step feeble from long want of common necessaries. And then an old school companion died in the West Indies, and left me £20,000, which I received through the hands of Mr. Shaw.’

‘A large fortune! And your relations?’

‘Heard of it, and were frantic. I disappeared from them all. From that day to this, they have not heard of me. Do you love wild flowers?’

‘Wild flowers?’

‘Yes. Here are heaps just from the teeming garden. Look, too, how yon cherub twines them in her hair. The stream flows deep to eternity!’

‘Mr. Jordan, sir,’ I cried. ‘Mr. Jordan, do you know me.’

‘Come hither, laughing, gentle spirit,’ he said, ‘bring with you your heap of floral gems. Yes, I know this is the sweet violet. Mary, my Mary; God knows I love you.’

It was a strange thing but, at the moment the blind of the window, which I had drawn up to the top, came suddenly rattling down, and the room was quite dark. I raised it again, and then turned to the bed,

Mr. Jordan was a corpse!

What a remarkable change had in these few moments come over the old man’s face. The sharp lines of age had all disappeared, and there was a calm, benign expression upon the still features, such as in life I never saw them wear.

‘A restless spirit is at peace,’ I said, as I felt for the will where he told me it was placed, and found it. It was merely tied up with a piece of red tape, and addressed to Mr. Shaw, 20, Lincoln’s-Inn Fields; so I resolved to trust no other messenger, but to take it in my hand myself. I told the landlady of the house that her lodger was no more; and that she would no doubt hear immediately from his solicitor, and then I left.

‘Well, Mr. Shaw,’ I said, after I had mentioned to him the manner of Mr. Jordan’s death, ‘here is the will, sir, and I presume I have nothing further to do than to thank you for your courtesy, and bid you good evening.’

‘Stay a moment,’ he said. ‘Let me look at the document. Humph! a strange will. He leaves the form of an advertisement here, which is to be inserted in the morning papers, calling his relations together, to here the will read.’

‘Indeed!’

‘Yes, Well, I shall, as I see I am named trustee, do as he wishes. He states that he is very poor.’

‘Why, he spoke to me of £20,000.’

‘Did he really? A delusion, sir, quite a delusion. £20,000! He had that amount twenty-five years ago. But, sir, as you have attended him, and as I happen to know he had a high opinion of you, I should like you, as his friend, to be with me, as it were, in future proceedings connected with his will!”

‘In which there is a mystery, eh! Mr. Shaw!’

‘A little—perhaps a little bit of post mortem revenge, that is all, which I am not now at liberty to descant upon. But I will take care to coincide with you, and I shall hope that you will follow the old fellow to the grave.’

I promised that much, and duly attended the funeral. It was a quiet, walking affair, and from the manner of it I felt quite convinced that there were not funds to make it otherwise. A mound of earth alone marked the spot in the little church-yard at Barnes, where Mr. Jordan slept the sleep that knows no waking. A drizzling rain came down. The air was cold and eager, and I returned home from the funeral of Mr. Jordan, about as uncomfortable as I could.

o o o o o o

The next day the following advertisement appeared in a morning paper, and caught my eye as I sat at breakfast:

‘If any of the relations of Mr. John James Jordan, deceased, will call at the office of Mr. Shaw, 20, Lincoln’s-Inn Fields, they will hear of something advantageous.’

I made up my mind to call upon Mr. Shaw during the day, and about three o’clock, I reached his chambers, or rather I reached the stair-case leading to them, and there I had to stop, for it was quite besieged by men and women, who were all conversing with great eagerness.

‘What can it mean?’ said an old woman; ‘I’m his aunt, and of course I speak for my Ned!’

‘Well, but bother your Ned,’ said a man, ‘he hardly really belongs to the family. I’m his brother. Think of that, Mrs. Dean.’

‘Think of what, you two-legged goose?’

‘Pho, pho,’ said another man, ‘I knew him very well. I’m his cousin. Hilloa! what’s this? Who are you?’

A woman in tattered garments, but who still looked like a beautiful one, stood hesitatingly at the foot of the stairs.

‘Is this Mr. Shaw’s?’ she said. ‘Hush, Mary, hush! don’t my dear.’ ‘But I am hungry, mamma,’ said the little girl, who was holding her by a handful of her dress.

‘Oh, Mary—do not dear; we—we shall soon go home. Hush, dear, hush, hush! Is this Mr. Shaw’s?’

‘Yes,’ said a fat woman, ‘and who is you, pray?’

‘I—I saw an advertisement. I am his aunt Grace’s only child. My name is Mary Grantham. This is my only child. She—she is fatherless and has been so for many a day,’

‘What,’ cried a man, ‘are you the Mary he broke his heart about?’

‘Broke his fiddlestick,’ said the fat woman.

‘Good God, do I live to hear that!’ exclaimed the woman with the child.

‘You had better go up to the solicitor at once,’ whispered I. ‘Come, I will show his door,’

I made a way for her through the throng of persons, and we soon reached the chamber.

‘Here is another of Mr. Jordan’s relations, Mr. Shaw,’ said I, ‘I find you have had quite a levee.’

‘I have indeed, doctor. You must come at twelve o’clock, next Monday, madam, when the will of Mr. Jordan will be read by me to all around.’

‘I thank you, sir.’ She was about to leave the chambers, when I interposed.

‘Pardon me, madam,’ I said. ‘But as I was the only person with Mr. Jordan, at the time of his decease, I wish to ask you a question. If I mistake not, your name was the last that passed his lips. ‘Mary, my Mary,’ he said, ‘God knows that I loved you!’

She sank into a chair, and burst into tears.

‘You, then,’ I added, ‘are the Mary whom he loved. Ah, why did you not, if you can weep for him now, reciprocate the passion?’

‘I did love him,’ she cried; ‘God knows, and he, who is now with his God, knows how I loved him. But evil tongues came between us, and we were separated. He was maligned to me, and I was wearied by entreaties and tears, until I married another. She, who has turned me from him, and severed two hearts that would and should have been all the world to each other, confessed the sin upon her death-bed.’

‘Who was it?’ said Mr. Shaw.

‘His mother! From no other source could I have believed the tales I was told. But I did not then know enough of the world to think that there were mothers who could malign their own children. We were separated–my husband died, leaving me that last little one, of many. We are very, very poor—no one will help us—an acquaintance showed me the advertisement, and urged me to come—it was a false hope. But I find that there are strong arms and brawling tongues below, that I can not contend against.’

‘Never mind that,’ said the solicitor; ‘it is my duty to read the will on Monday, and as a relation it is your duty to attend at the same time. I tell you to have no expectations.’

I saw Mr. Shaw try to slip some money into her hand, and I saw a crimson flush come over her face as she said, ‘We can still work:’ and then, fearing she had been harsh to one who wished to be kind, she shook his hand in both of hers, and said. ‘God bless you, sir, I thank you from my heart.’

Bang, bang! came to the door of the chamber, a minute after Mary had left, and upon its being opened, a man of about six and thirty made his appearance.

‘Something advantageous!’ he gasped, for he was out of breath; ‘what—what is it? Give it me, give it me! How much? Good God, don’t let any body else have it. I’m his youngest brother—give it to me.’

‘If you will attend here at 12 o’clock on Monday, the will will be read.’

Bang, bang, bang!

‘I’m thoroughly besieged,’ said Mr. Shaw; ‘now, madam, who are you?’

‘Something advantageous,’ screamed a masculine looking woman;

‘I’m a relative—what is it? Come on, my dears. Here’s my five dear daughters, and my baby—come along.’

‘Be off with you,’ cried the younger brother.

‘Did you speak to me, you wretch,’ said the lady, and she planted a blow in his face that made him reel again. ‘Take that; I know you are a sneaking hound; you used to be called the chimpanzee in the family, you poor, scorched-up-looking bundle of cat’s-meat.’

Several more arrivals now took place, and poor Mr. Shaw was fairly bewildered. Sounds of contention arose on the staircase—shrieks from family combatants came upon our ears, and finally, I advised Mr. Shaw to paste a placard on the outer door of his office, on which was written,

‘The will of Mr. Jordan will be read here on Monday next, at twelve o’clock, precisely.’

The riot gradually subsided. The evening came on, and all the relations of the deceased had been and gone. Mr. Shaw and I supped together, and I promised to be with him punctually at twelve o’clock on Monday, for I was as curious as anybody could be to hear the will read, and at all events, anticipated a bustling scene upon the occasion. I was not doomed to be disappointed.

o o o o o

It is a habit of mine rather to be too soon than too late, and in the present instance I found it a most useful one, for I really almost doubt if I should have got into the chambers of Mr. Shaw at all, if I had been later than I was.

I had fairly to push Mrs. Mary Grantham in, despite a vigorous opposition; and a man stopped my own entrance, crying—

‘Who are you? What relation are you?’

‘His grandfather’s uncle,’ said I; ‘and if you don’t make way I’ll pull the nose off your face.’

It was well that Mr. Shaw occupied very spacious chambers, or otherwise he could not have accommodated one-half of the persons who came to the reading of the will; and never in all my life did I see such malignant looks pass from one to another, as shot from the eyes of the relations. It was a most pitiful picture of human nature.

‘Ladies and gentlemen,’ said Mr. Shaw; ‘ahem! ahem!’

There was a death-like stillness.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, I am commissioned to read to you the—the —what shall I call it?—it is hardly a will—of the late Mr. Jordan. No, it certainly ought not to be called a will, for a will, properly speaking, is a testamentary—”

‘Read, read, read!’ cried a dozen voices.

‘Well, ladies and gentlemen, I am glad to see you are all in respectable mourning.’

‘Except one,’ said the younger brother; ‘there’s his Mary, that he was so fond of. Oh, dear me! she only comes for what she can get.’

Mrs. Grantham burst into tears. There was a little shabby piece of black crape upon her arm, and another upon the arm of her child.

‘I—I could not,’ she said; ‘ I could not do more. God help me! I had not the means!

‘Read, read, read!’ cried all the voices.

‘Ahem!’ said Mr. Shaw, reading; ‘I, John James Jordan, being very poor, and having in vain called upon every relation I have in the world, for assistance, and found none, have to state that my heart was filled with bitterness and uncharitableness toward them. But still I think that they are not dead to all feeling; and this being my last will and testament, I desire that my debts, amounting to the sum of one pound, three shillings, and eight pence, be paid forthwith of my estate; that my funeral be strictly private, in Barnes churchyard, where I last parted with one whom I loved, but who has gone abroad, I am told; and to that one of my relations who will erect a tombstone, I bequeath—

‘Hark! will you!’ cried one; ‘be quiet. Go on—yes, yes. Oh: you wretch, where’s your feelings! Go to the devil!’

‘Really, ladies and gentlemen,’ said I, ‘this is most indecorous.’

‘I bequeath,’ continued Mr. Shaw, ‘my dying blessing and forgiveness.’

Mr. Shaw then folded up the will and put it into his pocket, saying— ‘I wish you all good morning, ladies and gentlemen. I sold the few clothes and other matters he died possessed of, and paid for the funeral, and his debts; being myself minus one shilling and four pence, which I hope you will some of you pay.’

It is quite impossible by any words to fairly depict to the reader the appearance of Mr. Jordan’s relations at this moment. If the fabled Gorgon’s head had suddenly appeared, and transformed them all to stone, they could not have looked more completely paralyzed and panic-stricken.

‘A tomb-stone!’ shrieked twenty voices. ‘A tombstone!’

‘A tombstone!’ said Mr. Shaw. ‘A small one would not cost much. You could put on it a suitable inscription. Here lies—’

‘Lies here—never mind,’ said the brother. ‘Never mind. I—I—Oh, that’s all, is it.’

‘You are a humbug,’ said the masculine woman to Mr. Shaw, ‘and so was old stupid Jordan.’

‘Go to the deuce, all of you,’ shouted another; ‘a tombstone indeed.’

Mr. Shaw was wiping his spectacles.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to add,—’

‘Oh, stuff, stuff! Bother! A tombstone indeed; I shan’t stay another moment. An old thief. I wish a tombstone had been down his throat. Come on! Come on! It’s all a do.’

‘But, ladies and gentlemen.—’

They were quite deaf to the remonstrances of Mr. Shaw, and in a few moments the chambers were quite clear, with the exception of Mrs. Mary Grantham, who was sobbing bitterly. She then rose, and looked at me hesitatingly. Then she looked at Mr. Shaw, and she seemed to be struggling to say something. She placed her hand in her bosom, and drew forth a ring tied to a black ribbon, and then, with a convulsive effort she spoke.

‘This—this ring—it is my only valuable possession. It was given to me thirty years ago, by him who is now no more, my cousin John, who loved me. I have clung to it in pain and in sorrow, in difficulty and in distress; I have never parted with it. I seemed to be but only separated from him while I had it near my heart. But now, great distress forces me—to—to part with it. Will—will neither of you gentlemen buy it of me. I—I shrink from its going into the hands of utter strangers.’

‘Humph!’ said Mr. Shaw; ‘there are a couple of sovereigns for it.’

She took the money, and then, after one long, lingering look, and a fervent kiss at the ring. she laid it on the table. and tottered from the place. I was about to follow her, but Mr. Shaw held me back.

‘Hold! hold!’ he said.

‘You are a brute sir,’ said I. ‘Take your hands off me; I will buy the ring of you and give it back to her. It breaks her heart to part with it, I see,’

‘I shan’t part with it,’ he said; ‘you are a very hasty man, doctor.’

I was very angry, and bounced out of the office. I looked eagerly about for Mrs. Grantham, but could not see her. I walked hurriedly across the square, and as chance would have it. I went in the same direction she did. My first impulse was to speak to her, and my second thought was to follow her, and to see where she went. She crossed Holborn, and traversed some of the long streets that lead into the New Road, where she arrived at last, and finally paused at a stone-mason’s yard.

I could have shed tears at that moment, for now I felt why she had parted with her cherished ring. She stayed about a quarter of an hour at the stone-mason’s, and then she came out and walked slowly away. I did not follow her further, but I went into the mason’s yard, and said to him—

‘Did that lady give you an order?’

‘Why, yes, sir, such a one as it is. She has got me to do a stone for two pounds, and she’s paid me. I’m to meet her at the churchyard at Barnes to-morrow morning at nine o’clock with it. and put it up. It’s only to have on it the name of John James Jordan. and under that. ‘God bless him.’

I walked away with a sort of mist before my eyes, and it was an hour before I recovered my composure. ‘I will meet her,’ thought I, ‘at the grave of her last love, and I will be a friend to her, if she never have another in the world. She shall have her ring again, if I force it from the lawyer. She shall have it. I’ll go and get it now, at once.’

I suppose I looked in a very tolerable passion when I got back to Mr. Shaw’s chambers, for he got behind a table when he saw me, and said— ‘Come, come, no violence.’

‘Hark you, sir,’ said I; ‘you have got the ring. There’s your money. Give it me directly, sir. Mrs. Grantham, poor thing, is going tomorrow morning, at nine o’clock, to place a stone at the grave of Mr. Jordan, and I intend to be there and give her her ring.’

‘Oh! very well. Bother the ring. I don’t want it. It ain’t worth half the money I gave for it. There it is; don’t bother me.’

I took up the ring, then put down two sovereigns, and casting upon him a withering look, which, to tell the truth, he did not seem much to care about, I left the chambers.

o o o o o

A soft. damp, white mist covered up all objects, and made the air uncommonly raw and chilly, as on the following morning, just as the clock of the church at Barnes chimed the three-quarters past eight, I entered the churchyard.

The first thing I then did, was to fall over somebody’s grave, for I was looking for Mrs. Grantham, instead of minding where I was walking; and then a voice said—

‘There you go again, as violent as usual, doctor;’ and in the dim mist I saw Mr. Shaw, the solicitor, to my great surprise.

I was going to say something, but at the moment I was nearly knocked down again, by some one brushing past me. A gleam of sunshine came out, and the mist began to clear away, when a most singular scene presented itself. A few yards off was the grave of Mr. Jordan, and kneeling by it was Mary, his first love, with her child by her side. Mr. Shaw stood to my left, and at his feet there knelt a respectable looking young man—I recollected him as Mr. Shaw’s clerk.

“Good God! Richards,’ said Mr. Shaw, ‘is that you? What is the matter?’

‘Oh! sir,’ said Richards. ‘I have come to ask your forgiveness. The spirit of my poor old father stood by my bedside all night. Oh, God! oh, God! it was dreadful; and I knew what it was for. Oh! sir, forgive me. I—I peeped into the will, sir, while you went out to dinner—Mr. Jordan’s will—and—and I went round to all the relations, and sold the secret for two pounds a-piece, and—and—’

Mr. Shaw gave a jump that astonished me.

‘Doctor, doctor,’ he shouted; ‘for God’s sake run down the London road and bring the man with the gravestone. Oh! good gracious. Oh! d——n you, Richards. Ha! ha! ha! Oh! here he is. Oh! bless you for a prudent stone-mason; you shall get well paid for this job. Hip! hip! Hip!—hurrah!’

I thought, to be sure, that Mr. Shaw must have gone mad. There was a man looking over the railing of the church-yard, with a spade on his shoulder; to him Mr. Shaw said—

‘Five guineas for that spade.’

The man thought he was mad, and tried to run away; but he dropped the spade; and in another moment Mr. Shaw’s coat was off, and he was digging away like fury.

‘Where’s the stone!’ he cried: ‘bring the stone. That’s right. Poke it in—prop it up. That’s the thing—all’s right. Here we are. Another knock. All’s right—all’s right.’

‘Lor!’ said the stone-mason, as he lifted up his hands; ‘look there!’

I looked in the direction he indicated, and there, to my astonishment, I saw arriving, carts, coaches, cabs, and wheel-barrows, and each containing a tombstone. A regular fight ensued at the entrance of the churchyard; and engaged in the fight I recognized the relations of Mr. Jordan. Heavens, how they cuffed each other!

‘Hold!’ cried Mr. Shaw; ‘you are all too late, although you had information you ought not to have had. There is already a stone on Mr. Jordan, and placed, too, by the only one who knew not what you all know. Listen to the conclusion of the will—‘And to that one of my relations who will erect a tombstone to my memory, I bequeath my blessing and forgiveness, and eighty thousand pounds in bank stock.’ ‘Madam,’ to Mrs. Grantham, ‘I congratulate you.’

‘And there’s your ring.’ said I; ‘Mr. Shaw, let us shake hands; I understand you now.’

‘Ha! ha!’ said Mr. Shaw, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, you had better all of you keep the tombstones for yourselves. You can get the name altered, for if you don’t, I’m very much afraid you will not find them

SOMETHING ADVANTAGEOUS.’

The Cincinnatus, Vol. 1, 1857: pp. 31-40

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil does so like a happy ending…. Except, possibly for Mr Shaw’s clerk, who will, it seems likely, lose his situation.  And possibly for the greedy relatives, although, to be fair, tombstones can be easily altered or even re-sold to recoup their losses. One predicts that some of the tombstones will be soon needed, as Mr Jordan’s volatile relations succumb to chagrin-induced apoplexies.

 

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.

The Crape-Chaser: 1891

1917 wire frames for funeral flowers Book for Florists p 34
1917 wire frames for funeral flowers.

THE ” CRAPE-CHASER. “

A Peculiar but Profitable Mode of Gaining a Livelihood.

A reporter met a crape-chaser the other day for the first time to know who and what he was. It was in a local florist’s shop. A rather seedy and lugubrious individual entered. In his hand he carried a small wire frame with wire lettering. It was apparent that it was one of those frames used by florists in preparing wreaths and the like on the occasion of funerals.

The florist seemed to know the newcomer, and he saluted him familiarly.

“Well, Jim, what is it?” he asked.

“Just a few scraps,” said the melancholy one, “funeral’s this afternoon.”

“Well. I can’t do much for you to day, Jim,” said the florist Then he rummaged among his flowers for a few minutes and finally handed Jim a few bunches of withered flowers and fern. “It’s the best I can do,” he said.

“’Never mind,” said the melancholy one, “I reckon I can make ‘em do!” Then he went away as lugubrious as he was when he came.

“Lost some of his family?” the reporter asked.

“Gracious, no, answered the florist with a laugh. “Jim never had any family that I’ve heard of. Jim is a crape chaser, you know.” The reporter didn’t know, and then he was enlightened as to crape chasers. These gentlemen seem to have shown a very considerable degree of originality in their selection of a calling.

They form a portion of that army of persons who in one wav or another make a living out of the fact that men must die. Some of the original members of the army have dropped out of the ranks for good and for all. The professional mourner, for instance, is no longer to be seen. He is no longer an institution respected even by the small boys in the streets.

The crape chaser is another sort of a tradesman. If he was vain-glorious he might call himself a florist, although that would be rather stretching the matter, since he bears about the same relation to a florist proper that a penny cake stand bears to a full-fledged bakery.

The crape chaser’s mode of procedure is simple. He reads the death columns of the daily papers every morning, hangs about undertaker’s establishments in the tenement districts waiting for accounts of deaths. He pays no attention save to those that occur in poor families. He is at the scene of death as soon as or before the crape is hung on the door. He goes armed with frames that are appropriate for floral pieces.

By the exercise of any wile that may seem to fit the occasion he manages to secure interviews with some member of the bereaved family. The crape-chaser displays his frames. He argues that he can supply floral pieces much cheaper than any florist will, and this is true, although he does not tell why he can.

Sometimes he fails to obtain orders, but many more times he succeeds, and in his way does a more or less profitable business, for although he sells so much cheaper than a florist with the flowers he uses for wreaths and the like are the odds, ends and outcastings of the florist’s stock. So his profits are fully in proportion to his outlay.

The trade has its ramifications too. Near one of the local cemeteries there is a man who makes a business of buying up the rusty old frames when the graves are cleaned from time to time and the wrecks of floral pieces taken from them. He cleans and repaints the frames, and then sells them for a song. The crape chasers are his best customers. And so this queer business is carried on. N. Y. Mail and Express.

Baxter Springs [KS] News 9 May 1891: p. 4

 

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 new blog at The Victorian Book of the Dead.

Trouble Arising from a Doll’s Funeral: 1899

http://www.liveauctioneers.com
http://www.liveauctioneers.com

HOW THE VILLAGE WAS UPSET

CONSEQUENCES OF A DOLL’S FUNERAL

In front of the Stoners’ house two little girls, children of a neighbour, were playing with their dolls, when suddenly the younger of them said,

“I’ll tell you what—let’s play funeral.”

“How?” “Well, we can play that my Josephine Maude dolly died, and that we buried her.”

“That will be splendid! Let’s have her die at once.”

Immediately after the death of Josephine Maude her grief-stricken mother said:

“Now, Katie, we must put crape on the door-knob to let folks know about it. You run over to our house and get the long black veil mamma wore when she was in mourning for grandpa.”

Katie went away, and soon returned with a long black mourning veil. It was quickly tied to Mrs. Stoner’s front door bell; then the bereft Dorothy’s grief broke out afresh, and she wailed and wept so vigorously that Mrs. Stoner put her head out of an upper window and said:

“You little girls are making too much noise down there. Mr. Stoner’s ill, and you disturb him. I think you’d better run home and play now. My husband wants to sleep.”

The children gathered up their dolls and playthings and departed, sobbing in their disappointment as they went down the road.

Mary Simmons, who passed them a block above, but on the other side of the street, supposing the children to be playing at sorrow, was greatly shocked. She came opposite the house to observe the crape on the door knob.

“Mr. Stoner is dead,” she said to herself. “Poor Sam! I knew he was ill, but I’d no idea that he was at all dangerous. I must stop on my way home and find out about it.”

She would have stopped then if it had not been for her eagerness to carry the news to those who might not have heard it. A little further on she met an acquaintance.

“Ain’t heard ‘bout the trouble up at the Stoners’, have you?” she asked.

“What trouble?” “Sam Stoner is dead. There’s crape on the doorknob. I was in there yesterday, and Sam was up and round the house; but I could see that he was a good deal worse than he or his wife had any idea of, and I ain’t much s’prised.”

“My goodness me! I must find time to call there before night.” Mrs. Simmons stopped at the village post office, ostensibly to look for a letter, but really to impart her information to Dan Wales, the talkative old postmaster.

“Heard ‘bout Sam Stoner?” she asked.

“No. I did hear he was gruntin’ round a little, but—“

“He won’t grunt no more,” said Mrs. Simmons solemnly. “He’s dead.”

“How you talk!”

“It’s right. There’s crape on the door.” “Must have bene dreadful sudden! Mrs. Stoner was in here last evening, an’ she reckoned he’d be out in a day or two.” “I know. But he ain’t been well for a long time. I could see it if others couldn’t.”

“Well, well! I’ll go round to the house soon as Mattie comes home.” The news spread now from another source.

Job Higley, the grocer’s assistant, returned from leaving some things at the house full of indignation.

“That Mrs. Stoner hain’t no more feelin’ than a lamp-post,” said Job, indignantly, to his employer. “There’s crape on the door knob for poor Sam Stoner; an’ when I left the groceries Mrs. Stoner was cookin’ a joint, cool as a cucumber, an’ singing’ “Ridin’ on a Load of Hay,’ loud as she could screech, an’ when I said I was sorry about Sam, she just laughed an’ said she thought Sam was all right, an’ then if she didn’t go to jokin’ me about my courting Tildy Hopkins!”

Old Mrs. Peavey came home with an equally scandalous tale.

“I went over the Stoners’ soon as I heered ‘bout poor Sam,” she said, “an’ if you’ll believe me, there was Mrs. Stoner hangin’ out clothes in the back yard. I went roun’ to where she was, an’ she says, jest as flippant as ever, “Mercy! Mrs. Peavey, where’d you drop from?’ I felt so s’prised an’ disgusted that I says: ‘Mrs. Stoner, this is a mighty solemn thing,’ an’ if she didn’t jest look at me an’ laugh, with the crape for poor Sam danglin’ from the front door bell-knob, an’ she says, ‘I don’t see nothin’ very solemn ‘bout washin’ an’ hangin’ out some o’ Sam’s old shirts an’ underwear that he’ll never wear agin. I’m goin’ to work ‘em up into carpet rags if they ain’t too far gone for even that.”

“’Mrs. Stoner,’ I says, ‘the neighbours will talk dreadfully if you ain’t more careful,’ an’ she got real angry, an’ said if the neighbours would attend to their business she’d attend to hers. I turned an’ left without even goin’ into the house.”

The “Carbury Weekly Star,” the only paper in the village came out two hours later with this announcement in bold type:–

We stop our press to announce the unexpected death of our highly respected fellow-citizen, Mr. Samuel Stoner, this afternoon. A more extended notice will appear next week.

“Unexpected! I should say so!” said Mr. Samuel Stoner in growing wrath and amazement as he read this announcement in the paper.

“There is the minister coming in at the gate,” interrupted his wife. “Do calm down, Sam! He’s coming to make arrangements for the funeral, I suppose. How ridiculous!”

Mr. Haves the minister was surprised when Mr. Stoner opened the door and said: “Come right in, pastor; come right in. My wife’s busy, but I’ll give you the main points myself if you want to go ahead with the funeral.”

For the first time he saw the crape, and, taking it into the house, he called to his wife for an explanation. Later, they heard Dorothy Dean’s childish voice calling: “Please, Mrs. Stoner, Kate and I left mamma’s old black veil tied to your door-knob when we were playing over here, and I’d like to have it.”

Current Opinion, Vol. 17 1895

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: In this era where black is more likely to be worn by bridesmaids than those attending a funeral, it is almost impossible for us to imagine the shock and dismay occasioned by the appearance of a crape streamer on the front door. It is difficult to think of a modern example of a similarly alarming object: an ambulance at a neighbour’s, or a parking ticket on the wind-screen only approximate the horrifying effect of crape on the door and the assumptions it generated.

Mrs Daffodil told of another crape contretemps involving a hungry goat in “The Goat Ate the Crape.”  And that crepuscular person over at the Haunted Ohio blog told of a terrifying example of how crape hung on the door could be a threat, in “The Thornley Crape Threat.”

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.

You may read of other funeral contretemps, as well as stories of corpses, crypts, and crape in The Victorian Book of the Dead.