“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?”
“Do so frequently?”
“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.’
“’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.
In looking at the popular culture of funerals and death for The Victorian Book of the Dead, I’ve noticed a minor trend in reporting on über-extravagant burials. The Gilded Age was a golden age for the conspicuous consumption of coffins and other funerary goods. Undertakers were quizzed about (and did not hesitate to volunteer) sumptuary details, such as Mrs Van Gilding had a genuine mahogany casket, rather than rosewood veneer, the coffin fittings were real silver, rather than plate, and that the lining fabric cost $12 a yard. This inspired a sort of arms-race, except with funeral trappings as opposed to deadly weapons. Keeping up with the Boneses….
To Hold Safe Her Gems
Mrs. “Diamond” Johnson Will Be Buried With Her Jewels.
An Impregnable Grave Built to Baffle Any Attempt at Robbery.
[Norwich (Conn.) Cor. New York Herald.]
Mrs. Mary Tuttle (“Diamond”) Johnson, formerly a resident of this city, now of Chicago, for whom a conservator was recently appointed by request of her husband and sons, has had a remarkable grave constructed in her lot in Yantic Cemetery, destined to receive her body. It is the most costly, massive, unique and elaborate one in this state.
Mrs. Johnson purchased her cemetery lot some time ago and had her grave made. She is haunted by an overmastering dread of graveyard ghouls and robbers and she had barely completed her grave when she decided that it was not strong enough to baffle a possible assault after her body had been committed to it.
With a corps of skilled professional workmen she went to work at once to reconstruct and immensely strengthen it, carrying on the work clandestinely in order to forestall opposition on the part of her conservator and her watchful husband and sons. The result of her craftiness and the dispatch and dexterity of her workmen was that she not only accomplished her project without betraying her design, but so neatly that there is not an outward token to indicate to a casual observer that the old grave had ever been disturbed.
GRAVE SEEMS IMPREGNABLE.
The grave is in many respects the most remarkable and wonderfully contrived one probably in New England. Apparently it is impregnable to assault.
Its floor is a huge smoothly chiseled slab of Rhode Island granite, weighing more than a ton, while a similar gigantic slab of stone, which weighs 2,700 pounds and can be handled only with the aid of a derrick, forms its cover.
The walls of the grave are of cemented pressed brick, solid as adamant, and as thick and enduring seemingly as those of a modern fort.
Mrs. John is greatly pleased with the remodeled tomb, and convinced that after her body is placed between this two ponderous granite slabs it will be absolutely secure.
Not long ago Mrs. Johnson had a magnificent granite monument erected on her cemetery lot at a cost of $18,000, which is said to be the most ornate, unique and expensive private mortuary memorial in New England. It is a lofty, shapely shaft, handsomely polished and carved, bearing the allegorical figures, also superbly sculptured, of Faith, Hope and Charity. The monument was erected by famous granite cutters of Westerly, R.I.
Mrs. John’s ruling passion is an immoderate fondness for diamonds, on account of which the title of Mrs. “Diamond” Johnson
WAS POPULARLY BESTOWED
On her more than a quarter of a century ago. At all times she is a-glitter with the gems from head to foot, and she rarely appears in public with less than $25,000 to $50,000 worth of them displayed on her person.
It is said to be her intention to have her fabulous store of jewels buried with her body, a fancy that may account, in part, for her determination to make her tomb absolutely impregnable to grave robbers….The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 26 December 1896: p. 8
The tomb, which is pictured at the head of this post, seems to be a different one than currently stands in Yantic Cemetery, and the vault built so secretly seems to have disappeared altogether, but the rich and eccentric (or their heirs) often changed their minds about monuments.
Mrs. Henry Hiller also changed her mind and had a second set of wildly expensive caskets made for her husband and herself. You can’t take it with you, but Mrs. Hiller really did give it her best try.
A CONNOISSEUR IN COFFINS
Mrs. Hiller Spends Twenty Thousand Dollars For Her Own Burial Robe
[Boston Special to New York World.]
The eccentricities of the late Dr. Henry Hiller and wife, of Wilmington, Mass., whose fad was magnificently carved and luxuriously upholstered burial caskets, have been described in the World already. The doctor’s funeral took place a year ago to-day and the corpse was carried to its last resting place in a silk-lined, gold-plated, elaborately carved casket of solid mahogany, enclosed by another casket no less extravagantly appointed. Six richly caparisoned coal-black Percherons in gold-mounted harness, each attended by a colored groom, carried the casket to the temporary vault. There the doctor’s body has been guarded night and day by a grim old watchman. A $500 lamp standing in front has shed its bright rays in the path of possible body-snatchers or grave desecrators, and every morning the faithful widow has gone to see that everything about the place was all right.
Not satisfied with the ghostly magnificence of a year ago, the widow has been at work on the construction of new caskets, one for her husband, the other for herself, which easily surpass in magnificence and grotesqueness of ornamentation any thing of the kind the world has ever seen. Each casket is in two parts—the casket proper and the sarcophagus. The material in all four is solid mahogany, imported specially from South America. The upholstering inside is as elaborate as money could make it. Corded silk of the value of $10 a yard is the material used. The lids are made of separate panels, highly polished, richly carved and fastened by solid gold hinges with knobs of solid gold for opening them. The doctor’s new casket is fastened by a heavy brass door of Gothic design, having a knob made of six pounds of solid gold. On the panels are solid gold tablets, inscribed with the doctor’s favorite passages of Scripture, such as “I know that my Redeemer liveth.” “Blessed are they that die in the Lord.”
Standing at the head of the coffin is a figure of the doctor built out of solid mahogany and reduced to a height of eighteen inches. About him are the figures of four angels welcoming him to Paradise. Mrs. Hiller’s coffin, on the other hand, has her figure recumbent on the lid, with three angels ministering to her and the doctor kneeling beside her with his right arm supporting her head. But the most remarkable feature of this remarkable burial casket is the carving on one of the side panels. The sculptor has drawn a sketch of a landscape, showing at intervals a meadow, a river, a hill, a forest, a valley, and, last of all, a mountain, at the apex of which is a white cross. Clinging to the cross is a naked cherub, and behind another cherub, and then another, until twenty-three are counted climbing toward the cross. During the twenty-four years of her married life, Mrs. Hiller says she bore her husband twenty-three children, none of whom lived. The procession up the mountain, she says, perpetuates the memory of her little ones.
Mrs. Hiller has also had made for herself a burial robe, of which it may be truly said that it beggars description. The dress-maker completed it after four months’ labor and an outlay of $20,000. The robe is made of white ottoman silk, corded heavily. There is also a wilderness of white silk lace running in perpendicular panels and tucked and gathered and fluted until it stands out to a distance of five inches. There are other panels of white surah of the most expensive manufacture. Between the panels of silk and lace are intermediate panels constructed solely of daisies made in France of pure silk after a design bought in Boston for $40. It is estimated that 5,000 of these daisies are sewed into this gown. The robe opens in front and is fastened by upward of 200 solid silver hooks designed like a serpent’s head.
The total outlay by Mrs. Hiller will be not far short of $500,000. The mausoleum will be of hammered granite. In the four walls will be gilt windows, through which it is planned to have rays of colored light enter, a different light to each window, which, blending, will fall upon the caskets resting side by side within. The caskets will stand each on four huge brass legs and chairs of magnificent design will be in the mausoleum for the accommodation of sight-seers. Mrs. Hiller will soon hold a reception for the exhibition of the caskets, the invitation to which is a picture of a coffin with “Admit one,” written beneath.
Mrs. Hiller says Queen Victoria sent to her for all the American papers that contained notices of the doctor’s funeral. When she had read them she said that Mrs. Hiller was the only woman who had surpassed Her Majesty in doing honor to a dead consort. The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 December 1889: p. 11
A little more detail on the coffins, which sound like an artistic nightmare with their jumble of figures and mythologies.
The Hillers have spent $10,000 on their new coffins, which are beauties of mechanical and artistic skill. Each casket consists of two parts, or, in other words, each body will have two coffins. The inner coffin is composed of mahogany, made air-tight by being completely enveloped in copper. It rests within the outside casket on two elegant brass supports which represent the big paws of a lion.
It is on the outside casket, however, that the most lavish expenditure has been made. This is of mahogany also, the interior being lined with copper, the mountings of the latter being noticeably fine. Every panel contains a group of figures, and it is here the beauties of the carver’s art are made apparent.
Every figure is carefully and accurately made, and stands out in bold and striking relief. Each panel and its figures must have provided weeks of labor. To enumerate the symbols and figures which the artist has imparted with a living flourish to the receptacle of the dead would be to rehearse the names of all the familiar reproductions of the animate and inanimate in decorative art. A lion rampant here, a fierce-fanged griffin, birds of every species, fishes, flowers, plants, trees, the bow and arrow, &c., while in central positions are seen Flora and Ceres, cherubs blowing trumpets, angels tuning harps, Apollo with his lyre, Jupiter with thunderbolts, Neptune with his trident, &c., The caskets have been constructed at Dr. Hiller’s house. He says he has been offered $50,000 by a prominent showman to exhibit them. The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 20 November 1887: p. 12
Dr. Hiller died in 1888 and was interred with much pomp. Mrs. Frances Hiller died in May of 1900. She had married her coachman, Peter Surrette, who, at her request, changed his name to Henry Hiller. He waived all rights to her estate, which was said to be worth $500,000. The funeral was a spectacle, with over 2,000 people turning out to stare at the much-vaunted casket, which rode on what looked like a crape-draped float from a morbid parade.
The pageant quickly degenerated into a fantasist’s farce: In truth, Mrs. Hiller had borne not 23, but three children—one of whom survived. The $50,000 casket turned out to have cost $2,000 and the $500,000 mausoleum with solid-gold knockers was never actually built, leaving only the original stone receiving vault, where Dr. Hiller slept, to receive the remains. The cast couchant lion pedestals (the “brass legs” mentioned above) that were to have held the caskets, proved too tall for the small vault and were discarded in a corner. Mrs. Hiller’s casket and the new one for her husband had been stored in an outbuilding and were not in the best of condition. But eventually Dr. and Mrs. Hiller were wrestled into their new sarcophagi, and the door, which had fallen into the tomb when the workmen uncovered it, was permanently bricked up. Several years later, cemetery authorities decided that the Hiller vault spoiled the look of the cemetery entrance. They demolished the vault and had the mahogany caskets, still in good condition, buried in the ground. Sic transit gloria mundi…
Other examples of funerary excess? Detailed photos of the Hiller coffins? Send engraved on a silver (solid, not plate, mind…) coffin plaque to chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
President James A. Garfield died 19 September, 1881, after being shot by Charles Guiteau 2 July 1881. The nation mourned and floral tributes poured in from around the globe. As we have seen in the story about the funeral flowers of General Grant, these funeral flowers were often preserved and displayed. President Garfield’s flowers led to an unseemly lawsuit.
FLOWERS AND THORNS.
The Disgraceful Wrangle Among a Gang of Speculators Over the Garfield Funeral Tributes.
Special Dispatch to the Enquirer.
Chicago, Ill., May 3. The Garfield funeral flowers have been returned to Cleveland by General Eldridge, the custodian, under a stipulation entered into by the parties to the litigation, and are now in possession of the Monument Association.
There is an inside history to this matter which is not very creditable to all the persons who helped to make it. The most conspicuous character is Mrs. Anna Getz Lucas and she is responsible for the charges which the people of Ohio are making against Chicago. How long she has been here, or what her antecedents are, no one appears to know. A day or two before the funeral of President Garfield at Cleveland she turned up at the Mayor’s office, and stated to Mr. Harrison that she was an artist in pressing flowers, and had pressed the wreath at the Prince Consort’s funeral, exhibiting what purported to be a letter form Queen Victoria’s household in support of her assertion. She stated that a number of wealthy ladies of Chicago were anxious to have her go to Cleveland and obtain as many of the floral tributes as possible and bring them to this city for preservation and exhibition before they were presented to Mrs. Garfield.
His Honor was impressed with her story, and without making any inquiry about her wrote a letter of indorsement to the Mayor of Cleveland, saying in it that the ladies of Chicago desired to show in this way their respect and sympathy for Mrs. Garfield. Having got this from Mr. Harrison, Mrs. Lucas went to Cleveland and handed his letter to the Mayor, who gave a stronger one to the Chairman of the Committee on Arrangements. From him she procured one to the Chairman of the Committee on Decorations, and he wrote to J. Stanley Brown. He got the latter letter the morning after the funeral; and, as Mr. Brown and Mrs. Garfield had gone to Mentor, Mrs. Lucas followed them thither. Mr. Brown consulted Mrs. Garfield, who was “very grateful to the ladies of Chicago for their tender sympathy,” and said she would sanction whatever was agreeable to the Committee. So Mr. Brown wrote to the Chairman to use his best judgment as to letting Mrs. Lucas have the flowers.
The Committee gave her carte blanche¸and she took nearly all of them—over half a freight-car being required to carry them to Chicago. When she got them here she had no money or means to preserve them. Then she induced a man named Daily and Mrs. Anna L. Childs to form a partnership, the two putting in $500 apiece, for the purpose of carting the flowers about the country and placing them on exhibition for money. These speculators thought they had such a good thing that Mrs. Childs and Daily are understood to have asked $25,000 for their interest. This little arrangement became known to Mrs. Garfield, and she very properly put her foot down, and gave directions that the show should be stopped. Then came the legal quarrel among the partners, Mrs. Childs and Daily wanting their money or the flowers, Mrs. Lucas having both. A few of the flowers had been preserved and duplicates made, and the latter were shown to the people of Chicago as the genuine pieces, a fee being charged to see them. In order to get possession, Mrs. Childs replevined the flowers, alleging that they were worth $200, and in this way they got into Justice Robinson’s Court.
Mrs. Childs then filed a bill in Chancery to wind up the partnership, asking for a receiver, and Mrs. Lucas put in a cross bill. The matter came up before Judge Gardner, and he appointed General Eldridge custodian, a receiver being out of the question, as the property was not technically merchandise. Shortly afterward the General brought about a compromise, and the parties signed a stipulation that the flowers should be sent to the Monument Association for Mrs. Garfield, the frames to be returned to Mrs. Lucas in case they were not wanted. So, after this long wrangle among these speculators, the flowers are once more in the possession of the owner, and Mrs. Garfield will get the Queen’s wreath, which she prizes so highly.
A private letter from Cleveland stated that Mrs. Lucas sent in a bill for $7,000 or $8,000 for preserving the flowers. The Association promptly threw it into the waste-basket. There is an agreement in the stipulation that whatever money comes into the hands of the Custodian shall be deposited with the Clerk of the Superior Court, subject to the order of the Court or to further stipulation of the parties. This order indicates that Mrs. Childs and Daily have some hope that they can get from the Monument Association the $1,000 they gave to Mrs. Lucas. The right thing for the Association to do is to refuse to pay over a cent. The two partners should be required to look to Mrs. Lucas for their money, and she should be paid no more for her services than an expert decides they are worth. Mrs. Lucas got the flowers by a misunderstanding, as the “wealthy ladies of Chicago” were simply creatures of her imagination. The people of this city repudiate these speculators in the world’s tribute of respect to President Garfield, and hope that the indignant citizens of Ohio will confine their anathemas to them.
The Chicago [IL] Tribune 4 May 1882: p. 7
Although the author of the article did not know Mrs. Getz’s “antecedents,” she was well-known in California as a prize-winning preserver of flowers and plants. At the agricultural exhibition of the California State Agricultural Society, “Mme. Anna Getz Lucas,” displayed baskets of cherries, modeled in wax in 1874 and “One case natural flowers, preserved,” in 1875. In 1877, she took three “bests” at the Mechanics’ Fair.
Madam Anna Getz Lucas, one best preserved ferns and pitcher plant, two best preserved Autumn leaves.
Award of Premiums at the Mechanics’ Fair Pacific Rural Press 6 October 1877: p. 218
The article is not clear whether the wreath sent by Queen Victoria, which was displayed prominently at all stages of the funeral journey, was included in the half a freight-car of flowers taken to Chicago.
QUEEN VICTORIA’S FLORAL OFFERING.
Queen Victoria cabled this morning to the British minister to have a floral tribute prepared in her name. It has just been received at the capitol and placed at the head of the bier of the president. It is very large and is an exquisite specimen of the florist’s art. It is composed of white roses, smilax, and stephantes. It is accompanied by a mourning card bearing the following inscription: “Queen Victoria, to the memory of President Garfield, as an expression of her sorrow and sympathy with Mrs. Garfield and the American people, Sept. 22, 1881.”
The Saint Paul [MN] Globe 23 September 1881: p. 1
The royal tribute was eventually preserved:
Sons of St. George [a fraternal secret society of men of English descent] have suitably framed Queen Vic’s wreath, sent to the Garfield funeral.
The flower-pieces which were placed near the coffin of General Grant while his body lay in state were taken from the City Hall yesterday and carried to the tomb by the undertaker. On Sunday evening when Colonel Grant and his sister visited the City Hall it was determined to make this disposition of them. They were carefully removed and placed in a covered wagon by Mr. Merritt. When he reached the vault the crowd of visitors already there made it necessary to place a guard beside the wagon while the flowers were removing.
Several of the larger pieces had to be taken apart to get them into the vault. The design representing the American colors given by the municipality was placed in the background of the vault and the floral clock whose hands indicated the hour of the General’s death was in the center of the rear wall. The coffin itself was covered with laurel and immortelles. At the head of the coffin was the piece “Galena,” from Grant’s old fellow-townsmen. Two floral vases were placed at the sides of the entrance. The pieces can all be seen by visitors as they pass before the tomb. “The flowers will not be taken away,” said Mr. Merritt, “but will stay in the vault as long as the coffin does. When the flowers had all been removed some branches of moss remained on the stone platform before the vault. They were swept up by one of the officers into a little heap when one woman bent over and picked up a spray of white immortelles. Instantly there was a general rush for the rest. Before the sentry and the policemen were aware of it they were pushed aside by the eager relic-hunters, and when they forced back the crowd not a twig or leaf of the little heap was left.
A more touching incident occurred at another hour, when a little woman, bent and gray, appeared at the tomb carrying a lily in a flower-pot. She said to Captain Fessenden that her name was Emma Bryan, that she was a hospital nurse during the war and still retained the pass which enabled her to visit all the hospitals within Union lines to care for the soldiers. Captain Fessenden accompanied her to the tomb and permitted her to go within the lines and up to the grating. After looking in the vault for a few moments she placed the flower-pot down beside the entrance, saying that she had brought it there for General Grant’s tomb, as she had met him several times and he had often talked with her in wartimes. She burst into tears as she told her story and said that she was coming again from time to time to bring some flowers for “her General.”
At 6 o’clock the inner oaken doors of the vault are closed for the night, shutting off the view of the interior. A countersign is then given to the sentinels by all who pass the lines. Last night the countersign was “Spotsylvania.” The guard in closing the oaken doors met with some difficulty, the outer grating having been locked by Captain Beatty. He asked one of the bystanders for his cane to use in pulling the door shut. The man complied and as the guard handed the cane back another man reached over to the owner of the cane, touched him on the shoulder and said quickly:
‘I’ll give you $5 for that stick!”
“You couldn’t have it for $50 now,” said the owner as he walked proudly away.
President Crimmins said yesterday that no more work would be done just now on the grounds at Claremont, but in a few days he expected to place a force of men at work to finish the road. Some more work is also to be done on the roof of the vault. The exact cost of the vault is not yet know, but Park Commissioner Beekman said on Friday that it was estimated that the structure itself would cost about $2,000. More than 200 men were employed during the two weeks by the Park Board on the vault and the grounds, and the entire cost of the work at Claremont since the selection of the site will probably reach about $10,000. With the exception of building the vault, this work was to have been done on the park during the summer and fall. It has now been compressed into two weeks. Calvert Vaux, who has been considering plans for the monument with Park Superintendent Parsons, thinks that the best place for the monument is in the immediate vicinity of the vault.
Late yesterday afternoon Mayor Grace received an anchor of flowers that had been sent by colored citizens of Florida for the funeral, but arrived too late. It will be turned over to the Park Department to be placed on the tomb.
New York [NY] Tribune 11 August 1885: p. 5
I regret that I have not been able to find a photo of the floral clock giving the time of General Grant’s death. If anyone knows where to find one, do please share. The flowers at the head of this post were floral tributes from the General’s funeral, which were waxed and are now on display at Grant’s Cottage at Wilton, New York. You can see some other images of the flowers here.