Mourning for a Departed Queen: 1901

ROYAL MOURNING.

In their deep, sincere sense of personal lose, and In their desire to pay every outward mark of reverence for the memory of their beloved Queen, the whole nation (the “Daily Graphic ” of January 26 writes) had anticipated the Earl Marshal’s intimation that all persons were expected to put themselves into deep mourning. No Sovereign, we may be certain, was ever more sincerely mourned than Queen Victoria, though there have been Royal deaths which have occasioned more violent outward demonstrations of grief. We have become a more self-restrained people than of yore. Formerly the news of a Queen’s death and a Royal funeral were marked with loud weeping, groans, and even shrieks. When Quean Elizabeth was carried to her tomb the city of Westminster was thronged with crowds, not only in the streets and windows, but on the leads and gutters. The waxen effigy of the Queen was, according to old custom, laid on her coffin, and at the sight of it there was a burst of lamentation loud and continuous. So late as the death of the luckless Queen Caroline of Brunswick the women of her household upon hearing that she was really dead uttered piercing shrieks in the corridor adjoining the death chamber. The quietude of the last sad scene of our great Queen’s life, and the mournful silence with which her people received the dreaded intelligence of their loss, contrast very favourably with the demonstrative exhibitions of former days, and symbolise a deeper sense of affliction and affection.

The period of public mourning has not at present been prescribed, and there is no fear that it will be deemed too long, as were sundry general mournings ordered by other Sovereigns. In 1768, for instance, the city of London sent a formal remonstrance to George III, on the lengthy Court mourning, which materially affected trade, and to this the King replied that he was pleased to order that in future the mourning should be shorter.

The mourning ordered for ladies and gentlemen of the Court has not very materially altered during the past 200 years, but it should be remembered that violet, and not black, was Royal mourning down to the reign of James II. Napoleon III. was the last European ruler to adopt this fashion. The commands issued for general mourning at the death of the Georges requested the people to put themselves “into the deepest mourning, Norwich cloaks excepted.” On the death of William IV. a change was made from ” deepest ” to “decent mourning,” and this was the expression used for the mourning tor the late Prince Consort; now the older form has been reverted to.

With the exception that the antiquated “bombasin” [bombazine] has been superseded by the term “woollen material,” ladies at Court have now received practically the same orders for their first Court mourning as heretofore. The details have not been so minutely given in the latest order, but the black gowns trimmed with crape, relieved only by plain muslin or lawn, the chamois—or, as we now term it, suede–shoes and gloves, and the crape fans are still de rigueur. The “crape hoods” of yore have their modern equivalent in the crape toque or bonnets. The long crape veils, reaching to the foot, used to be part of the orthodox mourning for the Ladies In Waiting, and were worn by them at the Duchess of Kent’s funeral. “Black paper fans” are mentioned in the Court mourning ordered for the Duke of Brunswick in 1816, and another quaint reading comes in the order for the change of Court mourning for Princess Charlotte, when ladies “in undress ” were permitted to wear “grey or white lustring, tabbies, or damask.”

The history of Court mourning in various countries is very interesting and curious. Perhaps the most senseless of all customs was that which doomed French Royal widows to remain immured in a room draped with black and splashed over with white dots, symbolising tears. To attempt even to look out of a window during the 40 or 50 day of this enforced mourning was regarded as a grave breach of decorum, and one can only hope that the poor widows were provided with some form of entertainment to relieve the monotony of the dreary period. A distinctly precious contribution to Court mourning was the pure white attire donned by Henry VIII. for Anne Boleyn after he had beheaded her.

The heaviest Court mourning is suspended for a coronation or Royal marriage or christening, although her late Majesty never left off her mourning at either Royal christenings or weddings.  This was, however, an exception to the rules prevailing in most countries, and all will recollect with what startling rapidity the weeds worn for the late Czar of Russia were thrown aside for magnificent raiment when his successor was married to Princess Alix soon after the prolonged burial of his father. At the ceremony the recently widowed Empress of Russia sacrificed her own inclinations in accordance with the custom of her adopted country, and in spite of her bereavement wore the gorgeous Court robe and superb jewels distinctive of the Russian Imperial Court–a splendour which she has ever since discarded for mourning.

Turning to our own country, it is surprising to learn that for one of the least appreciated of Queens–Catherine of Braganza–an entire year of Court mourning was observed, as has been ordered for our late Queen. Very stormy indeed were the scenes caused by a difference of opinion on the proper mourning to be worn for Queen Mary. Queen Elizabeth took upon herself to provide black cloth for cloaks for Sir Arthur Melville and M. Bourgoine, and also for the dresses of the ladies. These gowns were accepted, but when the masterful young Queen further occupied herself with sending a milliner to make “orthodox mourning headdresses” for the ladies instead of those they had provided, the said ladies flatly refused to don any but their own, and carried their point, following their mistress to her tomb in Peterborough Cathedral attired in their own style. A pretty item in the mourning worn by the ladies of her Court for Queen Anne was a heart shaped locket, containing a “lock of the late Queen’s fine silky hair.”

Happily simpler tastes now prevail, and as far as the general public are concerned their mourning will be only such as is dictated by their deep and sincere love for the departed Queen.

The Sydney Morning Herald [Sydney, New South Wales, Australia] 10 April 1901: p. 10

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

Laid in a leaden coffin and placed in a gloomy vault: 1882

Mummies found in church vault, British Library

London Coffins.

Two or three years ago it was our fate to inspect officially certain vaults in an ancient church of much historical interest that was undergoing repairs. The object was to ascertain beyond a doubt who had been buried in three leaden coffins. They were doubtless great personages, but there was nothing to tell us who they were, and it was expected that we might find inscriptions of some kind to throw light on the subject. The coffins, though they had been originally as strong as lead could make them, had been entombed from a century to a century and a half. Their condition was lamentable. The lead was here and there broken into large fissures, through the forcible explosion of confined gases, and it was not difficult to distinguish the contents. All had been embalmed according to the best rules of art. But the result showed how miserable had been the effort to secure an imitation of immortality. The appearance of the bodies generally was that of ragged skeletons dipped in tar, black, horrible, and repulsive; the whole a painful satire on the so-called embalming system. One of the bodies was that of a nobleman of high rank. To think of a man in his social position, who had figured in gorgeous pageants, being condemned alter death, by the over-kind solicitude of relatives, to a fate too revolting for description. Had he been a parish pauper he would have been buried in the earth, and his body would have long since mouldered into dust, while the exuberant gases would have been harmlessly wafted away in the gentle breezes that serve to give life to the vegetable world. Being a nobleman, he had been, by way of distinction, laid in a leaden coffin and placed in a gloomy vault, liable to become a piteous spectacle to future generations. One of these leaden coffins, more rent in pieces than the others, contained a form which was recognized by a medical gentleman present to be the remains of a young female, probably a young lady of quality in her day, admired for her beauty and the splendor of her long yellow tresses. What a fate had been hers. On touching the head a part of the scalp came off, along with a stream of hair that doubtless at one time had been the pride of the wearer. Melancholy sight! And why had the body of this gentle creature with her flowing tresses been consigned to a condition that brought it under the gaze of a body of official investigators, more than a century after dissolution, instead of being decorously laid in the dust, there to sink in the undisturbed rest that had been beneficially destined by its Creator? Let those who maintain the practice of  entombing in leaden coffins and vaults answer the question.– Chamber’s Journal.

The Dayton [OH] Herald 11 July 1882: p. 2

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.

Tales from the Presidential Crypts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WASHINGTON’S HEAD SAFE

No Truth in the Tale of the Tomb Desecration

[From our Regular Correspondent]

Herald Bureau,

Corner Fifteenth and G Streets, N.W.,

Washington, Sept. 29, 1887.

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

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

THE SKELETON INTACT IN THE TOMB.

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

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

WATCHING NIGHT AND DAY.

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

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

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

VANDALS AT CANTON

Guards at McKinley’s Tomb Attacked

WANTED TO BLOW IT UP

That is What is Generally Believed. Great Excitement.

Dastardly Plot at Canton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Soldier Becomes insane While Guarding Garfield’s Tomb.

Cleveland Dispatch to Philadelphia Press.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harding’s Tomb Guards Are Annoyed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The Bold Crape Buyer: 1817

Oil painting on canvas, The Apotheosis of Princess Charlotte Augusta, Princess of Wales (1796-1817) by Henry Howard RA (London 1769 ¿ Oxford 1847), 1818.The princess, holding her still-born baby, rises to the sky attended by two angels. Below is a lady with upraised hands and another is prostrate. Princess Charlotte (1796-1817), only child of George IV (1762-1830) and Caroline of Brunswick (1768-1821), married Prince Leopold of Saxe-Coburg-Saalfeld in 1816. She died in childbirth the following year and the national grief caused by her death may have encouraged Howard to paint this subject. National Trust Collections

Among linen-drapers’ assistants who have risen from the ranks and become eminently successful the following is a remarkable instance:—

A lout of a lad came up from Norfolk, and somehow contrived to obtain employment about an establishment in the city, at that time of little note. He began humbly, as a kind of porter, his work at the outset being to carry parcels, and assist in taking down and putting up the heavy shutters on the windows mornings and evenings. He was a raw, uncouth fellow—tall, thin, and ungainly from rapid growth—his drab corduroys scarcely reaching to his ankles. But he had a clear head on his shoulders, and he had willing hands; and the coarse ill-cultured hobbledehoy wrought his way on perseveringly till he was placed by his observant master among the salesmen. This vantage ground once gained, his greatest difficulty was surmounted, and he took his place among his fellows and maintained it; and, having acquitted himself to the satisfaction of his employer, he was, after a time, occasionally trusted to make a run down to the manufacturing districts to buy. This had been the height of his ambition. To be a buyer! To attain this lofty eminence was the culminating point of his earthly desires; and, when he attained it, his satisfaction was without bounds—it was supreme.

He started by coach from the Swan with Two Necks, Lad Lane, one morning in the beginning of November in the year 1817 to make some purchases. On arriving at the place of his destination late in the evening, he found some other buyers from the city in the hotel; but being little known to them, he kept as much as possible apart. He had his reasons for wishing to avoid coming in contact with them. From information which he had received previous to starting on his journey, and which he had thought carefully over on his way down, he had a game to play, and he meant to play it well, thoroughly, out and out. It is said that he was secretly, but busily engaged all the following day, among the manufacturers, buying up right and left, but keeping down all suspicion of his motives as much as possible, the entire stock in the market of one article. News did not then travel so rapidly as they do now by rail and telegraph, and it was not till the coaches arrived that night or next morning, that the astounding intelligence was brought of the unexpected death of the Princess Charlotte. The London buyers of goods were instantly agog for the interest of their respective employers; but, to their extreme mortification, they found that, except trifling morsels, every packet of mourning crape in the town and neighbourhood had been bought up. Our Norfolk youth, now metamorphosed into a buyer, had secured it all.

Having done his work, he set off home, and communicated to his master what he had done. The master was a plain-sailing man; he had saved his money rather than made it, and he was uneasy. It was a speculation beyond the range of his ideas to buy up the whole of any commodity whatever, and, most of all, of the whole manufactured black crape in the country. He did not like it. The longer he thought over the transaction, the more the temerity of his buyer alarmed him. And, when van after van began to arrive at the warehouse, setting down absolute mountains of the rather bulky commodity, the poor man wrung his hands—he was in despair. Every corner of the warehouse was filled with crape; every hole and cranny was stuffed with it; pile upon pile rose in vast pyramids before the eyes of the bewildered man, shutting out of sight the other portions of the stock, and making a passage through the premises nearly impracticable. Crape, crape, nothing but crape was visible on floor, and shelf, and counter; the horrid article was everywhere, to the exclusion of everything else, above or below.

The unfortunate linen-draper in the anguish of his heart cursed the Norfolk lad, bitterly lamenting the hour in which he had unluckily permitted his imprudent assistant to go out unrestricted as to the extent of his purchases. Ruin was manifestly staring him in the face, and he insensibly began to calculate how much might be saved from the wreck wherewith to compound with his creditors. Not so the worker of all the mischief. He had faith in himself. He did his best to console and soothe his employer by assuring him of what he felt confident would turn out to be the fact—that the whole retail trade of the United Kingdom would require to come to them for their supplies, and that they would obtain any prices they pleased.

The lamentation for the death of the Princess Charlotte was so sincere and so universal, that the mourning worn at her decease, out of sympathy for her untimely end, was much more general than is usual on the demise of members of the royal family, and, consequently, the demand for black crape for mourning was in proportion unprecedented. The vast stock rapidly disappeared, and the general trade of the concern was thereby greatly improved; the foundation of a princely fortune was laid, and in due time a partnership, and after that, the hand of his master’s daughter, rewarded the services of the bold crape buyer.

MacMillan’s Magazine, Vol. 7, David Masson, editor, 1863, p. 35-36

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The mourning for the death of Princess Charlotte was quite unprecedented. The British public had hoped to put the madness of King George III and the mad extravagances and follies of the Regent behind them with this romping girl. But, alas, it was not to be: she died giving birth to a still-born son 6 November, 1817, setting off the Great Marriage Stakes among the sons of George III, all of whom had large families with their mistresses.

Much as we may applaud the winning form of the Norfolk lad, mourning for the late Princess went far beyond crape. Many mourning artifacts survive, such as this pendant.

And this ring.

And images of her tomb in wax, prints of her funeral, and an image of her apotheosis, complete with royal infant ascending to the Heavens.

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

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

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

The Undertaker’s Revenge

The Lowry Mausoleum, Ironton, Ohio

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio, Chris Woodyard

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

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

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

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

Royal Widows and Their Weeds: 1889

Royal Widows and their Weeds

queen victoria mourning bodice 1875-1880 unusually dressy
A mourning bodice worn by Queen Victoria c. 1875-1880 While there is much ornamentation, there is still crape next the buttons. Kerry Taylor Auctions

The Gaulois gives some interesting particulars as to the mourning worn by widows of royal and imperial rank in Europe at the present time. A modification of the English widow’s cap, as worn for so many years by our Queen, would appear to be the form of coiffure at many Courts and the same journal states that an English milliner possesses a monopoly of supplying these to the royal families of Europe. The description given in detail shows that the cap, as worn at foreign Courts, has black lisse weepers. The aged Empress Augusta [widow of Emperor Frederick II of Germany], though she wears in other respects the conventional widow’s mourning, is obliged to wear a really warm cap, owing to the neuralgic headaches from which she suffers. The immense strings fall almost to the carpet when she is seated in her large arm-chair, which is mounted on rollers.

Empress Frederick, Queen Victoria in mourning
Queen Victoria and her daughter, the Dowager Empress Frederick of Germany, in mourning for Emperor Frederick III, who died shortly after assuming the imperial crown. https://www.rct.uk/collection/search#/24/collection/2105953/queen-victoria-with-victoria-princess-royal-when-empress-frederick-1889

The unfortunate Empress Charlotte, widow of Maximilian of Mexico, has always been careless of her dress since the great tragedy of her life. In her widowhood and mental alienation she loves to wear the brightest colours, though her attendants have frequently tried to dissuade her from doing so. She often puts red roses in her hair, as she is represented in her portrait by Baudan, in which her remarkable resemblance to her grandfather, Louis Philippe, comes out so strikingly.

Empress Eugenie in mourning
The Empress Eugenie in mourning. W & D Downey, c. 1873 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eugenie1880_Downey.JPG

The Empress Eugenie wears the very simplest sort of mourning. Her gowns are of woollen fabric, and fall in plain folds from the waist. Her dressmakers occasionally attempt some variation upon their unstudied simplicity, but the Empress always bids them revert to the untrimmed dresses that she now prefers. The Queen-Regent of Spain has till quite lately worn deep mourning that was almost nun-like in its severity, The dress, very flat and straight, has had a long full train. Upon her head the has always worn a mantilla of a black woollen fabric, without even the relief of a fold of transparent crape. For extra covering, when crossing the gardens or traversing the long corridors of her palace, Queen Maria Christina wears a long black mantle lined with white velvet. She uses two pearl-headed pins that King Alphonso used to admire, for fixing the thick black veil upon her head. For certain occasions of ceremony the Queen-Regent has of late doffed her sombre black and worn a lilac gown but she seems to like to return to the black veil that denotes her widowhood.

Empress Frederick in widow's weeds
Empress Frederick of Germany in widow’s weeds. From Within Royal Palaces, Marquise de Fontenoy [pseud.], 1892

Princess Stephanie’s still girlish head— she is but twenty-five— is the latest to wear the royal widow’s cap, under which her fair hair is almost hidden, and the black and white of Austrian widows’ mourning. Some dresses just sent to the Empress Frederick illustrate the etiquette of the first twelve months’ weeds. Among them is a mourning dress in plain English crape, the skirt of which is gathered all round the waist. The Empire bodice has a deep collar of white batiste and cuffs to match that reach to the elbow, A long trained house dress is in black cashmere the front being entirely covered with crape, pleated diagonally across it. The cuirasse bodice has a plastron of crape, the fastenings of which are concealed beneath two bias folds. Large sleeves of white crepe lisse are worn ever the black ones, the latter shewing through. A tea gown, in a soft fabric called woollen velvet; opens over a front of striped black crape. The long train is lined with white silk. The belt that confines the gown at the waist is made of woollen passementerie studded with unshining wooden beads. The collar and cuffs are of thick white serge embroidered with black. Among the dinner gowns is a Princess dress of English crape, the front of which is draped over black silk. Another is in black woollen velvet with train gathered on the back, and trimmed with an embroidery of small wooden beads. On the flat bodice is a deep white collar, like a nun’s, but made of the very finest batiste, in this respect unlike a nun’s. Among the mantles is a long and ample one, intended to be worn in driving, and made of black woollen crape, lined with Astrakhan fur. The young princesses wear black serge gowns with riding habit bodices, and collar and cuffs of black crape lisse. Their evening dresses are black grenadine, closely pleated over dull black silk, trimmed with English crape, and worn with black silk sashes.

Millinery Trade Review, Volume 14, 1889

1889 mourning costume the delineator
1889 mourning costume, The Delineator

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: King Edward VII had a horror of prolonged mourning, no doubt in part to his mother’s life-long obsession with the trappings of woe. This dislike was framed in a kindlier spirit in an article telling of King George’s wish that general mourning for his father be cut short by a month and that half-mourning be dispensed with entirely.

“King Edward had a deeply rooted objection to prolonged royal mourning because of its untoward effect upon trade, and his son is showing equal consideration to the vast army of shopkeepers and their helpers.” The Illustrated Milliner, Vol. 11 1910

German court mourning was particularly severe. Here is a contemporary view:

The Queen Dowager, widow of King Frederick William IV., fell seriously ill at Dresden, where she had been staying with her sister, the Queen of Saxony, about the time I married. She died early in November, and to my intense dismay I found myself obliged to put aside all my pretty trousseau dresses, and to smother myself in crape, for a person I had never seen. Court mourning was not a joke at Berlin at that time, whatever it may be now. Whenever the notice of it appeared the whole of society covered itself with garments of woe, and every kind of gaiety was instantly put a stop to. Queen Elizabeth, having been a reigning sovereign, the mourning for her was as severe as it could well be, and consisted of long black cashmere dresses, a kind of Mary Stuart cap of black crape, and two veils, one falling over the face, and the other trailing behind to the very ground; the last-mentioned had to be worn indoors, and I remember my mother-in-law insisting on our decking ourselves with it every evening for dinner, in anticipation of a possible visit from the Empress, which event did actually occur two or three times during the period when these trappings of woe were prescribed. In Russia black is never worn on holidays, but in Germany it is different, and even on New Year’s Day we went and offered our good wishes to the Emperor and Empress in our crape dresses and veils, and anything more gloomy I am sure I have never seen, either before or after that, in the whole of my life. My Recollections, Princess Catherine Radziwill, 1904

Mourning dress of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, c. 1880-1890 https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/asset/black-court-dress-of-empress-elisabeth-sisi/AQHcRoksSoLGYQ

Mrs Daffodil, by the bye, would disagree with the “girlish” assessment of Princess Stephanie, widow of Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria, who made such an mess of things at Mayerling, She may have been immature when betrothed to the Crown Prince, but she had fallen in love with a Polish Count in 1887, two years before this article was published. When Rudolph resumed his self-absorbed round of pleasure of Vienna, she was quite capable of giving as good as she got and scarcely troubled to hide her infatuation.

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.

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.

 

O, Death Where Is Thy Bling?

Mrs "Diamond" Johnson's extravagant tombstone.
O, Death, Where Is Thy Bling? Mrs “Diamond” Johnson’s extravagant tombstone.

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….

TOMB

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.

Mrs. Henry Hiller's Coffin and tomb.
Mrs. Henry Hiller’s Coffin and tomb.

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

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

See this link for an introduction to this collection about the popular culture of Victorian mourning, featuring primary-source materials about corpses, crypts, crape, and much more.

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 latest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

A Disgraceful Wrangle over President Garfield’s Funeral Flowers: 1881-1882

funeral wreath sent by queen victoria for Garfield
Preserved funeral wreath sent by Queen Victoria to Mrs. James A. Garfield, 1881 https://garfieldnps.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/memorialwreath.jpg

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 from 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

1917 wire frames for funeral flowers Book for Florists p 35 gates ajar
Wire frames, for making funeral floral tributes, like those Mrs. Lucas requested be returned to her.

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.

Cincinnati [OH] Post 8 December 1884: p. 3

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

Flowers at Grant’s Tomb: 1885

funeral arrangments from Grant's funeral kept at his cottage
Flowers from General Grant’s funeral, kept at the Grant Cottage where he spent his last days. https://www.timesunion.com/local/article/A-place-of-incredible-dignity-1728348.php

SCENES AT GRANT’S TOMB

FLORAL GIFTS BESIDE THE COFFIN

INCIDENTS AT CLAREMONT

COST OF THE CHANGES IN THE PARK

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.

 

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.