The Merry Widow at the Resort: 1920

 

frock for lighter mourning swiss 1922

Some Ways of a Widow.

Did you see her last week—the Merry Widow? She was here in all the crowds, walking up and down the corridors of the hotels, sitting in all the cafes, at the street corners buying roses—all in black, deep black from head to foot.

With a crepe veil to her heels, a widow’s ruche, a widow’s bonnet, a dress so short that it looked like a little girl’s high-heeled slippers, silk stockings and an entrancing display of white neck and well rounded arms, seen quite clearly and most becomingly through the shadowy thinness of her gossamer frock!

Blonde she was, and tall, and rosy was she and pink and white, and, oh, so fetching, so alluring, so intriguing!

No! she wasn’t some one just made up for the part; she was a widow, a real widow. Her husband had been dead three great, long months, and she was out here looking for a substitute.

She was quite frank about it, they tell me.

Every time she heard of a nice, comfortable, middle-aged man, she inquired anxiously, “Is he married?”

Every time she passed in her drives and perambulations a handsome house, surrounded with fine, ample ground, she said quite naively, “I wonder who lives there. Now, if I could find somebody who would give me a house like that ”

And she likes the town immensely. Oh, immensely. There were so many good looking men here—prosperous, don’t you know, and well groomed! They looked as if they knew how to take care of a wife.

Oh, she was quite respectable—member of the church, and all that kind of thing—and yet b-r-r-r! it makes me shiver to think of her.

I wonder if there are many like her in the world? Absolutely cold­-blooded, calculating, going out to look for a husband as if they were looking for a cook or a gardener? So much for so much!

Yellow hair, blue eyes, rosy cheeks, a taste in dress, a soft voice, nice white hands and a cooing way of talking. For Sale in the Open Market! Who’ll buy? Who’ll buy?

How long will it be before the Merry Widow finds a husband, do you think?

She won’t take just anybody—she’s very particular.

What She Demands.

He must have plenty of money, oh, plenty! And know how to spend it. She wants a limousine, of course, and a touring car, and she’d like a roadster—one that she can drive herself. And she must have a town house, or, anyhow, a town apartment, and something in the country. Any simple little thing will do, so that there are enough bathrooms, and not too far from the country club.

The man must have position, either in business life or in the clubs. She couldn’t stand it to be married to a “nobody.” But, outside of these little things, she’s very broad-minded. Education, refinement, character, principle, reputation, brains, kindness, honesty, courage—what do all these things amount to anyhow? They won’t even pay for new tires on the new car.

Love, fidelity, faith, trust, deep respect, true devotion—they talk about those in the best sellers. The Merry Widow isn’t in the least interested—not in such minor matters.

And yet—I haven’t a doubt that some one will fall in love with her and marry her before the year is out.

And not one of his friends will apply for a letter of guardianship or try to send him to the home for the feeble minded, on the day the engagement is announced.

I’m glad I saw the Merry Widow and heard her talk, and watched her sweet little manoeuvres. I thought her type was as extinct as the dodo.

And here she is, alive and busy, just as she was when grandmother wore a hoop skirt and did her hair in ringlets and thought no delicate-minded woman should ever listen to a proposal of marriage without sinking into a swoon.

We don’t change so awfully fast, after all, do we?

South Bend [IN] News-Times 6 September 1920: p. 5

Father’s Ghost Fetches the Dying

Father's Ghost Fetches the Dying Image from http://ginva.com/2011/01/creative-gravestone-architect-and-design/
Father’s Ghost Fetches the Dying Image from http://ginva.com/2011/01/creative-gravestone-architect-and-design/

For Fathers Day weekend, a fatherly “fetch” tenderly carries off two family members.

A Danbury Ghost Story

Woman Saw Dead Father Carry Her Mother Away – The Mother Found to Have Died at the Same Time.

Danbury, Conn., March 19. As Mrs. C. W. Lee of 55 Jefferson Avenue, this city, lay on a bed of sickness, it is declared that she saw the apparition of her father, Oliver B. Pettit, formerly of Brooklyn, who died sixteen years ago, enter the room across the hall, where her mother was, and carry her out in his arms.

Mrs. Lee avers that she distinctly saw her father walk through the hall, and heard him call his wife by name, and ask her to go away with him, pleading with her until she consented. At first, the wife, Mrs. Margaret Pettit of 39 Grove Street, Brooklyn, refused, but her love for her husband evidently overcame her fear, and the daughter saw the stalwart form of her father emerge from the room and disappear with his wife in his arms.

Mrs. Pettit had been visiting her daughter, and, although not ill, was in the habit of spending the morning hours in bed. Yesterday she remained in her bed later than usual, and it was at noon that her daughter saw the vision. Calling for her husband, Mrs. Lee told him what she had seen, and Mr. Lee, hurrying to the room of his wife’s mother, found her dead. Her death must have occurred at exactly the moment when Mrs. Lee saw her father enter the room. A physician later said that Mrs. Pettit died from heart failure. The New York Times 20 March 1900: p. 1

I thought this was an interesting version of a “fetch” story, where the ghost was seen literally carrying off the dying.  The story appears in The Ghost Wore Black.  A few months ago, while researching background for The Victorian Book of the Dead, I was surprised to find a sequel.

HER FATHER’S SPIRIT

Beckoned to Her, and Though Recovering, She Soon Died.

When Mrs. Charles Lee died, at Danbury, Mass., last week, it was in peaceful resignation and with the conviction that her father’s spirit was bearing her away.

She had been waiting for five days for his coming—ever since she saw the ghostly visitor bear away her mother in that strange vision. That it was not the malady from which she had been suffering that caused Mrs. Lee’s death there is the testimony of the doctors. She was convalescing from an operation, and, so far as it was concerned, was out of danger.

That Mrs. Lee became conscious in some mysterious way that her mother, Mrs. Margaret Pettit, was dying, there can be no doubt. Mrs. Pettit left her home at No. 39 Grove Street, to go to nurse her daughter in Danbury. When Mrs. Pettit went to bed on Saturday night she was apparently in excellent health.

Her daughter gave the first news of the mother’s death. She told her husband that something had happened—that her mother was dead—and then Mrs. Lee swooned.

When Mrs. Lee had partly recovered she told those about her of her vision. She said she had seen the spirit of her father, who has been dead for 16 years, enter her mother’s room and say:

“Margaret, come with me.” She had seen her father take her mother in his arms, and, as they moved away they paused before Mrs. Lee, she said, and her father paused and beckoned to her, saying she would soon follow them.

Since that vision Mrs. Lee has hovered on the borderland between life and death. A great part of the time she has been delirious or in a state of coma. But in her lucid intervals she talked constantly of the vision and of her own summons.

Nothing could shake her conviction that her father’s spirit would return for her. When she was perfectly sane she said she was only waiting. She knew she would never get well.

She spoke of it when her husband and son were called to her bedside, and she said good bye to them. She told them she believed that they would soon join her, that the summons was for all of them, and that the family would be united in the beyond.

She died with her mother’s name on her lips. Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 28 March 1900: p. 3

Other Fathers Day posts: about a ghostly image of a father and daughter appearing in a window after his death. A father who followed his child, literally, to the grave.

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.

Cholera in Hamburg: 1892

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

HAMBURG A CITY OF DEATH.

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

THE CITY’S VAST COMMERCE BLOCKED

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

THE SCOURGE SPREADING ALL OVER THE FREE PORT.

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

[By Cable to the Dispatch.]

Hamburg, Sept. 8 [Copyright.]

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

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

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

Desolation Over All the City.

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

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

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

All the Big Hotels Deserted.

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

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

A Peculiar Way to be Cheerful.

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

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

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

Some Singularly Sad Cases.

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

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

A Babe Left Alone With Its Millions.

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

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

Continual Reminders of the Scourge.

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

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

Undertakers Too Busy to Go to Bed.

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

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

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

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

THE HAMBURGER’S DIET.

AT PRESENT IT IS ONE OF THE MOST ABSTEMIOUS KIND.

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

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

Medical Advice Given Free of Charge.

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

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

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

The Medical Inspector Has a Big Pull.

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

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

A Visit to Hospitals and Morgues.

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

Many Compelled to Wait for Hours.

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

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

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

Terrible Mortality Among the Children.

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

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

IN THE CHARNEL HOUSE.

OVER 400 HUMAN BODIES AT ONCE  PREPARED FOR BURIAL.

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

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

The Most Grewsome Sight of All.

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

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

Some of the Most Horrible Scenes.

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

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

All Hope Abandoned by Many.

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

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

A Message That Couldn’t Be Sent

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

“Why don’t you take letter in?”

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

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

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

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

COFFINS IN HUGE PILES.

PITIFUL SIGHTS ON ALL SIDES WITHIN THE BARRACKS.

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

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

Sorrowful Sights on Every Hand.

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

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

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

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

Peculiar Exemption of the Nurses.

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

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

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

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

TREATMENT OF CHOLERA.

SALT WATER INJECTED IN VEINS OF THE FOREARM.

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

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

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

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

Where the Cholera Epidemic Started.

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

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

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

A Steamship Company Does Its Duty.

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

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

One Death for Every Thirty Persons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

She Paid the Bill: 1900

white hearse with ponies

She Paid the Bill.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Decades later, the fleecing of the bereaved poor continued:

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

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

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

Star 28 October 1905: p. 4

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

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

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

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

 

Fiends for a Funeral: The Amateur Mourners

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

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

FASCINATED BY FUNERALS

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

[New York Sun.]

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

The reporter saw her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AT MANY FUNERALS

When Arrested She Wails Some More and Borrows From Judge.

LIVED OFF HER TEARS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His Third Wife: 1874

the widower carl spitzweg dandy widower
The Widower, Carl Spitzweg http://www.wikigallery.org/wiki/painting_344830/Carl-Spitzweg/page-1

Mr. Cooley’s Third.

My neighbor Cooley married his third wife a short time ago, and the day after he came home with her his oldest boy, the son of his first wife, came into the room where she was sitting alone sewing. Placing his elbows on the table he began to be sociable. The following conversation ensued:

Boy: How long d’you expect you’ll last?

Mrs. C.: What on earth do you mean?

Boy: Why ma, she held on for about ten years. I reckon you’re good for as much as her. I hope so anyhow. I’m kinder sick of funerals. They made an awful fuss when they stowed ma away, and a bigger howl when they planted Emma. So I’d jes’ as leave you keep around awhile. But pa, he has his doubts about it.

Mrs. C.: Doubts! Tell me what you mean this instant.

Boy: Oh, nothing! On the day Emma got away, pa came home from the funeral, and when he ripped the crape off his hat he chucked it in the bureau drawer and said: “Lay there till I want you again,” so I s’pose the old man must be expectin’ you to step out some time or other. In fact, I see him conversing with the undertaker yesterday; with him, makin’ some kind of permanent contract with him, I s’pose. The old man is always huntin’ for a bargain.

Mrs. C.: You ought to be ashamed to talk of your father in that manner.

Boy:  Oh, he don’t mind it. I often hear I the fellows jokin’ him about his wives. He’s a good natured man. Anybody can get along with him if they understand him. All you’ve I got to do is to be sweet on him, and he’ll be like a lamb. Now, Emma, she used to get mad, heave a plate, or a coal scuttle, most any thing at him. And ma, she’d blow him up about 15,000 times a day; both of them would bang me till I got disgusted. And pa didn’t like it. Treat me well, give me candy and money, and you’ve got pa sure. Emma used to smack me; and when pa said he was opposed to it she’d go at him with an umbrella, or flat-iron, and maul him. I guess you and me will jog along all right together, and by the time pa gets another wife I’ll be big enough not to care how many airs she puts on. What I want is time. You stick for three or four years, and then the old man can consolidate as much as he’s a mind to, and I won’t scare worth a cent. It’s only the fair thing anyway. Enough of this family’s money has been used on coffins and tombstones, and we ought to knock off for awhile. Good morning. I b’lieve I’ll go to school

Mrs. Cooley did not enjoy her honeymoon as much as she expected.

The San Francisco [CA] Examiner 8 October 1875: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Just as the nineteenth-century press made jokes about “Merry Widows” and their hunt for new husbands, the widower was shown as no less eager to remarry.

AN AMENDED EPITAPH

There is a good story going the rounds of Bishop Wilmer, a well-known United States divine. One of his friends lost a dearly beloved wife, and in his worry, caused these words to be inscribed on her tombstone: “The light of mine eyes has gone out.” The bereaved married within a year. Shortly afterwards the Bishop was walking through the graveyard with another gentleman. When they arrived at the tomb the latter asked the Bishop what he would say of the present state of affairs, in view of the words on the tombstone. “I think,” said the Bishop, “the words ‘But I have struck another match,’ should be added.”

Bay of Plenty Times, 24 February 1896: p. 3

Since wife-mortality was often high, due to childbirth, some husbands might be suspected of following in the footsteps of the infamous Bluebeard, with multiple wives sent to their doom. One can understand this new bride’s trepidation:

SHOWING HER ROUND

The widower had just taken his fourth wife, and was showing her round the village. Among the places visited was the churchyard, and the bride paused before a very elaborate tombstone that had been erected by the bridegroom. Being a little near-sighted, she asked him to read the inscriptions, and, in reverent tones he read:

“Here lies Susan, beloved wife of John Smith and Jane, beloved wife of John Smith, and Mary, beloved wife of John Smith.”

He paused abruptly, and the bride, leaning forward to see the bottom line, read to her horror:

“Be ye also ready.”

North Otago Times, 7 June 1913, Page 1

 

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.

Dinnerware of the Dead: 1900

skull mug
German bisque skull mug, Ernst Bohne. http://www.sothebys.com/en/auctions/ecatalogue/2015/bear-witness-l15026/lot.592.html

Mrs Daffodil has been persuaded (well, “badgered” might be the mot juste) to offer a guest post by that Relentlessly Informative person over at Haunted Ohio, who has found what she feels is an interesting tit-bit about an unusual mourning custom from the United States. Without further ado, Mrs Daffodil introduces Chris Woodyard, author of The Victorian Book of the Dead

While working on a monograph on shrouds, I ran across this piece on memorializing the dead at the dinner table. It comes from Pennsylvania, a state particularly rich in interesting folklore and funereal practices. The resourceful Mrs Daffodil uncovered articles about that state’s “death drawer” custom, which also was reported in 1900.

What can we say about a custom that cherishes the tableware of the deceased as domestic relics and a family’s belief in an ongoing presence of the beloved dead?  Is it an expression of “complicated grief,” where the bereaved cannot let go of their sorrow, or a literal way to continue a connection with those lost?

IN MEMORY OF THEIR DEAD

“Oh, yes, I always keep our dead mother’s plate at her place at the table,” said the daughter of a rich eastern Pennsylvania farmer. “We will also keep her knife, fork, spoon, cup and saucer, and her napkin. I don’t know why we do it, only that it is the custom hereabouts among the large landowners. Whenever any grown person dies in the family, especially an unmarried daughter or the mother, her plate at the table is never taken away, save once a month, when it is washed. No one ever sits at that place no matter what the crowd is, no one uses anything belonging to mother. We hold the place sacred.

“Down at the farm of one of our neighbors they never remove the plate of their eldest daughter, who died 20 yrs. Ago. All the table article she used to use, are still there. An no one has ever occupied her narrow bed in her room. Her things are just as she left them, even to the chinaware on her bureau. Her dresses are faded and moth-eaten, and considerable had to be taken away, but a good many of her things are still as she left them.

“There is not so much regard shown for the boys. But when the head of the house dies his vacant chair at the table is never occupied. No one would dare to take that seat. At one large farm they kept his picture in a frame on his chair until one day the glass cracked and the frame split from some unknown cause. To this day they have an idea that the old farmer’s spirit came back and gave that picture a crack, because he didn’t like to see it there. Next they looked for the plate to be knocked off the table, but as that didn’t happen they take it for granted that the farmer thinks that’s all right. Over on another farm, where their oldest son died ten years ago, his room is closed forever, and kept just as he left it, with his gun, boots, clothes, and fishing rods in the corner. They still call it John’s room, and it will so continue until the farm passes into new hands. Not long ago the sale of a farm was nearly blocked when the owner wanted to stipulate in the deed that a certain room was not to be occupied until after the death of the seller.

“We know an aged lady who still pays for two seats in their church. Her husband died 11 years ago. She pays for his seat, and she occupies hers, never his, and no one else ever sits in that seat. Where a child over seven years of age dies, the plate is kept at the table a short time only. Where the child is 15, the plate is kept longer. Where the son or daughter dies, aged 21 or more, then the plate is never removed. I know one place where three grown daughters died within a year of diphtheria. Their plates in a row, are never removed, but fresh flowers are frequently placed near them. Their parents and brothers and sisters have long since ceased their weeping, and the table is no more sad, but everything is merry and happy, and they frequently chat with the dead people just as if they were present. It does no harm, even if it is foolish, as some people say.

“Three years ago an old farmer died five miles from here. He left seven grown children, two sons, and five daughters, all unmarried, and living at home. There is a rule in the family, and it has been so ever since the old gentleman died, that once a week each child shall spend a half hour in the old man’s big rocking chair, and think of him, commune with him, pray for him, ask his advice as to the farm management. They believe that he wants it to be thoroughly understood that he is still the master of that big farm. I guess he is, too, for the children are running the place on the co-operative plan, and they are getting along all right, apparently.

“People have to be very careful of the plates, cups and saucers of the dead. It is considered very bad luck if any piece is broken.”

Boston [MA] Daily Advertiser 13 July 1900: p. 5

This is very reminiscent of the ancient custom of equipping the dead with grave goods, brought to such perfection by the Egyptians, the Vikings, and the nomads of the Siberian steppes.  It also reminds me of the French family who stipulated that the bedroom of their son, killed in the Great War, should be kept as a shrine by the house’s owners “for 500 years” or the stories that Queen Victoria kept Prince Albert’s room as a shrine, commanding that hot water for shaving be brought daily and that the dead man’s clothes should be laid out for him. I haven’t been able to find any contemporary reports that the Queen really did issue orders to this effect, but she was acutely aware of the power of domestic relics, collecting locks of hair, casts of beloved relatives’ hands, and jewellery made from baby teeth. She also directed that a large number of sentimental objects be placed in her own coffin such as a dressing gown of Prince Albert’s and John Brown’s mother’s wedding ring.

In the article on “death drawers,” found by Mrs Daffodil, we find the following passage about a lady who also wanted to take it with her, although on a much more modest scale:

One most unusual request was that a plate, cup and saucer, knife, fork and spoon should be placed in an old woman’s coffin. She had used them for 70 years, and did not wish anyone else to use them when she was gone.

The Sun [New York, NY] 18 February 1900: p. 27

It appears that the custom of setting a place for the dead was not uncommon even outside Pennsylvania.

There is a woman in Atchison who sets a place at the table every day for her husband, who died over a year ago. In his plate she never fails to place a little bouquet of flowers. She believes the dead know what is going on on earth.

The St. Joseph [MO] Herald 19 January 1891: p. 4

At this historical distance, it is hard to know if some diners with the dead were merely trying to cope with their grief or had been driven mad by misfortune.

Sets Table for Dead Wife;

Police Take Him Away

Frank J. Nagle, forty-seven years old, a plate printer, of 457 I street southwest, is in Washington Asylum Hospital today for observation as to his mental condition. The police say he had his table spread for his wife, several months dead, and his two little children, who are in St. Joseph’s Orphan Asylum. Nagle recently lost his job at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, and this, with his other misfortunes, is believed by his friends to have resulted in temporary mental derangement.

The Washington [DC] Times 16 February 1914: p. 12

This gentleman seemed to have a more balanced attitude, perhaps as a result of his Spiritualist faith. Or perhaps his wealth kept him from being sent to the asylum “for observation.”

SET TABLE FOR THE DEAD.

Menasha Man Had Places for Deceased Members of Family.

Menasha, Wis., Dec. 28. After a final consultation with the spirits death closed the life of Joseph A. Sanford, a wealthy retired lumber dealer of this city. Mr. Sanford was 84 years of age, and had been a resident of Menasha for more than sixty years. He was connected with the Menasha Wooden Ware Company, now the largest plant of its kind in the world, during its infancy; and later attained extensive lumber interests. During the last ten years Mr. Sanford had not partaken of a meal or retired at night without first having the table set for the deceased members of his family. At the retiring hour a fresh baked cake was placed on the table for the spirit members and these were consulted in all matters of importance concerning Mr. Sanford’s life before any action was decided upon.

The Indianapolis [IN] Star 29 December 1907: p. 11

I wish I knew the ending of this story of an unfortunate mother trying to cling to hope.

SHE AWAITS MISSING SON.

Winsted, Conn, December 12. Mrs. Martin Doyle, Sr., of Harwinton, has set a place at the table each meal time for her absent son, Michael, ever since he disappeared on April 3, 1904. After having partaken of supper that evening he walked out and has not since been heard of, although everything possible has been done by his relatives to find him.

In the interval Mrs. Doyle has lost her husband, her home has been destroyed by fire, and her other son, Martin, has become insane and is now in an asylum, leaving her alone.

The Montgomery [AL] Times 12 December 1907: p. 6

In 1883 Engineer John M. Miller, of Ohio, died in a train wreck. Articles commemorating his life mentioned that he believed that the ghosts of a fellow trainman and of his little daughter came aboard his engine to keep him company. Poignantly, he had a place set at his table for the child.

A few years ago Miller lost by death a bright little girl, to whom he was greatly attached, and ever afterward she, too, would nightly and daily get on his engine at a certain place on the road, and ride and talk with him until his train neared Dayton, and then disappear. As in the former case, her seat was kept for her in the cab, and no one allowed to occupy it.

At his home a chair was always set up to the table, the crib in which the child had been rocked drawn near, and a plate and food placed on the table, just as when the little girl lived and prattled. It is even said that the father would look at the chair and talk to its supposed occupant just as he used to do during its lifetime, and what seems strange now is that the wife and mother, an intelligent and highly respected lady, entertained and does now, the same superstitious views in regard to the child, and had the utmost faith in all that her husband ever told her about the ghostly visitations on the road.

Cincinnati [OH] Commercial Tribune 12 February 1883: p. 3

In The Ghost Wore Black, I wrote about the young woman who “married” the ghost of her dead fiancé. She, too, would set the table and chat over dinner with the shade of the dear departed. Is such a thing morbid or “foolish;” does it do harm to the grieving?

There is something both sad and yet convivial about dining with the dead. Many cultures practice it; the Hungry Ghost festival, and Dia de los Muertos, for example, bring the living and the dead together once more through food. And we eat together after funerals, reminding ourselves over the funeral baked casseroles that life goes on, that we still live and hunger, until we too can join the Buffet Invisible.

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil can only imagine what Cook would say to such a proceeding…  The custom gives an entirely new meaning to the phrase “coffin plate.”

 

 

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.

Something Advantageous: 1840s

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

SOMETHING ADVANTAGEOUS;

OR, A FAMILY FRACAS.

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

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

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

‘How soon shall I be immortal?’

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

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

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

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

‘Not one,’ he said.

‘Are you so completely isolated?

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

‘What day?’

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

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

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

‘And failed.’

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

‘A large fortune! And your relations?’

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

‘Wild flowers?’

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

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

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

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

Mr. Jordan was a corpse!

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

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

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

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

‘Indeed!’

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

‘Why, he spoke to me of £20,000.’

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

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

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

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

o o o o o o

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Broke his fiddlestick,’ said the fat woman.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She sank into a chair, and burst into tears.

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

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

‘Who was it?’ said Mr. Shaw.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bang, bang, bang!

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

‘Something advantageous,’ screamed a masculine looking woman;

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

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

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

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

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

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

o o o o o

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

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

‘Who are you? What relation are you?’

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

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

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

There was a death-like stillness.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Shaw was wiping his spectacles.

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

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

‘But, ladies and gentlemen.—’

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

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

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

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

‘Hold! hold!’ he said.

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

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

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

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

‘Did that lady give you an order?’

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

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

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

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

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

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

o o o o o

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mr. Shaw gave a jump that astonished me.

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

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

‘Five guineas for that spade.’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOMETHING ADVANTAGEOUS.’

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

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

 

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

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

The Heartless Wife: 1850

Black silk plaid mourning gown (possibly another gown dyed and with the trimmings removed) c. 1850 https://www.augusta-auction.com/component/auctions/?view=lot&id=4676&auction_file_id=8
Black silk plaid mourning gown (possibly a previously-made gown dyed and with the trimmings removed) c. 1850 https://www.augusta-auction.com/component/auctions/?view=lot&id=4676&auction_file_id=8

Going Into Mourning

A few weeks ago, our friend Clark was lying sick with the bilious fever. The attack was severe, and he believed death was near. One morning he awoke from a short sleep, to hear a hurried and smothered conversation in the adjoining room, in which his wife took part. The first words that Clark caught were uttered by his better-half.

“On that ground,” said she, “I object to mourning!”

“Yes,” replied another, “but the world looks for it—it is fashionable, and one might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion.”

“Here,” thought Clark, “is a nice wife. She thinks I am about to die—to be planted, if I may use the expression, in the cold earth, and yet she refuses to go in mourning for me. Ah, me!”

“Now that I am here, perhaps I had better take your measure.”

“The unfeeling wretch!” exclaimed Clark, “to think of sending for a dressmaker before I am dead! But I’ll cheat her yet! I’ll live in spite!”

“Well,” mused the wife, “I believe you may measure me. I will let you buy the trimming, and let it be as gay as possible.”

“What heartlessness,” groaned Clark. “Woman-like, though. One husband is no sooner dead than they set about entrapping another. I can scarcely credit it.”

“Of course you will have a flounce?”

“Two of them; and as the body is to be plain, I wish you to get wide gimp to trim it.”

“How will you have the sleeves trimmed?”

“With buttons and fringe.”

“Well—well—this beats all,” sighed poor Clark.

“When do you want the dress?” inquired the mantua-maker.

“I must have it in three days. My husband will then be off my hands, and I shall be able to get out!”

“Oh, horrible—horrible!” ejaculated the sick man; “I am only half dead, but this blow will kill me.”

His wife heard him speak, and ran quickly to his bedside. “Did you speak, my dear?” said she, with the voice of an angel.

“I heard it all, madam,” replied Clark.

“All what, my dear?”

“The mourning—gay dresses—fringe—every thing. Oh! Maria—Maria!”

“You rave!”

“Do you take me for a fool?”

“Certainly not, my dear.”

“You expect me to be out of the way in three days, do you?”

“Yes, love; the doctor said you would be well in that time.”

“What means the dress?”

“It is the one you bought me before you were taken sick.”

“But you were speaking of mourning!”

“We were talking of Mrs. Taperly.”

“Oh, is that it?”

“Yes, love. You know she is poor, and her family is large, and it must inconvenience her very much to find mourning for them all. On this ground alone, I oppose it.”

“So—so—that’s it, is it? I thought you were speaking of me, and it distressed me. Let me beg of you to be more careful for the future.”

Clark was out in three days, and he now laughs at the matter, which then appeared so horrible.

The Brooklyn [NY] Daily Eagle 7 May 1850: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One quite understands the gentleman’s distress. Taken in the context of a dying husband, the lady’s remarks would have seemed the height of social depravity, although, to judge from the many jocularities surrounding “Merry Widows” in the papers, such things were not uncommon. And fringe, although popular on early 1850s gowns, was certainly not approved for mourning.

Of course, there was also merit to Mrs Clark’s opposition to the wearing of mourning, although she seems to regard it as the purview of those fortunate enough to be able to afford it. It is true that the practice weighed most heavily on the poor as this Spiritualist publication wrote:

 How sadly out of place, then, are the milliner and the dressmaker, the trying on of dresses and the trimming of bonnets. There is something profane in exciting the vanity of a young girl by fitting a waist, or trying on a hat, when the corpse of a father is lying in an adjoining room. It is a sacrilege to drag the widow forth from her grief to be fitted for a gown, or to select a veil. It is often terribly oppressive to the poor. The widow, left desolate with a half dozen little children, the family means already reduced by the long sickness of the father, must draw on her scanty purse to buy a new wardrobe throughout for herself and her children, throwing away the goodly stock of garments already prepared, when she most likely knows not where she is to get bread for those little ones. Truly may fashion be called a tyrant, when it robs a widow of her last dollar. Surely your sorrow will not be questioned, even if you should not call in the milliner to help display it. Do not in your affliction help uphold a custom which will turn the afflictions of your poorer neighbour to deeper poverty, as well as sorrow. The Spiritual Magazine, Vol. 5, January 1870: p. 28

Mrs Daffodil has previously posted about the sartorial excesses of enthusiastic widows in “The Mourner a la Mode,” “The Mourning Boudoir,” and a cutting dialogue between pieces of mourning stationary over their mistress’s grief or lack thereof.  The latter two pieces and similar stories of the happily bereaved, as well as widow jokes and discussions of funerary excess may be found in 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.

 

Making Death Masks: 1912

William McKinley death mask
William McKinley’s death mask, 1901. DC Public Library Commons

RENE BACHE’S BUDGET

HOW DEATH MASKS OF CELEBRITIES ARE MADE

CLARA BARTON THE LATEST OF A LONG LINE THUS IMMORTALIZED.

U.S.J. Dunbar, the National Museum’s Sculptor, and His Weird Work—Masks of Priceless Historic Value—Why a Life Mask of Every President Ought to Be Made—The Masks of Presidents Lincoln and McKinley.

Washington, D.C., June 15.

When Clara Barton died, the other day, a death mask was made of the face of this most famous women by the sculptor of the National Museum, U. S. J. Dunbar, who has probably done more of that kind of work than any other man living. Among other masks he has obtained recently were those of “Fighting Bob” Evans, senator Carter of Montana, and the multimillionaire copper king, Thomas J. Walsh, whose daughter married Edward B. McLean, the present owner of the historic Hope diamond.

Custom has decreed that each president shall leave behind him in the white house a painted portrait of himself. It would be at least equally desirable that “life masks,” which are made in the same way as death masks, should be preserved of all the presidents, not only because of their historic value in themselves, but more importantly for the help they would give to sculptors in the production of accurate busts and statues. The same remark may be said to apply to other distinguished men. So far as death masks are concerned, it is entirely customary nowadays for the surviving relatives of a person who has been eminent in any walk of life to receive applications for permission to make such a reproduction of the features of the defunct—the idea being either that the family may wish to buy it, or that it may be of value for sculptural purposes.

It is not unnatural that many people should refuse; or that, having declined, they should be sorry afterward that they did so. Only a short time ago, when Justice Harlan died. Mr. Dunbar asked the privilege of making a mask of the great jurist. The family was unwilling, however, having beard of a case where injury was done by the process, the skin of the face being badly torn. Of course, anything may be bungled, but there is not the slightest danger of accident of the kind when the work is done by an expert.

McKinley’s Death Mask.

President McKinley died Saturday, September 14, 1900. At once on bearing the news, E. L. A. Pairsch, a New York sculptor, wired secretary Cortelyou for permission to make a death mask, and, the request being granted, took a train for Buffalo, arriving there at 9 p. m. the same day. He took the mask at the Milburn residence the next morning, at 7 o’clock, 29 hours after life had become extinct. It was delivered to Mr. Cortelyou at the white house on the following Tuesday, and is now preserved in a glass case at the National Museum.

The mask looks wonderfully like the sculptured face of Napoleon, whom the original in life was considered so markedly to resemble. It lies on a cushion of purple velvet—the face being inclined slightly forward, as if the head were reposing on a pillow—and wears the peaceful expression and slight suggestion of a smile which are characteristics of the faces of the dead.

In regard to this matter, Mr. Dunbar expressed some very interesting ideas. For one thing, he states that the expression assumed by the face of a dead person is merely the physical result of attitude. If a dead man be left lying on his face, or on his side, for a number of hours—as may easily happen in case of a murder, or even of sudden death in a lonely place—his features will become set in a distorted way, and may even assume a look of horror. Thus one reads occasionally that an individual who has met his fate through violence “still wears a terror-stricken expression” — the implication being that the latter reflects the state of his feelings at the moment of his demise.

The fact is, however, that if the individual thus tragically done to death had promptly been laid flat on his back, his face would have assumed an entirely peaceful expression. The facial muscles, after life has departed, are absolutely inert, and, responding to the influence of gravity, fall into position accordingly. People ordinarily die in bed; the body is placed on its back, and, when the head is in this attitude, all the muscles of the face smooth themselves out. Those of the forehead and about the mouth which by their contraction express anxiety or pain are wholly relaxed, giving the look of a “peace that passeth all understanding,” so sadly familiar to us all.

Why the Dead Smile.

The beginning of a smile in a living person, is a relaxation of the muscles at the corners of the mouth. Hence it is that the face of a dead person wears usually a slight smile—a smile of a peculiar kind, inscrutable, as if of knowing at last all that has been in life so mysterious and puzzling. But it is an expression happily suggestive of an unutterable calm, devoid of suffering.

It happened a few years ago that the wife of a retired admiral in the navy, residing in Washington, was thrown out of her carriage and killed. Incidentally, her face was much disfigured. Her husband had no portrait of her, and so got Mr. Dunbar to make a cast of her left hand, wearing the wedding ring—this being afterward reproduced in marble.

The making of such casts of dead people’s hands, or of hands and arms, is not at all uncommon. One was taken by Mr. Dunbar from the right hand of chief justice Waite, of the United States supreme court, and another of the hand of Frederick Douglass, the-famous negro statesman…. In two instances, also, he has made casts of women’s feet, because they were unusually beautiful, and surviving relatives wished to preserve them.

The sculptor does not use a death mask as a model after which to make a slavish copy for bust or statue. It helps him by measurements, and by preserving such details as wrinkles and the outline of the hair where the latter meets the face. But the main thing gained by it is the reproduction of the bony structure, which does not alter after death, as the muscles do. In some cases a skull is actually modeled from the mask, by measurements of the latter, and upon this the muscles are anatomically laid, in clay, with the help of photographs of the living man, if any are procurable. By such means, with the employment of adequate skill, a counterfeit presentment of remarkable accuracy is obtained—fundamentally mechanical, that is to say, but supplemented in the finishing processes by the artistic talent of the sculptor, for the production of lifelike expression.

The famous Houdon bust of Washington, by far the most satisfactory existing likeness of that great man, was made from a life mask—which, of course, is much more desirable for the purpose than a death mask. Houdon, a French sculptor of celebrity, was asked by Dr. Franklin to come to this country for the purpose of taking the mask; he did so. and, before his departure, made a mask also of Franklin himself, which is represented today by a bust in the possession of the American Philosophical society, in Philadelphia. How much more valuable these are, historically speaking, than any ordinary sculptured likeness is obvious enough, inasmuch as they present to view the very features of the two men, molded direct from the originals.

Making a Life Mask.

A life mask is made substantially in the same way as a death mask, the person to be “taken” lying flat on his back while the operation is being performed. But there is this difference, that breathing must be provided for; and the immortal Washington, while the plaster of paris was waiting to “set” on his face, had to get his supply of air through a small glass tube inserted in one nostril—the tube being provided with a flange to prevent it from falling out.

In later days a quill has been used more commonly for the «same purpose. But it is not really necessary, for, if the work be carefully and skillfully performed, one nostril may be left free of plaster, the substance being merely smeared around it. The “subject” is always cautioned to be very careful not to breathe through his mouth; for, if he should do so, some of the moist plaster might be carried into the opening of his windpipe, and hardening there, choke him to death.

Abraham Lincoln went through this rather distressing operation on two occasions. The first time was in 1860, when it was performed by a Chicago sculptor, Leonard W. Volk. He had then no beard. Casts were made at the same time of both his hands, clenched into fists, and one of them holding a rod. Again, 60 days before he was assassinated, another life mask was made of him by Clark Mills, of Washington. He then wore the chin beard which is so familiar as a feature of his physiog­nomy. Both of these masks, and the hands as well, are now preserved in the National Museum. They are not, however, the only existing copies, whereas the mask of McKinley is unique, the mold having been destroyed immediately after it was taken.

One reason why a life mask, or, next best, a death mask, is so desirable from the viewpoint of the sculptor, is that the two sides of nobody’s face are exactly alike. The sides of the mouth differ, and the eyes are not alike, as one may see by observing any photographic portrait that shows the full face. The proportions of the two sides of a face always differ somewhat, and the sides of the nose are invariably more or less unlike.

Noses Turn to Right.

Walking along the street, any observant person may notice that 99 of every 100 people he meets have noses that turn markedly to the right. Now and then is seen a nose that turns decidedly to the left. It will be found that in these exceptional instances the owners are nearly always left-handed. Now why should this be so? Mr. Dunbar thinks it is because of the fact, which he says is beyond question, that right-handed persons use the muscles on the right side of their faces much more than those on the left side. On the other hand, left-handed individuals make much more use of the muscles on the left side. This would tend to pull the nose in the corresponding direction. It may be, however, that the constant use of the handkerchief for wiping and blowing the nose, even from early childhood, has something to do with the matter. But there is no doubt that in a great majority of faces the right side is the more expressive side. A curious fact, attributable to the cause of which Mr. Dunbar speaks, is that one—anybody, that is to say—begins to smile first on one side of the mouth. Thus it happens that in a full-face photograph the person represented is often grave on one side of the face and slightly smiling on the other—this being due to the effort at a beginning of a smile which is made in response to the photographer’s suggestion to “look pleasant.” Sleep has often been called the “sister of death,” though not so appropriately as most people imagine. Not only does the face of a sleeper lack the pallor of death, but the facial muscles are alive and do not relax like the inert muscles of the dead. Hence it is that the expression of the face of a sleeper is not in the least like that of the same individual when life has departed.

Is a Simple Process.

The process of making a death mask is simple enough. To begin with, the face is covered with vaseline, and a silk thread is laid along from the top of the head to the neck, for the purpose presently to be described. Then a thin coat of plaster-of-paris is applied all over the face with a soft brush, including the ears. It is deemed important to include the ears because they have a great deal to do with expression—much more, indeed, than is commonly supposed.

This first coat of plaster is allowed to “set” partly. It fills all the interstices, preserving the wrinkles and other details. More of the material is not put on at first because its weight would cause the face muscles to sag. The second coat of plaster is made to cover not only the face, but also the hair, the latter requiring to be reproduced merely in a rough way. Before it “sets,” the silk thread is pulled out, so as to divide the plaster mass into two halves, making it easy to remove afterward. When hard, it is taken off, and the halves when fastened together form a perfect mold of the face. A cast made from this mold is the death mask. After greasing the inside of the mold with vaseline, the fluid plaster is poured in and made to spread itself over all parts of the inside of the mold. Pieces of burlap saturated with the same fluid are then introduced, and over these more plaster is poured. As soon as the stuff has become hard the mask is detached from the containing mold, and requires only a little touching up, to remove irregularities, in order to make it a perfect reproduction of the face of the person. It will be understood, of course, that the burlap is to render the mask less fragile.

When, during the French revolution the human fiend Marat was murdered in his bathtub ‘by Charlotte Cordray, the famous Mme. Tussaud, eager to procure so valuable an addition to her collections, went immediately to the house and took a death mask of the victim. This was no very extraordinary performance for her, inasmuch as she had been accustomed day after day to be on hand at the guillotine and to take masks from the heads of important personages as fast as they dropped into the fatal basket—a task which may be said to have had a certain important usefulness, inasmuch as thereby the physiognomies of many individuals of historic note were preserved.

El Paso [TX] Herald 14 June 1912: p. 23

For a post on Halloween deaths by mask, see Death Masks.

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.