A strange wedding tragedy was the subject of investigation by the Plymouth, England, coroner yesterday.
On Wednesday Mary Dicker, the wife of a laborer, set out with her husband and daughter for the church where the latter was to be married to a young man named Menhennitt. On their way the wedding party met a funeral procession, and Mrs. Dicker was so much affected by this evil omen that she trembled violently all the way to the church, and declared that some calamity was bound to follow.
In the evening the bridegroom’s father gave a wedding party, and Mrs. Dicker, who seemed by that time to have recovered form her fright and to be in the best of spirits, was asked to sing a song. She did so, while still sitting in her chair.
In the middle of the song she fell forward and it was thought that she had fainted. She was carried into an adjoining bedroom, and a doctor was sent for, but before he arrived the morning’s ill omen had been fulfilled and she was dead.
It appeared that she had suffered a good deal from heart trouble, though the symptoms had disappeared during the last 12 months. Dr. Croft Symons stated that death was due to syncope brought on by the excitement of the morning.
A verdict of “death from natural causes” was recorded.
Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 18 February 1904: p. 5
It was a popular superstition that seeing a hearse or a mourning coach on one’s wedding day was a deadly omen for the marriage. There was also a belief that a bride who saw a hearse on her wedding day would lose all of her children.
On a foggy morning last week…a bridal party consisting of two young women with enormous bouquets, and two very nervous looking young men, drew up in a four-wheeler at the entrance to a registry-office, situated in one of the meanest of the mean streets off Islington. Just as they were all alighting, a hearse, meandering along in the fog, collided with the cab, and for the moment the wheels became interlocked. Bridegroom, bridesmaid, and the best man were in no way disconcerted. But, alas! For the poor little bride the harmony of the day was broken. Bursting into tears she declared that nothing would induce her to get married “with a hearse for an omen.” And neither laughter, chidings, nor entreaties served to shake her resolve. Back into the cab she got, bouquet and all, and in a few minutes the very woe-begone quartet drove off. Inangahua Times, 7 April 1897: p. 4
The Islington bride sensibly postponed the festivities, while the following bride did not. A word to the wise…
BRIDE’S FATAL SUPERSTITION
Portsmouth, Eng. While a Portsmouth woman was going to church on her wedding day her taxicab overtook a funeral procession. She regarded it as an ill omen and was disposed to postpone the ceremony, but was dissuaded by friends. The bride, however, was depressed. A fortnight after she became ill and died. Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times 16 September 1920: p. 16
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.
A Story of a Village Courtship from Indiana—The Wedding Excited a Deal of Interest Because the Groom Was an Undertaker, Who Had Buried Many.
Undertaker Samuel Pavey and Mrs. Sarah Milliken, who has been known in Aristotle, Ind., for twenty-five years as Achilles or Kill Milliken’s widow, were married recently in the presence of everybody in this village except old Miss Beckett. Miss Beckett would have been present if she had not left her sickbed last week to call on Mrs. Milliken and inquire into the particulars of the engagement. After this imprudence she had a relapse and has been unable to leave her bed. She was propped up at the window all the afternoon, however, and saw everybody that went in or out of church.
Undertaker Pavey has buried all of the dead here for the past sixty years. He is now a tall, thin man. with close cropped white hair and smooth shaven face, and always dresses in black, as becomes an undertaker. Only the oldest citizens can remember when he looked any different from the way he looks now. His wife died forty years ago, and he has kept shy of all maidens and widows ever since. Years ago he was abandoned by the most persistent match makers as a hopeless case.
The widow of Kill Milliken is an estimable lady, a great maker of cakes for the church festivals and clever at crocheting worsted tidies, with a large number of which the chairs and the sofa in her front parlor are adorned. As there has been a good deal of curiosity about her engagement and marriage, she has consented to a public statement. She is a short, fat woman, with hair of a peculiar shade of yellow, which she got by using the hair dye which was advertised extensively in connection with her picture and letter of recommendation. She says that Mr. Pavey had never shown any signs of preference for her whatever, nor had she thought of him as the successor of Kill until ten days before the marriage.
About that time he knocked at her front door at half past 11 in the morning. It was a Wednesday and the Widow Milliken was deep in the dough, as that is baking day through this whole town. She looked out through the blinds of the window next the front door and saw who it was. As she had known Mr. Pavey so many years she just wiped the flour off her hands upon her apron and opened the door.
Mr. Pavey went into the parlor and sat down in the cane-seat rocker with the green worsted tidy with blue ribbons through it. He set his tall hat carefully on the floor beside him and then said: “Good morning, Sarah Milliken.”
“Good morning, Mr. Pavey,” said Mrs. Milliken. She said that she accented the Mr. so that Mr. Pavey might understand that she had noticed his not calling her Mrs. Milliken, as he was accustomed to do. Mrs. Milliken also says that she had a sort of premonition that something was coming.
“It can’t be that the Gompers girl is dead?” she said anxiously.
“No,” said Mr. Pavey. “But life is uncertain, Sarah Milliken.”
“No one should know that better than you, Samuel Pavey,” said the widow with one of her sly laughs.
But Mr. Pavey did not laugh as he went on: “Sarah, you are getting along in years. You will soon be in need of my services.”
“I haven’t even sent for the doctor yet, and I won’t need you till he’s done with me,” said the widow, bridling and pouting.
“Do you remember the first Mrs. Pavey?” said the undertaker, paying no attention to her and pursuing his own gloomy reflections.
“I was a little girl when she died,” said Mrs. Milliken.
“Yes,” said Mr. Pavey, “you had just married the late Mr. Milliken five years before. You remember that she had the best funeral this town ever saw, not excepting old Captain Lander’s funeral, which cost five dollars, as I should know, if anybody. As I said, Sarah, you are getting old. If you marry me I will do as well by the second Mrs. Pavey as I did by the first.”
“You always would have your joke, Sam,” said the widow. “What will everybody say?”
“We are both getting old,” said Mr. Pavey, still paying no attention to what the widow was saying. “Life is uncertain. There is no time to lose.”
So Mrs. Milliken said, “All right, Samuel; whenever you say.
“Ten days is long enough. I’ll see the pastor this afternoon.”
Then they shook hands, and Mr. Pavey put on his hat and went away, looking quite gay and chipper as soon as the door closed on him, for he did not know that Mrs. Milliken was watching him through the blinds. Two minutes afterward she had called Mrs. Meek, her next door neighbor, to the back fence and had told her all about it. Ten minutes afterward by the clock on the court house Mrs. Meek, having left her bakery in charge of her daughter Lizzie, had on her bonnet and shawl and was bearing down the street, telling everybody she met. Cor. New York Sun
“I don’t think there is as much genuine love-making in Saratoga nowadays as there used to be years ago,” said old Sexton Palmerston, as he leaned on his spade. “They all seem to be going for money. Why, I haven’t had four genuine love cases in the graveyard this year. Now, when a man is going for money you don’t see him bringing his girl over here.”
“How does he act when he is going for money?” I asked.
“Why, he spends his time around the florists, he heaps presents on her, keeps her room full of flowers, hands chairs on the balcony, always stands ready with a music programme, looks after her mail, always compliments her clothes, and___”
“And what else?” I asked, impatiently.
“Why, the courting-for-money lover even looks after his sweetheart’s table. He even goes and bribes the head cook to send her chicken livers en brochette, woodcock and Spanish mackerel. The cooks always have these delicacies for guests provided and they are well paid for them. O! he gives his girl an elegant time, but there’s no love in it.”
“But how does the all-for-love young man go to work?” I interrupted.
“Why, he don’t fool around at a distance,” said the old sexton, “with bouquets, and chairs, and programmes, and nice breakfasts. He just quietly walks his sweetheart over to the graveyard, and, sitting on one of those benches out under the trees yonder, he takes her hand. He sits right down and attacks her heart. He don’t fool around buying flowers for her eyes, nor candies for her tongue, nor perfumes for her nose; he just gets his arm right around her heart, and when it begins to throb, and when her cheek gets red and warm he knows that girl is hisn’. (Don’t stand so near the grave or it’ll cave in.) Why, that girl would rather have one hour of our warm graveyard courting than 400 years of such iceberg courting as I see going on over in the States parlors. I’ve seen this courtin’ goin’ on for forty years. (By jiminy, there’s a bone! I’m getting too near that other grave.) I see old grey-headed men every day riding up here in carriages who courted their wives in this graveyard forty years ago. There’s R.L. Stuart, the wealthy sugar refiner__”
“But he’s an old bachelor,” I interrupted.
“Never mind that. I tell you, my benches could tell why he never got married. He loved the girl well enough, and__”
“But who else do you remember seeing here?” I asked.
“Why, there was Mr. Winston of the Mutual Life. He used to walk around here thirty years ago, with a beautiful blonde girl. I can see him now kissing that girl—but I’m not going to tell all I know. Andrew H. Green, he married a girl he courted in my graveyard. Fernando Wood used to have a seat here, and Charles A. Dana, he used to know, forty year ago, all about flirting in a graveyard. Old General James Watson Webb used to walk the young ladies up here forty years ago, and his son, the Doctor, why he could never get along at all in courting Miss Vanderbilt till he got her away from the stuck-up States Hotel, and found himself one day in one of my seats. I knew Vanderbilt would lose a daughter that night. I tell you, these graveyard seats mean business every time. Dd I ever have any Senators or Governors on my seats? Why, of course. Senator Kernan courted two girls at once in this graveyard, and President Arthur knows where all the best seats are. They needn’t be ashamed of it either, for Hamilton and DeWitt Clinton used to do the same thing when they were boys. Boys will be boys,” continued the old man, as he jumped out of the grave, “and girls will be girls. Girls with big hearts like to be loved, and fellows with big hearts will kiss and love them. I don’t care how straight their parents make them sit up and down at the States, they will occasionally get away and come up here in the graveyard to act natural, and I’m the last man to hinder ‘em. Why I often keep these graveyard gates open till nine o’clock when there are genuine lovers enough around to warrant it. I don’t mean flirters. I mean real, genuine lovers.”
“But how do the lover manage down at Long Branch and over at Newport, where they have no graveyards handy?” I asked.
“I don’t know, but they have mating places somewhere. I ‘spect they sit out in the sand under the bluffs, or sit around under umbrellas in the pavilions, or get in dismal corners on the balconies. They’ve got to—by gosh, they’ve got to!”
That’s what the old Saratoga graveyard philosopher said. Saratoga Cor. N.Y. Commercial Advertiser.
Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 6 September 1882: p. 10
“Come out through the back way and see my daisy!” he chuckled as he rubbed his hands together.
“What! gone into the funeral flowers business on your own account? Yet, after all, why not? An undertaker might as well furnish the flowers as the coffin.”
“Come on. There–how does that strike you?”
“That’s a hearse–a new one.”
“But it’s the daisy I was speaking of. Isn’t she spic-span and shiny?”
“I should smile. It lays over anything of the sort in this town, and don’t you forget it! Get in and lie down and let me bob the springs to show how easy it rides.”
“No. thank you.”
“You go on! There’s points about a hearse the public ought to know. Get up on the driver’s seat.”
“Excuse me, but I prefer a family carriage.”
“Oh, pshaw! But you are too thin-skinned. Just notice these springs. I tell you it will be a positive pleasure to ride above ’em. The dish of those wheels is absolutely perfect, and such a finish!”
“Yes, very nice hearse.”
“You bet! Say, it will be a proud hour in my life when I hitch a span of white horses to that vehicle and prance around to the house of the late deceased. Lands! But won’t the other undertakers look blue! Say, feel of these curtains–pure silk.”
“I’ll take your word for it.”
“Go on, now! Hang it, but when an undertaker puts up his cash for a regular daisy like this you newspaper fellows ought to encourage him. Just remember that the old-fashioned way of carrying a body around in a lumber wagon and then gaze on this! Just notice how these rear doors open to admit the coffin.”
“Handy? Why, man, it’s superb! Have you noticed the glass in the sides?”
“Seems to be very good.”
“Good! Why, it’s the finest in the world–the very finest! I wanted something to show off the coffin, and here it is. I tell you, the late deceased ought to feel proud to ride in such a vehicle! You can say in your paper that it knocks ’em all out. Say, how are you on styles?”
“Coffins and shrouds, of course. Come in a minute. I’ve got a new thing in shrouds—something you are bound to appreciate, and I’m after a patent on a coffin with an air-receiver in it. Say! do me a favor. Let me enclose you in my new coffin and see how long the supply of air will last you. I’ll bet a dol–”
The images of those brave souls working among the virus-stricken in their ghostly protective suits called to mind this bizarre story from 1903.
She Believed the Officer
Who Came To Investigate a Report of Smallpox
Poor Woman So Scared By the Hideous Apparition
That She Died in Terror—Her Toledo Relatives Now Threaten a Damage Suit.
Toledo, Ohio, February 4. Haunted to death by a hideous apparition was the fate which befell Mrs. Joseph Smolinski, of 1207 Nebraska avenue, according to the story told by her husband and other relatives.
Mrs. Smolinski was 33 years old, well educated, pretty and the wife of a well-to-do mechanic. Her death occurred last Saturday, and it was pitiable in the extreme.
About a month ago Mrs. Smolinski became ill with pneumonia, but by careful treatment rapidly recovered. Following her recovery the outer skin on her hands began to peel off, as is invariably the case following fever attacks.
Some of the neighbor women who visited her, noticing this condition of the woman’s hands, informed the penthouse authorities that the woman had smallpox. Then began the trouble that resulted in the woman’s pathetic death. Following the report of smallpox an agent of the Health Department, clad in the outlandish though necessary apparel of the physicians who daily visit the penthouse, entered the home of the Smolinskis.
The sudden appearance of a fierce-looking object, helmet topped, clad in an oil-cloth suit, with a sponge at the mouth hole and a pair of slits for the eyes, for all the world resembling a deep sea diver, suddenly appearing before the woman startled her. She had never heard or seen such an object in her life. The only thing she could imagine this peculiarly uniformed health officer resembled was the evil one, and that belief at once took possession of her mind, and all that medical skill could do failed to remove the impression first formed.
The next day it was found that the woman had no smallpox, and the Health Department did everything possible to correct the blunder, but too late to save the woman’s life. The vision of that strangely garbed health officer haunted the poor woman night and day for two weeks, until death mercifully relieved her from her awful sufferings from fear and terror. The most powerful opiate failed to have any effect on the woman.
She either sat up or laid in bed wildly staring about the room, and at intervals trying to shrink back, as if fearful of the too near approach of the awful apparition that constantly haunted her. Friends tried to explain to her that the awful thing was harmless or had vanished, but all their efforts could not influence the mind which seemed possessed of only that one impression.
At time the woman would become so terror stricken at what seemed to be before her that she would shriek out in pain and beg those around her to protect her from the awful monster. Nature’s strength finally gave way and the woman collapsed, but even in death her last struggles were used to save herself from the apparition. The woman’s relatives, who are wealthy, have secured counsel, and say they will bring an action for heavy damages against the city of Toledo on the ground that Mrs. Smolinski’s death was caused by the blundering conduct of an agent of the Health Department. Besides a husband, the deceased leaves five small children.
Bay City [MI] Times 6 February 1903: p. 1
Certainly I’d seen the beaked Plague-doctor costumes of the Renaissance, like the illustration at the head of the post, but for some reason I didn’t think that protective clothing was being worn by public health officials in 1903. I was unable to find a 19th or early-20th century illustration of a suit such as terrified the unfortunate Mrs. Smolinski.
Note the “well-educated” and “well-to-do” in practically the first paragraph. An Eastern European name usually led to an assumption of ignorance and superstition. There had been a flood of Russian and Eastern European immigration to the United States after 1870 and fears were rife about anarchists and foreigners with unpronounceable names, odd customs, and smelly foods overrunning decent peoples’ neighborhoods. It is no accident that the “Devil Baby” legend grew up about this time.
In the 1910 census Joseph Smolinski was listed as age 46, widowed, living with seven children: five daughters and two sons in Toledo in. I have not found any record of a lawsuit filed against the Health Department.
Previously I wrote about people who were supposedly scared to death. Any other examples? Send to Chriswoodyard8 AT mail.com, being careful not to sneak up on her and tap her on the shoulder unexpectedly.
I had been about five years married. My husband was a…business man, healthy and strong, and we were the possessors of two dear little girls, and very happy. As usual we started on our summer holiday, but, after the second week, I noticed a distinct change in my husband; he looked tired and ill, and he was very irritable. He made no complaint and said he was all right; but I felt anxious to get home. It was on the night after our return that I went to bed feeling very tired and soon dropped off into a heavy sleep, but was suddenly awakened and heard the clock strike twelve. I rubbed my eyes and listened, and then I saw distinctly leaning on the foot of my bed, a nurse in uniform, with head bowed down. It gave me a start and I called out “Nurse.” This awoke my hubby, and he was ever so cross. I turned my head to tell him, but, when I looked again, she was gone. Of course, he said it was a dream, but it was not, and I slept no more that night. I did not mention the matter to anyone, fearing they would laugh at me. But the next night, I was awakened by my elder little girl calling. I went to her and found she was greatly frightened. She said a nurse had wakened her, and described the vision as I had seen it. I got into her bed, but it was a long time before she went off to sleep. It worried me so much that I sent for mother, and, before I had time to tell her anything, I heard the child telling her just as she had told me. Mother laughed about it and said she would stay all night. Imagine what I felt like when, just as the clock was striking twelve, mother called out: “The ‘nurse’ has awakened me.” My husband was furious at being wakened, as he said, by hysterical women, but in the morning we all looked so ill—my husband particularly so—that, without telling us, mother sent for the doctor. When she told my husband, he was furious, put on his hat and went out. I was sitting at the window waiting for doctor, when an ambulance drove up. I rushed to the gate and was met by the nurse. Then, out slipped the doctor. They carried my husband in. He had fallen in a faint in the road, just as doctor was on his way to the house. He sent for an ambulance, and the nurse came with it. I tried hard to get nurse to stay with me, but she could not. My husband had a terrible illness from which he never recovered properly. Nurse often came in person to see me. Then, one day, I had the sad news brought to me that “pneumonia” had claimed her. But, up to the time of my husband’s death, I often saw her and knew it was to prepare me for some trouble. As the clock was striking twelve midnight on December 21/96, nurse came to me again. I could not sleep, and put my hand under the pillow to get my flashlight. The flashlight would not work, so I felt for my husband’s. He said his was out of order, but he would take them in the morning to be repaired. Those were his last words. Later, I found him dead, but I have never seen nurse since.
Warnings From Beyond, Signs, Visions, and Premonitions told by “Daily News” Readers, S. Louis Giraud, editor, (London, UK: Fleetgate Publications, n.d.): pp. 12-13
Since Mother’s Day weekend is coming up, and I’ve previously posted about mothers who return to visit or protect their children, here is a story about a vigilant ghostly mama from The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past, originally found on my Mrs Daffodil blog.
This story hinges on the age-old dilemma of the step-mother. The nineteenth-century division of labor was such that few men could cope with household chores and childcare without help. A man with children who lost his wife needed to find a replacement quickly. And if that replacement was not kind to the children, there would be hell to pay when a ghost came to call…
From Home By a Spirit.
The Ghost of a First Wife Returns To Haunt Her Successor.
The locality in which this motherly ghost appears is what is known as Baltimore No. 2, a settlement of Irish and Welsh miners, who work in the Baltimore vein [Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.] The houses are red company structures, and in one of them lives Cornelius Boyle, a young man who is quite prominent in politics, having often been chosen as delegate from his ward to Democratic conventions.
Mr. Boyle’s wife died about two months ago, leaving four small children. Two weeks ago he married again. Mrs. Boyle No. 2 spent a very happy week with her husband while on their wedding tour. But since their return she has led a most unhappy existence. She has been haunted, she says, by the first Mrs. Boyle, who during the last week visited her almost every day. After these visits Mrs. Boyle has remained unconscious for several hours.
I went to the place to-day and found Mrs. Boyle in the house of a neighbor, the visit she received from the spirit of the first Mrs. Boyle last Saturday having caused such a serious shock to her nerves that she says she will never enter the house again. Her husband, an intelligent young man, 28 years old, was with her and two children were playing about the room.
SHE IS A YOUNG WIFE
Mrs. Boyle is very young for a wife, being hardly 17 years old. She is a pretty girl. She was Miss Sarah Cullings before she was married two weeks ago, and lived in Ashley, near here. She met her husband last St. Patrick’s Day, and not quite a month afterward they were married in Phillipsburg, N.J., by Rev. Father Burke. The week following they spent in New York and last week arrived at Boyle’s home in Baltimore No. 2.
“I was washing some clothes in the kitchen Monday afternoon when I experienced a most singular feeling, as though somebody were in the room with me. I looked around but could see nobody. Then I went into the parlor, but no one was there. When I returned to the kitchen all the chairs and tables were upset and my washing spilled on the floor. I set them right again. Immediately they were thrown down. At that instant there swept by me a figure of no particular shape, except the head, and that I saw distinctly. The face was a woman’s and had such a peculiar look about it that I cannot forget it. It was gone in an instant and I fainted. The children called in the neighbors, and after some time I was revived. When my husband returned home I told him the story. He called it a joke and said I had imagined it all. I tried to think no more about it.
“The next day,” continued Mrs. Boyle, “I was alone in the kitchen making some bread when I again felt the dreadful sensation of the peculiar presence. It gradually grew in shape, until the head was fully visible. Then I could see the face. It was the same as on the day previous. Then it gradually faded away, and again I fainted from fright.
“Fearing to be alone the next day, I sent for my sister. That night I again told my husband about the ghostly visitor. My nerves were unstrung and I was very much excited. Mr. Boyle got some books to quiet me, and we began looking them over. Among the books was a photograph album. He was turning over the leaves and explaining who the persons were. Finally he turned a page, and there before me was
THE FACE OF THE GHOST
I had seen. So suddenly was the face presented before me that I shrieked with horror. My husband sprang to his feet, and asked me what was the matter. All I could do was to point to the album, which had fallen to the floor, and say, “That face, that face,” “What about it,” cried my husband. “It is the same as the ghost’s I saw.” He was very much horrified at this, and exclaimed, “It is the fact of my first wife.” Then he believed what I had said regarding the apparition, for he knew I have never seen her nor any photograph of her, until he showed me the one in the album.
“On Thursday my sister and I were in the kitchen, cutting carpet rags. Among the old clothing was a jacket of “Jamesey’s,” who is my husband’s oldest boy. I took it out of the bag to give to Annie, my sister. I leaned over to hand it to her. As I did so it was pulled from my hands and thrown on the floor. At the same instant I felt the presence of the ghost, although I could see nothing. My sister then picked the jacket from the floor. As she did so the jacket was torn from her hands, and the ghost stood before us, the eyes glazing as though in anger. My sister shrieked with terror and fell into my arms. I managed to retain consciousness and the apparition vanished. Both Annie and I then went outside and would not go in until my husband returned home. Then Annie went out to Ashley. She was afraid to stay with me.
The next day was Friday and my husband remained at home all day. In the evening he went down to the store and I began undressing ‘Jamesey,’ who is older than the others and had been allowed to stay up. He was very naughty and I had to scold him. Then I put him to bed, and returned to the sitting room.
“As I entered the room, the
GHOST STOOD BEFORE ME
I was becoming less afraid of it, and, although greatly frightened, I managed to say: “what do you want?” The ghost pointed one of its hands at me, and, although I could not see the mouth move, it spoke and said: “Treat my children well,” three times, and very slowly.
When my husband returned a few minutes later I was in a fainting fit. We agreed to leave the house as soon as we could find another. I did not want to stay another day, but my husband persuaded me to stay in order to pack up some of the goods.
“Yesterday afternoon ‘Jamesey’ was a naughty boy again. I caught his arm and began to shake him. Immediately the ghost appeared. It seemed to come from behind the kitchen stove. One hand caught the boy and pulled him from me, while with the other hand she struck me on the head.
“It was all over in a few seconds, and as the ghost disappeared I snatched up the boy and ran out of the house. I went to Mrs. McLaughlin’s across the street. “You look ill, Mrs. Boyle,” she said. “What is the matter? Why, your head is all covered with ashes.” I put my hand on my head and there was ashes there. They must have come from the ghost’s hands.”
The boy “Jamesey” was then called. He is a bright little fellow, about 5 years of age. He was asked what had happened yesterday afternoon. “Me was bad boy,” he said. “She shake me,” pointing to Mrs. Boyle. “Then my mamma—not my new mamma, my old one—come out from behind stove and pull me away. I haven’t seen my old mamma for a long time.”
Mr. Boyle said he did not believe in ghosts, but he believes what his wife says, and will not allow her to go into the house again. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 3 May1894: p. 10
So far, merely a standard visitation from the dead mother as a warning. But things quickly took a more sinister turn.
BABY BURNED BY A GHOST
Mrs. Boyle Declares That the Jealous Spirit is That of Her Husband’s First Wife.
FOUR INCENDIARY VISITATIONS
Wilkesbarre, Pa., May 11, 1894. Mrs. Cornelius Boyle, wife of a well-known young miner of this city, was visited about two weeks ago by a supernatural being, whom she said was Boyle’s first wife.
As told in the Herald at the time, Mrs. Boyle the second was married about two months after the first wife’s death, and the ghost, according to her, had appeared to warn her to take good care of the four children.
The appearance of the ghost so affected Mrs. Boyle that her husband took another house. In this new place they lived happily until Tuesday, when Mrs. Boyle had another visit from the ghost. This time she said that it threatened her with horrible tortures if the children were not properly cared for.
Matters reached a climax yesterday morning when a bed on the second floor was found to be on fire. An alarm was run, the Fire Department responded, and the flames were extinguished, but scarcely had the firemen left when the same bed was again discovered on fire.
The firemen returned and extinguished the blaze a second time. Later in the day the house was found to be on fire again, and the Fire Department was called out a third time.
BLAMES IT ALL ON THE GHOST.
An oil can and some kerosene were found on the floor and bed clothing.
When the firemen arrived Mrs. Boyle put the blame on the ghost and said she could give no explanation as to the origin of the fire.
The house was found to be again on fire this morning. When the firemen reached the house it was found locked and full of smoke. The blaze was located in a bed on the second floor.
“Sam” Bartleson, foreman of No. 8 Hose Company, upon smashing a window and entering the house found a little child lying unconscious in the blazing bed. The child was little Johnnie Boyle, the four-year-old son of Boyle by his first wife.
AGAIN IT WAS THE GHOST
The little fellow was carried across the street to the house of Thomas Manley. His burns were dressed and he is expected to recover. The flames were soon extinguished.
Mrs. Boyle was out when the blaze was discovered, but was found in one of the neighbor’s houses. She blamed this fire also on the ghost, who, she says, is jealous of her and wants to drive her from her children and husband.
Mrs. Boyle is under police surveillance and the house is watched.
Mrs. Boyle is about eighteen years old, bright appearing and pretty. New York Herald 12 May 1894: p. 11
I have not found an end to this story of what seems to be a very wicked stepmother. One does feel a certain sympathy for a 17-year-old bride married after a mere month’s courtship and thrust into the role of mother to four very young children. I cannot discover what happened to the first Mrs. Boyle. The second Mrs. Boyle’s spells of unconsciousness might possibly have been epilepsy or caused by stress, but what do we make of the young son saying that his dead mother came out of the stove? Had he heard his stepmother tell the story?
The unwanted, lost and unidentified dead of New York are still buried in the same Potter’s Field on Hart’s Island. Modern descriptions of burials on Hart Island are an eerie echo of the story below.
BURIED IN POTTER’S FIELD
The Grewsome Trips of the Fidelity
Her Daily Cargo of Pauper Dead
Scenes at the City Cemetery, Hart’s Island. [sic]
Among the boats that may be seen on the East River any day is a small craft bearing the name Fidelity. People to whom the various vessels are only slightly known see nothing peculiar about the boat, because she is like hundreds of little vessels on the East and North rivers used for conveying freight and passengers between points where the larger vessels do not make landings. But to the river men and to the people who spend their time near the east waterfront the little boat is known as “the deadboat.”
She belongs to the city, has a crew of four deckhands, besides a mate, an engineer and a fireman, and is commanded by Captain Edward McEvoy. This boat makes the tour of the city institutions on the East River daily and collects the bodies of the dead and takes them to the Morgue. Randall’s Island, Ward’s Island, Blackwell’s Island and the Harlem Hospital all contribute to the grewsome cargo which is landed every evening at the Morgue, where the bodies of the homeless and the friendless are also taken.
“We have dull and busy seasons,” said Captain McEvoy, “but we can usually count on about two a day from Randall’s Island, about three a day from Ward’s Island, and Blackwell’s Island gives us about ten a day. The North Brother Island dead are taken care of by the Health Department; the Harlem Hospital, at One-hundred-and-twentieth-st., is good for about three a day.”
THE FIDELITY’S CARGO
All the bodies as they come aboard are handled by the deckhands and are piled on the after deck, covered with tarpaulins, and when the Fidelity steams down the river with her load for the Morgue, passengers on passing vessels would never suspect the character of her cargo.
Twice a week in the winter months and three times a week during the warm season the Fidelity makes a trip to Hart’s Island, where the bodies from the Morgue which have not been claimed or identified are buried in Potter’s Field, or, as it is officially, the City Cemetery.
“It’s all the same after you are dead,” said a man who had made the trip, “but if you want to know the advantage of passing away among friends make a trip to Hart’s Island on a burying day.”
The boat’s load, which varies in size from thirty to one hundred boxes, stands on the dock and in the hallways of the Morgue, ready to be taken away early in the morning. Every box is furnished with a card which contains the name, age, sex, cause of death, etc., of the subject, or, where the name is unknown, a number corresponding with the one on the Morgue records, by which everything that is known on the body may be ascertained. The marks on the box also show whether the person was a Catholic or a Protestant, when that fact may be ascertained.
“How many ye got to-day?” the deckhand asked one of the Morgue helpers who assist the regular attendants for their board and what they can pick up from undertakers in the way of tips for helping with the claimed bodies.
“Oh, it’s a small day. Ten big and twenty-seven little ones.” That meant that there were ten large coffins and twenty-seven coffins with children’s bodies to be taken away. The cargo was taken on board with less care and ceremony than would have been devoted to a like number of boxes in the hands of a transportation concern marked “Handle with care,” the boat moved away from the dock, which was littered with old and broken coffins, and the trip to Potters Field began.
AT HART’S ISLAND.
The distance to Hart’s Island is about fifteen miles, past the City Hospital, Penitentiary, Almshouse, Maternity Hospital, Insane Asylum, House of Refuge, Idiots’ Asylum, Infants’ Hospital, North Brother Island and about six miles beyond Fort Schuyler, on Throg’s Neck and Willets Point. At the landing there were several officials in the uniform of the Department of Correction and three men in convict’s stripes.
“Didn’t expect you to-day,” one of the officers called in greeting to the captain, “you had such a big load yesterday.”
The boat was made fast and the bodies, which had been transported by the Charities Department, were transferred to the custody of the Department of Correction. The three convicts loaded the boxes into a wagon and it started on its first trip to a trench about one hundred yards from the landing.
John Bopp, the Superintendent of Potter’s Field, who has been in charge of the place for thirty years, and in spite of the nature of his work and the surroundings, retains a cheerful disposition, said:
“We have about fifty convicts here, who are detailed from the Workhouse, but some of them object to handling the coffins, so we select three men who are willing to take the job and give them a ration of whiskey after every load has been disposed of. These men have to do no other work, and, while they think they have ‘a graft,’ the other convicts, although they envy them the whiskey, call them ghouls.”
The wagon brings the bodies to the open trench, which is 45 feet long, 15 feet wide and 7 feet deep, and into this the boxes are placed after Frederick Bartels, the assistant superintendent, who is serving his seventeenth year at the Field, has scratched the number on the box with an instrument called a scriber. The long ends of the trenches run east and west, and the bodies are placed in them facing north and south, heads to the edge. A row of twenty-five is placed at each side of the trench, and on this layer of fifty a thin covering of earth is placed until more bodies are received, when the trench is “tripped” by the convicts. This is the term for the process of taking the earth off the boxes before the next layer is put down. This is repeated until the trench holds three layers, or 150 bodies, when it is covered with earth, and built up about a foot. When this has been done a new plot for 150 bodies is laid out and numbered. A record is kept of the place occupied by every box, and the books which are kept by Mr. Bartels show all particulars necessary for identification in case a body should be claimed by friends or relatives.
All the coffins marked with a cross are buried in the Catholic plot, on the north end, and separate trenches are devoted to nameless children, unidentified bodies and boxes from the colleges, of which latter there are nine or ten every week.
The records show that since the City Cemetery was founded, in 1869, 110,751 bodies have been buried there. Last year’s contribution was 4,377, of which 1,829 were credited to the “Outdoor Poor,” 362 to Bellevue Hospital and 435 to the Foundlings. There is a special plot for soldiers’ graves, in which about forty bodies are buried, the last being two victims of yellow fever, who contracted the disease in Cuba and died at North Brother Island. This plot is marked by a handsome monument and is decorated every Memorial Day. Several attendants who died on the island are also buried in separate graves.
One enclosure contains the bodies of two little children whose mother asked that they might be kept separate from the others so that she might know where the little ones were laid away, and near the south end of the field is another child’s grave, the existence of which is unknown to the little one’s parents or friends. Some years ago, so goes the story, a man was going abroad with his family, and as they boarded the ship an attendant noticed the deathly pallor of the infant in the mother’s arms. Examination showed that the child was ill, and before the vessel sailed the child was dead, and the body was left for burial. The story reached Potter’s Field before the body arrived there, and in the hope that the names of the parents might be learned a separate grave was made of the body, but all efforts in that direction have failed….
“The men who work in the trenches where the bodies are laid away have a grewsome job,” said an officer of the Department, “and one for which the ‘drunk and disorderly’ on the island don’t envy them; in fact, being put in this gang is by no means a mark of distinction, and yet they see less mourning than the men who work in a private cemetery. There relatives and friends stand about the open graves and weep for those who have passed away. Here the bodies come, are carted to the trench, lowered and covered with earth, and that is all. No one knows, no one cares; a hundred and fifty make a trench full, and then a new hole is dug. Men grow accustomed to all kinds of work, and there’s probably no convict gang in the New-York institutions where there is less of the blues than among the helpers at Potter’s Field.”
New York Tribune 1 April 1900: p. 6
Note: This is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead. In the book it is preceded by a look at the New York Morgue in 1868.
“Remember that that ‘Gates Ajar’ must go up to Brown’s before 9 o’clock to-morrow morning,” said a Wabash-avenue florist to one of his employes the other afternoon, “and don’t forget that it is to be an n.f. affair and that you’ll have to keep our eyes open.”
“What is an n.f. funeral?” I ventured to ask, after the young man addressed had left us.
“No flowers,” sententiously answered the proprietor.
“That means, then, that you are taking flowers to a funeral where they are prohibited?”
“Do so frequently?”
“Then ‘no flowers’ really doesn’t mean no flowers after all, does it?”
“It doesn’t if we can help it—rest assured of that. We are here to sell flowers. The funeral trade forms an important part of our business, and we have to protect ourselves against the anti-floral cranks as best we can. The ‘no flowers’ order is a fashionable fad and nothing else. It originated in New York years ago at a funeral of one of the Vanderbilts, who requested that no flowers should be displayed during his obsequies. I was working for a new York florist at that time, and I well remember what a flutter this innovation caused among the tradesmen in our line of business. They did not care about losing the single Vanderbilt job, but they feared that such an example in the ultra-fashionable world would be followed by its general adoption. Thus a whim of fashion might deal a severe blow to the floral trade. The leading florists immediately held a conference and it was unanimously decided that the great funeral must not be permitted to set the fashion and inaugurate an anti-flowers era. Several very costly and elaborate floral pieces were prepared, but I spite of all we could do the orders of the deceased were obeyed to the letter and we were unable to get a solitary flower inside the Vanderbilt residence. An attempt to bribe the servants failed, as they had received ironclad instructions not to permit a floral offering of any kind whatsoever to be taken inside the house. This ultimatum fell like a wet blanket upon our hopes, but still we determined not to quit the field without making one last bold ‘bluff.’ A magnificent ivy cross was made—one of the finest that ever was seen in this country. I was about six feet high and was composed of a mass of English ivy leaves and tendrils. It represented a good round sum, let me tell you, and a good deal of work. But there was not a bud or a flower in it anywhere. Just before the time appointed for the exercises to begin we took the cross to the Vanderbilt residence, and, as we expected, were stopped at the door by a liveried lackey, who denied us admission.
“But there must be no delay about this matter, we insisted. ‘It must go in and at once. Come now; we have no time to parley with you.’
“’You can not come in.’
“’I have strict orders not to admit any flowers. I can not do it.’
“’But there are no flowers in this. Look at it for yourself. It was built entirely in accordance with the wishes of the family. You have no orders against admitting ivy, have you?’
“He hesitated. Just then something round and hard dropped into his hand. He was lost. A moment later that beautiful cross stood at the head of the casket. I shall always remember the remark of my companion as we left the house: ‘Well, Jim. We’ve beaten the old man cold at his own game.’”
Talk about push and business enterprise! Are there any limits beyond which they can not go?
The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 8 August 1891: p. 11
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The “anti-flower cranks” came in several flavours: reformers who felt that the tributes contributed to the extravagance of Victorian funerals; those who found them vulgar; and those who had medical grounds. Here is an argument from the latter:
The reformers suggest that the notice of the death which appears in the papers should end with the announcement: “No flowers.” A novel argument against the sending of these tributes is that the petals of the flowers serve to keep the germs which are given off from the dead body, and in the case of people who died from infectious diseases they may become a positive source of danger, and…be absolutely death dealing. Then again the custom of preserving these wreaths is denounced by many medical men, who contend that they, containing as they do morbific bacteria, are a constant source of danger and a menace to the healthy life of those who afterward occupy the rooms. Evening Star [Washington, DC] 14 February 1891: p. 12
“No Flowers at Funeral” is an excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead, which contains other stories about floral tributes at funerals in its look at the popular culture of Victorian death and mourning.
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.