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?
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.
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.
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
Moving beyond the amateurs dedeuil, 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
I never read or hear of the mountains that I do not recall a story told by a conductor of a train on the Great Northern road. We were going to Butte. The train had just crossed the river at Great Falls. From that point the road begins its eastern ascent of the range whose tops are whitened with the snow all the year round. A wide plain spreads out between the line of the road and the range. As the train was getting a “fresh hold on the rails,” as one of the party expressed it, the conductor stood on the rear platform of the coach and looked steadfastly at one spot until it was lost.
“Got a claim anywhere round there?” asked a traveler who had noticed the conductor’s longing look.
“A kinder of a claim,” he replied, “but not the kind you’re thinkin’ of.” How he came to tell us makes no difference now. Here is what he told:
“’Bout a year ago, I think it was, a young man was put on the train by the conductor who brought him to where I take it. He had been east. His folks lived down there, I believe. He had been west a good many years, was a cowboy, then a deputy marshal, then a boss of a ranch, and then he got to speculatin’ in Anaconda. He had lived the sort of a life out here that a man was expected to live in them days.
“He was a hard citizen, and then a good one. Blest if I know just where he quit off, but he did. He finally got to lovin’ a girl and just when he was havin’ it the wust way, she ups and marries a good-for- nothin’ that came out here and got to clerkin’ in a rag house. Then the young man I am talkin’ about he goes east to wear out his feelin’s I reckon. And he was gone all summer. They said he was at the seaside. I thought when I heard that, as how he would not last long. When a man quits this climate to go to the seaside there must be something mighty bad about his case. If a man can’t get cured here he needn’t go anywhere else.
“Well, when he was put in my care there were four or five of the boys with him. They had heerd he was comin’ back, and they met him away down this side of St. Paul. And they nursed him all the way, and fed him just as if he had been a sick girl. He was lookin’ out of the winder of the car all the time, day an’ night, but wasn’t sayin’ nothin’. When we got to Great Falls he looked out of the car winder and smiled. It was the first time the boys had seen him do that since they met him, an’ they thought he was getting’ well. He asked ’em to set him up in his berth so he could see. And he looked at the mountain tops out there, covered with the whiteness of God, and the foot of the mountains that is washed by the purest water this side of the divide.
“The train was just gettin’ a good hold on the rails when the poor fellow sank back and the next thing I see the boys was takin’ the piller out from under his head. Then I knowed it was all over. Then one of the boys came to me and asked me if I would take $1,000 to stop the train. I told ’em I couldn’t do anything of that sort. They said money was no object. Then I asked ’em what was up, and one of ’em told me that he (meaning the dead man) had made a last request that he be taken from the train and buried in sight of that mountain that had the snow on it–the one that caught his eyes first after we had come over the river, They said they had promised him they would. I asked ’em where they would get a box and they said a man as good as he was didn’t need no box; that the angels would take care of him as soon as he was laid away.
“I asked ’em what they would do if the train wasn’t stopped. They held a short parley and said in a most respectful way, which I understood, that they had to carry out the wishes of the deceased at all hazards; that they could stop the train if I didn’t. I understood ’em. I pulled the cord and went forward, and while the engineer was mendin’ the locomotive, which got out of sorts jest then, the funeral procession moved out, and the dead was buried out there in full sight. It so happened that we got the locomotive fixed just as the funeral was over, and we took the pallbearers into Butte that night.
“And I never pass that spot that I don’t look out where they laid him. I ain’t never seen any of the pallbearers since, and I don’t know the name of the young man that they buried. Do you know, gents, that his grave is green all the year round? I once thought of puttin’ up a gravestone at his head, but thinks I, it’s none of my business, and, besides, the boys said the angels was goin’ to take care of his body, so I thought I wouldn’t be intrudin’ on any angel’s business. It was the only time, though, that my locomotive ever got anything the matter with it.” Chicago Tribune.
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.
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.”
“Man and boy, I’ve been in the business nearly fifty years, and if I had to begin over again, I don’t know that I would choose any other.” He was a retired undertaker who spoke. The writer was his companion in a coach on a mourning mission to a Long Island cemetery lately, and he ventured the suggestion that there must be a dreadfully depressing uniformity in the business which would be calculated to deaden the finer sensibilities and to induce a hardened callousness in those engaged in it for so long a time.
“There is as much variety among the dead as among the living,” said the undertaker, “and one’s interest is awakened and one’s sympathies excited by the changes of expression so frequently noticeable on the faces of the dead. Dead faces blush and smile and sometimes look sad and inexpressibly mournful.” Becoming reminiscent, the undertaker related some incidents in his long experience, illustrating the peculiar changes of expression that sometimes came over the faces of the dead and which have for the living such thrilling and ghastly interest.
Probably thirty years ago I was called to a house in Bond street. The corpse was a beautiful young woman of thirty or so, of fine, clear blonde complexion and finely formed. She had died suddenly under peculiar circumstances, and her husband, who appeared to be an excitable and jealous man, much older than his wife, was rushing around tearing his hair and cursing and threatening when I was admitted to the chamber of death. I told him that his grief was unseemly and shocking and begged him to restrain himself. He bade me send my assistant to look after the wagon outside, closed the door of the room connected with that in which the body lay, and sitting down in a chair with his knees close to mine, told me that his wife had been unfaithful to him; that he had suspected her for years, and that her death was a judgment of God, not only to punish but to expose her. He said her sister’s husband, who was a doctor, had been her paramour, and while visiting him she had been suddenly stricken with hemorrhage of the lungs and had died in a few minutes. It was a dreadful story. I said that probably he was mistaken, and I urged him to keep calm.
Before leaving the room to listen to the husband’s story I had noticed what a peculiarly wretched and suffering look the corpse had. When I returned and summoned my assistant I felt confident that this sad and disconsolate expression became gradually intensified as our melancholy work proceeded. Even my assistant noticed and commented on the anguished look of the departed, and the thought of it dwelt so much on my mind that I dreamt about the deceased that night, and I told my wife in the morning what the husband had told me, winding up by saying that I felt she was wrongfully accused.
When I called again with the coffin the husband was absent, but the look was frozen and settled in the face. It was impossible to so dispose of the features as to banish that purgatorial look of martyrdom. I was nearly through when the husband entered the room. He presented the greatest possible contrast to the man I had seen two days previously. He was meek, tearful, broken up, and could scarcely speak for sobbing. In a few words he told me that he was a monster unfit to live. He had wrongfully accused the best and most innocent women that ever lived. Her own sister had been present at the whole interview with the doctor, and up to the moment she was stricken with death; and, moreover, had adduced the most convincing evidence to prove that his own ungovernably jealous suspicions had all along been unfounded. I had been standing at the door with my back to the corpse, as he sobbed and spoke.
When I turned again there was a distinct smile playing over the dead features, like moonlight on rippling waters. His eyes followed mine, and he rushed to the coffin, crying: ‘Mary! Mary! Speak to me! Speak to me! She lives! She is not dead!’ He told me to run for Dr. ___, who lived a few doors away, and inside of ten minutes he was present. But he found her to be quite dead, although the smile remained, and with that sweet, serene and happy smile she was laid away to her long repose.
Another case has haunted me for a still longer period. The lady was a widow of fifty or thereabouts, and her only son was a sailor, employed on one of those clipper ships that traded with China, and he would sometimes be away from home two years at a time. He had been away a year when she was taken with her last sickness, which, I think, was rapid consumption. She was a deeply religious and emotional woman, and her son—Theodore, I remember the name was—was a good, affectionate lad of three or four and twenty. Before the end it became painfully probable to the doctor, the attending minister and the nurse that the mother’s life voyage and the boy’s sea voyage, were running a close and uncertain race. He was expected home in November. It was the beginning of that month, and the hope was ever present to the dying mother’s mind that she would be spared long enough alive to see him—to see him if only for a single fleeting moment. Her prayers to that end were touchingly earnest and incessant.
But it was not to be. Just as the ship that bore the boy was sighting the Sandy Hook highlands, the mother’s spirit was passing yearningly away. When I was called upon to perform the last offices for the deceased I was deeply impressed with the look of perplexed suffering that the face wore. Canker sorrow seemed to have eaten away the placid, sweet look that was natural to her wasted but benign face. The day of the funeral came. There were not many present in the modest little home away down on the Hook, but all who were present were acquainted with the family circumstances and the conversation in low tones turned on the poor dead lady’s disappointment in not being permitted to see her son once again before she went on the last long dark journey.
By and by the old clergyman came, and one of his first acts was to look with tear-filled eyes at the sad face of the corpse. He began the exercises in a low tone, but intensely earnest, speaking of the wishes of the deceased and the inscrutable higher Will that had denied their fulfillment. He had got thus far when the young man himself, with a big parcel in his hand for his mother, staggered into the room, and, as he reached the coffin, burst into a torrent to weeping as if his heart would have burst from his bosom. Everybody was plunged into involuntary tears and some minutes elapsed before the minister could recover his composure. The young sailor, who had been gazing with agonizing fervor upon the dear dead face, here put his hand on the cold, pale brow and said: “Oh, mother, speak to me—speak just once!”
And I thought, and the minister said that he thought, that a flickering faint smile played across the features. But whether the smile was there transiently or not, every body saw that the dead face had cast aside suddenly its anxious and despairing look, and that it now looked blissful and happy. It was a great and notable change, and formed the talk among that little earnest circle for many weeks afterward.
The undertaker was asked if within his experience he had seen a dead face blush. He said that he had. It was not by any means a common phenomenon, yet physicians attempted to explain it by physical reasons, which I am not learned enough to enunciate.
A case in which an apparent suffusion of the blush of modesty came under my notice was peculiarly pathetic. During the summer the young lady was staying in the country, and was killed by being thrown from the carriage in which she was riding. She was to have been married to a young lawyer in this city in a week. I was summoned to professionally attend to the corpse and bring it home to her parents in this city. The face of the beautiful girl wore a sweet, reposeful expression as if she had entered into perfect beatitude. Before the funeral ceremonies began in the house the young lawyer, accompanied by the mother, father and sister of the deceased, paid the corpse a sad parting visit. It was quite manifest to me and to all of them that the dead young lady blushed when her lover kissed her lips. So vividly distinct was the blush that the sister started and placed her hand on the cold brow and addressed the deceased by name.
“After all, though,” he said in conclusion, “the saddest and most common look of the dead is that Phoenix-like, marble rigidity—so inscrutable, awe-inspiring. Nothing can so stun the senses or chill the heart-blood of the beholder as that. I have met the dreadful expression in all its forms, and I never could become quite indifferent to it if I were to practice the undertaking business a hundred years.
The Enquirer [Cincinnati OH] 6 November 1886: p. 13
Has anyone ever yet heard of the ghost of a doll? Such an alleged phenomenon was the cause of much excitement and uneasiness in a fashionable German watering-place, only a few months since; and these were the singular circumstances.
A pretty little girl (daughter of one of the residents) well known in the neighbourhood from being constantly seen playing in the public gardens at W__, died last year, after a few weeks’ illness, having been much soothed and solaced during that painful interval by the companionship of a favourite doll. The latter, who had received the name of ‘Flore’ was scarcely less familiar to the juvenile community than her poor little mistress. It seemed painful to separate the two. At all events, it is a feeling perfectly intelligible that induced the friends of the deceased child to place the doll in the coffin, in the position it had been used to occupy on the bosom of the little sleeper, and thus they were interred in the neighbouring cemetery of B___.
Some weeks elapsed, and then a strange mysterious whisper went abroad that Eulalie (the little girl) and Flore had reappeared in the public walks and gardens. The rumour quickly narrowed down to the apparition of Flore alone; but here it made so determined a stand, as to awaken the attention of the older and wiser members of the community. Not a day passed without one or other of the juvenile playmates bringing home an eager story of Flore’s having been distinctly seen, sometimes sitting under a rosebush, sometimes reclining at full length on a garden seat, sometimes carried in the arms of a certain dark-looking child, whose demeanour had discouraged any close advances, who disdained skipping-rope, and had proved impervious to the seductive influence of hoops.
With some difficulty, the story was traced back to this circumstance, that, about three weeks after the funeral, an intimate playfellow of Eulalie was walking in the gardens, when her attention was attracted by two other children quarrelling. With the curiosity of her years, the little girl hurried up to ascertain the cause of the dispute. It was a doll. No sooner had her eyes lit upon it, than she uttered a scream, flew back to her nurse, and, pulling her towards the spot, bade her look at the ghost of ‘Flore’ who had been buried with Eulalie.
The nurse complied, but, less familiar with Flore’s specialities than her charge, declined to offer any decided opinion on the subject, excepting that it was certainly no ghost, and had a different cap and bonnet from that in which Flore made her last terrestrial appearance.
The little girl, however, positively maintained that it was Flore, and no other; or, if not Flore, then her ghost, and this opinion she repeated to every acquaintance they encountered during the remainder of the walk. It became, in fact, the child’s fixed idea, and as the alleged frequent sight of the mysterious doll began seriously to affect her health and spirits, the parents, as the readiest means of tranquillizing her, resolved to make a complete inquiry into the matter.
As they knew something of the family (that of a gentleman from the Cape of Good Hope), with whom the doll was associated, there was not much difficulty in getting the toy in question handed over to their scrutiny. It appeared that the little girl was able to mention some certain peculiarities either in the dress or structure of the doll, which were not visible without close examination. These were found to correspond minutely with her description. There was no longer room for question. It was Flore herself.
The ghost was thus laid. But it became necessary to ascertain the cause of the singular resuscitation of Flore’s body, and it presently appeared that the doll had been purchased at a toy shop frequently supplied by a travelling dealer whose habitat was unknown. The authorities at B___ were next applied to, and an order obtained to examine the coffin of the deceased child. It was found empty!
The investigation that followed resulted in the detection of a miscreant who had more than once used his means of access at all hours to the cemetery for the purpose of stripping the bodies of the recently dead, and even, it was darkly hinted, sometimes devoting them to the nutriment of the tenants of his sty. The wretch was condemned to the light penalty of a year’s imprisonment.
Strange Things Among Us, Henry Spicer, 1863
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Children were not the usual prey of those human hyenas known as body-snatchers or Resurrectionists, although, as we saw previously, dead foundlings were the perquisite of the dissecting physician in France. The fiend who stole little Eulalie and her doll took a great risk if he was “stripping the bodies of the recently dead,” but seems to have gotten off remarkably lightly. Perhaps he bribed the Judge with some succulent production of his sty.
Mrs Daffodil is unfamiliar with the legal status of corpses in Germany at the time of this story. However, in England, a corpse was not property and thus could not be stolen. Resurrectionists were careful to strip the bodies they turned over to the physicians. Removing a shroud, a coffin plate–or a doll–would leave the miscreants open to charges of theft with penalties of transportation or even execution. In France, a stiff fine was levied for those who violated graves.
Henry Spicer, who died in 1891, was a writer of novels, short stories, and plays. He was frequently published in Mr.Dickens’s weekly literary magazine All the Year Round. He was also a student of the occult and wrote several books on Spiritualism and like phenomena.
The e-book edition of The Headless Horror: Strange and Ghostly Ohio Tales contains a bonus chapter about body-snatching in Ohio, including the saga of “Old Man Dead,” and a horrific story of a family murdered so their bodies could be sold to the Medical College of Ohio.
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.
“Dear me,” said the Paper, “I feel awfully queer—so stiff round the edges. What is this black band for?”
“Hush!” said the Envelope; “don’t you know? Her husband is dead.”
“Well?” said the Paper.
“Well,” said the Envelope, “how stupid you are. The black is mourning for him, that’s all.”
“Good gracious!” said the Paper; “does she do it like this? Do you suppose it comforts her to see a black edge on her stationery? How very funny!”
“It’s the proper thing to do, at any rate,” said the Envelope, sharply. “You haven’t seen the world, evidently.”
“But it is not my idea of grief,” persisted the Paper. “If I were sad I would go away from everybody and keep quiet.”
“You are very simple-minded,” said the Envelope. “Who would see you if you mourned like that? I knew a widow once who was very angry because she found a card with a wider black edge than her own. She said she had told Tiffany to send the widest that was made, and here was one wider. She almost cried, and measured the edges to make sure. That was grief, now.”
“Was it, indeed?” said the Paper. “Well, times have changed, I suppose. Once when a woman lost her husband her eyes were so full of tears that she could not see how to measure black edges. This is the age of reason, I am told. All feeling is treated as weakness and soothed away by ignatia.”
“Oh, people feel, I suppose,” said the Envelope, a little ashamed; “but, really, there are so many things expected of one now when one’s friends pass away, that there isn’t as much time for grief. Just look at our poor lady to-day. At nine the undertaker came upon a matter most painful. It was—well, the mountings on the casket. She was going to have hysterics, but couldn’t, because he was waiting for her decision. Then the florist came to know about the decorations for the house. Then Madam Lameau with boxes upon boxes of dresses, wraps, bonnets, etc., and although our lady did sigh when she saw the deep black—tears spoil crepe, you know, and madam quickly diverted her mind by showing Lizette how to drape the long veil becomingly. Then came the jeweler with the latest design in jet, and her diamonds have to be reset now, you know, in black claws. After this the mourning stationery was sent with the crest in black, and all sorts of cards and letters had to be written. Then the servants’ new mourning liveries and carriage-hangings were selected. When dinner was served, our lady was so exhausted by all this that she felt faint, and ate a really good dinner to sustain life. Now I should like to know what time she has had for grief, poor thing!”
“Don’t say no time for grief!” said the Paper, rustling with indignation; “say no soul for it, and you will be nearer the truth. When a woman can choose bonnets and jewelry, her husband lying dead in the house, there is not much sadness in her heart. I see that she needs the black-edged paper to express herself. She might as well give up all this miserable farce and enjoy herself at once. Let her give a ball instead of a funeral, and show her diamonds in their new claws.”
“Oh, dear me, do hush!” said the Envelope. “A ball in crepe and jet jewelry; you are not even decent; you don’t seem to understand things at all.”
“I don’t, that’s true,” said the Paper, “and I hope I never will; when women have got to mourning by sending out black edges and wearing the latest thing in jet, I give them up. I never shall understand.”
“Emotional people always make difficulties for themselves,” said the Envelope, coldly. “I accept things as they are, and adapt myself—Hush! she is coming, and crying, too, I declare, after all.”
“Well, really, Lizette,” said a voice broken with sobs, “you are very thoughtless. How should I remember, in my distracted state, to say twelve-buttoned gloves? and here they are only six-buttoned; it is too bad. But every one takes advantage of me now. I am alone—forlorn—desolate,” and the sobs redoubled.
“Poor thing,” said the Envelope.
“What hopeless grief” said the Paper. “I pity her.”
Arthur’s Home Magazine, Volume 48, 1880
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Such surprisingly scathing social commentary from stationery! Mrs Daffodil trusts that the Hall stationery will keep its opinions to itself, but one had no notion that stationery could be so censorious.
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.