An Artistic Undertaker: 1901

Miniature porcelain tombstone for a 4-year-old child, 1859 http://auctions.freemansauction.com/auction-lot-detail/1410/1056

AN ARTISTIC UNDERTAKER

The Element of Uncanniness Eliminated in His Pretty Shop.

The most artistic undertaker’s shop in New York is on Eighth avenue. Most undertakers are content with one fine casket under a glass case for their show window display, with perhaps an impressive velvet curtain as a background. But this Eight avenue man has what might be called a “dressy” window. He has all the newest ideas for making undertaking and its trappings less uncanny in their aspects than formerly.

For this purpose he has filled his immense corner show windows with a quantity of palm trees—not the real, but the artificial sort—high and imposing, with drooping spiked leaves and all the melancholy of the willow, with a certain modern style of their own as well as a suggestion of tropical warmth. Beneath these palms he has carelessly scattered a number of caskets of different colors, sizes and finish.

For the frivolous, there are shades of violet velvet from faint lilac to deepest purple and the very latest things in  embossed cloths and fruity interior decorations. Then there are odd complicated arrangements opening with springs like folding beds and metal caskets with locks and keys of heavy and substantial make. Beneath the palms these are displayed with as much careful grace of arrangement as regards shade as though they were park benches.

But the daintiest touch is given by the tombstone models, miniature replicas of beautiful designs in monuments. Time was when one selected a tombstone from a book of cold black and white designs, but here you can see the styles, gay little arched effects and tiny angels showing the color and general effect of the tombstone when finished. They are small, for the tall, sky piercing shafts in the samples measure no more than two feet. Little girls wander in now and then to try and buy them for their dolls, but they are intended solely for undertaker’s bric-a-brac. New York Sun.

Irish American Weekly [New York, NY] 15 June 1901: p. 6

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

A Gettysburg Soldier Decorates His Own Grave: 1886

Headstone marker, originally thought to be for Private Stephen Kelly, but now for an unknown soldier, in Section A of the Pennsylvania Plot in the Gettysburg National Cemetery. The headstone is now marked “UNKNOWN.” Photo credit: Karl Stelly

This post was originally posted on the Mrs Daffodil Digresses blog on 3 July 2015.

Mrs Daffodil is rarely au courant with the details of military history; she often wonders why illustrations of combatants from the American Civil War do not depict armour, buff-coats or lobster-tail helmets. So Mrs Daffodil is pleased to welcome as a guest poster that thoroughly American person from the Haunted Ohio blog  Chris Woodyard, with a story from the Battle of Gettysburg, which ended on this day in 1863.

A Soldier Who Decorates His Own Grave.

“Do you see that man?” said a member of the Grand Army of the Republic on Decoration Day, pointing to a healthy looking person with a soldierly bearing entering the Grand Army headquarters at Twelfth and Chestnut streets. Several eyes turned in the direction of the man, who had on a G.A. R. uniform and looked every inch a veteran.

“Yes,” said one, “why is he specially worth notice?”

The speaker smiled. “Well,” said he, “that comrade is dead. He has no business walking around here like a real live survivor. He is buried in the National Cemetery at Gettysburg, and any day you should go up there I could show you his grave.”

Such a paradox naturally excited the curiosity of the bystanders. The dead-alive man seemed to be in very excellent health, but the fact that his grave was to be decorated on that very day was found to be a hard although strange fact.

“Yes,” said he,” with a twinkle in his eye, “my grave is in the national Cemetery at Gettysburg, and I am officially dead. At least it is so stated on the records of that burial place, and I have often had the melancholy pleasure of decorating my own grave.”

“That seems strange,” said a listener. The veteran was as solemn as his tomb itself. “I don’t look dead, I know,” said he, “and I don’t believe that I am, but when, a few years after the close of the war I visited the Gettysburg Cemetery and found a grave marked with my name I was shocked, but am used to it now. My name is Stephen Kelly; I live at No. 942 South Ninth street, and am reasonably well and happy, notwithstanding that my comrades insist occasionally that I shall visit the historical burial ground and spread flowers over my own grave. It’s a mistake, of course; I ain’t dead, but can’t get the cemetery people to acknowledge that fact. I was mustered in on Aug. 21, 1861, and was mustered out, as this certificate will show you, in 1864, honourably discharged at the end of my service.”

The papers were duly examined and found to be correct. “’Bates’ History,’ continued he, “and the records show that I was killed and buried at Gettysburg. The only trouble is that some other poor fellow killed in that bloody battle was buried for me. How the mistake occurred or who the unfortunate soldier was I could never find out; but I suppose some of my personal belongings, lost during the heat of the fight and bearing my name, were found on the dead soldier, and he was buried as Stephen Kelly. I go up every year to decorate my own grave.”

Mr. Kelly was a member of Company E, Ninety-first Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers, and served out his term of three years. He is now a member of G.A.R. Post No. 8, of this city.

Philadelphia Record.

Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA] 18 June 1886: p. 2

Talk about looking Death in the face…. It is an extraordinary story and the “Find-a-Grave” entry offers an even more extraordinary detail: That Pvt. Kelly was wounded 2 July 1863 and died in 1889 of his wounds. This is not impossible–some veterans lingered for years with war wounds–but I wonder if 1889 is the date that the monument was erected?

Another newspaper squib reported a possible reason for the misidentification of “Kelly’s” corpse.

It is said that there is a man who goes to Gettysburg every Memorial day and decorates his own grave. The story runs thus: “During the battle he was thought to be killed and another soldier took his papers from his pockets. The second soldier was buried as the first and No. 1, who recovered, goes to the place every year to keep green the grave which is marked with his own name.” Patriot [Harrisburg, PA] 30 June 1891: p. 3

The dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery was the occasion of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. It was also the site where Elizabeth Thorn, “The Angel of Gettysburg,” far gone in pregnancy, nearly single-handedly dug over one hundred graves to bury the battle’s dead. Her poignant story is one of Mrs Daffodil’s most-read posts.

Over at the Haunted Ohio blog you will also find a story telling of an extraordinary prophetic dream about a soldier’s death in that battle and his brother’s recovery of his corpse.

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

Tombstone Murder Stories: 1905

TOMBSTONE MURDER STORIES

[St. Louis Globe-Democrat.]

“Abroad last summer I found a number of tombstones with murder stories on them,” said a detective. “The poor folk under the stones were the victims of murderers undiscovered and unhanged.

“One inscription was in the English town of Merrington. I jotted it down in my notebook. It was on the tomb of two murdered children. Here it is:

The detective read from his notebook:

“‘An unknown hand caused all our pain,

Sleeping we were slain.

And here we sleep till we must rise again.’

“Another was in Samdridge, the tomb of a Custom House officer shot by smugglers. It said:

“‘Thou shalt do no-murder, nor shalt thou steal.

Are the commands Jehovah did reveal.

But thou, O unnamed wretch, withouten dread

Of thy tremendous Maker, shot me dead.’

“A tombstone in the cemetery of Cladoxton, Glamorganshire, said:

“‘To record murder

This stone was erected over the body of Margaret Williams, aged 26, living in service in this parish, who was found dead with marks of violence upon her in a ditch on a marsh below this churchyard on the morning of Sunday, the 14th of July 1822.

“‘Although the savage murderer escaped the detection of man, yet God hath set his mark upon him, either for time or eternity, and the cry of blood will assuredly pursue him to certain and terrible but righteous judgment.’

“Another stone made me laugh. It was in Dulverton. It said:

“‘Mrs. Jane Winsmore, born 1794; died 1851.

Poisoned by the doctor, neglected by the nurse.

The brother robbed the widow, which made the matter worse.’”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 9 December 1905: p. 11

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

Tales from the Presidential Crypts

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WASHINGTON’S HEAD SAFE

No Truth in the Tale of the Tomb Desecration

[From our Regular Correspondent]

Herald Bureau,

Corner Fifteenth and G Streets, N.W.,

Washington, Sept. 29, 1887.

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

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

THE SKELETON INTACT IN THE TOMB.

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

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

WATCHING NIGHT AND DAY.

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

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

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

VANDALS AT CANTON

Guards at McKinley’s Tomb Attacked

WANTED TO BLOW IT UP

That is What is Generally Believed. Great Excitement.

Dastardly Plot at Canton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Soldier Becomes insane While Guarding Garfield’s Tomb.

Cleveland Dispatch to Philadelphia Press.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harding’s Tomb Guards Are Annoyed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Tickled to Death over her Christmas Gift: 1897

M.H. Rice Monumental Works, Kansas City, Missouri, 1898

ORIGINAL AND UNIQUE

He was a genial-looking, bald-headed man of 59, but when he heard us talking about Christmas gifts he sobered up a little and said:

“I am also going to take advantage of the occasion to make a gift. Ah! poor Mary!”

“What’s the matter with Mary?” asked one of the drummers.

“Mary was my wife, sir. She has been dead these five years.”

“Oh! that’s it? Please excuse me. I thought perhaps you were speaking of a sick or crippled child.”

“You are excused. Yes, Mary was my first wife, and she was a treasure. She will not know that I am making her a Christmas present, but I shall do it as a matter of duty and love. It is in the baggage car ahead.”

“Isn’t that rather queer to make a Christmas gift to a dead person?” asked the drummer after a silence lasting a minute or two.

“I think it is,” was the reply, “but it must serve to show that I treasure her memory. It cost $25, and stands four feet high. I do not think I could have got a more suitable gift. If she could speak I know that she would express her great satisfaction.”

“Might I ask the nature of the gift?” was the cautious query.

“Oh! certainly. It is a fine Italian marble headstone to mark Mary’s grave. I hope to have it set up on Christmas eve.”

“You–you have waited five years to get that headstone?”

“Yes, sir. I have been busy getting married twice again and burying a second wife, and have Just get around to it. Next Christmas I shall present the other one with a similar Santa Claus gift. I think the idea original and unique, don’t you?”

“No, sir!” stiffly replied the drummer, as he rose up.

“What’s the matter?”

“I am, going out for a smoke, and I had as soon tell you that I think you are a blamed mean man! I suppose you’ll buy your third wife a coffin for a Christmas gift won’t you?”

“No, of course not. No, sir, I wouldn’t do such a thing as that. I’ve already selected her gift”

“And may I ask what it is?” sneered the drummer as he moved away.

“You may, sir–you may. I have bought a lot in the cemetery and had the deed made out in her name, and she’ll be tickled half to death over it!”

Los Angeles [CA] Times 19 December 1897: p. 41

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

A Touching Tribute to a Wife: 1872

A Touching Obituary

A disconsolate husband [who also happens to be the editor of a local newspaper] thus bewails the loss of his wife, and apostrophizes her memory:

Thus my wife died. No more will those loving hands pull of my boots and part my back hair, as only a true wife can. No more will those willing feet replenish the coal hod and water pail. No more will she arise amidst the tempestuous storms of winter, and gladly hie herself away to build the fire without disturbing the slumbers of the man who doted on her so artlessly. Her memory is embalmed in my heart of hearts. I wanted to embalm her body, but I found I could embalm her memory much cheaper.

I procured of Eli Mudget, a neighbor of mine, a very pretty gravestone. His wife was consumptive, and he had kept it on hand several years, in anticipation of her death. But she rallied that Spring and his hopes were blasted. Never shall I forget the poor man’s grief when I asked him to part with it. “Take it, Skinner,” said he, “and may you never know what it is to have your soul racked with disappointment, as mine has been!” and he burst into a flood of tears. His spirit was indeed utterly broken.

I had the following epistle engraved upon her gravestone: “To the memory of Tabitha, wife of Moses Skinner, Esq. gentlemanly editor of the Trombone. Terms three dollars a year invariably in advance. A kind mother and exemplary wife. Office over Coleman’s grocery, up two flights of stairs. Knock hard. ‘We shall miss thee, mother, we shall miss thee.’ Job printing solicited.”

Thus did my lacerated spirit cry out in agony, even as Rachel weeping for her children. But one ray of light penetrated the despair of my soul. The undertaker took his pay in job printing, and the sexton owed me a little account I should not have gotten any other way. Why should we pine at the mysterious ways of Providence and vicinity? (Not a conundrum.) I here pause to drop a silent tear to the memory of Tabitha Ripley, that was. She was an eminently pious woman, and could fry the best piece of tripe I ever flung under my vest. Her pick-up dinners were a perfect success, and she always doted on foreign missions.

Camden [NJ] Democrat 27 April 1872: p. 5

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A touching tribute, indeed. It is not just any woman who can fry tripe to perfection, although Mr Skinner is ambiguous about whether the tripe was within his person or tucked under the vest until he could feed it to the dog.

Widowers were a pathetic lot. Sometimes they would go to any length to procure a monument for their lost loved one.

A Sorrowing Widower

A fellow living on the Indiana shore of the Ohio river, near Vevay, Indiana, having recently lost his wife, crossed in a boat to the Kentucky side, visited a grave yard there and stole a tombstone, which he placed over the remains of his lamented better half. Public Ledger [Philadelphia, PA] 19 June 1860: p. 1

This widower was late to the party, but better late than never…

THE TOMBSTONE

Meant a Good Deal and He Wanted It Right Away.

[New York Journal]

A countryman entered the office of a dealer in monuments.

“I want a stone to put at the grave of my wife,” he said.

“About what size and price?”

“I don’t know. Susan was a good woman. A trifle sharp, mebbe, at times, but she was a good woman and never got tired of working. Just seemed to sort of fade away. She brought me a tidy sum when I married her, and now I want to put up a stone that her children and me kin be proud of.”

“Did she die recently?” asked the dealer, sympathetically.

“Not so very. It will be five years next month. I thought to put up a stone sooner, but I’ve been too busy. Now I’ve got around to it, and want one right away.”

“Well, here’s a book of designs. Select what you think will suit you.”

“I don’t know much about such things, and you are in the business. I’d rather you would take $50 and do the best you can. I want sumthin’ showy. I’ll tell you how it is, and then you’ll know the kind. I want to marry the Widder Scroggs, and I heerd she said that I was too mean to even put a stone at the grave of my first wife, when she brought me all of my property. Put a stone that will catch the eye of a wider and write a nice verse on it. If $50 ain’t enough and you are sure a little more will help me with the wider put it on, and I’ll make it right soon as I marry her. She’s got a heap of property, and while it seems a lot of money to put in a stone, I reckon the chances are with it.” And the sorrow-stricken widower paid $50 and inquired where he could get a present cheap that would suit a widow. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 November, 1896: p. 12

Such little attentions to a late wife’s grave did not go unnoticed:

A Kansas woman fell in love and married a widower for no other reason, so she said, than that he took such excellent care of his first wife’s grave. Kansas City [MO] Star 2 April 1924: p. 26

One might do worse than to use a widower’s care-taking qualities as a benchmark when choosing a mate, although bedding plants and granite or slate slabs require a good less attention than a wife.

You may read more about widowers, tombstones, and mourning in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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

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

A Tombstone for the Wife: 1896

Man by wife’s grave in a cemetery in Kosice, Frantisek Klimkovic, 1849

THE TOMBSTONE

Meant a Good Deal and He Wanted It Right Away.

[New York Journal]

A countryman entered the office of a dealer in monuments.

          “I want a stone to put at the grave of my wife,” he said.

          “About what size and price?”

          “I don’t know. Susan was a good woman. A trifle sharp, mebbe, at times, but she was a good woman and never got tired of working. Just seemed to sort of faded away. She brought me a tidy sum when I married her, and now I want to put up a stone that her children and me kin be proud of.”

          “Did she die recently?” asked the dealer, sympathetically.

          “Not so very. It will be five years next month. I thought to put up a stone sooner, but I’ve been too busy. Now I’ve got around to it, and want one right away.”

          “Well, here’s a book of designs. Select what you think will suit you.”

          “I don’t know much about such things, and you are in the business. I’d rather you would take $50 and do the best you can. I want sumthin’ showy. I’ll tell you how it is, and then you’ll know the kind. I want to marry the Widder Scroggs, and I heerd she said that I was too mean to even put a stone at the grave of my first wife, when she brought me all of my property. Put a stone that will catch the eye of a wider and write a nice verse on it. If $50 ain’t enough and you are sure a little more will help me with the wider put it on, and I’ll make it right soon as I marry her. She’s got a heap of property, and while it seems a lot of money to put in a stone, I reckon the chances are with it.” And the sorrow-stricken widower paid $50 and inquired where he could get a present cheap that would suit a widow.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 21 November, 1896: p. 12

A widower’s care of his wife’s grave could might catch a woman’s eye:

A Kansas woman fell in love and married a widower for no other reason, so she said, than that he took such excellent care of his first wife’s grave.

Newton Kansan.

Kansas City [MO] Star 2 April 1924: p. 26

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

A Grave Man: The Sexton of Spring Grove: 1866

Mind meal at en.wikipedia, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

A GRAVE MAN.

The Old Sexton at Spring Grove.

Strange, Weird Experiences in a Grave-Digger’s Life.

Various Ways of Expressing Grief at the Last Scene.

Queer Actions of Superstitious People in Arranging Mounds.

Guards Armed to the Teeth—Only One Attempt at Grave-Robbery in Seven Years—Professional Mourners.

For twenty years Mr. Trotter, who is known as the old Sexton, has had charge of the digging and filling up of the graves at Spring Grove Cemetery. [Cincinnati, Ohio]

Yesterday an Enquirer reporter had an interview with Mr. Trotter.

He has seen nearly thirty thousand graves dug, and, of course, the same number filled after the body had been deposited.

He always makes it a point to be present, if there is a possibility of doing so, on both occasions.

For the first few years of his service at the Grove, Mr. Trotter often lent a hand in making the long, narrow and deep excavations, but of late he has devoted his whole time to overseeing the work, and the condition in which the mounds are to be found is sufficient proof that he is the right man in the right place.

Of this gentleman it can be truly said that he “sat by the new-made grave,” and that he is always prepared to “gather them in.”

A STRANGE FACT.

“You may think it strange,” said the sexton, “but it is nevertheless a fact that not more than twenty-five out of every one hundred persons who die in Cincinnati and its suburbs are buried in Spring Grove.” On being asked the reason for this, Mr. Trotter said, “Simply because there are so many other grave-yards. In the first place, there is a very large Roman Catholic population, both Irish and German, in Cincinnati, and they have burying-grounds of their own. Then, the Methodists have a couple, the German Protestants two or three, and our Jewish and colored citizens, one each. Combine these and it will be found that nearly three-fourths of Cincinnati’s dead are put to rest in grounds other than Spring Grove.”

The persons employed about any cemetery from the Superintendent down to the humblest sweeper, have some

VERY PECULIAR PEOPLE

To deal with, and Spring Grove is no exception to the general rule. Some people, with an order for the digging of a grave in their pocket, will go out and insist on seeing not only the first spadeful of earth removed, but that they be allowed to remain until the work is completed. They will suggest this thing and that thing, and if told that it can not be done will want to know the reason why. As a rule the workmen endeavor to be as obliging as possible, but there is not one case in ten where a person who has watched the digging through goes away entirely satisfied. The graves are of a uniform depth of six feet, but their width and length depend altogether upon the size of the coffin that is to be received.

Then again, there is almost more trouble about the

FILLING OF THE GRAVE

Than there is about its digging. Of course, there is rarely much said at the immediate time, but a day or two afterward, yes, in fact, perhaps early the next morning, some friend or relative of the deceased goes to the grounds and complains that the filling was not done properly; that the earth was thrown in too loosely; that I ought to have been packed and hammered down with the backs of the spades or a rammer. The good-natured sexton takes all this, and oftentimes more, too, and tries to convince the one making the complaint that is would hardly have looked proper to have beaten the ground down over the coffin of the departed, and in the very sight of mourning friends and relatives. Then, if the complaining one is not too obdurate, he or she is taken to the new grave, and is convinced that after the funeral party had left the ground, the earth had been packed and hammered, and that it was almost as intact as it was before the digging had commenced at all.

SUPERSTITIOUS PEOPLE.

Then there is another class of people know among the cemetery people as “cranks,” but generally referred to as superstitious. If a flower or a twig put on a grave is moved a quarter of an inch from where it was placed by them they will run to the superintendent or whatever official can be found, and assert that the grave has been disturbed, and they know that the body has been spirited away. Then there are others who, for the next four or five months after the interment of some dear one, will be at the grounds the moment the gate is opened in the morning and, having gained admittance, they will almost run to the lot to see if the mound is still there. Finding every thing in order, they will leave, but, in many instances, another member of the family or some friend will visit the spot again before closing up time in the evening.

Then there are other people who will measure the length and breadth of the grave every time they go out. When there at one time they will drive little bits of wood into the earth at the head and foot and at the sides of the grave, and with a tape-line carefully measure the distance. Then, after the lapse of a week or two, they return and find that perchance one of these little pieces of wood can not be found, or that it has been moved a few inches, they are sure that the tomb has been opened and the body stolen.

Many times acquaintances, knowing the peculiarities of these people, will change the markers on purpose to deceive and worry them. When this is found out it is promptly put a stop to by the authorities.

WATCHING GRAVES.

Then there is another class of people who, after a relative or friend has been buried, will ask permission to employ a private watchman for night duty for a month or two. They are told that this request can not be granted, because it would be against one of the most important rules of the cemetery, and are assured that there is no necessity for any action of the kind, as the association employs all the help necessary in guarding the place. Still, they are not satisfied, and will beg and persist in the hope that the desired permission will be granted. But it never is.

There is really no occasion for any worriment on the part of any one, because there are five night watchmen

ARMED TO THE TEETH

On constant duty, and no person is allowed inside the grounds after sundown save themselves. They each carry a revolver and a musket loaded with “slugs,” and their instructions are not to parley with any intruder, if, perchance, one should be found, but to shoot him down in his tracks.

This the policemen would be sure to do, and, as they have never had occasion to use their weapons, it must be considered that body-snatchers and other desperadoes give Spring Grove a wide berth.

During the life of Superintendent Adolph Strauch he had his residence inside the grounds, but he also had a countersign which all the men on guard understood. Mr. Salway, the present excellent superintendent, who succeeded Mr. Strauch, lives on Winton road, outside the grounds, and so from dark to daylight there is absolutely no one inside the inclosure save the watchmen.

So far as the present officers of the cemetery can see, and some of them have been on constant duty for nearly a quarter of a century, but one attempt was ever made to

ROB A GRAVE

And this, as might have been supposed, proved a fruitless undertaking. This occurred about seven years ago, and the body sought to be stolen was that of a young man named Boyd who had been shot and killed b his drunken father at South Cumminsville.

The would-be robbers had gained entrance to the cemetery by climbing the Winton-road fence, but they were discovered in their nefarious work before they had proceeded very far, and were fired upon by the guard. Whether they were injured or not was never ascertained, as they managed to make good their escape.

HOW GRIEF IS SHOWN.

“How do relatives and friends and others who are present act when the last sad rites at the grave are about to be performed?” echoed one of the old officers of the place in reply to a question of that import asked by the reporter. “Well, I’ll tell you that is an easy and at the same time a hard question to answer,” and then he went on to explain a truism, viz.: that all persons do not show grief alike.

Some, when they reach the open pit and see the coffin about to be lowered, give way completely and fill the air with their lamentations. Others will stand perfectly mute, not moving a muscle until they hear the clods of earth falling upon the case containing the coffin, and then they will break down. Still others will show no signs of emotion till the grave has been filled and they have returned to their carriages. Then there are still others who go as they came, apparently indifferent to all that is passing around them. Perhaps they, too, have aching hearts—hearts perhaps too full of sorrow to allow the shedding of a tear. They are the ones who feel the loss probably to a greater extent than those who are more demonstrative, but they nurse and husband their grief until the home from which a darling one has been snatched is reached.

PROFESSIONAL MOURNERS.

“Do you have here in Cincinnati what it is said they have in other cities—people who are known as professional mourners?” was asked of still another official.

“Oh, yes,” was the laughing reply: “we have a number of them, but not as many as some of the large Eastern places can boast of. There are perhaps a dozen or so of both men and women who will attend a funeral whenever an opportunity offers, no matter whether they may have been acquainted with the deceased in life or not. They go, it is presumed, for the ride, and can show as much feeling at the side of a grave as any one else. This is one reason why you see attached to death notices the words ‘burial private’ so often.”

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 5 March 1889: p. 4

Grave-yard Philosophy.

They have a grave-digger at Spring Grove Cemetery, Cincinnati, who is a fair match for the grave-digger in Hamlet. Here is an account of him:

One gets some grim views of living, as Well as of dead humanity by visiting a show grave-yard such as this. There is a simple-minded, good-hearted attache, by the name of ___, I am very fond of talking to. He has given me many lessons not soon forgotten.

“It’s a little grief and a good deal of pride that makes ’em do it, sir. I don’t mean to say that it ain’t natural; it is nateral. Nater can be found in a cemetery as well as anywhere. One afflicted family puts up a monument, and another afflicted family wants to outdo it. And they generally does, ef it’s done at once. Ef it’s put off a little, they gets more reasonable.”

“Time cures all ills.”

“Well, it does I’se seen a party put in that, vault to stay til a lot could be bought and a monument put up, and the grief was deep. You’d ‘spose there was no end to that grief, and no bottom either. Well, at the end of three months the company has had trouble to get them to take out the party and give it a Christian burial.”

“There are exceptions to that.”

“In course–any number of ‘em. I can show you graves here ten years old, and every summer you’ll find fresh flowers strewed on ’em.”

“More flowers than ornaments.”

“Can’t say that. Real deep feelin’ grief belongs as much to the rich as to the poor. Leastwise I find it so. But dying is as nateral as livin’, and in course people gets over it. Therefore it is that monuments come up with the first burst. Them graves that have flowers over ’em for more than a year isn’t healthy graves.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean that the mourners ain’t in their nateral health, or they’d find their feelings directed to the care of livin.”  

The Daily Phoenix [Columbia SC] 12 December 1866: p. 4

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

The Tomb-Stone Agent: 1904

salesman sample white bronze tombstone
Salesman’s sample white bronze tombstone. https://www.worthpoint.com/worthopedia/tombstone-salesman-sample-sign-bronze-423029588

The Tomb-Stone Agent.

A monumental salesman

With his monumental gall,

On an unsuspecting farmer

Unexpectedly did call.

 

“Good morning, Mr. Williams;

The sad report is rife

That you’ve lost your loved companion,

Your dear, devoted wife.

 

“As I view your great, broad acres,

And behold your mansion grand,

You’ll grant, no doubt, that much is due

To her ever-helping hand.

 

“And I presume, as custom dictates,

As a last mark of respect,

To one so loved and worthy

Fitting tribute you’ll erect.”

 

“Wa’l, craps is awful porely,

An’ cattle’s mighty low,

An’ taxes gittin’ higher,

An’ everything is slow.

 

“Nothin’ ‘ud please me better,

But es things now appear,

I can’t perform that duty

Much afore another year.”

 

“Now the truth is, Mr. Williams,

Or it seems to me at most,

You value far too lightly

The treasure you have lost.”

 

Then up rose the honest farmer,

The much vexed and worried host,

And he kicked that tombstone agent

Where he sitteth down the most.

 

“I’ll show ye, drat yer picture,

How to throw yer slurs around;

You measly brass-checked agent.

Now git out an’ off my ground.”

 

But the agent, still undaunted,

Like Poe’s visitor of yore,

Never once thought of decamping,

But still lingered in the door.

 

“It’s been hinted, Mr. Williams,

Well the fact is, I am told,

That you are short on sentiment

And not very long on gold.

 

“Although you make a showing

That would indicate success,

There’s talk among your neighbors

That your wealth is growing less.

 

“I know I hev some enemies.

Who told you? That d—n Jones?

I’ll show ’em that I ain’t broke,

Let’s see some of your stones.”

 

“With pleasure. I’ve some nice ones,

And the price within your reach.

Here’s one for fifty dollars,

And, by Jove, it is a peach.

 

“Fer fifty dollars? Nothin—

I want the best you’ve got:

I don’t want no cheap jim-cracks

Disgracin’ of my lot.”

 

“Five hundred! That just suits me;

I guess I’ll let ’em know

That I’m no measly bankrupt,

As Jones is tryin’ to show.”

 

J. P. ASHBY, Oklahoma City, Okla.

The Monumental News, Volume 16, 1904: p. 556

 

 

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

A Coffin Full of Rum: 1904

stoneware jug
Maine stoneware jug https://www.ebay.com/itm/Antique-1800s-Stoneware-Crock-Jug-Ancient-Patina-from-Rural-Maine/362986574819?hash=item5483af93e3:g:OWQAAOSwNZNesMDn

ALIVE IN TOMB PICKLED CORPSE

Maine Man Had Coffin Filled With Rum

WAS SUPPLIED YEARLY

Heir Accidentally Locked in Tomb; But Has Jug of Rum and Forgets Troubles.

One of the old family founders in Somerset county, in northern Maine, left a heritage that just has proved a decidedly serious proposition to one of his heirs.

The family is among the wealthiest in the state. Years ago its pioneer went into Somerset county, and in time became the principal business figure of the section.

As he felt age approaching he put his men at work on the construction of a big tomb in the garden in the rear of the old mansion that stands as one of the show places in the town of Athens. On his deathbed he issued commands as to what his relatives should do with his body after dissolution. He ordered them to place him in the leaden coffin and after it had been stored in the tomb to pour the coffin full of Jamaica rum.

The will went on to explain that the testator couldn’t bear the idea of being laid away in the tomb forever knowing that he would be left to molder forgotten. He wanted his relatives ever to bear him in mind, and his method of jarring their memory annually was this: The will directed attention to the little spout sticking up at the head of the casket. The command was that annually each June, on the anniversary of the squire’s burial, the chief heir should enter the old tomb, bringing a jug of rum, and that he should replenish the supply in the coffin.

The family removed from the old mansion some years ago in order to afford the sons and daughters more advantages in one of the cities of Maine.

Recently the heir upon whom devolves the duty of carrying the jug of rum to the estimable and well-preserved old gentleman in Athens suspended his business engagements for a day and started on his annual trip. He went to Solon by train and, hiring a team at the stable, rode across country. The mansion stands a bit out of the village. When the heir turned in at the gate between the double rows of towering lilac bushes no one in the neighborhood happened to see him. The visitor hitched his horse at the rear of the house, out of sight of the road, and then proceeded toward the tomb. He let himself into it, and when the overflow from the spout indicated that the coffin was filled he started for the door. Now it chanced, says the New York Press, that through age and heaving by the frost one of the flagstones with which the tomb is paved jutted its edge above Its neighbors. In the gloom of the tomb the heir didn’t see the stumbling block and he struck, it and tripped. As he tripped he lunged forward and slammed full tilt against the inside of the half-opened door. The door banged shut and the great catch outside fell into place. The heir was a prisoner in the tomb of his ancestor.

The door fitted very snugly against the jamb. The victim broke his finger nails in the cracks trying to start the door, but it was no use. The portal was immovable. There wasn’t an article in the tomb fit for a lever. As the prisoner crouched at the door feeling around him his hand came in contact with the jug he had partly emptied. He was a temperance man and a churchman, but he realized that this was a case where heroic remedies were required. He tipped up the jug and began to numb his sensibilities.

That night a telegram was started for Athens inquiring the whereabouts of the heir. He had neglected an important business engagement. The telegram was delivered to the postmaster in Athens the next forenoon by a messenger, who drove over in a team and who had rapped on the door of the mansion without getting a reply. Of course the next thing was to open the tomb, and when the door was pushed back the heir was pushed back with it. He was lying against the portal with his jug clenched in his hand and he was fully as dead to the world as his venerable ancestor in the leaden coffin. Both were preserved in the same fluid, applied in different fashion. It took the doctor several hours to sober the heir off. A more gigantic load was never accumulated in that town. But the physician says if the man had not had that rum at hand during his wait in the tomb he would have been taken out a raving lunatic.

The York [PA] Daily 29 July 1904: p. 3

What you might call a “stiff drink….”

I’ve tried, without success, to locate the “mansion” with the tomb in the garden in Athens, Maine. (I’m assuming there is some truth to the story, although that may be an unwise assumption.) Any readers with local knowledge?

 

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