The Funeral Coach: 1855

Funeral Carriage First Class, Eugene Atget, 1910

THE FUNERAL COACH.

“1855, March 28.—The following story was told me by Lady S., who heard it from Mr. M., a gentleman of considerable note, and one not at all given to romancing:—

“Mr. M., a well-known lawyer, went to stay with Mr.T., in the county of ___. In the course of their first evening together, Mr. M. learned that, among his host’s neighbours, was an old friend of his own, for whom he had great regard; but of whom he had lost sight since college days. The next morning Mr. M asked the gentleman of the house if he would forgive him if he walked over to see his old friend; adding a request that if he were asked to dinner, he might be allowed to accept the invitation.

“On being assured that he might do whatever was most agreeable to himself, he went to make his call—not on foot, as he had proposed, but in his friend’s dog-cart. As he anticipated, the gentleman he went to see insisted on his staying to dinner. He consented, and sent the groom back with the dog-cart, with a message to his master to say that, as it would be a fine moonlight night, he should prefer walking home. After having passed a very agreeable day with the old fellow-collegian, he bade him good-bye; and, fortified with a couple of cigars, sallied forth on his return. On his way he had to pass through the pleasant town of ___, and on coming to the church in the main street, he leaned against the iron railings of the churchyard while he struck a match and lighted his second cigar. At that moment the church clock began to strike. As he had left his watch behind him, and did not feel certain whether it were ten o’clock or eleven, he stayed to count, and to his amazement found it twelve. He was about to hurry on, and make up for lost time, when his curiosity was pricked, and the stillness of the night broken, by the sound of carriage wheels on the road, moving at a snail’s pace, and coming up the side street directly facing the spot where he was standing. The carriage proved to be a mourning-coach, which, on turning at right angles out of the street in which Mr. M. first saw it, pulled up at the door of a large red brick house. Not being used to see mourning-coaches out at such an unusual hour, and wondering to see this one returning at such a funereal pace, he thought he would stay and observe what happened. The instant the coach drew up at the house, the carriage door opened, then the street door, and then a tall man, deadly pale, in a suit of sables, descended the carriage steps, and walked into the house. The coach drove on, and Mr. M. resumed his walk. On reaching his quarters, he found the whole household in bed, with the exception of the servant, who had received orders to stay up for him.

“The next morning, at breakfast, after he had given the host and hostess an account of his doings on the previous day, he turned to the husband and asked him the name of the person who lived in the large red brick house directly opposite the churchyard. ‘Who lives in it?’ ‘Mr. P., the lawyer!’ ‘Do you know him?’ ‘Yes; but not at all intimately. We usually exchange visits of ceremony about once a year, I think.’

“Mr. M.: ‘Does any one live with him? Is he married?’ “Answer: ‘No. Two maiden sisters live with him. He is a bachelor, and likely to remain one; for, poor fellow, he is a sad invalid. If I am not mistaken, he is abroad at this moment, on account of his health.’

“Mr. M. then mentioned his motive for asking these questions. When he had told of his adventure, he proposed that, after lunch, they should drive to and call on the ladies, and see if, by their help, they could not unravel the mystery. Full of their object, they paid their visit, and after the usual interchange of commonplace platitudes, the sisters were asked if they had heard lately of their brother. They said, ‘No; not for weeks: and felt rather uneasy in consequence.’

Mr. M. surprised at not seeing them in mourning, asked them if they had not lately sustained a great loss. ‘No,’ they replied: ‘why do you ask such a question?’ ‘Oh,’ said Mr. M. ‘because of the mourning-coach I saw, with some gentleman of this family in it, returning from a funeral so late last night.’ ‘I think, Sir,’ said one of the ladies, ‘ you must have mistaken this house for some other.’ He shook his head confidently. At their request, he then told them what had happened. They said it was impossible that their street door could have been opened at that hour, for that every servant, as well as themselves, were in bed. The more the subject was canvassed, the farther they seemed from arriving at any satisfactory conclusion. The ladies, rather nettled at the obstinacy of his assertions, examined the servants, individually and collectively, but with no better result. Mr. M. and his host eventually withdrew. On their drive home, Mr. M.’s friend quizzed him, and reminded him that when he saw the apparition he had dined, and dined late, and had sat long over his friend’s old port. But Mr. M., though he submitted to the badinage good-humouredly, remained ‘of the same opinion still.’

“A week after, when Mr. M. was in his chambers in London, his friend from the country burst in upon him, and said, ‘I know you are much engaged, but I could not resist running in to tell you that the two ladies we called on last week, three or four days after our visit received a letter, telling them that their brother, “a tall, pale man,” had died at Malta, at twelve o’clock on the very night you saw the mourning-coach and the person in it at their door.’”

The Spiritual Magazine 1 October 1871

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: While Mrs Daffodil finds that the ghostly tale delivers a delightful frisson (and plans to tell it at the next All Hallow’s festivities, where it will frighten the Tweeny out of her wits…) , she is pursing her lips dubiously over the many breaches of etiquette found in this narrative. Mr. M. deserves reproach for entering a stranger’s house and posing such a delicate question, despite paving the way with conventional platitudes. His host is equally in the wrong for introducing him to the household simply in order to gratify a morbid curiosity.

The dead man is also to be censured. He might have panicked the household by his unexpected appearance so late at night. At the very least he should have sent a telegram notifying his sisters of his arrival.  One might also point out that the tall, pale gentleman properly belonged in a hearse, not in a funeral carriage, which is reserved for conveying legitimate mourners to and from the funeral and churchyard. Mrs Daffodil will reserve judgement on the dead man’s attire. It is a nice point of etiquette as to whether the corpse himself should don “sables” for his own demise.

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.

For other stories of death-omens and tokens of death, see The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past and The Victorian Book of the Dead, both by Chris Woodyard of http://www.hauntedohiobooks.com.  Her blog also contains rather too many stories of death and the grim and grewsome for those of a sensitive disposition. Mrs Daffodil has had to forbid the Tweenie the site.

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.

Royal Widows and Their Weeds: 1889

Royal Widows and their Weeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Millinery Trade Review, Volume 14, 1889

1889 mourning costume the delineator
1889 mourning costume, The Delineator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gates Ajar for a Kid: 1894

ONLY A WAIF.

But the Gates Will Surely Be Ajar for Him in the Other World.

“Uncle John” Thorpe stood among his flowers one morning thinking how much better they were than the money that bought them.

The front door opened slightly and there came through the crevice a very small boy, much tattered as to clothes and having streaks of the town dirt across his face.

He saw “Uncle John” back among the flowers and said:

“Mister.”

“What is it?”

“Say, I want a rose,” and he held out a penny.

“For a cent?”

“Dat’s all I can blow.”

“You’d better let me give you a carnation. It looks just as well in a gentleman’s buttonhole,” with a smile.

“No kiddin’, mister. I ain’t wearin’ flowers. It’s for me pardner.”

“Your partner?”

“De kid dat’s always been wid me. He’s out in t’e hospital and I t’ought he’d like to have a rose.”  “Uncle John” picked out the rarest and sweetest rose of all and took the penny.

The boy went away with the great nodding blossom hugged against his torn waist, and Uncle John was left with the reflection that there are some things in the world as beautiful as flowers.

It was a week later when the door again opened and the same tattered boy, his face unnaturally clean, came in and once more found “Uncle John” at home among his flowers.

“Mister.”

“Hello, here; the boy that brought the rose. How’s your partner?”

“Dat’s what I came in about. He’s dead.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Say, mister, do you make dem ‘Gates Ajar’ t’ings for to put on coffins?”

“Yes, sometimes.”

“Well, t’ye boys have chipped in for one and here’s t’e stuff,” and he opened his right hand, which was heaping full of pennies and nickels.

“Uncle John” gathered together the coins and counted them. The total was 76 cents.

“We t’ought for dat we could get somethin’ purty nice fer t’e kid.”

“Yes, indeed; come this afternoon.”

“The boy went away undeceived.

“Uncle John, as he wired together the green strands and the rich clusters of bloom again reflected, and his reflection was that the gates must be ajar for such “kids.”

The Akron [OH] Beacon Journal 19 July 1894: p. 2

How Mrs Stum Arranged a Funeral: 1875

ONE IN A THOUSAND

How Mrs. Stum Arranged the Details of the Funeral.

If all women were as cool and matter-of-fact as Mrs. Stum! But she is one in a thousand. She was over at Mrs. Moody’s, on Macombe street, the other day, her iron-gray hair combed down flat and her spectacles adjusted to gossip range, when she suddenly arose and said:

“Mrs. Moody, be calm. Where do you keep the camphor bottle?”

“Why?” asked the surprised Mrs. Moody.

“Because they are bringing your husband through the gate on a board! I think he’s smashed dead, but be calm about it! I’ll stay right here and see to things!”

Mrs. Moody threw up her arms and fell down in a dead faint, and Mrs. Stum opened the door as the men laid the body on the porch.

“Is he dead?” she asked in an even tone.

“I think so,” answered one of the men; “the doctor’ll be here in a minute.”

The doctor came up, looked at the victim and said life had fled, adding:

“His back and four or five of his ribs are broken.”

“That’s sensible, that is,” said Mrs. Stum, gazing at the doctor in admiration. “Some physicians would have said that his vertebrae was mortally wounded, and would have gone on to talk about the ‘larynx,’ the ‘arteries,’ the ‘optic nerves,’ and the ‘diagnosis.’ If he’s dead it’ll be some satisfaction to know what he died of. Well, lug in the body and send a boy after an undertaker.”

The men carried the body through to a bed-room, and Mrs. Stum went back to Mrs. Moody, who was revived and was wailing and lamenting.

“Don’t, Julia—don’t take on so,” continued Mrs. Stum. “Of course you feel badly, and this interferes with taking up carpets and cleaning the house, but it’s pleasant weather for a funeral, and I think the corpse will look as natural as life.”

“Oh! My poor, poor husband,” wailed Mrs. Moody.

“He was a good husband, I’ll swear to that,” continued Mrs. Stum; “but he was dreadfully careless to let a house fall on him. Be calm, Mrs. Moody! I’ve sent for one of the best undertakers in Detroit, and you’ll be surprised at the way he’ll fix up the deceased.”

When the undertaker came in Mrs. Stum shook hands and said that death was sure to overtake every living thing sooner or later. She mentioned the kind of coffin she wanted, stated the number of hacks, the hour for the funeral, and held the end of the tape-line while he measured the body.

Several other neighbors came in, and she ordered them around and soon had everything working smoothly. The widow was sent to her room to weep out her grief, doors and windows were opened, and as Mrs. Stum built up a good baking fire, she said:

“Now, then, we want pie and cake and sauce and raised biscuit and floating islands. He’ll have watchers, and the watchers must have plenty to eat.”

When the baking had been finished the coffin and undertaker arrived, and the body was placed in its receptacle. Mrs. Stum agreed with the undertaker that the face wore a natural expression, and when he was going away she said:

“Be around on time. Don’t put in any second-class hacks, and don’t have any hitch in the proceedings at the grave!”

From that hour until two o’clock of the second day thereafter she had full charge. The widow was provided with a black bonnet, a crape shawl, etc., the watchers found plenty to eat, a minister was sent for, eighteen chairs were brought from the neighbors and everything moved along like clock-work.

“You must bear up,” she kept saying to the widow. “House cleaning must be done, that back yard must be raked off, and the pen stock must be drawed out, and you haven’t time to sit down and grieve. His life was insured, and we’ll go down next week and select some lovely mourning goods.”

Everybody who attended said they never saw a funeral pass off so smoothly, and when the hack had landed the widow and Mrs. Stum at her door again, Mrs. Stum asked:

“Now, didn’t you really enjoy the ride, after all?”

And the widow said she wouldn’t have believed that she could have stood it so well.

– Detroit Free Press.

Macon [GA] Weekly Telegraph 4 May 1875: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil hopes that, should she ever find herself in a similarly worrying situation, she would be as resourceful as Mrs Stum, (the name means “silent,” in the Germanic tongue) if not quite so painfully candid.

There were, in point of fact, a thousand-and-one little duties to consider when organising a funeral; Mrs Stum’s quiet efficiency touches on several of them: providing the widow with black clothing without her having to leave the house; opening doors and windows, presumably under the “superstitious” belief that it would aid the the dear departed in departing; baking plenty of food for the “watchers,” who would sit up all night to ensure that the dead were not left alone—such vigils were thirsty (and hungry) work. The “hacks” ordered were the carriages to carry the family and friends to the grave and a successful funeral was often judged by the number of carriages following the hearse to the grave.

Mrs Daffodil has previously written of “fiends for a funeral,” who relished the rare treat of a carriage ride to the cemetery, while that funereal person over at Haunted Ohio has appropriated the same title for a post about individuals with a peculiar taste for attending the funerals of total strangers.  Undertakers ultimately had to resort to special cards and tickets of invitation to keep away the interlopers. One feels instinctively that Mrs Stum would have instantly spotted these funeral fanciers and turned them out of the cemetery.

For more on Victorian mourning customs in a (mostly) more sombre vein, see The Victorian Book of the Dead by Chris Woodyard.

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.

“Gee whiz! Don’t I wish every day wuz de fourth!” 1910

Gee whiz! Don't I wish every day wuz de fourth! E.W. Kemble, c. 1904 Source: The Library of Congress
Gee whiz! Don’t I wish every day wuz de fourth! E.W. Kemble, c. 1904 Source: The Library of Congress

Independence Day was, traditionally, one of the bloodiest holidays of the past. See this wonderful post from Strange Company for a round-up of 4th-of-July casualties.

“Blank cartridge wounds,” according to the official report of the American Medical Association, “cause more deaths in the annual celebration of the Fourth of July than all other factors combined. In seven years 794 deaths have been caused by this one factor. Most of the victims were boys from six to eighteen years old, and they were doomed to die the most awful death known to medical science, a death the agony of which is probably not paralleled by the tortures of the Inquisition. If this annual sacrifice were really necessary it would be far more merciful to pick out the hundred or more youths each year and deliberately shoot them.”

JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association, Volume 55, 1910

Wishing you all a safe Independence Day holiday!

The Day Before the Fourth of July.  [Image from The Library of Congress.] c. 1900
The Day Before the Fourth of July. [Image from The Library of Congress.] c. 1900
 

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.

 

Enough Rope – The Hangman’s Rope in the Press

 

 Enough Rope: The Hangman's Rope in the Press Double gallows for Jackson and Walling, convicted of the murder of Pearl Bryan.
Enough Rope: The Hangman’s Rope in the Press Double gallows for Jackson and Walling, convicted of the murder of Pearl Bryan.

What is it about hangings and hanged men that so fascinates the human race ? The Hanged Man is one of the Major Arcana cards in the Tarot deck. Hangmen’s ropes are believed to be a cure for sore eyes (Cornwall), fits and headaches (Pennsylvania), and ague (London). In Russia, a hangman’s rope brought luck to gamblers. A rope from a suicide was specified to treat epilepsy in Pennsylvania and India.

The hand of a hanged man could be used to make a thieves’ Hand of Glory or cure warts, goiter or cancer. The blood of the hanged had medicinal properties as we saw in a previous post.

As I was researching the notorious decapitation of Pearl Bryan at Fort Thomas, Kentucky and the subsequent trials and convictions of her murderers Scott Jackson and Alonzo Walling for The Headless Horror*, I ran across the following article reporting on the ropes for the murderers’ executions:

 THE ROPES MADE

A PECULIAR MARK OF IDENTIFICATION UPON EACH.

The ropes with which Jackson and Walling are to be hung have been completed and delivered over to Sheriff Plummer. Each rope is 23 feet in length, and they were made to order in about a week’s time from the giving of the order. They were made by Frank Vonderheide., the Main Street cordage dealer, and most of the work was done by Mr. Vonderheide himself. They are made of what is known as silver finish flax sewing twine, there being four strands of 110 threads each, or 440 threads in all. A peculiarity about the two ropes is that the one intended for Jackson has one red thread in all of the four strands, while that made for Walling has one black thread in all of the four strands. This thread was run in the ropes by the order of Sheriff Plummer, who desires to keep them separate and easily identified from each other. The four red threads in the one and black threads in the other give the ropes a peculiar appearance, and serve to intensify the realization of the direct preparation for the grewsome event. It brings out the uncanny aspects of the manufacture of a strong and pliable rope that is the best and most perfect product of a ropemaker, and yet that has but one brief use to serve in the world, that is to be accomplished in a second—the taking of a man’s life.

George W. Ward, of George W. Ward & Co., the cordage dealers, had a piece of the rope on ‘Change yesterday. Mr. Ward furnished the raw material from which the threads and ropes were made, and no little interest was aroused by his exhibition of the object.  Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 16 March 1897: p. 12

Of course the executioner would want to know which rope was assigned to which prisoner—it was a point of professional pride to carefully calculate the weight of each prisoner and the drop so that the execution would go smoothly. Jackson and Walling were hung on a single gallows where a lever opened both traps simultaneously. However carefully the ropes were made, someone miscalculated: Instead of breaking their necks, Jackson and Walling strangled to death.

I began to find other notes on hangmen’s ropes in other sensational murder cases. The materials, quality, and pedigree of the ropes seemed to be a subject of absorbing interest to the public, judging from how often they appeared in the papers and the care with which these minute details were reported. For example, sheriffs might have strong opinions about the quality of their cordage or be superstitious about either using an entirely new rope to ensure a successful hanging or using an old rope that had previously hung a notorious criminal—perhaps to humiliate the person being executed.  Let us put on our black caps and examine some random yet representative notes on the specifications for hangmen’s ropes and the superstitions surrounding them. And may the Lord have Mercy upon our souls….

The geographical origins of a rope’s hemp seemed to be a way to further demean the prisoner.

The Worcester Spy mentions that “a hangman’s rope made two years ago of South Carolina hemp, to hang Jeff. Davis with, was forwarded from Worcester, Mass., to Washington, on Monday. It was made by Mrs. Parmenter, a daughter of Capt. Peter Slater, who, it will be remembered by our old residents, was the builder of the first rope walk out of Boston ever established in Massachusetts. The maker of the rope wishes to have it speedily used.” Janesville [WI] Daily Gazette 6 June 1865: p. 2

The rope for the execution of [Abolitionist John] Brown, says the Baltimore Patriot, was made in Kentucky by a Kentuckian, expressly for the purpose, and sent to Gov. Wise, who accepted it. Lowell [MA] Daily Citizen and News 5 December 1859: p. 2

A three-inch European-made Manila rope shall always be used for executions. The Punjab Record, Volume 24, 1890 [Was this a matter of trade protectionism, a jibe at the doomed prisoners, or an Imperialist insult to the rope-makers of India?]

Some law officials preferred a new rope so as to ensure a smooth hanging, while others treasured historic ropes.

 A Hangman’s Rope

The rope which was used to-day in the execution of John Henry Young is just an ordinary hemp rope, but a wonderful story of tragic interest would be revealed, could it but speak. Nineteen times has one end been knotted around the gallows beam, and nineteen times has the noose been placed around the neck of a condemned criminal.

This rope is the property of W.A.  Stewart of Cleburne, ex-sheriff of Johnson county. Mr. Stewart had the rope made in St. Louis in 1898, to be used in the execution of John B. Shaw, a white man. The rope was made by a German and was hand-twisted, the very best quality of hemp obtainable being utilized in its manufacture. The rope is eighteen feet long and cost Mr. Stewart $12.50. The noose made to go around the neck of Shaw has never been changed. – Houston Post. American Citizen [Kansas City, KS] 26 May 1905: p. 3

The rope for the execution was borrowed from Sheriff Julian, of Howan County, and has been used on several previous occasions for the purpose it performed today. [from an article entitled “Hammons and Moore Hang, Two Executions in One Day. J.W. Hammons Hanged at Winston-Salem for Murder of His Wife–/Ashton Moore, Sampson County Negro Rapist, is Hanged at Clinton”] Charlotte [NC] Observer 3 September 1905: p. 1

Double hangings were rare enough to elicit comment in the papers, like an article headed “Drew a Pair. That’s What the Hangman’s Rope Did in Pennsylvania,” which describes two men hung successively with the same rope. It was coupled with another article about a hanging of a double murderer where the rope broke on the first try, was mended, then successfully hanged the prisoner. Albuquerque [MN]Morning Democrat  21 February 1890: p. 1

Sheriffs could be a finicky lot about their hangman’s ropes.

 ROPE COMING

Sheriff Bogue places an Order for Rope for the Execution Here September 14.

Sheriff Bogue placed on order while in Chicago for the rope to be used in the execution of Ira O. Jenkins September 14. The quality of rope he wanted was not to be obtained in Chicago, but it was sent for and is expected to reach here in a day or two. It is the same kind that was used in the execution of J.W. Cole, and the best rope for the purpose that is manufactured. The sheriff still has on hand two pieces of the rope with which Cole was executed, one of them not having been used, but he wants a new rope for this execution, so that there may be no possibility for an unsuccessful execution. Bismarck [ND] Tribune 4 September 1900: p. 3

Phelps and Bailey executions

Sheriff Martin will select the rope for the execution within the next few days and have it well stretched before used. He has several samples of rope of different sizes in his office. Evening Post [Charleston, SC] 7 July 1899: p. 4

Drawing Near, William Eubanks Preparing to Meet His Death

The rope for the execution has been purchased by Sheriff McDougall, and it is now in process of preparation for use. It is unusually large five-eighths inch, because of the great weight of Eubanks, about 200 pounds. Evening News [San Jose, CA] 16 January 1891: p. 3

There seems to have been a certain hierarchy in rope-makers as evidenced by the comment in the article on the Cole hanging: “the best rope for the purpose that is manufactured.” And if you found yourself all thumbs when trying to knot the rope, you could even order a pre-tied noose for an extra fee.

 Manufacture Hangman’s Ropes.

There is in St. Louis a firm of rope makers and dealers, doing business on North Main street, that has a side line that it does not advertise. It is the manufacture of hangman’s ropes. The firm sells as many as 100 of these ropes annually.

The price of the rope, with the nooses ready for use, is $5. The ropes are hand made and of hemp, and one of the employees of the firm’s North St. Louis rope walk ties the knot. A few weeks since the sheriff of Madison county, Il., had a man to hang at Edwardsville. He bought a rope that he thought would answer the purpose.

The tying of the knot he found, however, to be a more difficult matter than he imagined, and he went to St. Louis to have the noose made. The ropemaker charged him $2.50 for tying the knot. Rural Collaborator.Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 17 April 1892: p. 13

HE MADE HANGMEN’S ROPES

For More Than Fifty Years, Godfrey Boger Supplied Nooses.

Philadelphia Telegraph.

Godfrey Boger, 2251 North Fairhill Street, who for over fifty years had been the maker of the hangmen’s ropes, was buried recently in American Mechanics’ cemetery. He died at his home, aged 75 years, disproving a superstition among cordage workers that a “necktie maker” enjoys a short life. [I haven’t found this bit of folklore anywhere else.]

Boger, who was employed at the Edwin H. Fitler company’s works, at Tacony, made all the ropes used in executions in this state and in various parts of the country. Boger never witnessed an execution, although he often had been invited to attend. Of all the gibbet ropes that Boger turned out but one broke and in that case the parting of the strands was caused by friction against a sharp-edged pulley above the scaffold.

No charge is ever made by the Fitler firm for the hangmen’s ropes, only the expressage being charged to the county ordering them. A member of the firm said today that there is no particular reason other than custom for not charging for the ropes. The hemp used is imported from Italy and great care is taken in twisting the strands.

Boger had been engaged in this grewsome occupation since he was 19 years old. He took great pride in his work. Beaumont [TX] Enterprise 18 July 1911: p. 6

Then we have the gibbet rope as talisman. Naturally something so valuable encouraged counterfeit cordage.

Hangman’s Rope as a Talisman.

The popular pocket piece just now in this city is a piece of hangman’s rope. If all the hangman’s rope were taken from the pockets of superstitious St. Louisians, they would form a rope of considerable length. The five hangings recently taking place in this city have brought out again the superstitious that hangman’s rope is a sure cure for rheumatism, consumption, heart disease, apoplexy, and everything else. The rope is a sure cure for all the ills that flesh is heir to, if properly applied and adjusted; but that is not the way that  great many St. Louis men and women look at it.

In the police stations nearly every prisoner who is searched carries a bit of rope and a great number of private citizens treasure up the ghastly hempen mementoes. Every tramp carries one, and in the alleys frequented by the colored populace there are yards of rope with which Ellis and Ward were executed. The supply is not yet exhausted and half an inch of the execution rope sells for the phenomenally low sum of five cents. A gentleman with whom a reported had a conversation stated that a very nice lady had asked him for a piece of the rope. She was handsomely dressed, and pretty, too. With recklessness he promised to procure her a piece, not thinking she was in earnest. He met her again. She asked for a piece of rope. He straight-way proceeded around among his friends, but could not get any genuine. He had to have a piece for that lady, however, and the brilliant idea struck him that he could give her any piece of twisted hemp .She would never know the difference. He gave her a piece of the frayed and broken clothes-line, saying that it was a strand of the rope and she put it in her purse and went away happy. Several parties have been selling the rope about town and taking in the gullible people. St Louis Republican. Ackley [IA] Enterprise 4 March 1882: p. 2

Or the rope could be a hoodoo. Lynching ropes were particularly potent charms.

 A Veritable Hoodoo

Strange and Eventful History of a Piece of Hangman’s Rope.

             A couple of evenings ago a young man named Tollman, who lives near Ellenwood, dropped in at the police station and gave a reporter there about an inch of the white plow line with which the negro who poisoned the Burks family was lynched. Mr. Tollman was present at the inquest the preceding day and had there secured the relic.

The plow line was in three strands, and some hours later the reporter separated one of them and gave it to Call Officer Beavers. A negro who happened to be in the station at the time begged a strand for himself. He said a piece of plow line with which a man has been hanged makes a formidable hoodoo, and if the plow line is white the efficacy of the hoodoo is doubled. The reporter accordingly gave him one of the two remaining strands and wrapping the other in tissue paper put it in his pocket.

Now for chapter 2. As Officer Beavers was going home yesterday he thought to attach the string to his watch guard for safe keeping, and in so doing dropped the watch and broke it so badly that is its doubtful if it will ever run again. He put the bit of plow line in his pocket and inside of two hours barked his shin on a chair, got a cinder in his eye, spilled a bottle of ink on his pants, and had a counterfeit dollar passed on him. He then threw the hoodoo on the back of a negro who was splitting wood in the yard, and before the man struck a dozen more blows he cut his little toe off.

The reporter’s first misadventure was to break a pair of eyeglasses he prized highly and a little while later he tore up a lot of “copy” by mistake and had to write it all over again. This was Monday night. Yesterday he took the hoodoo string to the dining room of his hotel and quietly stuck it in the folds of the apron of the waiter who attended him. A few minutes later the darky fell down the kitchen stairs making an unearthly clatter. And dropping the fatal talisman. He picked it up and instantly suspecting witchcraft put it down the back of another waiter.

This victim, all unsuspicious, loaded a tray with meals for six and went up to the dining room. At the head of the stairs he caught his foot and fell sprawling, breaking every dish on the tray and scattering beefsteaks, potatoes and miscellaneous eatables all over the apartment. Somebody informed him of the hoodoo, and he put it in the stove.

The possessor of the third strand has not yet been heard from, but if he gets run over, falls out of a window, breaks a leg or meets with some kindred adventure, it will occasion no surprise. Atlanta Constitution. Daily Journal and Journal and Tribune [Knoxville, TN] 21 November 1893: p. 7

The notion of a used rope crops up in this ghost story about a suicide’s rope from Toledo, Ohio. You’ll find the entire true tale in The Face in the Window: Haunting Ohio Tales. It’s the sort of thing you couldn’t sell as fiction—it would be too implausible.

A GHOST ON THE BRIDGE

THE DEPARTED SPIRIT THAT PATROLS A TOLEDO BRIDGE AT MIDNIGHT

Toledo, Ohio, December 27. One of the Cherry Street bridge-tenders said to me the other day:

“The Enquirer has caused an ‘l of a row around this bridge. Since it published an account of Meyers’ ghost haunting it, thousands of people have haunted me with questions about it. I do not know whether it is Meyers’ ghost or his son’s, but there is some mighty strange goings on around the west end of this bridge. I have seen it myself, but, Lord knows, I don’t know what it is. I never went near enough to find out.”

I hunted up Detective Louie Trotter, who gave me a more detailed account of the affair than I had been able to get elsewhere. He said: “I have heard the new bridge was haunted, and I know the old one was. It was like this: Some of the boys who live on the East Side were going home from duty one August morning in 1882. When we reached the first pier I was horrified to see the body of someone hanging there. It did not take us long to cut the corpse down and we found it was Pop Meyers, as he was familiarly called. His face was just as pleasant as if he were selling a pair of shoes to a customer. There was not the least sign of pain, and his wide-open eyes were looking rather expectantly up the river. He had evidently put on a new shirt, collar, and necktie, and was well dressed, except that he had no coat or shoes on. Well, we carried him home and found some letters which plainly indicated that his mind had left his body. His son, who had brought so much care on the old man’s mind by his dissipation, begged us to give him the rope with which his father had hanged himself. ‘I want it as a reminder,’ he said, ‘of my father.’ Well, some way he obtained the rope, and with it, shortly afterward, ended his life at the identical spot, with the same rope. It was not long after this that the report got around that Meyers was walking the bridge at night, carrying a rope and looking longingly up the river. I investigated the affair and found it was true something was haunting the bridge. The ghost was dressed just as Meyers was on the morning that I cut him down. The old bridge was carried away, and the story was forgotten. The first night the new bridge was opened late wayfarers were badly frightened by a phantom walking slowly along in his bare feet, making no noise as he softly trod the planks. That’s all I know about it. Officer Kruse states that many people have recently told me they had seen Meyers’ ghost patrolling the bridge, rope in hand, after midnight.”  Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 28 December 1884: p. 13

*The last chapter in The Headless Horror: Strange and Ghostly Ohio Tales covers the paranormal history of Pearl Bryan and her murderers. For an admirable account of this case see http://www.planetslade.com/pearl-bryan.html.

Recently I received some fascinating information from Kelley Wood-Davis:

I stumbled on your blog from 19 Jan 2013 while doing some research on my ancestor, Jacob Bupp.  He was also a rope-maker in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania and known for his hangman’s ropes… One thing I found amusing was a line that was stated in the obituary for Godfrey Boger:

“Boger, who was employed at the Edwin H. Fitler company’s works, at Tacony, made all the ropes used in executions in this state and in various parts of the country. ”

Boger died just 12 years after my ancestor, who also made ropes for executions in the state of Pennsylvania.

From the newspaper article “Making Nine Ropes,” Pittsburgh Dispatch (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)  31 March 1890: page 2

“Mr. Bupp had made all of the ropes used in Allegheny County during the last 20 years.”

The same article stated that my ancestor made over 88 hangman’s nooses in his lifetime.  I am currently working on documenting all of the hangings he has done, so I am not sure if that number was inflated, but I do have proof that he made several nooses.  So there is no way Boger could claim he made ALL the ropes in the state, so I wonder if it was more bragging rights on his part…. I know my illustrious ancestor was a bit of a braggart… wondering if Boger was as well.  After all, as your blog states, the ropes were used as talismans, so the creators could be looked at as sort of gods….. so why not brag about it.  My own ancestor bragged about being the creator of the rope that hung [James Garfield’s] assassin Charles Guiteau, but I can not either prove or disprove that fact…

Another quote from Jacob Bupp:

“Hemp is always used.  Flax will do, but hemp is both longer and stronger.  It is first beaten and hackled until it is soft and tender, and then it is twisted into strands.   A hangman’s rope is made of four parts, one of which is used as the heart and the other three are twisted around it.  When it is finished it is perfectly round and smooth and is about 9-16 of an inch in thickness. These ropes are usually made from 25 to 30 feet in length. It requires 21 feet to perform the execution properly, and the surplus is always in case of accident resulting in a break. The knot is tied by the man who makes the rope, so that the executioner has nothing to do but slip the loop over the culprit’s head.”

Many thanks, Kelley!

Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window,

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.