The Corpse Was Loose: 1875

After “A Respectable Funeral,” cartoon by John Leech

Shuckers Wouldn’t Take The Coffin

Over in Wilmington, the other day, a man named William D. Shuckers died. It seems that there was another man in the city bearing precisely the same name, and when the death was announced, a good many of his friends thought he was dead, and they resolved to go to the funeral.

On the day of the funeral the living Shukers also thought he would go, partly for the purpose of ascertaining how it felt to participate in the obsequies of a man named Wm. D. Shuckers. He took up a position in the vestibule, and just as the mourners were about to come out, a friend of his, named Jones, saw him. The first impulse of Jones was to rush through the kitchen, and climb suddenly over the back fence, but he controlled himself, and after poking Shuckers in the ribs with his umbrella to determine positively that he was not a ghost he remarked:

“Shuckers, what on earth are you doing here? Why ain’t you in your coffin?”

“Coffin!” exclaimed Shuckers; “whad’d you mean? What do I want with a coffin?”

“Mr. Shuckers, you know you are dead. Why they got up this gorgeous funeral for you, all these carriages and pall-bearers and things, and the clergy-man’s just been paying you splendid compliments that any dead man might be proud of.”
“But I tell you I am not dead. I’m as much alive as you are.”

“There is no use your arguing the point, Shuckers; the occasion is too solemn for controversy. But if you have any consideration for the feelings of your bereaved family, who are weeping like mad up stairs, and for the undertaker who is waiting inside there with the screw-driver, you will go and get into your coffin and behave. It’s indecent to carry on so at your own funeral.”

“Jones, my boy,” said Shuckers, “you have mistaken—“

“No, I’m not mistaken. You’re dead—technically dead—anyhow. It has been announced in all the papers, your relations have gone into mourning, the Board of Trade has passed resolutions of regret, the sepulcher has been dug up there in the cemetery, and the undertaker has gone to considerable expense to inter you comfortably. Now, go and lie down, won’t you?”
“Hang the undertaker!” said Shuckers. “No, I’ll not go and lie down. I’ll see you in Kansas first.”

“Now, see here, Shuckers, I came here to attend your funeral, and I’m not going to be baffled by any unseemly conduct on the part of the corpse. Oh! You needn’t look at me. Either you get back into that coffin, so’s the lid can be screwed on, and the procession can move on, or I’ll put you in there by force. If inanimate remains like you can go scooting ‘round in this incendiary manner, we’d soon have the cemeteries unloading, and the unnumbered dead crowding out and wanting to vote.”

Then Jones called the undertaker, who knocked Shuckers down with a cane, and held him until he explained, and until the scared undertaker recovered his equanimity, which left him at the bare suggestion that the corpse was loose. Then the funeral moved on to the cemetery, and Jones went home, while Shuckers proceeded to an alderman’s office to swear out a warrant against the undertaker for assault and battery. He intends to change his name to Duykinch.

North Star [Danville VT] 9 April 1875: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Unseemly conduct on the part of a corpse, indeed! The newspapers were full of stories of persons reviving on the very brink of their own graves as well as dire mistakes being made over the identification of corpses and the startling return of people thought dead. Such reports were a kind of precursor to to-day’s popular “Zombie” and “Walking Dead” entertainments. It is no wonder the undertaker was shaken: a loose corpse would have cast aspersions on his professional abilities as an embalmer.

There is a barbed pleasantry about the American political process in that remark about “unnumbered dead crowding out and wanting to vote.” Voters’ rolls were often compiled by taking a stroll through a cemetery with paper and pencil and the votes of the dead were enlisted to put a favoured candidate in office. Naturally, such things never happen in England….

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.

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. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

A Modern Mummy: 1880

A. Beier, Undertaker and Embalmer, 1902

EMBALMING A MODERN MUMMY
Friends of the Deceased Would Call To Pay Their Respects.

[New York Herald.]

Strange, grewsome stories have been yielded by the old morgue, but what is doubtless the most remarkable tale of all was told yesterday by Undertaker Ferdinand Brown, of Sixth street. Brown has often spoken of the matter, but only now, after 14 years, does the strange incident reach the public.

Mummies are common in Egypt, but they are not looked for in New York City. Yet one could be seen in the morgue in this city from August 12, 1878, to July 5, 1880, sitting in one of the rooms of the deadhouse, placed there on private exhibition by Undertaker Brown, who had not been paid his fees by the relatives of the man. The person whose body was thus disposed of was Otto Berger, a German, who was born in Baden-Baden, and came to this country in 1875.

Berger was an eccentric individual, and when he died, penniless, in the city insane asylum, there was no one to prevent the disposition of the his body made by the undertaker. His father was the head servant for the Grand Duke of Baden in Carlsruhe. The son was wild, however, and some difficulty with a woman compelled him to leave Germany and come to this country. His old habits did not leave him in the new land, and though he worked now and again at his trade of upholstering, he went on frequent sprees.

He continued correspondence with his parents, and often they sent him money in answer to his urgent appeals for help. Finally they wearied of his repeated demands and his father wrote him that he could do no more for him, and that he would have to shift for himself.

Otto then resorted to various expedients to get money. An ingenious friend inserted a death notice in a newspapers and sent it to the father, requesting at the same time that he forward a sum of money necessary to pay the funeral expenses.

The Duke’s head servant was deeply affected by the news of the death of his wayward son, and he promptly forwarded the sum asked; thanking the friend of his son for looking after the body.

The poor old retainer’s money furnished the means for another long spree for Otto. Berger made the acquaintance of Carl Schmidt, a painter, who lived at No. 197 Seventh street. He took up his quarters with him, and they became fast friends. He did not give up his drinking habits, however, and his dissipations finally drove him insane.

Schmidt had him placed in the insane asylum on Ward’s Island, where he died two months after he was admitted, on August 11, 1878.

Schmidt determined to give the body of his friend a decent burial, so he gave it in charge of Undertaker Brown, who embalmed the body, and wrote to Berger’s father, in Carlsruhe, asking what disposition should be made of it. Great was his surprise when he received a reply from the perplexed father to the effect that he had already paid the funeral expenses, but if he had been deceived by a trick he was indifferent as to what became of his son’s body.

The idea then occurred to the undertaker of mummifying the body and putting in the morgue as an object of interest and curiosity.

He received permission from Register Nagle in writing to keep the embalmed body for six weeks, in case no offensive odors arose, until he heard from Germany. After that he readily had the permit extended. Brown then, by repeated embalmings, succeeded in hardening the body until it was like stone.

It was placed in a sitting position in a room in the morgue for two years, and there Brown and Schmidt took their curious friends and those who knew Berger in life.

The body was dressed as in life. Brown one day took a crowd of friends to the morgue. The body had been removed and was not to be seen.

“I didn’t want to have a petrified corpse here,” Morgue Keeper White said to him, “so I had it buried in potter’s field. I didn’t think it was right to exhibit such a thing in the morgue.

Brown never wrote Berger’s family of the disposition he was making of the son’s body, and for two years hundreds of persons gazed at the mummy in the New York Morgue. When I saw Mr. Brown last night he said he had grave doubts that the body was buried. He thought it had gone to some museum.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 13 October 1894: p. 14

The more things change, the more they stay the same. This article talks about the “extreme embalming” trend, where the dead are displayed in life-like poses.

https://www.the-sun.com/news/5049666/extreme-embalming-dead-funeral-pose/

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. And visit her newest blog, The Victorian Book of the Dead.

The Irish at the Gates of Death: 1917

Irish bog oak mourning brooch, c. 1860, Victoria & Albert Museum

THE IRISH AT THE GATES OF DEATH

In Ireland the living are dominated by the dead to an extent unknown probably in other countries. It is a willing servitude, based upon two powerful sentiments—the constancy of Irish family affection, and their Catholic solicitude for the eternal welfare of those they love whose mortal existence has been brought to an end. Death, as the extinction of-life, as a farewell for ever to the warm^ precincts of the cheerful day, is not regarded as a matter of very great importance. No race faces death, whether on the battlefield or anywhere else, with more unconcern than the Irish, or, when lying on the bed of sickness, accepts with more resignation the doctor’s pronouncement that there is no hope. They can pass into the eternal silence with a joke on their lips. I have heard a story of a dying Irishman who, when asked by the priest, in the course of the administration of the last religious rites, whether he was prepared to renounce the devil and all his works, exclaimed, “Oh, don’t ask me to do that, your reverence. I am going to a strange country and I don’t want to make myself enemies.”

If there is any concern in the mind of the dying, it arises from some uncertainty as to what may happen in that strange country, the other world. This feeling finds expression in the quaintest and most wayward fancies. Canon Sheehan, the author of Luke Deimage, and other novels of Irish life, who was a parish priest in county Cork, relates that an old farmer after receiving the last sacrament of extreme unction said to the priest: “I want you to say a word to rise me heart for me long journey, your reverence. Will the Man above have anything agin me in His books?” This dread simile was prompted by sad experiences of the land agent’s office, arrears of rent and the fear of being thrown out of house and home. “I’m sure,” replied the priest, “Almighty God has pardoned you. You have made a good confession, and your life has been a holy and a pure one.” “And did your reverence give me a clear resate?” asked the old farmer. Here was the land agent’s office again.  “I’ve given you absolution, my poor man,” said the priest. The dying man was satisfied. Thanks, your reverence,” were his last words. Another story I have been told shows the droll forms which the same thought assumes in the minds of relations. A farmer who was dying had occasional fits of coma, or profound torpor. The doctor advised the wife, when one of those attacks came on, just to moisten the lips of the patient with a little brandy. “Doctor, dear,” cried the poor wife, with reproach in her voice, “is it to go into the presence of his Maker with the smell of spirits in his breath you’d be havin’ him?”

It is to the family that the visitation of death brings terrors and obligations. At first it has a crushing and stupefying _ effect by reason of the void it makes in the domestic circle, and, afterwards, it entails a lasting devotion to the memory of the loved one who has passed away. So long as a member of the family lives, the dead, in a sense, never dies in Ireland. They survive in the prayers that are said for them, morning and night, in the Mass on each anniversary of their death, in the weeping and wailing over their graves, years upon years after they have been laid to rest. You rarely if ever hear among the peasantry the expression “dead and gone.” Death is simply a passage from one life to another. What you do hear is, “She’s in Heaven,” “God sent for her,” or “He’s with God,” telling of the life of the dead hereafter, of their eternal companionship with angels and saints.

The custom of “waking” the dead, with the drinking, smoking, and conversation of the large company of neighbours who assemble in the house of mourning, appears incongruous and repulsive to those who are unacquainted with its remote origin or the kindly and humane motives which underlie it. The wake is a very old institution. It existed among the Egyptians, the Greeks and the Romans. Shakespeare and Scott give instances of medieval revels in honour of the dead. The custom survives in a different form, but with somewhat identical motives, among the Irish, almost alone of the ancient peoples.

“Waking” means, for one thing, “watching.” The English way of leaving the corpse shut up in a room, all alone, would be most repellent to the Irish nature. It would be regarded as a desertion of the dead. The Irish keep close company with their dead until the very last moment of the burial. The body is clothed in a shroud, made in imitation of the habits worn by certain Orders of Friars, and in the hands, crossed reverently on the breast, is placed a crucifix. The walls near the bed are hung with clean white sheets on which are pinned bunches of flowers, laurel leaves and holy pictures. Lighted candles, seven in number, are placed on a table. They are symbolical of hopes and aspirations relating to the dead. That he or she has been cleansed of the seven deadly sins—pride, covetousness, lust, gluttony, anger, envy, and sloth ; that he or she possessed the seven gifts of the Holy Ghost—wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord, and the seven principal virtues—faith, hope, charity, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, and that the relatives joined their sorrow with the seven dolours of Our Blessed Lady—the prophecy of Simeon that a sword of sorrow should pierce her soul; the flight into- Egypt; the loss of Jesus in the Temple ; meeting Jesus with His Cross ; the standing beneath His Cross; the receiving the Body of Jesus; and the burial of Jesus. The room is frequently sprinkled with holy water to banish any evil spirits that may be hovering round. All this is in part a survival of the public lying-in-state of the bodies of great personages, a ceremonial that, once rather common in Ireland, is now reserved for ecclesiastical dignitaries and national heroes.

The Irish people are at all times addicted to companionship, to association with their fellows, and the desire for it is strongest perhaps when death has visited them nearly. We know that we are mortal and ephemeral; that nothing is more certain than that death will come. Every day almost we are reminded that death is the common fate of all in reading our newspapers and meeting with funerals in the streets. Yet there is always an element of the terrible and incomprehensible in the sight of one that is near and dear to us, one, as we know from long experience, capable of the most loving thoughts and deeds in our regard, lying there inert, deaf to familiar voices, unconscious for ever of the joys and tenderness of domestic life. A chill runs down one’s spine, as though the icy coldness of death emanated from the remains and penetrated subtly into one’s frame, and we seek for consolation and support in the sociability of the living. And the neighbours, ever quick in showing sympathy, crowd in to ease the sting of death, to cheer up the spirits of the bereaved, to distract them for a while from the crushing thought of their irreparable loss.

First entering the room where1 the corpse lies the visitors kneel and say a prayer for the eternal salvation of the departed soul. Afterwards in the kitchen, snuff, pipes and tobacco, whisky and stout are served to the company. The dead person is in his house for the last time, and, as host for the last time, dispenses hospitality. What he would do, but can do no longer, those who love him best do for him. Memories of his kindliness and good nature are revived by the neighbours. “’Tis he that had the bright smile and cheery word whenever you met him, and no matter what you might want of him, sure you had only to say the word to get it with a heart and a half.” Stories are told by the elders, and politics discussed; forfeits may be played by the young of both sexes, or, more likely, riddles given for solution. But the Irish are most reverent in the presence of sorrow and nothing unseemly is permitted in these efforts to give relief to the relatives from cares that weigh heavily on their spirits. Manifestations of grief are not entirely suppressed, but they are confined to the chamber of death. In some parts of Ireland it is believed that the soul of the dead person is detained on earth by tears and lamentations, and that not until the sorrow of the relations is appeased can it turn contentedly to face the eternal judgment. To a young widow who was sobbing by the death-bed of her husband, I heard the remonstrance addressed—”Don’t be crying that way, asthore; or you’ll keep him from his rest.”

Here and there throughout the country where waking has been abused by excessive indulgence in drink, the authorities of the Catholic Church have tried to abolish it altogether. It is therefore not so common as it used to be, especially in the towns and the larger villages. Religious services have been substituted for the ancient observances. The body is removed from the house to the parish church, where it remains for the night in its coffin resting on a bier near to the high Altar ; and in the morning the Mass for the Dead is said before its removal for interment. There could hardly be a more notable example of the influence of the Church. The Irish are slow to adopt new ideas. They are among the most conservative people in the world in their adhesion to traditional habits and customs. Especially do they resent any innovation which touches their dead. It is their deep and reverential respect for the Church, rather than their instinct as to what is right and proper, that induces them to part from their dead for a night. They bow their heads in submission, but so heavy lies the immemorial past upon them that in their hearts they doubt whether in doing so they are quite loyal to their dead.

In the case of the keen (Gaelic caoine) or funeral lamentation— one of the eeriest death chants to be heard from the crushed heart of sorrowing humanity—the Irish also adhere to a custom held sacred by their remotest ancestors. It has come down to us from the Pagan era. Walker, in his Historical Memoirs of the Irish Bards, says the object originally was to propitiate the gods by proclaiming the genealogy, rank, possessions and virtues of the dead person. Spirits whose requiem was not thus sung were liable to be condemned eternally to a state of unrest. Geraldus Cambrensis, the Welsh writer who visited Ireland in the twelfth century, describes this funeral song or wail as it was practised in Christian times. Its purpose then was to sound the praises of the dead without regard to any supernatural or religious motive. The keeners, in the course of their chanting, put a number of questions, as if with a view to discovering why it was the person lamented had died. If a man, whether his wife was faithful to him, his sons dutiful, or good hunters or warriors? If a woman, whether her daughters were fair or chaste? If a young man, whether he had been crossed in love, or if the blue-eyed maidens had treated him with scorn? The keen of the twentieth century differs very little in form or spirit from the keen of the twelfth century. The cries of lamentation usually take the form of questions which are asked in a half-singing, half-reciting and sobbing voice. “Mo cushla machree (pulse of my heart), why did you die from me? Wasn’t it you that was the best of husbands and fathers, giving joy to all that knew you, and wouldn’t those that love you go through fire and water to save a hair of your head from being hurt?” The piercing wail of a mother for a favourite son is most heartrending to hear.

“Ah, Michael, me ville astore (my ten thousand treasures), sure your like was not to be found on all the broad acres of Ireland, and your death has cast a shadow on the country that no sun will ever disperse.” In towns the keen is cried in the room where the corpse is being waked before the start of the funeral. In rural districts, where the journey to the graveyard is often long, the keen breaks out at intervals, and then the whole countryside rings with the weirdest lamentation.

To have “a grand buryin’ with all the neighbours at it” is the last thing the Irish peasant desires of this world. A farmer who married a penniless girl was asked why he made so poor a match. “My wife,” he answered, “has thirty brothers, uncles and cousins, and if I was to die to-morrow her faction could give me as long a funeral as the King of England.” It is an object of solicitude long before the end is felt approaching. During a visit to the remote parts of Donegal I was told so great was the difficulty of getting a coffin made that many people gave the only carpenter in the district sheaves of oats or a sack of potatoes annually by way of a retaining fee for this service when they died. I remember a curious case that came for decision before a bench of magistrates in my native city of Limerick. An undertaker was asked by an old maid to make her coffin, and his proposal “to complete the job” for £4 was thought by her to be reasonable enough. When the coffin was finished the undertaker brought it to the woman’s house and received £2 as part payment; but being unable to obtain the balance he was reluctantly obliged to summon her. The defence set up by the woman was that the undertaker was not only to supply the coffin, but bury her respectable for the £4, and as he had not yet fulfilled the latter part of the agreement she submitted that he was not entitled to be paid the remaining £2. The case, which caused much laughter in court, was dismissed. Then the old maid turned to the undertaker and said, “As soon as you perform your part of the contract, I’ll not be behindhand in completing mine.” Wandering beggars, lone creatures who have no one belonging to them, who tramp the countryside for a living, carrying all their worldly goods on their back, are known to stint themselves of food in order to add an odd penny or sixpence, now and then, to the sum of money, kept in a secret hiding-place in their clothing, and intended to pay the expenses of the burial. An old fellow of this class who, feeling ill, sought refuge in a workhouse and died there, had a piece of paper, with his little hoard—the slow accumulations of many a hard year—on which he had written: This is to bury me. Bury me decent, or I’ll haunt you.” Thus all through life he was providing against what he would have thought the last misfortune and final disgrace—a pauper’s coffin, and a grave in the “yellow hole,” as the workhouse pit is called. Some years ago it was the custom of the poorer classes, when they were unable to afford a coffin, to make the corpse beg for it. The body was laid on a board outside the door on a Sunday with a plate to receive the coppers of the people on their way to Mass. Sometimes imposture was practised. On one occasion a woman placed a sixpence on the plate and began to take up five pennies.

“Arrah, ma’am,”: cried the supposed corpse, “be generous wance in yer life and don’t mind the change.”

Ireland is noted for its big funerals. The whole parish, and sometimes the countryside, turns out to pay the last tribute of respect. It is the rule also in rural districts for strangers who meet with a funeral to turn back and accompany it for some distance at least. “Who is it that’s dead?” they will ask, and when they are told they will add, “Well, well, may the journey thrive with him,” “God rest his soul,” or “Wisha, God be with him, whoever he is.” Burials are so well attended that they have come to convey the idea of the largest possible numbers. A man out for a day’s shooting asked a lad whether he had seen any rabbits on his way.  “Yes, sir, whole funerals of them,” was the reply. Comedy often follows closely on the heels of tragedy in all circumstances of life and death in Ireland. At any rate family pride in a large funeral softens bereavement. Condolences take that form on the way to the grave. “If your father could only sit up in his coffin, and see the grand funeral he’s havin’, wouldn’t he be mightily pleased?” “Well, oughtn’t you to be consoled and made proud by so fine a funeral?”

Vanity and ostentation are very prevalent in Ireland, and most so, perhaps, among the poorer classes. It is a point of honour to have a fine funeral. But a funeral is fine by reason of the numbers of unhired cars and unhired mourners attending it. These manifestations of neighbourly sympathy and respect give to funerals in Ireland an unostentatious dignity. There is an entire absence, even in the cities, of that hired ornate ceremonial of the great hearse and horses with plumes, and mutes in tall hats and frock coats and wreaths of flowers, that make burials so extravagantly expensive to the poor in England.

Another reason why, apart from neighbourliness, funerals are so well attended is that they afford opportunities for revisiting family graves. When the coffin is committed to earth and the prayers are said, the mourners disperse through the graveyard, and soon from all quarters are heard the wildest bursts of grief. The rain may be falling pitilessly, and the graveyard engulfed in a dense humid atmosphere. But the wet and the mud are unnoticed, discomforts accepted as a matter of course. Moved by the overpowering impulse of their revived affection and sorrow for those that are no more, the mourners fling themselves prostrate on the ground, passionately kissing the mounds and flagstones, pressing closer and closer to get as near as possible to their long-buried but still darling dead, babbling almost incoherently expressions of the fondest love. Then they sit back on their haunches, and raise the keen, swaying their body to and fro, clapping their hands in time with the rhythm of their lamentations, and weeping the bitterest tears of affliction.

It is a scene in which Irish history, life and character are epitomized: the dust of saints, the ruined abbey, the broken cross; the crowded dead; hemlock, and deadly nightshade; weeping and wailing; the love that always endures; and, casting a tender light over it all, the hope of a glorious resurrection

The Occult Review January 1917: pp. 37-43

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.

Widowed: A Study from Life: 1909

North Carolina Digital Collections

Widowed:

(A STUDY FROM LIFE.)

“Ere y’are, Mum. Shoreditch, Liverpool-street, Banks.”

The yellow bus crossed Cambridgeheath-road, and pulled up with a jerk in front of the big public-house at the corner. A little group stood on the pavement waiting. The widow was in the middle of it. ‘Enery and Hallice stood grasping the glossy new crape of her dress with one hand. In the other they carried a sugary mass, as they took occasional bites and sucks. Around were three or four sympathising friends whose faces were as red as the widow’s, and who formed the chorus.

They formed quite a party on the top of the bus after they had climbed up the narrow stairway—a process which took so long that the driver delivered two or three vicious slashes on the near side windows, and desired to know whether they thought he was driving Black Maria.

“For shime, young man,” said one of the chorus, “and her so full of trouble. Dessay your old bit o’ crackling wouldn’t be sorry if she was in the same boat.”

The driver grunted something that was inaudible, and the widow pulled out a cotton handkerchief with a black border about two inches deep all round it. But peace was restored when another of the chorus produced a flat bottle, the contents of which caused the driver to gasp as he tilted upwards. And the bus rumbled along City-wards over the cobbles of Bethnal Green-road.

The conductor came up with tickets. He, too, was introduced to the flat bottle, which brought to his face an expression of sympathy worthy of the occasion. ‘Enry took the tickets when they had been punched, and put them in his jacket pocket, after a little difference of opinion with Halice as to their ownership, which was brought to a close by a slap and a shake given impartially to each by the widow, coupled with an inquiry as to whether they; desired to lose their pore mother as well as their father.

“What you’ve got to do is to bear up, and take a little drop of something,” said one of the chorus.

The widow agreed. “Well, they can’t never say as I didn’t put pore ‘Enry away respectably,” she remarked. “The undertaker said he was robbing his wife and kids when he did it for twelve pun fifteen.” “

“And brought out his new ‘erse,” said one of the chorus. “Some them wreafs cost a tidy bit,” she went on, pensively.

The widow threw out a reflection on the character of the boiled leg of pork which had formed part of the funeral baked meats, but the chorus all rushed in to its defence.

“I never eat a better,” said one.

“Well, pore ‘Enry would never have off eating it when we had one a sundays,” said the widow. “Give ‘im that and a bit o’ pease pudden, and he always used to say as he wouldn’t say thenk yer to dine with the King.”

“He seemed a nice young feller, that insurance man,” ventured one of the chorus, who desired to lead up to a discussion as to the amount of the insurance money.

“Well, I oughter a had £150,” said the widow, “but the foreman came round and said, ‘Take £l4, and never mind no lawyers.’”

 A glance of intelligence passed over the faces of the chorus, who began to inveigh against the greed of them insurance companies. Then one ventured a remark on the fact that you could do things as they was right to be done on a figger like that.

By this time the bus was threading the traffic across Great Eastern-street, and one of the chorus, who was more of a thought reader in the face than the others, opined that the only thing to do was to bear up.

“‘Ave a few friends in now and then,” she said; “don’t sit alone and mope.”

She was gallantly backed up by the other members of the chorus, and she proceeded to remark on the noise of this part of London, which always does make your head ache.

The chorus agreed. Someone suggested a little drop and rum and peppermint was one of the finest things for a headache caused by street noises. Another remembered that she knew a barmaid at the Cock and Magpie, just out of Norton Folgate, and she hadn’t seen her for a month o’ Sundays.

The bus stopped and the widow got up and made ready to descend. She was reminded that they wasn’t near the bank yet.

“I must have a little something,” was the reply, “or else I shall drop.”

There were murmurs of sympathy, and the whole party descended opposite the turning which led to the Cock and Magpie.

“Pore dear, you must bear up,” were the last words we heard as the conductor rang the bell.

“Be a bit of mopping before the old man’s money is blewed,” he remarked pensively.

Timaru [NZ] Herald, 27 November 1909: p. 1

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

The Undertakers’ New Year’s Dinner: c. 1902

COFFIN ON THEIR TABLE.

Grewsome New Year’s Dinner of Jovial Undertakers.

Three or four years ago there was an undertakers’ New Year’s dinner in certain north of England town. The guests all drove to the rendezvous in mourning coaches and attired in full regulation somber clothes.

On entering the dining room they found it draped in black and decorated profusely with artificial and other wreaths. Even the tablecloth was adorned with a broad black border, and in the center of the table there was a miniature coffin filled with choice flowers.

The guests, however, did not fail to enjoy themselves, for the dinner was a good one, well served and to everybody’s liking. When the chairman rose to propose the toast of the evening, “Health to ourselves and prosperity to our business during the new year,” he was greeted with a storm of applause, albeit the latter part of the toast would not be received with much enthusiasm in an ordinary company.

During the evening appropriate songs, such as “The  Gravedigger,” “Down Among the Dead Men,” ‘I Took His Measure,” and similar cheerful ditties, were excellently rendered. Pearson’s Weekly.

Springville [NY] Journal 3 January 1907: p. 2

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.

No Funeral Balks and Blunders When You Have A. N. Johnson: 1917

NOTE: I have left the capitalization, spacing, and spelling as they were printed.

The Complete Business Equipped In Its Entirety

THAT IS THE

A.N. Johnson Undertaking Co.

THERE IS NO FUNERAL DIRECTORY THE ENTIRE COUNTRY SO WELL EQUIPPED TO TAKE CARE OF FUNERALS AS THAT OF A. JOHNSON. NOT MAKESHIFT, SO-CALL-ESTABLISHMENT WITH JUST ENOUGH OF EQUIPMENT TO THE TRADE OF UNDERTAKING, DEPENDING UPON LIVERYMEN, EXPRESSMEN AND HACKMEN TO MAKE UP FUNERAL, BUT UNDER ONE ROOF EVERYTHING DESIRED AND NECESSARY FOR COMPLETE FUNERAL.

ONLY UNDERTAKER WITH DOUBLE SERVICE

Our Horse

SERVICE HAS ALWAYS BEEN THE BEST, SO CONCEDED BY THE ENTIRE PEOPLE OF NASHVILLE. THE ONLY UNDERTAKER WHO OWNS SNOW WHITE PINK SKINNED ARABIAN HORSES, BEAUTIFUL, GENTLE AND WELL BEHAVED. THESE MAGNIFICENT STEEDS COST THE PUBLIC NO MORE THAN THE VARIOUS VAREGATED AND OFF COLORED HORSES WHICH ARE FURNISHED IN COMPLETION. THERE ISN’T EVEN A CHILD IN NASHVILLE BUT WHO KNOWS JOHNSON’S BEAUTIFUL HORSES WHEN HE SEES THEM.

Ambulance Service

THE ONLY UNDERTAKER WHO HAS EVER EMPLOYED AMBULANCE SERVICE FOR COLORED PEOPLE. WE DO NOT USE THE SAME VEHICLE FOR THE LIVING AND THE DEAD. AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CONVEYANCE ALTOGETHER. OUR AMBULANCE PROTECTS THE PATIENT NOT ONLY FROM THE COLD IN THE REAR BUT THE PATINET IS IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT APARTMENT FROM THE DRIVERS IN THE FRONT.

Funeral Cars THE LARGEST NUMBER, MOST ELEGANT AND VARID ASSORTMENT OF ANY UNDERTAKER ANYWHERE.

Child’s Funeral Car.

THE ONLY UNDERTAKER WHO FURNISHES A SMALL WHITE SILVER MOUNTED FUNERAL CAR FOR CHILDREN; DRAWN BL SMALL SNOW WHITE PINK SKINNED HORSES, AND THE ONLY UNDERTAKER PREPARED TO GIVE YOU A CHILD’S FUNERAL.

Black Funeral Car

UDOUBTEDLY THE MOST HANDSOME AND ELEGANT, PIECE OF ARCHITECTURE CARVED EBONY IN THE CITY.

White Funeral Car

WE HAVE THE TWO MOST BEAUTIFUL SNOW WHITE FUNERAL CARS MADE; SO THAT IN ANY EMERGENCY WE ARE PREPARED WITH A SUFFICIENCY TO ACCOMMODATE THE PUBLIC.

Royal Purple Funeral

THE ONLY UNDERTAKER ANY WHERE WHO FURNISHES A ROYAL PURPLE FUNERAL CAR, NOT A WHITE OR BLACK HEARSE WITH PURPLE CURTAINS, BUT THE HANDSOMEST WOOD CARVED DRAPED PURPLE CAR THROUGHOUT THAT HAS EVER BEEN MADE, SPECIALLY BUILT FOR US.

Automobile Service Employed

THE A. N. JOHNSON CO., WERE THE FIRST TO INSTALL AUTOMOBILE SERVICE IN NASHVILLE. NOT A MAKE SHIFT SERVICE JUST TO “GET BY,” CALL IT AUTO SERVICE, WHEN IT IS A TRUCK, TEN LIZZIE SERVICE. We COULD HAVE GOTTEN ANY OF THE WELL KNOWN TRUCK, DAILY SEEN IN DELIVERING MILK, GROCERIES AND FREIGHT ABOUT THE CITY AND ALTERED, REMODELLED AND CHANGED THE BODY TO CARRY THE DEAD, BUT WE NEVER DID BELIEVE IN MAKE SHIFTS TO SERVE TO OUR PEOPLE WE COULD HAVE BOUBHT A HALF DOZEN “FLIVVERS” FOR THE PRICE OF ONE OF OUR MACHINES, BUT WE DIDN’T BELIEVE IN CHEAP THINGS FOR OUR PEOPLE. OUR AUTOMOBILE SERVICE CONSISTS OF THE MOST BEAUTIFUL, ELEGANT, HANDSOME AND APPROPRIATE FUNERAL CARS, LEMOZINES, SEDANS, AND TOURING CARS MADE. MC-FARLAN, CHANDLER, STUDEBAKER, PACKARD AND WINTON SIX MODELS. JUST THE VERY BEST THAT GENUIS, TALENT EXPERIENCE AND CAPITAL HAVE PRODUCED. THEN THIS OUTFIT DOESN’T COST ONE CENT MORE THAN THE CHANGED TRUCK AND TIN LIZZIE SERVICE. WE SIMPLY CAN’T HELP GETTING THE HELP AND WE DESERVE THE SUPPORT OF THE PEO—

Conducting Funerals.

In times of funerals, when the family is destressed and the people come in crowds, then there is needed a “Directing Genuis” possibly the intermate friends called to serve as pall bearers have never before performed such services, the society has ceremonies, others occupy their space at the church and in part, there are hundreds of things arising from time to time which need attention and you need a man quick, accurate, alert, sane and with executive ability to act for you. You don’t want balks and blunders when you have funerals, and you don’t have them when you have A. N. Johnson. That’s why you hear people say they want A. N. Johnson for their undertaker. They know he knows how to care for the body, how to care for the distressed family, how to take care of and seat the most people and have quietude and not confusion. The entire atmosphere and the moral of the people is different when Johnson serves.

Embalming

A. N. Johnson has the education and the experience in embalming. From the beginning of the modern methods, more than a quarter of a century ago, he was one of the leading and has kept abreast of the time in the science, art and every technique of embalming. He employs all the methods and materials suited to the particular case under treatment and the result is universal satisfaction. Much of the burden of grief is passed when your loved ones are restored to that beautiful appearance and expression that they wore when their loving smiles greeted you. Then it is safe and sanitary. You get the service of the master, the expert, the man who knows embalming when A. N. Johnson does it.

We Have the Apartments

The morgue is one of the essentials of embalming. If the surgeon can give you the best results by taking the patient to a well equipped hospital, just so can the embalmer employ his morgue when he has every facility for scientific embalming. Embalming has become almost universal, while it was rarely done in years agone. So has the morgue come into use. When allowed, we remove the remains to our morgue which is equipped with every appliance and facility for preparing the dead. Embalming at the home when preferred, but we have every facility for the removal of the dead to our morgue and with our well opportioned Chapel we have the opportunity of serving our people as well as the finest undertaker in the largest cities of the world.

We Are Not Jobbers

We have the most complete line of Caskets, Coffins, Robes and Funeral Furnishings to be had in our own place of business. We buy from the best manufacturers throughout the entire country. We buy the best that each makes and do not keep a sample or two and have to order a coffin whenever we have a call. You can get the plainest wood Coffin or the most costly Metallic Casket made, right out of our house. There is nothing created that is good, desirable or elegant but that we keep it in our place of business.

PRICES

This is a vital question in our business. We charge no more for carriages and horses than the others. Our auto carriages or limousines are furnished at the same price to our people as are charged for horses, if the ride in carriages. Because our Cortege is the finest it is sometimes inferred wrongly that our prices are higher. It is not so. Whatever we sell it is bought for cash and at the best price and we limit our profit to the most reasonable rate and you pay less for what you get from us for better service and material. In fact, you select what you want at the price you want to pay as shown to you when you need our services.

Come and visit our place, see how well we are prepared to furnish funeral service. When you need a carriage or an auto, call us up or come and see us.

Nashville [TN] Globe 21 December, 1917: p. 3

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.

The Undertaker’s Revenge

The Lowry Mausoleum, Ironton, Ohio

Today’s guest-narrator tells the bizarre and gruesome story of an undertaker’s revenge.

The story began innocently enough in Ironton, Ohio in 1933, when Dr. Joseph Lowry was found dead in his bed. He was thought to have had a stroke and was laid to rest next to his late wife in his $40,000 mausoleum in Woodland Cemetery. His estate amounted to around $300,000.

Official suspicions were first aroused when a key to a safe deposit box was found in the Lowry house, but the box could not be located. It was whispered that several of Lowry’s strong boxes had been emptied by his sister Alice Barger and nephew Clark, who were said to have borrowed money from Lowry in the past. An autopsy was ordered, but on the exhumation morning when the authorities needed a key to the mausoleum, the Bargers were nowhere to be found. Eventually the authorities burned a hole through the heavy metal doors with a welding torch.

Dr. Lowry’s body was autopsied at a local funeral home. There was no sign of a stroke. In addition to previously unnoticed marks of asphyxiation, a surprise awaited. …

But Mrs Daffodil will let the author tell the story in her own discursive way:

Many years ago I ran across a story called “The Coffin with the Plate Glass Front or The Undertaker’s Revenge” by Jean Dolan, which was part of the Ohio Valley Folk Research Project, a collection of locally-collected folk-tales. Part of the story concerned a doctor disemboweled by an undertaker, which, as I am a lover of the grim and gruesome, I filed away for future reference, assuming it was just a folktale.

Then, as I was writing Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio, I spoke with a genealogy librarian from Briggs-Lawrence County Public Library in Ironton, Ohio. She told me about some of the hauntings at the library and mentioned something about a disemboweled doctor who had formerly lived on the site.

Alarm bells went off. I had assumed the story was just a story, but the librarian graciously sent me newspaper clippings about the sensational story to prove that it wasn’t a fake.

Was he murdered? Why were his insides removed? Here we enter into the realm of conjecture. What follows is entirely speculative, based on local hearsay, gossip, and innuendo, sometimes a more reliable source of truth than the most carefully sworn testimony:

The story goes that when Dr. Lowry’s wife Sarah died in 1931, he ordered a very expensive, custom-made polished wood coffin. When it arrived, it had a slight scratch. Dr. Lowry noticed it at once. The undertaker murmured that it could easily be repaired. The French polisher could be on the job within the hour….

Dr. Lowry cut him short. It wouldn’t do. He wouldn’t be imposed upon with shoddy, second-rate goods. He insisted on being shown the coffins in stock and selected one, a top-of-the-line model, to be sure, with the genuine imitation mahogany veneer but a good deal less costly than the custom-made coffin. Dr. Lowry knew perfectly well that the custom coffin could be fixed but perhaps he was having second thoughts about the Dear Departed, or it may have been one of those minor economies that keep the rich richer than you and me.

The undertaker had not insisted on payment when the order was placed. He went home with a splitting headache and his wife put cool cloths on his forehead while he railed against the miserly doctor. He was his usual unctuous professional self by the time he next saw the doctor at the funeral. But he had the coffin taken up into the loft of the carriage house and covered with a horse blanket. On sleepless nights he brooded over the unpaid coffin invoice.

So when the news came that Dr. Lowry was dead, the undertaker danced a little jig of delight. He had sworn that Lowry would go to go his eternal rest in that expensive casket but it had been made for the Doctor’s wispy little wife and the dead man’s bulging midsection made it impossible to close the lid. Piece of cake, said the undertaker, preening himself on his ingenuity.  He simply scooped out the internal organs, shoveled in a few handfuls of excelsior, stitched up the now much‑diminished belly, and voila! Not only was the coffin a perfect fit but the old man looked trimmer than he had ever looked in life. The heirs congratulated him on how well the old man looked. Only a few people seemed puzzled by the corpse’s diminished height. Oh well, they went away thinking, the dead always look smaller… It had been a simple matter to take up the old man’s legs a bit so the undertaker could cram him into the coffin crafted for the five-foot Sarah.

Soon, however, rumors began to fly around the town that the old man’s death wasn’t altogether a natural one. There was some suspicion that someone had helped the old boy along—either by poison or a pillow over the face.

Dr. Lowry was removed from his $40,000 mausoleum in his plate-glass-fronted coffin. The autopsy revealed a startling secret, but not the one expected. When questioned, the undertaker admitted that he’d taken a few liberties with the old man’s innards. Motivated entirely by spite, he said cheerfully. The undertaker led the authorities to the place he’d buried the remains of the Doc, but the parts in question were too far gone to be analyzed for poison.  Any possible case against the heirs was dismissed for lack of evidence.

It is said that Dr Lowry haunts the Briggs-Lawrence County Public Library in Ironton—the site of Dr Lowry’s former home where he was found dead….He has also been seen roaming the cemetery in search of his missing insides.

Ghost Hunter’s Guide to Haunted Ohio, Chris Woodyard

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil is grateful for her guest’s ghost story contribution. Another story involving a doctor, poison, a ghost, and entrails, may be found at the Haunted Ohio blog. One wonders if the disemboweled Dr Lowry’s ghost could have been placated by the substitution of ersatz entrails: trimmings from a local slaughterhouse perhaps or bits of an opossum run over by a motor-car?

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. 

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.

Celebration of Bad Mortuary Poetry: 1879, 1919

It’s “Bad Poetry Day,” a time to celebrate the very best of bad doggerel. I have to admit that I find a guilty pleasure in really bad poetry, particularly on mortuary subjects. Here are a few favorites.

THE UNION FOREVER

It seems that people differ

On the subject, very grave,

Of how to tend their bodies

When they’ve flunked their last close shave.

But as far as I’m affected

When I go to meet my Maker,

I’ll be happy and contented

With a union undertaker.

Some people speak of burning

So they’ll beat the Devil to it—

While others hold that later

They may need themselves and rue it;

But as far as I’m affected

When I go to meet my Maker,

I’ll be happy and contented

With a union undertaker.

Some people want a Parson,

While some others want a Priest.

Some players want no gallery,

While others want a feast—

But as far as I’m affected

When I go to meet my Maker,

I’ll be happy and contented

With a union undertaker.

I want a union label

On the lapel of my shroud;

I want the coffin union-made,

And no scabs in the crowd.

I want my union card to show

Saint Peter’s ticket taker 

That I was sent to Glory

By a union undertaker.

St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 12 April 1919: p. 10

This one just rollicks along when read aloud:

THE UNIQUE HOTEL.

(See Murray’s  Scotland,” page 169).

My friends and my relatives know very well

I yearn for the novel and striking—
Just now there’s the strangest north-country hotel

Evoking my rapturous liking.
The notice (in language sufficiently terse)

Recording its varied resources,
Concludes with, “good stables. Superior hearse,

With suitable feathers and horses!

The wines may be bad and civility nil,

The furniture aged and fluffy,
Wax candles appear twice-a-day in the bill,

And all may be gloomy and stuffy.
Such minor discomforts let cavillers curse;—

Eclipsing the painfullest courses,
You’ve but to recall that “superior hearse,

With suitable feathers and horses.”

Suppose, as by rail you’re approaching the spot,

Your train will persist in colliding

Along with another and “getting it hot,”

Or smashing to bits in a siding;
Though sadly your friends may regard your reverse,

While shedding the tear it enforces,
At least they can get a “superior hearse,

With suitable feathers and horses.”

Suppose you are spending a holiday there

With hopes of lost vigour regaining
By climbing up mountains and breathing the air,

And find it incessantly raining;
As daily the weather grows dismally worse,

And hope from your bosom divorces,
You’ll guess why they keep a “superior hearse,

With suitable feathers and horses.”

Suppose, when they give you your “little account,”

You go and you think you’ve detected

A glaring extortion, because the amount

Exceeds what you might have expected.

You’ll find it — suppose you decline to disburse,

And your fist your decision endorses—

Convenient to have that “superior hearse

With suitable feathers and horses.”

Fun, T. Moffitt 20 August 1879: p 74

See also “The Mourner A-La-Mode” over at Mrs Daffodil Digresses.

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.

Frauds on Undertakers: 1883

 

bangham and company funeral furnishers letterhead 1860

Bangham & Company, Funeral Furnishers, letterhead, c. 1860 https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk

FRAUDS ON UNDERTAKERS.

A man named Henry Russell has lately confessed how he victimised undertakers, an English paper gives the following details About four o’clock one afternoon in May, 1883, Russell, dressed in deep black, walked into the shop of an undertaker in Willesden and asked the assistant if his master were in. The assistant explained that his master would be but a short time, and asked the future customer to be seated. Whilst waiting; for the arrival of the master the assistant engaged the customer in conversation, and, to put it briefly, during the space of about twenty-five minutes Russell simply “pumped” the assistant and made himself master of certain facts and details of the business which proved very useful. The undertaker arrived, and Russell explained in a most becoming manner that his brother-in-law had died that morning, and he had been recommended to place the arrangements for the burial in the hands of Mr __ by Miss J__ who spoke highly of the manner in which he had carried out the funerals of her two sisters whom she had unfortunately recently lost. In this way Russell quite charmed the undertaker, and in the result, having explained the kind of grave, coffin, and funeral he wanted, desired the undertaker to give him a price for the whole thing.

Rapidly the undertaker totalled up the whole cost, which he said would come to £20. “Very well,” said Russell, I will just consult my poor sister, and call upon you later in the evening, when doubtless I shall have a cheque from my brother for you.”

According to his promise Russell called and asked the undertaker to make out the account, and receipt it.

“Ah!” said Russell, “I am very sorry. My brother thought I said £30, and has given me a cheque for that amount, but it matters little; just give me the difference, £10, in gold, will you?

The address of the deceased was in the very best part of Willesden, and the undertaker made not the slightest objection, and promptly handed “Mr James Le Royt” the £10 in sovereigns. Towards nine o’clock Mr Undertaker paid a visit to the address given, and to the servant who answered the door he explained his object in calling. The servant, in turn, called her mistress, to whom the undertaker expressed his regret for the loss of so excellent a husband.

The lady had some doubts about the sanity of her visitor. She told him that he must have mistaken the house, and that her husband was on the premises, alive and well. The undertaker showed her the address given by Russell. and said he felt sure that he had made no mistake. The lady then called her husband, who was having dinner, in order that the undertaker might have ocular proof of the truth of her statement.

Hardly had the first undertaker been gone half-an-hour before another knock was heard, and again the lady of the house was requested to conduct undertaker No. 2 to the death chamber for the purpose of taking the necessary measurements for a coffin. Again the master was shown to be in the flesh— much, we feel bound to say, to the horror of the undertakers, who now realised that they had been the victims of a very clever fraud, both the cheques being worthless.

Whilst talking to the assistant of undertaker No. 1, Russell learned that Mr__ who kept a public-house in the immediate neighbourhood, had often changed his master’s cheques, and before quitting Willesden Russell succeeded in inducing the landlord to cash a cheque of the undertaker’s for £20, which he (Russell) stated had just been paid to him for cloth he had brought down. The signature was, of course, obtained from the receipt for the funeral expenses which Mr__ had given Russell. Russell was very pleased with his visit to Willesden, which, he informed his companion, had resulted in a net gain, after deducting expenses, of £38.

Russell next paid a visit to Bedford; and, just as the assistant of one of the undertakers of the town was closing the shop, Russell, in a very hurried manner, walked up to him and asked him if he could direct him to Messrs B__ and Co., undertakers.

“Yes,” said the assistant, “this is the shop.”

“l am so glad,” said Russell. I have been hurrying all the way from the other end of the town. Is your master in?” The young man replied in the negative, and seeing Russell was overcome, and appeared as if about to faint, he augmented they should adjourn to the hotel bar near, and partake of some brandy. Russell thanked the young fellow and accompanied him to the hotel, where be soon became himself, thanks to the brandy. Russell again thanked the young man, and placed half a-crown in his hand. A conversation ensued, during which Russell learned the name of his master’s bankers and the names of some of his master’s friends in London, and other details, which served him in good stead. Russell then made an appointment for the next day to arrange for the funeral of his sister, who had just died, and who was an old maid, explained Russell, “with a nice long stocking.”

Next day Russell saw the undertaker, and explained that he had been called down from London owing to the death of his maiden sister, which had taken place some two or three days previously.

“When I got to the house,” said Russell, “I found that they had made some arrangements with Mr S__ and that he had actually made a coffin. Well, I find he is a very small man, and I don’t think, considering I am one of my sister’s executors, that I can allow him to carry out the funeral. I come to you because I know a Mr Balman, and having mentioned that my sister at Bedford had died he recommended me to you, as he was a friend of yours, but I don’t see my way clear at all. What am I to do with the other man now he has made the coffin?”

“Oh,” replied the undertaker, “just tell him that you are going to make other arrangements, and then ask him what he wants for the coffin and the trouble he has been put to, and then pay him— that is what I should do.”

“Very well,” replied Russell, “I’ll go down and do so at once, and come back to you.”

A little later Russell appeared, and exhibited to the undertaker his rival’s receipt for £6, the price of the coffin, &c. It may be as well here to tell the story of how he obtained the receipt. Russell went to another undertaker in a small way of business, and explained that his sister had just given birth to a stillborn child, and he would so very glad if he would make a small coffin, see Dr __ and make arrangements for the burial. Russell then asked him whether he had a book showing the different styles of coffins, and whilst the undertaker was hunting for his pattern book Russell managed, to abstract from a case on the counter several printed memoranda forms and envelopes. Then Russell suddenly remembered that he had an appointment to keep in the town, and hurriedly left the shop, promising to come again later in the day. It was on one of the memoranda forms that Russell wrote “Rced. of W. Wesson, Esq., the sum of £6 for coffin for Miss A. Wesson, No. 21, ___, Bedford.”

The production of the receipt, of course, inspired confidence: first it established the fact that a Miss Wesson had died and, secondly, that she was in her coffin. It also showed that Russell was desirous of placing business in the way of Messrs Russell then described the kind of funeral he wanted, with feathers, palls, &c, and asked how much it would come to. “£15,” replied the undertaker. “Very well; make out a bill and I will pay you. I have just got a cheque from my cousin, James Wesson, for £20. The account was duly made out, stamped, and receipted, while Russell said, “I must send £5 back to London to-night, so I think you had better give me your cheque for the balance, and it will save me getting a post office order. Don’t cross the cheque, as it is going to a poor relative to buy black with, and they will want to change it in London.”

The undertaker gave “Mr Wesson” the cheque for £5, and after having fixed the date on which the funeral was to take place and partaken of a glass of wine at the before-mentioned hotel, Mr Wesson bid the undertaker good day. Half an hour later a cheque was presented at the Bedford branch of the Bank for £50, and Mr Wesson requested that the money should be paid in gold. The £5 had been cleverly turned into £50, and a nought placed after the £5. This fraud Russell always pointed to with great pride, and “Undertaker Jimmy,” was never too tired or too busy to tell this story, of course to an admiring circle of selected friends.

Star [Christchurch NZ], 26 November 1891: p. 2

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 Titanic Funeral Ship: 1912

The cable repair ship Mackay Bennett, the “funeral ship” which put out from Halifax and picked up dead bodies near the scenes of the Titanic disaster. The ship carried a large supply of coffins, ice and embalming fluid, an undertaker and a staff of embalmers. The Rev. Canon K. Hinds (on left) was on board to perform funeral services for such bodies as were unrecognizable and too far gone for embalming. The other portrait is of Capt. [Frederick H.] Lardner, the ship’s commander.

The Evansville [IN] Press 23 April 1912: p. 1

190 BODIES BROUGHT IN,

116 BURIED AT SEA

Captain of the Morgue Ship Tells of the Picking Up of Corpses Which Floated Upon the Waves.

ALL WORE THE LIFE BELTS OF SHIP

Ninety Bodies Were Picked Up in One Morning, Being Found All at Once and Looked Like Gulls.

[United Press Leased Wire Service.]

His Majesty’s Dock, Halifax, April 30. Loaded down with 190 bodies of victims of the Titanic disaster, the Mackay-Bennett made port today, after having buried at sea 110 bodies, some of which had been identified. Captain Lardner who commanded the death cruise, with a broken voice, declared that his vessel was unable to bring to shore all of the dead recovered.

Beside the captain sat the benevolent-looking round-faced Canon Hinds, worn by the heavy duties that had fallen to him through the cruise.

 “Why were those bodies burled at sea?” the captain was asked.

The grizzled old sea captain shook his head sadly and a pained expression swept his weather-beaten face.

“They were members of the crew,” he said, “most of them, and we could not care for them. When we left Halifax we took on board all of the embalming fluid in the city. That was only enough to care for seventy bodies. It was not expected that we would find bodies in such great quantities. The undertakers didn’t think these bodies would keep more than three days at sea, and as we expected to be out more than two weeks, we had to bury them. They received the full service for the dead before they slid over the rail.”  

Buried at Sea.

Fifty-seven identified victims of the Titanic disaster were buried at sea from the Mackay-Bennett. They had been crushed between huge cakes of ice and were wholly unrecognizable. Identification being possible only by means of names sewed in the pockets. A list of those who were consigned to the deep follows:

Mauritz Adahl, Pedro Ale, Thomas Anderson, Ragozzi Abele, Rossimore Abbott, John Adams, W. Butt, A. Boothby, G. Butterworth, E. T. Barker, Patrick Connors, Yosep Drazenouf, J.J. Davies, James Farrell, Leslie Gelinski, J.S. Gill, Anvers Gustafsen, A. Hayter, G. Hinckley, Henry D. Hansen, Reg Hale, W. Hinton, Adolph Humblein, A.C. Hell, T. Hewitt, Eric Johansen, Edward Keating, Valet of George D. Widener; James Keller, R. W. Leison, Charles Louch, Edward Lockyer, D. Lily, Jaen Mouros, Mrs. Mack, Mrs. N. McNamee, Mary Mangan, M. Mays, Moussor Novel, Blank Olsen, E.W. Petty, C.G. Ricks, J.M. Robinson, J. Stone, Fred Sutton, W. Saunders, Wm. Sage, Philip J. Stokes, Ernest P. Tomling, F. Tamlyn, Thomas Theodaid, Catavelos Vassilios, W. Vear, Leslie Williams, W. Watson, O. S. Woody.

“Those who were buried at sea,” continued the captain, “were mostly badly mutilated and the undertakers said they would not keep. They had bean struck by spars or floating wreckage. “Night closed down on us Sunday night with bodies still around. We commenced work again on Monday morning at daylight, but bodies were scarce. We got only 26 that day. We searched 15 minutes in and out along the line of wreck. At night we marked the floating wreckage with a drifting buoy so we could find it readily in the morning.

Ninety In One Morning.

“Tuesday morning bodies were numerous again. We picked up ninety bodies before noon. Then the weather came on thick and in the afternoon we recovered only 29.

“We found no two bodies together. All. were floating separately. No two were clasped In each other’s arms or anything like that. In one place we saw them scattered over the surface looking like a flock of gulls. They looked just like gulls with the white ends of the life belts fluttering and flapping up and down with the rise and fall of the waves.

“A great many of those recovered were injured when the Titanic went down,” said Captain Lardner, when he was asked why so many of the bodies brought in were bruised and broken.

“When the water swept her decks many must have been rushed before it and carried against stanchions, spars and others parts of the vessel. All of those picked up wore life belts and they rod upright in the waves, the belts carrying them high above the water.”

Then the captain continued his outline of the cruise, consulting the log before him from time to time.

“All day Wednesday we were in thick fog and it was blowing hard from the southwest. We saw nothing all day. About midnight the weather eased up and we shaped our course back for the bodies. At 5:30 Thursday morning we found one drifting near us. We let her drift until daylight and then commenced work. We picked up 87 bodies that day. Thursday I got a message saying the Minia was coming out to assist us. She arrived about 45 minutes after midnight Friday.

“At daylight the two ships commenced searching together. At noon I picked up 14 more bodies and then we started for Halifax because we had as many on board as we could look after. We experienced bad weather on the way in.”

Captain Lardner outlined the methods of caring for the bodies after they had been picked up.

Five Men In a Boat.

“We had five men in each small boat,” he said. “When they went out to look for bodies they kept within sight of the bridge of the Mackay-Bennett and we signalled them by wig wagging. When they picked up four or five bodies, if the weather was heavy, we would bring them in. If the weather was calm, they could handled seven or eight in a boat. The bodies were hoisted on board and when they were searched, the contents of the pockets and their valuables were placed in canvass bags having on them the same number as that on the body. In this way we made some identifications, long after the bodies were taken aboard.

“We brought in the bags of all who were buried at sea and some of those committed to the deep may yet identified by the contents of these bags. We covered a square of sea about thirty miles long and thirty miles wide, about

sixty miles northeast of the scene of the disaster. All of the bodies found were In the cold water, north of the gulf stream.

“No bodies that we found contained any bullet wounds.”

The captain then related the confusion In the identification of George D. Widener.

“We thought it was Widener first, because the body had letters addressed to Mr. Widener but the quality of the underclothing worn by body was not such as would be worn by a first class passenger. His overcoat bore the Initials E. K. His head was terribly crushed and the body would not keep so we burled him at sea. Mr. Widener’s son after examining the envelope containing possessions found on the body, said he was certain that the body was of Edward Keating his father’s valet.

“I feel certain that all of the passengers picked up have already been identified and that the unidentified were members of the ship’s company. I feel sure that those buried at sea were  practically all either seamen, stewards or other employes of the White Star company.

“I think there were about 18 or 20 women among the bodies we picked up. We have quite a lot of jewelry taken from both men and women. I don’t how much cash we took from the bodies.” Lardner said that he did not believe that the Minia would succeed in securing many more bodies, unless she ‘strikes a streak of them.’

“The Minia had seven bodies aboard when the Mackay started for Halifax.”

UNLOADING CARGO OF DEAD, PICKED UP OUT AT SEA

Mackay-Bennett Arrived at Halifax This Morning With Decks Piled High With Corpses.

MOST GRUESOME PICTURE EVER SEEN

Astor’s Body in a Plain Wooden Box Just Like That Used for the Other Bodies of Victims.

[United Press Leased Wire Service.]

Halifax, April 30. The pitiful few of the Titanic’s victims retrieved from the broad waters of the Atlantic reached port today. The Mackay-Bennett, with the bodies on board, was reported off the first buoy at the harbor entrance at eight o’clock (Atlantic time), and immediately afterward, at signal from the bells in the churches, the flags on every building in the city were dropped to half staff.

As the Mackay-Bennett slowly steamed up the three and one-half miles of the harbor the bells in the church towers tolled solemnly at minute intervals and thousands of the city inhabitants hurried to points of vantage along the water front to catch the first glimpse of the ship with her cargo of dead.

All shipping under orders immediately cleared from the harbor channel. The Mackay-Bennett was given a clear track up the center of the bay with nothing to impede her progress. About the government dock, where she was to be berthed, a hundred blue clad sailors, with mourning bands on their round caps and on the sleeves of their blouses, leaped into boats and rowed out to form a patrol to keep craft away from the great naval dock where the vessel was to be tied up.

At the same time a detachment of British bluejackets from the cruiser Niobe marched on the pier and cleared it of every one not holding an official pass. They carried side arms and they were instructed to keep everyone away.

They then placed an awning entirely about the portion of the dock assigned to the Mackay-Bennett and prepared the covered gang-plan which was run out as soon as the death ship was berthed.

Under a white marquee on the dock, the view of which was shut off by the awnings that had been arranged, more than one hundred coffins and rough boxes had been piled tier on tier. Near them were the undertakers and embalmers, who were to care for the bodies. As the Mackay-Bennett came into sight down the harbor, the undertakers, embalmers and ambulance helpers put on long brown coats and began to arrange the coffins, opening them and laying them out in great long rows ready for the silent occupants who could already be seen piled on the decks of the approaching cable repair ship.

Only Woman Present.

Among the undertakers was a Miss O’Neill of St. Johns, brought over to Halifax to care for any bodies of women that might be aboard the Mackay-Bennett. She was the only woman on the dock just before the Mackay-Bennett hove in sight.

The mourners, after their long vigil, did not hurry to the dock when the whispered word went through the city: “She’s coming!” Warned by the White Star and government officials that a visit to the dock would be useless, they planned to go to the Mayflower curling rink, where the bodies were to be taken immediately upon being unloaded.

A squad of naval Red Cross men mixed a dozen buckets of thick evil smelling disinfectant and sprinkled the entire dock, the covered gang-plank and the pile of coffins. The atmosphere of a morgue pervaded the pier.

As the Mackay-Bennett drew into the dock a boat already manned hung from the starboard davits. It was dropped and a line brought ashore. Within five minutes the vessel was safely docked, with heavy hawsers holding her stern and bow. As she swung in she looked her part of: morgue ship. She was seaworn and weather-beaten after her long cruise and piled high on her afterdeck were rows upon rows of darkened dirty white pine rough boxes. Along her starboard deck amidship were scores of loosely tied bundles of every imaginable color, evidently the clothing taken from the bodies picked up. Each bundle was marked with a large square of burlap on which was printed a number. On board were representatives of the White Star line who had boarded the vessel at the entrance to the harbor. They warned everyone the dock against attempting to board the vessel and proceeded with arrangements for taking off the bodies.

At that time only two mourners were on the dock. They were the maid of Mrs. William Augustus Spencer, Eliza Loretta, and J. A. Kenyon, Connecticut, searching for his brother. Mrs. Spencer’s husband was lost on the Titanic. As the undertakers boarded the death ship, the dead for whom no coffins had been provided could be seen lying on the deck amidship.

Like Mummies.

Some of the bodies were wrapped close as mummies in burlap and canvas and bound with heavy twine. Others lay uncovered in long rows, a heterogeneous mass of arms and legs and heads. These bodies the undertakers began to remove at once, carrying them on stretchers to the waiting wagons. A huge tarpaulin was lifted from amidship and another great group of dead were uncovered.

Evidently no care had been possible for them. They lay stretched beneath the big canvass with arms and legs in cramped positions, soaked with sea salt and with sea stains like red-brown wine stains on every face. Distorted features twisted out of all shape and giving each face a horrible grimace marked every face and staring, unseeing eyes leered from the death group as the undertakers prepared to move the bodies.

Outside the gate of the dock yard group of mourners had been held because they had not been given passes. They had passes to the morgue, but the dock yard authorities refused to honor them. Besides these there were but few about the place. There was no crowd of idle curiosity seekers clamoring for a glimpse of the gruesome freight. Halifax went on quietly about its business passing with averted faces the death wagons that hurried through the street.

A long double row of bare headed sailors, dressed In dirty blue overalls, was stretched from the group of dead amidship to the covered gangplank. The undertakers lifted a body, placed it in a loose canvass stretcher and the sailors lifted it. It was passed down the row from hand to hand until it came to the gangplank. There undertakers grasped it, placed the body in a rough pine box. lifted the box to a wagon, and it was off to the morgue.

Within ten minutes after the Mackay-Bennett docked bodies were leaving the ship at the rate of one a minute, The unidentified bodies were taken off first. They were in a big group that lay amidship uncovered and unembalmed.

The body on board the Mackay-Bennett supposed to be that of George D. Widener may not be the Philadelphia millionaire.

Captain Richard Roberts of the yacht of John Jacob Astor, after a conference with Captain Lardner of the Mackay-Bennett, declared he was satisfied that the body of Astor was on board but that it was possible that the body identified as Widener may be that of his valet.

‘Valets often wear their master’s clothes without removing the name tags,” said Captain Roberts, ‘and the body on board was identified as Mr. widener by the name on the clothing, The head Is badly crushed and it would be impossible to identify the features.

“From the description given me,” continued Roberts, “I am satisfied that Colonel Astor’s body is on board. I did not see the body as it is nailed up in a rough coffin on the after deck.”

A coffin pulled from the pile on the after deck of the Mackay-Bennett was opened and Captain Richard Roberts of the Astor yacht looked at the body it contained. After gazing at it for a moment he turned away saying:

“It is he.”

Captain Roberts had made certain that Colonel John Jacob Aster’s body was in the coffin. Among the unidentified dead was the tiny figure of a baby girl, apparently about two years old. The child’s body had been picked up by one of the crew of the Mackay-Bennett. It was floating on a bit of wreckage. By no means could the little body be identified..

The rough crew of the Mackay-Bennett took charge of the body and It will be buried In Halifax at the expenses of the sailors.

For two hours the work of removing the bodies went on with the regularity of clock work. The wagons gave out and the hearses of all the local undertakers were pressed into service. At 11 o’clock (Atlantic time) no move had been made toward getting off the huge pile of coffins that reared high on the after deck of the ship.

Captain Lardner gave out the following statement regarding the death cruise: 

“We were commissioned to bring all the bodies found floating, but owing to the number found and weather conditions it was impossible to carry out instructions and some were committed to the deep after service by Canon Hind.

“We left shortly after noon on Wednesday, the 17th of April; fog and bad weather delayed us on the run out and we did not arrive until Saturday night at 8 o’clock. On Sunday, at noon, having asked all ships to report us if they passed any wreckage or bodies, we received a communication from a German steamer Rhine to the effect that in latitude 41.20 north longitude 49.30, she had passed some wreckage and bodies. The course was shaped for that position north SS4 east. Later in the afternoon we spoke to the German ship Bremen and they reported they had passed three large bergs in latitude 42 north, longitude 49.20 west.

“We arrived on the scene at eight o’clock Sunday night, stopped and let ship drift. In middle watch, wreckage and a few bodies were sighted. At daylight the boats were lowered and although a heavy sea was running, 51 bodies were recovered that day.”   

The Daily Gate City [Keokuk IA] 30 April 1912: p. 1

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