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.

Six Children in One Grave: 1891

HORRIBLE PRACTICE.

Revolting Charges Against an Undertaker.

SENSATION IN A CHICAGO SUBURB.

The Bodies of Pauper Infants Disposed of by Being Placed in Coffins Containing Corpses Which the Undertaker Had Been Called Upon to Attend to—Six Pauper Children Said to Have Been Buried in One Grave.

Chicago, Nov. 11. Englewood, recently a suburb of Chicago, but now embraced in the city, is greatly wrought up over the revolting charges that are being made against Undertaker Millard F. Rodgers. Citizens whose deceased relatives were buried by the undertaker are apprehensive that the graves of their loved ones have been desecrated, and a number of people have announced their intention of exhuming their friends’’ remains and satisfying themselves that they are not the victims of the repulsive practice of burying pauper infants in the coffins of deceased adults. Three weeks ago the remains of an Englewood man were exhumed shortly after being buried by Undertaker Rodgers and the body of a pauper infant was found between the feet of the corpse. Rogers claimed at the time that he was the victim of a conspiracy inspired by his assistant, C.F. Norman.

Another Revolting Discovery.

Tuesday, however, another case came to light. Disturbed by rumors the friends of the late James P. Tansy, who died eighteen months ago, had him exhumed and the remains of an infant were found under the satin trimmings at the foot of the coffin. The remains of Mr. Tansy were interred Mount Olivet long before Norman went to work for Rodgers, and this fact has convinced most of the friends who believed the undertaker’s tale that there is more in the charges than they supposed. Among the staunchest friends were the Masons and Odd Fellows, of which organizations Rodgers is a member. He proclaimed that they would stand by him, but Tuesday evening it was decided in the Englewood lodges of both orders to make a full investigation and a member of the Masonic fraternity admitted that if the charges were substantiated Rodgers would be expelled.

Six Children in One Grave.

The citizens have thoroughly organised for an investigation of the charges and the attorney for the prosecution stated Tuesday evening that he had satisfied himself that Rogers had buried In one grave at Oakwoods cemetery the bodies of six pauper children. As none of the children had relatives able to stand the expense of exhuming the remains and as there Is nothing In the statutes pronouncing such action criminal the matter will not be pushed further in this direction. But other cases will be pushed. Some time ago the father of Mr. Sylvester, an Eaglewood expressman, died and the remains, after being prepared by Rodgers, were shipped to Wisconsin (or burial. Soon after some alarming rumors were spread, but were not credited, and until the recent charges were made Mr. Sylvester did not trouble himself about them.

Will Make an Investigation.

Lately he commenced an investigation, and the other day induced the man who assisted Rodgers at the time of the burial to make a confession. This man, whose name is Foskett, pretended to know but little, but admitted that on the day the remains were prepared for burial a woman connected with Rodgers’ establishment left the undertaker’s shop with the body of a child in a shawl which she carried. She went to the Sylvester residence and when she left, it is alleged, she failed to bring the infant’s body with her. Mr. Sylvester will at once have his father’s remains exhumed by the Wisconsin relatives. Foskett further admitted that while he was with Rodgers the body of an Infant was placed In the coffin of a woman who lived near the corner of Sixty-first street and Stewart avenue. He declares he cannot remember the name.

A Remunerative Practice.

Still another suspicions case now being investigated is that of the infant child of Officer W. H. Harris of the Englewood Police station. It was remarked that the casket furnished by Rodgers was very large for an Infant’s remains. The coffin will probably be exhumed.

“The practice of burying Infants in adults’ coffins could be made very remunerative to one who did Rodgers’ large business,” said an Englewood physician Wednesday. “The interment fee of $6 is charged in each case, and if the undertaker has but one grave dug Instead of two he can make a pretty penny in the course of a year, especially when he does business for a couple. of foundlings’ homes and orphan asylums.”

Alton [IL] Evening Telegraph 12 November 1891: p. 1

It was a common practice to bury still-born children into the gap at the foot of an adult grave.

IN CIGAR BOXES

Many Little Bodies Find Nameless Graves.

 “We have many people bring us little babes in boxes, ranging in size from a cigar box to a coffin a foot or so long,” said a sexton. “They hardly ever leave instructions, so we just put the boxes at the bottom of some grave we dig for a grown person.” 

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 31 January 1892: p. 9

The practice of “filling in” a gap at the foot of an adult grave with a child’s coffin, was a source of much pain to bereaved pauper parents. They much preferred that their babies be buried in a plot with other children.

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.

A ‘appy Release

On the Stairs 

The house had been “genteel.” When trade was prospering in the East End, and the ship-fitter or block-maker thought it a shame to live in the parish where his workshop lay, such a master had lived here. Now, it was a tall, solid, well-bricked, ugly house, grimy and paintless in the journey, cracked and patched in the windows; where the front door stood open all day long, and the womankind sat on the steps, talking of sickness and deaths and the cost of things; and treacherous holes lurked in the carpet of road-soil on the stairs and in the passage. For when eight families live in a house, nobody buys a door-mat, and the secret was one of those streets that are always muddy. It smelled, too, of many things, none of them pleasant (one was fried fish); but for all that it was not a slum.

Three flights up, a gaunt woman with bare forearms stayed on her way to listen at a door which, opened, let out a warm, fetid waft from a close sick-room. A bent and tottering old woman stood on the threshold, holding the door behind her.

“An’ is ‘e no better now, Mrs. Curtis?” the gaunt woman asked, with a nod at the opening.

The old woman shook her head, and pulled the door closer. Her jaw waggled loosely in her withered chaps: “Nor won’t be, till ‘e’s gone.” Then after a certain pause: “’E’s goin’,” she said.

“Don’t doctor give no ‘ope?”

“Lor’ bless ye, I don’t want to ast no doctors,” Mrs. Curtis replied, with something not unlike a chuckle. “I’ve seed too many on ’em. The boy’s a-goin’ fast; I can see that. An’ then”–she gave the handle another tug, and whispered–“he’s been called.” She nodded amain.

“Three seprit knocks at the bed-head las-night; an’ I know what that means!”

The gaunt woman raised her brows, and nodded. “Ah, well,” she said, “we all on us comes to it some day, sooner or later. An’ it’s often a ‘appy release.”

The two looked into space beyond each other, the elder with a nod and a croak. Presently the other pursued: “’E’s been a very good son, ain’t he?”

“Ay, ay—well enough son to me,” responded the old woman, a little peevishly; “an’ I’ll ‘ave ‘im put away decent, though there’s on’y the Union for me after. I can do that, thank Gawd” she added, meditatively, as, chin on fist, she stared into the thickening dark over the stairs.

“When I lost my pore ‘usband,” said the gaunt woman, with a certain brightening, “I give ‘im a ‘andsome funeral. ‘E was a Odd Feller, an’ I got twelve pound. I ‘ad a oak caufin an’ a open ‘earse. There was kerridge for the fam’ly an’ one for ‘is mates—two ‘orses each, an’ feathers, an’ mutes: an’ it went the furthest way round to the cimitry. ‘Wotever ‘appens, Mrs. Manders,’ says the undertaker, ‘you’ll feel as you’re treated ‘im proper; nobody can’t reproach you over that.’ An’ they couldn’t. ‘E was a good ‘usband to me, an’ I buried ‘im respectable.”

The gaunt woman exulted. The old, old story of Mander’s funeral fell upon the other one’s ears with a freshened interest, and she mumbled her gums ruminantly. “Bob’ll ‘ave a ‘ansome buryin’ too,” she said. “I can make it up, with the insurance money, an’ this, an’ that. On’y I dunno about mutes. It’s a expense.”

In the East End, when a woman has not enough money to buy a thing much desired, she does not say so in plain words; she says the thing is an “expense,” or a “great expense.” It means the same thing, but it sounds better. Mrs. Curtis had reckoned her resources, and found that mutes would be an “expense.” At a cheap funeral mutes cost half a sovereign and their liquor. Mrs. Manders said as much.

“Yus, yus, ‘arf a sovereign,” the old woman assented. Within, the sick man feebly beat the floor with a stick. “I’m a-comin’,” she cried, shrilly; “yus, ‘arf a sovereign, but it’s a lot, an’ I don’t see ‘ow I’m to do it–not at present.” She reached for the door-handle again, but stopped and added, by after-thought: “Unless I don’t ’ave no plooms.”

“It ‘ud be a pity not to ‘ave plooms. I ‘ad–“

There were footsteps on the stairs; then a stumble and a testy word. Mrs. Curtis peered over into the gathering dark. “Is it the doctor, sir?” she asked. It was the doctor’s assistant; and Mrs. Manders tramped up to the next landing as the door of the sick-room took him in.

For five minutes the stairs were darker than ever. Then the assistant, a very young man, came out again, followed by the old woman with a candle. Mrs. Manders listened in the upper dark. “He’s sinking fast,” said the assistant. “He must have a stimulant. Doctor Mansell ordered port wine. Where is it?” Mrs. Curtis mumbled dolorously. “I tell you he must have it,” he averred with unprofessional emphasis (his qualification was only a month old). “The man can’t take solid food, and his strength must be kept up somehow. Another day may make all the difference. It is because you can’t afford it?”

“It’s a expense–sich a expense, doctor,” the old woman pleaded. “An’ wot with ‘arf-pints o’ milk an’–” She grew inarticulate, and mumbled dismally.

“But he must have it, Mrs. Curtis, if it’s your last shilling; it’s the only way. If you mean you absolutely haven’t the money–” And he paused a little awkwardly. He was not a wealthy young man–wealthy young men do not devil for East End doctors—but he was conscious of a certain haul of sixpences at nap the night before; and, being inexperienced, he did not foresee the career of persecution whereon he was entering at his own expense and of his own motion. He produced five shillings: “If you absolutely haven’t the money, why–take this and get a bottle–good. Not at a public-house. But mind, at once. He should have had it before.”

It would have interested him, as a matter of coincidence, to know that his principal had been guilty of the self-same indiscretion–even the amount was identical—on that landing the day before. But, as Mrs. Curtis said nothing of this, he floundered down the stair and out into the wetter mud, pondering whether or not the beloved son of a Congregational minister might take full credit for a deed of charity on the proceeds of sixpenny nap. But Mrs. Curtis puffed her wrinkles, and shook her head sagaciously as she carried in her candle. From the room came a clink as of money falling into a teapot. And Mrs. Manders went about her business.

The door was shut, and the stair a pit of blackness. Twice a lodger passed down, and up and down, and still it did not open. Men and women walked on the lower flights, and out at the door, and in again. From the street a shout or a snatch of laughter floated up the pit. On the pavement footsteps rang crisper and fewer, and from the bottom passage there were sounds of stagger and sprawl. A demented old clock buzzed divers hours at random, and was rebuked every twenty minutes by the regular tread of a policeman on his beat. Finally, somebody shut the street-door with a great bang, and the street was muffled. A key turned inside the door on the landing, but that was all. A feeble light shone for hours along the crack below, and then went out. The crazy old clock went buzzing on, but nothing left that room all night. Nothing that opened the door….

When next the key turned, it was to Mrs. Manders’s knock, in the full morning; and soon the two women came out on the landing together, Mrs. Curtis with a shapeless clump of bonnet. “Ah, ‘e’s a lovely corpse,” said Mrs. Manders. “Like wax. So was my ‘usband.”

“I must be stirrin’,” croaked the old woman, “an’ go about the insurance and the measurin’ an’ that. There’s lot to do.”

“Ah, there is. ‘Oo are you goin’ to ‘ave–Wilkins? I ‘ad Wilkins. Better than Kedge, I think; Kedge’s mutes dresses rusty, an’ their trousis is frayed. If you was thinkin’ of ‘avin’ mutes–“

“Yus, yus”—with a palsied nodding–“I’m a-goin’ to ‘ave mutes; I can do it respectable, thank Gawd!”

“And the plooms?”

“Ay, yus, and the plooms too. They ain’t sich a great expense, after all.”

Tales of Mean Streets, Arthur Morrison, 1921: pp. 154-162

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.

Second Hand Hearses: 1909

1905 hearse, Minnesota Historical Society

SECOND HAND HEARSES

Where They Come From and the Various Buyers Found for Them.

The hearse is a long lived vehicle. Even though put to constant daily use on paved city streets a hearse will last fifty years. It is built of good materials to begin with, and is always carefully driven and handled.

In the course of time, what with constant exposure to all sorts of weather and with repeated washings, the springs will rust and the wood decay, and there comes at last a time when the hearse is practically worn out. That doesn’t mean that the days of the old hearses are over; very rarely is it so worn out that it must be broken up. The old hearse is sold to a hearse builder or to a carriage and hearse builder, who may take it, making some allowance for it, in part payment for a new hearse; and then this purchaser may sell it again just as it is to somebody who can still get some use out of it, though commonly he repairs and refits it first, or perhaps almost entirely rebuilds it and then puts it on sale.

So just as there are second hand pianos, second hand steam boilers, second hand almost everything on earth, there are also second hand hearses.

An undertaker may go out of business and his stock be sold at auction. At such a sale only undertakers or dealers in hearses would be likely to bid, and here hearses in good or fairly good shape might be bought at a low price. If bought by a builder and dealer in hearses they would be repaired and put in order and sold as second hand.

Styles change in hearses just as they do in all things else and the city undertaker may want a new hearse of the latest design and most modern equipment, in which case he would turn in his old hearse though it may still be a perfectly good vehicle and buy a new hearse.

While it is common the city undertaker how wants the most modern thing in hearses it might be that the undertaker in some smaller, but thriving place might come to have the same desire. In such a town there might set up in business a new undertaker, with a complete modern equipment, including a modern hearse. To compete with the newcomer the old undertaker might buy a new hearse and give the old in part payment.

So the hearses sold as second hand come from various sources and some of them may be still very good hearses, though perhaps old fashioned. The builder or dealer who had bought such a hearse might take off its roof and put on a new covering, thus completely changing its appearance, modernizing it, and upon any of those hearses he would expend in repairs, refitting and reconstruction whatever amount its condition might warrant. Some second hand hearses are sold very cheap, but a thoroughly good second hand hearse brought into first class condition might bring half as much as a new hearse of the same class.

Second hand hearses are sold, mostly in the country, to undertakers in smaller communities whose use they serve well and once such hearses were sold from here over a wide part of the country. Years ago there was sold in New York a second hand hearse to go to the Indian reservation in Oklahoma Territory. In these days there are in the West big manufacturing establishments turning out hearses as well as other vehicles, and those establishments now supply hearses both new and second hand, in the various regions within their respective natural shipping distances, so that the business in second hand hearses from here is now confined largely to a region within a few hundred miles of the city.

There are sold numbers of second hand hearses for export. New hearses of American construction go to various foreign lands and so do second hand hearses. For export the second hand hearses are not only repaired and put in order, but they are refitted and in every way equipped to meet the requirements of the funeral customs of the countries to which they are sent. Such second hand as well as new hearses of American manufacture are sold in Central America, the West Indies, South America and South Africa.

A new hearse of very elaborate construction and with expensive fittings might cost $5,000. The great majority of the hearses seen in this city cost new from $1,200 to $3,000 each.

It is estimated that there are in use in New York city about six hundred hearses whose total value would probably approximate a million dollars.

The Sun [New York NY] 2 May 1909: p. 34

Advertisement in The St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 29 June 1883: p. 6

BUY SECOND HAND HEARSES

There is one kind of vehicle that appreciates in value more than an automobile and that is a second hand hearse. Kent & Smith’s stable which is selling surplus goods sold a hearse yesterday to Eben C. Getchell for $15, which cost new between $300 and $400, and sold another of a later model to W. Perkins for $50 that when new cost $1500.  The $15 hearse is of ancient vintage having been owned by Messrs. Putney & Welch when in the livery business. Horse drawn hearses are now out of style except in the winter time when it is impossible to make the trips to the cemeteries by automobiles, the motor hearse now taking the place of the ordinary wheeled variety. Friends of Eben gazed on him in astonishment yesterday as he drove the hearse behind his steed which was traveling at funeral pace in keeping with what looked like a sad occasion. His dog appeared to be the other mourner. Eben is a dealer in odds and ends and the addition of second hand hearses increases his line.

Montpelier [VT] Evening Argus 24 April 1923: p. 7

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.

Mrs Bungay and Undertaker Toombs: 1882

hearses in front of undertaker building

Bungay’s Experiment

By Max Adeler.

Bungay, the real-estate agent over at Pencader, suspected that Mrs. Bungay didn’t care as much for him as she ought to. So one day he went up to the city after leaving word that he would be gone two or three days. While there he arranged with a friend to send a telegram to his wife, at a certain hour, announcing that he had been run over on the railroad and killed. Then Bungay came home, and, slipping into the house unperceived, he secreted himself in the closet in the sitting-room, to await the arrival of the telegram and to see how Mrs. Bungay took it. After a while it came, and he saw the servant-girl give it to his wife. She opened it, and as she read it she gave one little start. Then Bungay saw a smile gradually overspread her features. She ran for the girl, and when the servant came Mrs. Bungay said to her:

“Mary, Mr. Bungay’s been killed. I’ve just got the news. I reckon I’ll have to put on black for him, though I hate to give up my new bonnet for mourning. You just go round to the milliner’s and ask her to fetch me up some of the latest styles of widow’s bonnets, and tie a bunch of crape on the door, and then bring the undertaker here.”

While Mrs. Bungay was waiting she smiled continually, and once or twice she danced around the room, and stood in front of the looking-glass, and Bungay heard her murmur to herself:

“I ain’t such a bad-looking woman, either. wonder what James will think of me?”

“James!” thought Bungay, as his widow took her seat and sang softly, as if she felt particularly happy. “Who’n the thunder’s James? She certainly can’t mean that infamous old undertaker, Toombs? His name’s James, and he’s a widower; but its preposterous to suppose that she cares for him, or is going to prowl after any man for a husband as quick as this.”

While he brooded, in horror, over the thought, Mr. Toombs arrived. The widow said:

“Mr. Toombs, Bungay is dead; run over by a locomotive and chopped all up.”

“Very sorry to hear it, madam; I sympathize with you in your affliction.”

“Thank you; it is pretty sad. But I don’t worry much. Bungay was a poor sort of a man to get along with, and now that he’s gone I’m going to stand it without crying my eyes out. We’ll have to bury him, I s’pose, though?”

“That is the usual thing to do in such cases.”

“Well, I want you to ’tend to it for me. I reckon l the Coroner ’ill have to sit on him first. But when they get through, if you’ll just collect the pieces and shake him into some kind of a bag and pack him into a coffin, I’ll be obliged.”

“Certainly, Mrs. Bungay.  Funeral to occur?”

“Oh, ’most any day. P’rhaps the sooner the better, so’s we can have it over. It’ll save expense, too, by taking less ice. I don’t want to spend much money on it, Mr. Toombs. Rig him up some kind of a cheap coffin, and mark his name on it with a brush, and hurry him with as little fuss as possible. I’ll come along with a couple of friends; and we’ll walk. No carriages. Times are too hard.”

“I will attend to it.”

“And, Mr. Toombs, there is another matter. Mr. Bungay’s life was insured for about twenty thousand dollars, and I want to get it as soon as possible, and when I get it I shall think of marrying again.”

“Indeed, madam!”

“Yes; and can you think of anybody who’ll suit me?”

“I dunno. I might. Twenty thousand you say he left?”

“Twenty thousand; yes. Now, Mr. Toombs, you’ll think me bold, but I only tell the honest truth when I say that I prefer a widower, and a man who is about middle-age, and in some business connected with cemeteries.”

“How would an undertaker suit you?”

“I think very well, if I could find one, I often told Bungay that I wished he was an undertaker.”

“Well, Mrs. Bungay, it’s a little kinder sudden; I haven’t thought much about it; and old Bungay’s hardly got fairly settled in the world of the hereafter; but business is business, and if you must have an undertaker to love you and look after that life insurance money, it appears to me that I am just about that kind of a man. Will you take me?”

“Oh, James! fold me to your bosom!”

James was just about to fold her, when Bungay, white with rage, burst from the closet, and exclaimed:

“Unhand her, villain! Touch that woman and you die! Leave this house at once, or I’ll brain you with the poker! And as for you. Mrs. Bungay, you can pack up your duds and quit. I’ve done with you; I know now that you are a cold-hearted, faithless, abominable wretch! Go, and go at once! I did this to try you, and my eyes are opened.”

“I know you did, and I concluded to pay you in your own coin.”

“That’s too awful thin. It won’t hold water.”

“It’s true anyhow. You told Mr. Magill you were going to do it, and he told me.”

“He did, hey? I’ll bust the head off of him.”

“When you are really dead I will be a good deal more sorry, provided you don’t make such a fool of yourself while you’re alive.”

“You will? You will really be sorry?”

“Of course?”

“And you won’t marry Toombs? Where is that man Toombs? By George, I’ll go for him now! He was mighty hungry for that life insurance money! I’ll step around and kick him at once while I’m mad. We’ll talk this matter over when I come back.”

Then Bungay left to call upon Toombs, and when he returned he dropped the subject. He has drawn up his will so that his wife is cut off with a shilling if she employs Toombs as the undertaker.

The Elocutionist’s Journal. A Repository of the Choicest Standard nad Current Pieces for Readings and Declamations.June 1882: p. 14

 

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.

The Undertaker’s Christmas Card: 1900

undertaker drops in on invalid to wish merry christmas

The Undertaker’s Christmas Card.

BY HENRY A. CHITTENDEN.

(The leading furniture and cabinet shop in Yuma, on secular days, decorates the sidewalk with lofty piles of coffin cases. These are taken inside on Christmas day).

 

Ho, all ye folks whose lungs are broke.

Come, step into my shop;

It offers play in finer lay

Than the hotel Christmas hop.

 

At caskets fine, redwood and pine,

Fresh from the Northern coast;

Dead sure to pall you, one and all,

When you give up the ghost.

 

Just step inside, this Christmas-tide,

The way you’re bound to tread,

For here we show how we bestow

You, when you’re good and dead.

 

With Christmas gone, who passes on

May con our cherry wares

Upon the curb, while none disturb

Who pauses, gasps and stares.

 

For here the whole town likes to loll

In gay familiarity,

To cough and spit, and chat a bit,

About the times’ prosperity.

 

As, all the while, around this pile,

We radiate our jollity,

The emblem rife of death in life,

And burial of quality.

 

God rest you, then, ye lungless men,

This sultry Christmas-tide,

And bake you here, in atmosphere,

Until you’re glad you died.

Blue Pencil Magazine,  By H. A. Kemble, William E. S. Fales, 1900 p. 28

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 False Funeral: 1860

THE FALSE FUNERAL.

I never liked my uncle’s business, though he took me when my father died, and brought me up as his own son. The good man had no children. His wife was long dead; and he had an honest old woman for a housekeeper, and a flourishing business in the undertaking line, to leave to some body; but he did not leave it to me, and I’ll tell you the reason.

When I had been about five years with him, and had grown worth my salt, as he used to say, a death occurred in our neighborhood, which caused greater lamentation than any we had heard of since my apprenticeship began. The deceased gentleman was a Mr. Elsworthy. The family had been counted gentry in their day. I should have said my uncle lived in York, and all the world knows what Yorkshire families are. Well, the Elsworthys were of good family, and very proud of it, tho’ they had lost every acre of an old estate which had belonged to them time out of mind. I am not sure whether it was their grandfather’s dice and cock-fighting. or their father’s going surety for a friend, who did something wrong in a government office that brought them to this poor pass; but there was no house in all York where candles went further, and tea leaves were better used up. There was a mother, two sisters, and a cousin who lived with them. The mother was a stately old lady, never seen out of the black brocade. The sisters were not over young or handsome, but they dressed as fine as they could. The cousin was counted one of the prettiest women in Yorkshire, but she walked with a crutch, having met with an accident in her childhood. Master Charles was the only son, and the youngest of the family; he was a tall, handsome, dashing young man, uncommonly polite, and a great favorite with the ladies. It was said there was some red eyes in the town when the story got wind that he was going to be married to the Honorable Miss Westbay. Her father was younger brother to the Earl of Harrowgate, and had seven girls beside her, without a penny for one of them; but Miss Westbay was a beauty, and the wonder was that she had not got married long ago, being nearly seven years out, dancing, singing, and playing tip-top pieces at all the parties. Half-a-dozen matches had been talked of for her, but somehow they broke down one after another. Her father was rather impatient to see her off; so were her sisters, poor things, and no wonder, for grow up as they might, not one of them would the old man suffer to come out till the eldest was disposed of, and at last there seemed something like a certainty of that business. Young Mr. Elsworthy and she struck up a courtship. He was fascinated–isn’t that the word?–at an assize ball, paid marked attentions at the bishop’s party, and was believed to have popped the question at a picnic, after Lord Harrowgate, the largest share holder in the North Eastern Bank, got him promoted from a clerkship to be manager. It’s true he was some years younger than Miss Westbay, and people said there had been some thing between him and his pretty cousin; but a Lord’s niece with beauty, accomplishments, and a serviceable connection does not come in every young man’s way; so the wedding-day was fixed for the first of January; and all the milliners were busy with the bride’s bonnets and dresses.

It was just a month to come, and everybody was talking of the match, when Mr. Elsworthy fell sick. At first they said it was a cold; then it turned to a brain fever; at last the doctor gave no hopes of his recovery, and within the same week Mr. Elsworthy died. The whole neighborhood was cast into mourning. A promising young man, in a manner the only dependence of his family, newly promoted to a station of trust and influence, and on the eve of marriage, everybody lamented his untimely death, and sympathized with his bereaved relations, and his intended bride. I think my uncle lamented most of all. None of his customers, to my knowledge, ever got so much of his sorrow. When he was sent for in the way of business, it struck me that he stayed particularly long. The good man could talk of nothing but the grief of the afflicted family–how the mother went into fits and the sisters tore their hair– how the cousin talked of wearing mourning all her days–and how it was feared that Miss Westbay, who insisted on seeing him, would never recover her senses. The country papers gave expressions to the public grief. There was a great many verses written about it. Nobody passed the house of mourning without a sigh, or a suitable remark. My uncle superintended the making of the coffin, as I had never seen him do to any other; and when the workmen were gone home, he spent hours at night finishing it by himself.

The funeral was to set out for the family vault in the Minster church, at Beverly, about three o’clock in the afternoon. It was made a strictly private affair, though hundreds of the towns men would have testified their respect for the dead by accompanying it all the way. The members of the family, in two mourning coaches, and the undertaker’s men, were alone allowed to follow poor Elsworthy to his last resting place, and the coffin was not to be brought till the latest hour. My uncle had got it finished to his mind, but evidently did not wish me to look at his work. He had a long talk with Steele and Stoneman, two of his most confidential assistants in the workshop, after hours, and they went away looking remarkably close. All was in train, and the funeral to take place the next day, when, coming down his own stairs they were rather steep and narrow, for we lived in one of the old houses of York my uncle slipped, fell, and broke his leg. 1 thought he would have gone mad when the doctor told him he must not attempt to move, or mind any business for weeks to come, and I tried to pacify him by offering to conduct the funeral with the help of Steele and Stoneman. Nothing would please the old man; I never saw him so far out of temper before. He swore at his bad luck, threw the pillows at his housekeeper, ordered me to bring him up the key of the workshop, and kept it fast clutched in his hand. I sat up with him that night. In a couple of hours he grew calm and sensible, but could not sleep, though the house was all quiet, and the housekeeper snoring in the corner. Then he began to groan, as if there was something worse than a broken leg on his mind, and

“Tom,” said he, ” haven’t I always been kind to you?”

“No doubt of it, uncle,” said I.

“Well, Tom, I want you to do me a great service–a particular service, Tom, and I’ll never forget it to you. You know Mr. Elsworthy’s funeral comes off to-morrow at three, and they are very high people.”

“Never fear, uncle; I’ll take care of it as well as if you were there yourself.”

“I knew you would, Tom,–I knew you would. I could trust you with the hearsing of an earl’s coffin ; and for managing mutes, I don’t know your equal. But there’s something more to be done. Come over besides me, Tom; that old woman don’t hear well at the best, and she’s sleeping now and no mistake. Will you promise me”–and his voice sunk to a whisper–“that, whatever you hear or see, you’ll make no remark to any living, and be as cautious as you can about the body? There’s foul play,” said he, for I began to look frightened; “but maybe this leg’s a judgment for taking on such a business. Howsomever, I’m to have three hundreds pounds for it; and you’ll get the half, Tom, the full half, if you’ll conduct it properly, and give me your solemn promise. I know you’ll never break.”

“Uncle,” said I, “I’ll promise, and keep it too; but you must tell me what it is.” “Well, Tom,” and he drew a long breath “its a living man you’re going to put in that coffin in the workshop! I’ve made it high and full of air holes; he’ll lie quite comfortable. Nobody knows about it but Steele and Stoneman and yourself; they’ll go with you. Mind you trust no one else. Don’t look so stupid, man; can’t you understand? Mr. Elsworthy didn’t die at all, and never had brain fever; but he wants to get off with marrying Miss Westbay, or something of that sort. They’re taking a queer way about it, I must say; but these genteel people have ways of their own. It was the cousin that prepared my mind for it in the back parlor; that woman’s up to anything. I stood out against having a hand in it till I heard that the sexton of Beverly Church was a poor relation of theirs. The key of the coffin is to be given to him; it will be locked, and not screwed down, you see; and when all’s over at the vault–it will be dark night by that time, for we don’t move till three, and these December days are short–he’ll come and help Mr. Elsworthy out, and smuggle him off to Hull with his son the carrier. There’s ships enough there to take him anywhere under a feigned name.”

“Could he get off from the marriage no easier?” said I, for the thought of taking a living man in a hearse, and having the service read over him, made my blood run cold. You see I was young then.

“There’s something more than the marriage in it, though they didn’t tell me. Odd things will happen in my business, and this is one of the queerest. But you’ll manage it, Tom, and get my blessing, besides your half of the three hundred pounds; and don’t be afraid of anything coming wrong with him, for I never saw any man look so much like a corpse.”

I promised my uncle to do the business and keep the secret. A hundred and fifty pounds was no joke to a young man beginning the world in an undertaking line; and the old man was so pleased with what be called my senses and understanding, that before falling asleep, close upon daybreak, he talked of taking me into partnership , and the jobs we might expect from the Harrowgate family; for the dowager-countess was near fourscore, and two of the young ladies were threatened with decline. Next day early in the afternoon, Steele, Stoneman, and I were at work, The family seemed duly mournful; I suppose on account of the servants. Mr. Elsworthy looked wonderfully well in his shroud; and if one had not looked closely into the coffin, they never would have seen the air-holes. Well, we set out, mourning-coaches, hearse and all, through a yellow fog of a December day. There was nothing but sad faces to be seen at all the windows as we passed; I heard them admiring Steele and Stoneman for the feeling hearts they showed; but when we got on the Beverly road, the cousin gave us a sigh, and away we went a rattling pace; a funeral never got over the ground at such a rate before. Yet it was getting dark when we reached the old Minister, and the curate grumbled at having to do duty so late. He got through the service nearly as quick as we got over the miles. The coffin was lowered into the family vault; it was more than half filled with Mr. Elsworthy ‘s forefathers, but there was a good wide grate in the wall, and no want of air. It was all right. The clerk and the clergyman started off to their homes; mourning-coaches went to the Crown Inn, the ladies were to wait till the sexton came let them know he was safe out—the cousin would not go home without that news–and I slipped him the key at the church-door, as he discoursed to us all about the mysterious dispensations of Providence.

My heart was light going home, so were Steele and Stoneman’s. None of us liked the job, but we were all to be paid for it; and I must say the old man came down handsomely with the needful, not to speak of Burton ale; and I was to be made his partner without delay. We got the money, and had the jollification; but it wasn’t right over, and I was just getting bed, when there was a ring at our door bell, and the housekeeper came to say that Dr. Parks wanted to see me or my uncle. What could want and how had he come back so soon? Parks was the Elsworthy’s family doctor, and the stranger at the funeral; he went in the second mourning coach, and I left him talking to sexton. My clothes were thrown on, and I down stairs in a minute, looking as sober as could; but the doctor’s look would have sobered any man. “Thomas,” said he, “this has turned out a bad business; and I cannot account it; but Mr. Elsworthy has died in earnest. When the sexton and I opened the coffin, we found him cold and stiff. I think he died from fright for such a face of terror I never saw. It wasn’t your uncle’s fault; there was no doubt he had air enough; but it can’t be helped; the less said about it, the better for all parties. I am going to Dr. Adams to take him down with me to Beverly. The sexton keeps poor Elsworthy, to see if anything can be done; and Adams is the only man we could trust; but I know its of no use.”

The doctor’s apprehensions were well founded–Mr. Elsworthy could not be recovered; and after trying everything to no purpose they laid him down again in the coffin with air holes. The ladies came back, and we kept the secret; but in less than six months after, a rumor went abroad of heavy forgeries on the North Eastern Bank. On investigation they proved to be over fifty thousand, and nobody was implicated but the deceased manager. His family knew nothing about it; being all ladies, they were entirely ignorant about banking affairs; but they left York next season, took a handsome house at Scarborough, and were known to get money regularly from London. They never employed any doctor but Parks; and his medical management did not appear to prosper, for they never were well and always nervous; not one of them would sleep alone or without a light in the room; and an attendant from a private asylum had to be got for the cousin. I don’t think the matter ever left my uncle’s mind; he never would undertake an odd job after it; and all the partnerships in England would not have made me continue the business, and run the risks of another false funeral.

Altoona [PA] Tribune 30 August 1860: 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.

Winning a Widow: 1892

woman in deep mourning holding a purse 1895
Woman in mourning with purse, c. 1895 http://collections.eastman.org/objects/508472/woman-in-deep-mourning-holding-purse?ctx=d44de10e-d6d8-455e-9ecb-56dc744f3663&idx=16

WINNING A WIDOW

EVERYBODY WAS AT THE WEDDING EXCEPT MISS BECKETT

A Story of a Village Courtship from Indiana—The Wedding Excited a Deal of Interest Because the Groom Was an Undertaker, Who Had Buried Many.

Undertaker Samuel Pavey and Mrs. Sarah Milliken, who has been known in Aristotle, Ind., for twenty-five years as Achilles or Kill Milliken’s widow, were married recently in the presence of everybody in this village except old Miss Beckett. Miss Beckett would have been present if she had not left her sickbed last week to call on Mrs. Milliken and inquire into the particulars of the engagement. After this imprudence she had a relapse and has been unable to leave her bed. She was propped up at the window all the afternoon, however, and saw everybody that went in or out of church.

Undertaker Pavey has buried all of the dead here for the past sixty years. He is now a tall, thin man. with close cropped white hair and smooth shaven face, and always dresses in black, as becomes an undertaker. Only the oldest citizens can remember when he looked any different from the way he looks now. His wife died forty years ago, and he has kept shy of all maidens and widows ever since. Years ago he was abandoned by the most persistent match makers as a hopeless case.

The widow of Kill Milliken is an estimable lady, a great maker of cakes for the church festivals and clever at crocheting worsted tidies, with a large number of which the chairs and the sofa in her front parlor are adorned. As there has been a good deal of curiosity about her engagement and marriage, she has consented to a public statement. She is a short, fat woman, with hair of a peculiar shade of yellow, which she got by using the hair dye which was advertised extensively in connection with her picture and letter of recommendation. She says that Mr. Pavey had never shown any signs of preference for her whatever, nor had she thought of him as the successor of Kill until ten days before the marriage.

About that time he knocked at her front door at half past 11 in the morning. It was a Wednesday and the Widow Milliken was deep in the dough, as that is baking day through this whole town. She looked out through the blinds of the window next the front door and saw who it was. As she had known Mr. Pavey so many years she just wiped the flour off her hands upon her apron and opened the door.

Mr. Pavey went into the parlor and sat down in the cane-seat rocker with the green worsted tidy with blue ribbons through it. He set his tall hat carefully on the floor beside him and then said: “Good morning, Sarah Milliken.”

“Good morning, Mr. Pavey,” said Mrs. Milliken. She said that she accented the Mr. so that Mr. Pavey might understand that she had noticed his not calling her Mrs. Milliken, as he was accustomed to do. Mrs. Milliken also says that she had a sort of premonition that something was coming.

“It can’t be that the Gompers girl is dead?” she said anxiously.

“No,” said Mr. Pavey. “But life is uncertain, Sarah Milliken.”

“No one should know that better than you, Samuel Pavey,” said the widow with one of her sly laughs.

But Mr. Pavey did not laugh as he went on: “Sarah, you are getting along in years. You will soon be in need of my services.”

“I haven’t even sent for the doctor yet, and I won’t need you till he’s done with me,” said the widow, bridling and pouting.

“Do you remember the first Mrs. Pavey?” said the undertaker, paying no attention to her and pursuing his own gloomy reflections.

“I was a little girl when she died,” said Mrs. Milliken.

“Yes,” said Mr. Pavey, “you had just married the late Mr. Milliken five years before. You remember that she had the best funeral this town ever saw, not excepting old Captain Lander’s funeral, which cost five dollars, as I should know, if anybody. As I said, Sarah, you are getting old. If you marry me I will do as well by the second Mrs. Pavey as I did by the first.”

“You always would have your joke, Sam,” said the widow. “What will everybody say?”

“We are both getting old,” said Mr. Pavey, still paying no attention to what the widow was saying. “Life is uncertain. There is no time to lose.”

So Mrs. Milliken said, “All right, Samuel; whenever you say.

“Ten days is long enough. I’ll see the pastor this afternoon.”

Then they shook hands, and Mr. Pavey put on his hat and went away, looking quite gay and chipper as soon as the door closed on him, for he did not know that Mrs. Milliken was watching him through the blinds. Two minutes afterward she had called Mrs. Meek, her next door neighbor, to the back fence and had told her all about it. Ten minutes afterward by the clock on the court house Mrs. Meek, having left her bakery in charge of her daughter Lizzie, had on her bonnet and shawl and was bearing down the street, telling everybody she met. Cor. New York Sun

The Durham [NC] Daily Globe 30 June 1892: p. 3

 

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.

A Daisy of a Hearse: 1885

john marston hearse nad cab builders 1887
1887 advertisement for a hearse builder. https://greatgardensofthedead.wordpress.com/2013/08/02/victorian-funeral-procession-a-medieval-tradition/

Had a “Daisy.”

“Come out through the back way and see my daisy!” he chuckled as he rubbed his hands together.

“What! gone into the funeral flowers business on your own account? Yet, after all, why not? An undertaker might as well furnish the flowers as the coffin.”

“Come on. There–how does that strike you?”

“That’s a hearse–a new one.”

“But it’s the daisy I was speaking of. Isn’t she spic-span and shiny?”

“Very nice.”

“I should smile. It lays over anything of the sort in this town, and don’t you forget it! Get in and lie down and let me bob the springs to show how easy it rides.”

“No. thank you.”

“You go on! There’s points about a hearse the public ought to know. Get up on the driver’s seat.”

“Excuse me, but I prefer a family carriage.”

“Oh, pshaw! But you are too thin-skinned. Just notice these springs. I tell you it will be a positive pleasure to ride above ’em. The dish of those wheels is absolutely perfect, and such a finish!”

“Yes, very nice hearse.”

“You bet! Say, it will be a proud hour in my life when I hitch a span of white horses to that vehicle and prance around to the house of the late deceased. Lands! But won’t the other undertakers look blue! Say, feel of these curtains–pure silk.”

“I’ll take your word for it.”

“Go on, now! Hang it, but when an undertaker puts up his cash for a regular daisy like this you newspaper fellows ought to encourage him. Just remember that the old-fashioned way of carrying a body around in a lumber wagon and then gaze on this! Just notice how these rear doors open to admit the coffin.”

“Very handy.”

“Handy? Why, man, it’s superb! Have you noticed the glass in the sides?”

“Seems to be very good.”

“Good! Why, it’s the finest in the world–the very finest! I wanted something to show off the coffin, and here it is. I tell you, the late deceased ought to feel proud to ride in such a vehicle! You can say in your paper that it knocks ’em all out. Say, how are you on styles?”

“What styles?”

“Coffins and shrouds, of course. Come in a minute. I’ve got a new thing in shrouds—something you are bound to appreciate, and I’m after a patent on a coffin with an air-receiver in it. Say! do me a favor. Let me enclose you in my new coffin and see how long the supply of air will last you. I’ll bet a dol–”

But the reporter had gone.

Bristol [VT] Herald 9 July 1885: p. 4

April Fool’s Day Horrors: 1870-1912

April Fool Post Card
Source: https://shop.creepyhollows.com/Greeting-Cards/?switch_view=common

If we were to examine the standard-issue prank repertory of the vintage April Fool’s day, it would include old chestnuts like the hat-covering-a-brick trick or the wallet-on-a-string. Epicures would be tempted by chocolate covered soaps, cotton-stuffed doughnuts, or peppered candy. “KICK/KISS ME” signs would be attached to coat-tails.  Possibly exploding cigars would be offered to unsuspecting acquaintances. Unpleasant, but mostly benign stuff.

But since I am known for being a Little Ray of Sunshine, we will bypass these harmless japes in favor of more ghoulish fooleries, the ones involving fake corpses, staged murders and suicides. All in good fun, of course.

April Fool’s Day must have been hell for trainsmen and drivers of street-cars.

A ghastly April Fool joke was played on the Wilmington train yesterday as it was coming up to the city. Some party or parties had stuffed an effigy looking very much like the average bummer and laid it across the track. As soon as the object was sighted by the engineer he whistled down brakes, and the train was brought to a stop, but not until it had passed over the prostrate body and sent the mangled head rolling into the ditch at the side. There was a general scrambling out of the train and some excited people for a few moments. When the state of the case was ascertained, it would not have been healthy for the perpetrator of the joke to show himself in that crowd.

Los Angeles [CA] Daily Herald 2 April 1876: p. 3

It must have been an equally fraught holiday for the coroners.

APRIL FOOL

The Coroner, His Assistants, and Newspaper Reporters Neatly Sold.

A ghastly, but unique “April Fool” joke was sprung on the Coroner yesterday. A party of fellows, thinking to have a little fun at his expense, arranged a “dummy” corpse so as to resemble a man, whose exit from life had been caused by railway car wheels. The “dummy” was located at the crossing of the transfer track and Pennsylvania street, a call issued, and in due time the coroner, his assistant, a number of reporters and quite a crowd of other people had assembled at the spot. There laid the “corpse.” A blood-stained handkerchief covered the face, and the misshapen trunk, cut and scarred by the marks of wheels, made a sight that filled the hearts of all present with horror.

Cautiously raising the ‘kerchief to take a preliminary squint at the remains, the Coroner fell back and muttered an imprecation that was far from being gentle or pious. The rag soaked with red ink covered a pile of straw, and the “corpse” was a made up “April Fool” joke that “worked to a charm” at the expense of an august Court, clerk and spectators.

Evansville [IN] Courier and Press 2 April 1890: p. 5

A GHASTLY HOAX

A “Floater” Turns Out to Be a Man of Straw

An idiotic April Fool joke possessing some elements of maliciousness was perpetrated on the Coroner last night by a lot of wharf hoodlums. A telephone message was received at 7:30 o’clock telling the Coroner to send the wagon to the foot of Third street, and conveying the information that a “floater” had been found in the bay at that point. Deputy Coroner Charles Johnston accepted the notice in good faith, and with an assistant drove down to the place where the alleged “floater” was found to be a man of straw.

The dummy was in the water and was fished out with much trouble before Johnston learned that he had been made the victim of a very feeble joke. A crowd of men and boys stood around the spot and guyed the officials and when remonstrated with stoned them. They drove away without having been hurt.

First Deputy Coroner Murphy investigated the matter and learned that the telephone message came in from Pope & Talbot’s lumber yard at Third and Berry streets. The telephone is in the private office of the firm, to which the night watchman has the key, and as this individual could not be found around the place when Murphy tried to hunt him up, it is supposed that he is the witless booby who conceived and perpetrated the hoax.

San Francisco [CA] Chronicle 2 April 1888: p. 3

Straw dummies were a popular April Fool’s Day accessory:

A GHASTLY APRIL FOOL JOKE

Dummy Thrown from Building and Several Women Fainted.

New York, April. 1. Hundreds of pedestrians crowded in narrow Nassau Street, in the financial district, shrank back in terror this afternoon when the form of a man came hurtling down form the twenty-fourth story of the Liberty Tower building. Several stenographers in windows on the opposite side of the street fainted and someone turned in an ambulance call. Police officers rushed to the spot where the figure fell and found it to be a dummy stuffed with hay, with a broomstick for a backbone and a false face to make it realistic. The ambulance surgeon did not appreciate the April Fool’s day comedy and drove away, leaving a street cleaner to gather up the debris.

Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA] 2 April 1912: p. 1

Woe to the unfortunates who had accidents on the wrong day.

PLUNGE TO HIS DEATH
Friends Thought Young Man Was Hanging for Fun.

In view of several hundred persons, who thought he was playing an April fool prank, Luther Williams, aged 22, a painter, dangled for a few minutes at the end of a rope attached to the smokestack of the Georgia Railway and Electric Light company plant at Atlanta and then plunged 150 feet to earth. He was still breathing when picked up, but died ten minutes after arriving at a hospital. In its descent the body of Williams crashed through the roof of the boiler shop.

The Manning [SC] Times 10 April, 1912: p.  6

Some April foolers went entirely too far. This one deserved to be named and shamed, although it appears that the young lady survived.

A Fool April Fool Joke

As the result of an April fool joke, Edith Walrach, of Camden, N.J., who is visiting friends at Binghampton, N.Y., is said to be dying. Miss Walrach is 19 years old and of a very nervous temperament. In the family she is visiting is a young practical joker. He procured a small live mouse which he put in an egg shell, covering the opening with plaster of Paris. This was brought in with the breakfast Sunday, and when Miss Walrach broke the shell and the liberated mouse jumped out she screamed and fainted away. During the day she had three nervous fits, and her physician pronounces her condition critical. The young man is nearly wild with grief, as he and Miss Walrach were shortly to be married.

Jackson [MI] Citizen 6 April 1900: p. 6

April Fool’s prank letters caused as much havoc as vinegar valentines.

AN APRIL FOOL MURDER

A Sumter County Girl’s Joke Causes Death

Americus, April 14. Jack Tyner, a young man 18 years old, was stabbed to death yesterday afternoon by Henry Weaver, a companion about the same age. Your correspondent has obtained the following particulars of the tragedy:

Young Weaver received an April fool letter that made him very mad. It was signed by Tyner. Yesterday Weaver met Tyner and the matter was referred to. Tyner denied writing the letter or knowing anything about it. Weaver did not believe him and assaulted him with the result above stated.

Since the killing a young lady admits that she wrote the letter and signed Tyner’s name to it. The killing occurred in the country a few miles from Ellaville. Weaver fled and at last accounts had not been captured.

Macon [GA] Telegraph 15 April 1889: p. 1

We may seriously doubt that this wife would have described her husband as “delightful” and “a great humorist.”

A Nashville, Kansas, farmer, who is a great humorist, planned a delightful April Fool joke on his wife. He disguised himself as a tramp, appeared before his wife, and scared her into a faint from which death relieved her within an hour. Thus is again illustrated the fact that the breed of fools is perennial; it blooms forever. And the fool who thinks it funny to scare somebody usually is particularly evident. If only the homes for the feeble minded were large enough to contain everybody who should be in them, ow many of us would cease going at large.

Fresno [CA] Morning Republican 5 April 1896: p. 2

Even the dead were not safe from the April Fool’s prankster.

That was a ghastly April fool joke of some Eastern correspondent, who telegraphed to the Associated Press that the tomb of George Peabody had been entered by burglars, and the coffin robbed of silver plate and handles. [on March 31st] The telegraph to-day exposes the canard. What will April Fool do next?

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 2 April 1870: p. 2

 LOST THE CORPSE

Might Have Been an April Fool’s Joke But Undertaker Couldn’t See It.

Boston, April 1. Visions of the dead arisen floated before the eyes of Undertaker Jas. A. Coudey today when a body in his charge disappeared. Mr. Coudey had driven his hearse containing the body of a man, to the old court house, and entered the municipal offices to secure a burial permit. When he came out, body, hearse and horse were gone. A search revealed the vehicle around the corner, with another man on the box. A policeman, whose suspicions had been aroused, was talking to the man and, after he had heard Coudey’s story, he placed the stranger under arrest. The man, Donald Beauslack, explained that another man had asked him to drive the hearse around the corner.

Evening Times [Grand Forks, ND] 1 April 1910: p. 1

In this article there is an obvious subtext of admiration for the joker who so effectively faked a suicide. The coroner must have thrown his hands up in despair.

GHASTLY APRIL FOOL HOAX

A Man Puts Up a Suicide Fake at Chattanooga, Tenn., with Much Success.

Chattanooga, Tenn., April 1, 1892. Some one went to some expense to play a joke to-day, but the success of his efforts must gratify him. Chattanooga evening papers are full to-day of graphic description of the suicide of Thomas W. Johnson, of Brooklyn, and special correspondents have burdened the wires with accounts of the suicide. Two butchers coming into the city at daybreak this morning were startled by finding a handsome overcoat and derby hat lying upon the Tennessee River bridge. Investigation followed by the Coroner, who was awakened by the police. In a pocket of the satin lined coat was found a well written letter of farewell, finishing up with a plaintive lament in rhyme. The letter was addressed to Miss Stella Woolbridge, Brooklyn, N.Y., who was addressed as “My Darling.”

Despite the fact that it was April 1, the Coroner, after careful investigation, determined that the find was genuine, and for hours the river was dragged and river men cautioned to look out for the corpse. In the letter was a lock of golden hair tied with blue ribbon. In a pocketbook were found coins, newspaper clippings, sleeping car receipts and a request that the remains be sent to Brooklyn if recovered. By a curious coincidence the name signed to the letters corresponded with one registered at the Shiff Hotel four days ago.

The joker, frightened at the proportions his joke was assuming, confided to me to-night that the whole thing was a fake. At three o’clock this morning he left coat and hat, with its carefully prepared contents, on the bridge. He took the name of Thomas Johnson at random, and had no idea that a Thomas Johnson, of Brooklyn, had really registered here a few days ago.

New York [NY] Herald 2 April 1892: p. 5

And finally, some April foolers just did not understand why their victims failed to appreciate their carefully arranged pranks.

“REAL HUMOR.”
But Then It Did Not Seem to be Duly Appreciated

“Can I stay here and sleep on a lounge to-night?” asked a sad-faced young man as he walked into the Press club last evening and joined a group of reporters. “I’ve got to, anyway, whether I can or not. I’m a victim of the boomerang April-fool joke. It started in like this: I was just getting my comfortable second nap this morning when a call came on my door and the voice of the landlady notified me that the postman was below with a registered letter for which I must give a receipt in person. Had I been good and awake I would not have been caught by such a transparent joke, but I was just stupid enough to hustle into a portion of my clothes and tramp downstairs, where everybody hailed me with that old chestnut about ‘April fool.’

“I went back to my room, sore in spirit, and kept thinking of a plan to get even all through the day. By afternoon I had the thing all fixed up and proceeded to work out my plan. I went home between five and six and took occasion to mope about for a little while, making all the folks see me and notice my glumness. I was the very embodiment of woe and would only respond in monosyllables. Then I went to my room, took off my coat and vest and put a streak of red ghastly grease paint across my neck resembling a slash with a razor. In addition to this I put a red spot on my shirt front, and then, grasping a razor in my left hand—the blade clotted with imitation blood—and a revolver in my right, I fired two blank cartridges, let a wail out of me, staggered and fell with a thud to the floor. There I lay, with the revolver firmly grasped in my right hand and the razor in my left.

“In a second I heard feminine screams and pattering footsteps on the stairs. Then the landlady and two or three married women and the servants broke into my room, saw my blood-stained corpse stretched out on the floor, and set up an assortment of shrieks, which made the pictures turn face to the wall. Then I heard some moans and a woman flopped to the floor in a faint. More moans and another flopped. The landlady and her sister came to me and bent over me with horrified exclamations, and the first thing I knew the sister let loose a little wail and fell across my stomach. In about a second the landlady herself sunk in a heap with an arm thrown across my neck, whereupon the servant girls turned and fled with shrieks.

“I dragged myself from beneath the forms of my sympathizers and sat up. It was a beautiful sight. Four women dumped down on the floor regardless of appearances, some of them with their noses puncturing the carpet and some tied in knots. I threw a glassful of water in each woman’s face, and lit a cigarette and watched ‘em come to. They opened their eyes about the same time, and pretty soon sat up and looked about ‘em. I watched their faces, and when I saw that they had about got their bearings, I blithely remarked: ‘April fool’ and rubbed the red grease paint off my neck with a towel. Just then the servant girls returned with a policeman and came charging upstairs. I happened to know him and gave him a wink, and told him it was a mistake; that one of the boys had worked a little April-fool joke on the folks, and he went away. But the women turned on me and abused me scandalously, and the landlady ordered me out of the house at once. To escape their wrath I fled, and when I sneaked back after supper found my trunk on the doorstep with a note tacked to it ordering me not to try to enter on pain of being murdered in my bed.

“That’s why I’m here. When will the American people learn to appreciate real humor? That’s what I want to know.”

The Hope [ND] Pioneer 25 March 1892: 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 visit her newest blog The Victorian Book of the Dead.