As a hardened reader of sensationally horrible deaths in the Victorian press, you would think that very little would shock. Yet there is a category of mortuary stories that has given me pause. I refer, of course, to stories involving writs of replevin on corpses. What?
I have previously shared some instances of “coffin threats” in this forum, as well as writing about the lost art of “crape threats” in The Victorian Book of the Dead. Today we look at what was the early-20th-century version of a gangster sending a funeral wreath to a rival.
If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time, you may have read about the grim German waiting mortuaries, the dark side of those popular Fisk cast-iron burial caskets, people who asked to be stabbed to the heart after death to make sure they were really most sincerely dead, and about the Victorian fear—obsession, really—with being buried alive. It was difficult enough for 19th-century physicians to tell when someone was a lifeless corpse, given diseases like cholera that mimicked death and an apparent epidemic of catalepsy. Yet beyond doubtful diagnoses of death, there was another, lesser-known mortuary danger: the undertaker’s ice-box.
The Urban Death Project is a hip, modern, scientific, and green take on corpse disposal, but the notion of group graves where decomposition is left to nature is not new. In the 1830s an American author visits some Italian common graves and describes the gruesome scene.