Mourning Customs and History

Corpses on Ice: The Dangers of the Undertaker’s Ice-Box

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.

Composting the Dead in Naples

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.

A Grave Warning About Iron Coffins

While sellers of Fisk metallic burial cases rhapsodized about their ability to preserve the features of loved ones, these iron coffins had a darker side associated with burial alive.

The Seven Babies in No. 77

Inspired by articles about the horrific discovery of bags of decomposing human remains at a police building in India, I bring you a grim and grewsome story about a Victorian London undertaker similarly neglectful of his duties.

A Man of Vision: the Glass Coffin Inventor

A visionary inventor tries to sell an investor on glass coffins–the newest wrinkle in mortuary management–which include a filing system and a guarantee of permanent preservation of the corpse.

Encore: Mistresses of the Dark: The Women in Black

The final chapter in my book The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past tells of a little-known 19th-century panic over those mistresses of the dark, The Women in Black. They were the female equivalent of Spring-heeled Jack, without the flames and (sometimes) the leaping, and they terrified communities across the United States from roughly 1865 to 1915.

Christmas in the Graveyard

Much to do to prepare for Christmas so a quick post on mourning and Christmas in old Russia. A STRANGE CHRISTMAS PARTY December and the year had almost unwound themselves. We were among the scantily clothed days at the end of the year. There was now no snow on the ground, or if there were […]

Mr Moon and his Mummified Molly

Around Halloween there was a shuddersome spate of stories about mummies and grave robbing. There were so many mummy dearest that I just had to write about Mr Moon and his wife Molly.

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