There are many noises believed to presage death: birds tapping on windows, the death-watch beetle, howling dogs, crashes or knockings–and the sounds of a coffin being made. We’ve previously discussed the sights and sounds of the phantom funeral. Today we look at the sounds of the phantom coffin makers–well-known as a death omen.
Mourning Customs and History
The life of a graveyard guard was a thankless one. He had to walk the grounds of a cemetery in the dark and in all weathers, ever vigilant for the dreaded body snatchers. More than one watchman was murdered by these ghouls or exchanged gunfire among the tombstones. It was no wonder that, in the 1880s, a new occupational disease emerged.
You are walking in the twilight when you see a funeral procession approaching. You see the coffin on the shoulders of the bearers, the mourners following in their black clothes. You stand aside to let them pass. And then they disappear. You have seen a phantom funeral and it is an omen of death.
The graveyards of Victorian London were swollen with bones, stenches, and half-rotted corpses. In 1875, a macabre garden-party was held at the Duke of Sutherland’s London mansion to do something about it.
Pins, knots, silk, shabby flannel–all to be avoided in burying your dead if you wish them not to come back and haunt you….
In search of what the well-dressed corpse is wearing, I ask the question, “Who made dresses for the dead?” I find a series of candid articles about the 19th-century shroud industry.
Some musings on Victorian mourning customs, historic calls for funerary reforms, and a modest proposal for a return to formal mourning.
For several decades between 1870 and 1910, ghostly female figures in mourning clothes and veils caused panic wherever they appeared. This is the story of the 1895 Woman in Black panic of Massillon, Ohio