Around Halloween there was a shuddersome spate of stories about Carl Tanzler and his unwholesome devotion to his mummified sweetheart Elena Milagro de Hoyos. There were also updates on the Russian madman who dug up corpses of children to mummify them in weird tableaux in his house, and news about the corpses of women being dug up in China to serve as brides. There were so many mummy dearest that naturally I thought of this excerpt from The Victorian Book of the Dead.
To His Suicide Wife
Leads Moon To Practice of Unparalleled Rites
Sorrowing Man Exhumes the Life-Like Body
And Dresses It Anew in Immaculate Linens.
Mammies With Fears of Ghosts Decline to Aid in Paying Strange Fealty To the Beloved Dead.
Special Dispatch to the Enquirer.
Caddo, Ind. Ter., December 11. As strange as fiction, and so bizarre and grewsome as to cause those most familiar with it to shudder when it is mentioned, is the story of W. J. Moon’s remarkable devotion to his dead wife—a devotion which has caused him to ignore all conventions, the sentiment of the community and the pleadings of his friends, and practically to alienate himself from the society of his equals in the community where he ranks as one of the wealthiest and most influential citizens.
Moon’s self-imposed ostracism is the result of his persistent habit of disinterring the body of his dead wife, bathing it and clothing it in fresh linens before consigning it back to the grave for another brief period.
When Mrs. Moon committed suicide two months ago the husband was away from home on a hunting trip. It was impossible to communicate with him at the time. Neighbors and friends of the family therefore prepared the woman’s body for burial and interred it before the absent husband knew of the death.
Frantic With Grief.
When he returned and learned of his loss he was almost frantic. He appealed to some of the best women of Caddo to assist in exhuming the body and preparing it for burial to suit his notions. He stated that he wanted the corpse clothed in a black silk dress which he had given her as a birthday present, and which she had worn but a few times. The sympathetic ladies agreed to humor him, and the body was taken from the grave, where it had lain for four days. They bathed and reclothed it according to the wishes of the grief-stricken man.
The incident caused some discussion, but a few days later, when Moon appealed to certain ladies of the town to assist him in again exhuming and preparing the body for the grave, the community was shocked. Nevertheless Moon succeeded in persuading some respectable women to assist him. The body was once more taken from the grave, bathed, clothed in fresh linen and reinterred.
In a short time this procedure was repeated, and again and again did Moon disturb the grave in which his dead wife reposed to carry out his grewsome ideas of devotion. In the meantime Moon’s friends tried by every argument within their power to dissuade him from his course, but he seemed to be unsusceptible to reason on the subject. He no longer could obtain assistance from white women of Caddo, and was obliged to employ two old colored mammies to take part in the periodic rites. Finally the negresses were frightened from the work by stories of “spooks” and spirits told to them by indignant white people.
Declares He Will Persist.
Moon now attends to the grewsome matter alone and unaided. On every other matter he seems quite rational, but he declares that so long as his wife’s body resists decay—and it is said to be in a remarkable state of preservation, approaching almost to mummification—he will at intervals purify it and clothe it in clean linen.
Moon is rated as one of the wealthiest merchants in this section. He is worth over $100,000. He has built up his fortune himself and is known far and wide as a shrewd business man. Little is known of his relations with his wife, save that just prior to the death of Mrs. Moon they had some domestic troubles which led to the beginning of this story. Moon left home hurriedly. Before he left he and Mrs. Moon had talked over their differences and their future was apparently to be one of happiness. During his absence she drank from an ounce bottle of carbolic acid while in a fit of despondency, and when neighbors called they found the body stiff in death. She had removed her clothing and turned back the covers on the bed, evidently having planned to lie down after taking the fatal dose.
She had written a note in which she stated that she was in her right mind; that she believed that she was justified in the action she was taking and that God would forgive her and that she was willing for Him to be the judge between them. This probably referred to her husband.
Ordered Two Dresses.
While away Moon had ordered for her two magnificent dresses, two diamond rings and many other valuable things, including trunks and traveling impediments, planning to give her a long trip. But she had not waited. The presents were never unpacked, but were sent away, the husband preferring never to see them again.
For a time friends feared that the blow would prove too much for the husband. He seemed unable to keep his mind off his wife. He would sit and talk about her all day.
Recently Moon completed the construction of a massive steel vault, in which the casket containing his wife’s body now reposes. The vault gives promise of endurance for centuries. It is 12 feet wide by 20 feet long and is 12 feet high. The walls are 18 inches thick and composed of brick and concrete. The floor is concrete and the roof is dome-shaped and solid concrete. There are small windows in the north and south walls, steel barred and shuttered. There are double steel doors, the inner one being of steel bars and the outer one solid steel. The vault is built so that air circulates freely. Within the vault are stone piers, upon which the coffin rests. The elaborate receptacle for the body of the woman cost $2,000 and required three weeks to build.
Moon has had the body embalmed three times, and it is said to be gradually hardening.
Evansville [IN] Courier and Press 13 December 1904: p. 1
William Judson Moon owned a large general store and hotel in Caddo. His wife Molly killed herself while he was on one of his frequent buying trips to St. Louis, rather than a hunting trip as mentioned above. He remarried, but the marriage lasted only six weeks. His third marriage lasted until his death in 1923, when he was buried in the vault beside Molly. See this page for more information about the man and his career. The Moon vault is housed in a modest brick building, which is pictured at the head of the post. Something I have noticed about stories of this sort is the journalistic hyperbole about the size and cost of mortuary goods–a kind of grave grandiosity, not always bourne out by the physical record. The Moon mausoleum looks more like a local telephone switchboard center or an outdated lockup than an expensive monument to one man’s obsessive love for his wife. See a previous post, “Oh, Death, Where is Thy Bling?” for a similar example of post-mortem exaggeration.
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.