Posing the Corpse
Periodically we see articles about families who have their dead loved ones posed in life-like ways, doing the things they enjoyed in life for the wake or viewing. It is a nice change from the hackneyed repose of the supine dead, although it makes me wonder if my family would choose to have me stuffed and placed at the organ, with a vintage tape of one of my recitals playing on the PA system.
The term “extreme embalming” has been coined to describe this trend. As usual, the idea of positioning the dead as if they were alive is nothing new. There was an entire appalling genre of photographs of 19th- and early-20th-century medical students posing with cadavers and we find descriptions in vintage newspapers of mocking and obscene behavior towards corpses in the dissection room. [Another day, another post.] There were also accounts of body snatchers treating corpses as if they were living drunks to allay suspicion and there are several urban legends and jokes about the propped-up dead being “killed” by someone ignorant of the imposture.
Two Irishmen had been left to stay up all night with the corpse of a departed friend, says the Hutchinson News. About midnight they became hungry and thirsty, but could find nothing about the house to alleviate the pangs. Mike suggested to Pat that they step around to a nearby saloon before it closed. They did not want to leave the object of their watch, so after discussing the proprieties they decided it would be best to take the corpse with them. One on each side of the body they marched to the saloon, propped the corpse up to the bar in a natural position and called for the drinks. The barkeeper set out three glasses well filled and the two friends swallowed their portions with expressions of satisfaction Then, forgetting the corpse, they left the saloon and started back. The barkeeper saw the untasted glass before the remaining form, and said: “Come hurry and drink; I have to close.” No answer. Again he urged the silent customer to “drink up,” as the closing hour had arrived. Several times he repeated the call, getting madder each time, and finally he picked up an empty glass and threw it at the obstinately silent form, hitting the head and knocking it to the floor. Just then Mike and Pat, who had remembered their duty, rushed in. The barkeeper called loudly: “I want yez to witness, I did it in self-defense when he drew his knife!”
The Columbus [KS] Daily Advocate 3 April 1913: p. 2
Watches and wakes were noted for the copious amounts of alcohol consumed and subsequent riotous behavior. It is a wonder we don’t find more examples of corpses being dragged out to join the fun.
A CORPSE’S ORGIE
It Is Made to Join a Revel,
And Stands Propped Against a Stove-Pipe,
While the Gang Drinks to Its Health.
Ghastly Wake Held Over “Tubbe” Lutterby’s Body,
During Which the Watchers Get Into a Fight,
But Are Interrupted By the Arrival of Officers.
A Sacrilegious Affair That Has Stirred Up the West Side.
It Is Without a Parallel and Is the Sensation in the West End.
An orgie [sic] with a corpse.
A bacchanalian revel in which the body of a deceased boon companion is made to join while the revelers clink their beer glasses as the stiffened body of their late comrade, rigid and cold in death, stands propped up against a stove-pipe.
Such is the stance of a scandalous and sacrilegious affair, information of which inadvertently leaked out and set the vicinity for squares about Frenchman’s Corner wild with excitement last Saturday evening.
A week from yesterday afternoon Herman Henry Lutterbey breathed his last, after a short season of quick consumption, in the second-story flat at the north-east corner of McLean and Harrison avenues, a place known as Frenchman’s Corner.
The deceased was known familiarly as “Tubbe,” and resided with his wife (?) He was a son of Rudolph Lutterbey, who is
A HEAVY STOCKHOLDER
In the Herancourt Brewing Company and is Superintendent of the concern and also a partner of Christian Muhlhauser in the malt business. Lutterbye, pere, is a wealthy man, and young Herman, probably for that reason, never established a Sunol [famous race horse] record as a devotee of industry. Instead of gaining a living by the sweat of his brow, the lines of his fate were cast in pleasant places, and he had a reputation of being a hail fellow well met, generous to a fault, and he has figured in many a “big time” with the friends he chose, and the chosen four of his intimacy were a lot of fellows who would never set the world on fire even if a sufficient supply of combustibles were at their command. Young Lutterbey’s life need not be further adverted to, for when the disease grasped him it found
A READY VICTIM.
For although a man of fine physique and apparent strength, a long stretch at the shrine of Bacchus had weakened him, and at 5 o’clock of a week from yesterday he died after a short illness.
A multitude of friends mourned the departure of a good fellow from their midst, and the widow (?), prostrated by grief, was sent earl in the evening to the residence of her father-in-law, 115 Harrison avenue, while several of the “Tubbe’s” best friends arranged to pass the night with the remains. Frank Schlerenbeck’s saloon is on the first floor, and the mourners (?) had carte blanche for refreshments. It appears that their sense of sincere grief was equated only by their craving sense of thirst, for they drank freely to drown their sorrow, and ere long their better judgment was drowned in the load of beer and whisky that went upstairs. As the fumes of liquor mounted to their brains and tears stole down their cheeks as they recounted the many virtues of “Tubbe,” and the sundry good times they had had together, it may have seemed that the corpse took on a semblance of life and was among them a living presence again, and
THE SOUNDS OF WEEPING
And wailing gave way to tipsy expressions of mirth and jollity, and a fanciful suggestion to take just one more drink with “Tubbe old boy” was readily acted upon.
Straightway to the coffin went to the watchers, and the corpse was tenderly lifted and stood upon the feet. The stove pipe furnished a convenient resting place, and against it the corpse was placed, while all hands again sought the table and its load of bottles.
About this time “Cookey’s” string band hove around the corner, but a proposition by one of the gang to invite the band upstairs for a dance was speedily vetoed by Mr. Schlerenbeck, and the ceremony proceeded with the disadvantage of no music to enliven the occasion. However, they seemed to have atoned for the lack of instrumental melody by a supplement of vocal harmony which was not attuned to suit the trained ear of Jacob Rasp, for when he remonstrated a crack in his entirely too critical auricular appendage cut the offended organ and sent him to rest on a sofa, while the noise of the carnival filtered out through the blinds and called Patrolman John Wams[illegible] and Merchants’ Policeman Lewis Pin[illegible] to the apartment. If those officers had not had the
USUAL AMOUNT OF NERVE
Of the average member of the finest they might have dropped at the ghastly sight.
The boys didn’t have sufficient time to get “Tubbe” back to his coffin, and silent, stiff, stark, and staring the corpse stood, literally a ghost, while the guests were busy keeping the beer from getting too warm. The party broke up then and there, and order was speedily restored. Next morning news of the affair leaked out and became the talk of the neighborhood. There were special reasons why it should be kept a secret, and with nothing but rumors to base their wagging tongues upon, it was noised about that the boys had threatened to kick the stuffing out of “Tubbe” for talking so much, and even
SET THE REMAINS ON THE STOVE.
And gave it sardines to eat. Such reports were damaging, and were calculated to injure the standing of any body in the moral aspect of a community, and for each assertion there was a denial. It was given out that Victor Grese, a Mr. Spoonagel, who is known as “Spoony,” Philip Hermann, and Jacob Rasp, composed the watch, but the friends of all these men say that such things could not be, and the most vigorous denunciations were given for any body who would start such vile rumors. Grese could not be found last evening. His friends say he was not in the party. Hermann has a good reputation also, and that stands him in good stead at this hour of scandal. Mr. Rasp’s ear is quite sore.
The matter was kept so quiet that the same watch was on again Sunday evening. Monday afternoon, in the same room, Rev. Mr. Schmidt, the German Protestant pastor, officiated at the funeral ceremonies, and the body of poor, erstwhile gay and thoughtless Tubbe was borne to its last resting-place in a grass-grown nook in a cemetery on the New Baltimore pike, and a large body of a friends attended.
The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 26 October 1890: p. 1
Despite the open bar, the phrase “it may have seemed that the corpse took on a semblance of life and was among them a living presence again,” suggests the intimate relationship between the living and the dead of, say, the rituals of Dia de los Muertos or those of the Ma’Nene festival of the Toraja peoples of Indonesia, where the dead are exhumed to be groomed, dressed in new clothing, and walked about the village.
Lutterbey is apparently the correct spelling, to judge by Rudolph Lutterbey’s entry on findagrave.com. The Enquirer must have been pretty sure of its facts to include that potentially libelous (?) with reference to young Lutterbey’s “wife.”
But posing corpses wasn’t all fun and games. Sometimes the corpse was enlisted in the cause of justice.
THE ACCUSING FINGER.
Chicago Police Propped Up a Corpse and Took Prisoner Before It.
Chicago, Nov. 22. Ordeal by murdered corpse, applied yesterday by the police to secure a confession to the murder of Natoli Selefani, whose body was found in Lake Michigan a fortnight ago, failed to secure the desired result.
The body of Selefani, which had been in Mount Carmel cemetery, was exhumed, carried to a vault, and placed in a sitting posture. The right arm and hand were propped up in such a manner that the index finger pointed directly at the face of any person entering the vault. The attitude of the body was made as nearly as possible like that which would be assumed by a person saying “You are the man who killed me.”
Police Inspector Shippy then took to the vault Peter Miro, Frank Bell, Charles Benzio, and Joyce Toppin, a colored porter of a saloon in which Selefani passed considerable time on the day of his death. One by one he caused them to confront the accusing finger of the dead man and watched for a sign of nervous collapse. Benzio and Bell went through the ordeal without exhibiting a sign of emotion. The colored porter was badly frightened, but he did not reveal anything like a clew. Miro refused to enter the vault, and the officers were compelled to drag him before the corpse and compel him to gaze upon it. He did not say anything that would indicate that he was connected with the murder. The Barre [VT] Daily Times 22 November 1904: p.1
It was an ingenious plan, but I cannot find that anyone confessed after being confronted with the corpse, which, incidentally, sounds a more animated version of cruentation.
Should any of you have had just the teeniest bit too much punch at the wake and think that performing a corpse puppet-show would be a good idea, read this cautionary anecdote:
CORPSE PLACED AT THE TABLE
HIDEOUS JOKE PERPETRATED AT A CLEVELAND WAKE.
MOURNERS FLEE AND THE POLICE ARE CALLED.
WOULD-BE JOKERS ARE SENTENCED TO WORKHOUSE.
Cleveland. O., June 25. A body dressed in shroud and ready for burial sitting upright on the dining-room table in a West Twenty-third street house, caused a panic among relatives and friends attending a wake.
Mary Fitzgerald, aged 47, who attended the wake, was arrested by Patrolman Ganss. She was fined $10 and costs and was given 20 days in the workhouse by Police Judge McGannon. Mrs. Fitzgerald is employed at the Bristol hotel.
“We set the corpse on the table for bit of fun.” Mrs. Fitzgerald told Judge McGannon. “Everybody was in the back room when we did it. We called them in, and when they saw it they jumped out of the windows and ran into the yard.”
Mrs. Fitzgerald said that she and another woman had been drinking. A call for police was sent to the station. Several patrolmen went to the house where the wake was being held. They found the people standing in the street and very much frightened.
The Times Herald [Port Huron MI] 25 June 1909: p. 1
Other examples of posing the corpse (outside of the dissection room)? chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com, who may be seated one day at the organ….
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.