The Casket in the Parlor: 1896

A queer sort of parlour ornament.

A queer sort of parlour ornament.

CASKET IN THE PARLOR
Georgia Woman Kept Her Husband’s Body for Months.

New Light on the Subject “Is Marriage a Failure” from This Remarkable Tale of One Woman’s Two Marriages.

Mrs. Joseph Bivins, of Cordele, Ga., died a week or so ago. That would not be an extraordinary announcement were it not for the fact that her death concluded a strange exposition of woman’s caprice, as unexplainable as it was unheard of.

When Dr. George W. Marvin died in Cordele, Ga., three years ago, he left a grief-stricken widow. Her lamentations were long and her sorrow was inconsolable. She had married Dr. Marvin in Atlanta about ten years before. He practiced medicine and soon amassed a considerable fortune.

It was in the midst of this prosperity that the doctor died. Mrs. Marvin was almost heartbroken. Her relatives could not console her. The kind words of friends failed to soothe in the slightest her poignant grief. She wept bitterly and continuously.

In the meantime the arrangements for the funeral, which were under way in charge of some solicitous relative, were being made. So entirely helpless with grief was the chief mourner that it was thought both unnecessary and cruel to call her into consultation regarding the last ceremonies. So the minister was summoned, and when the services at the house were to begin Mrs. Marvin was quietly notified.

Her reply was a scream of anguish. She became almost hysterical. When she was able to articulate understandingly she informed the funeral guests that they were entirely out of place; that there was to be no funeral. She would not permit the body of her husband to be laid away in the ground she said, and no conspiracy of unsympathetic, cold-blooded, heartless persons should interfere. She announced that she intended to keep Dr. Marvin’s body in her home—their home—and that I should remain there forever. She wanted to have him always in sight.

Finally, under severe pressure, Mrs. Marvin consented to a ceremony over the body, but refused to authorize the interment. She had the body embalmed, placed in a casket and stood it in an upright position in the parlor. A cut-glass cover, working on hinges, was on the elaborate and handsome coffin, which is said to have cost $10,000, and she exhibited it to a few intimate friends.

For three months the casket remained in the parlor, and during that time Mrs. Marvin was in a state of mind that bordered on hysteria. Every day she brought fresh flowers as an offering to the memory of her departed, and in the presence of at least one visitor she kissed the cold cheeks of her husband and wept in grief-torn sobs. Dr. Marvin looked almost life-like as he stood upright, and he held in one hand a handsome gold cane, valued at $150, while in his shirt front were not less than $30,000 worth of diamonds. None of these were removed, but all were laid to rest with the body at the end of three months.

As Mrs. Marvin’s grief expended itself she listened more calmly to the advice of her friends, and, much to their delight, finally consented to a burial.

The body of Dr. Marvin laid to rest, his widow began to improve, and just ten months later married Mr. Joseph Bivins, of Cordele, Ga.

Jackson [MI] Citizen Patriot 28 November 1896: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Many were the intriguing and lurid tales told about Mrs Marvin and her beloved husband’s corpse. One of the most fanciful was this:

Mrs. Marvin refused to be comforted. She forbade a funeral and telegraphed to New Orleans for an expert embalmer and an expert electrician. The result of their joint efforts was that Dr. Marvin was enabled to remain in his seat in the parlor and by electrical appliance would rise and bow to his widow and then take his seat again. Repository [Canton, OH] 12 October 1896: p. 2

It is true that Dr Marvin died two years before he was actually buried, but there is some debate as to where he spent those two years: in a holding vault or in the parlour. The bride enjoyed only three years of her new marriage, leaving Mr Bivins a tidy fortune, which was little use to him when he died two years after his wife, on their wedding anniversary, in the same private sanitarium where Dr Marvin had passed away. There was, alas, no one left to embalm and electrify him.

 

This story and other macabre tales will be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, available in September 2014.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,”where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

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