The Goat Ate the Crape: The Story of a Lawsuit: 1887



What Has Caused Hard Feeling Between the Walshes and the Travises.

[Philadelphia Press.]

John Walsh’s billy-goat is making a great furor in his part of the Twenty-sixth Ward. Mr. Walsh lives at 111 Snyder avenue, and the goat has a home of his own in the back yard. The animal is at home at nights, but he wanders where he will in the day-time. His appetite is omnivorous, and he has even been known to devour a big piece of looking-glass with pleasure. The neighbors say that he gives them more trouble than their own children. He has just brought a series of bad actions to a climax by eating a big string of crape off Mrs. John Travis’ bell-knob at 1105 Snyder avenue. Mrs. Travis, it is understood, is to enter suit against the owner of the billy-goat to obtain damages for the loss of the crape. Lawyers hold that Mr. Walsh is clearly liable in damages for the depredations of the goat, and that besides the value of the crape itself, Mrs. Travis may perhaps recover for the pain to her feelings caused by seeing the goat devour the crape under her own eyes.


The crape was hung out in memory of Mrs. Travis’ son, a bright and good boy of nine years, who died on Friday. Neighbors who were looking at the billy-goat say that the sight of the crape gently swaying in the wind seemed to surprise the creature at first, then to attract him. The goat hopped over hesitatingly; then, apparently satisfied that there was no danger, he began gently to nibble the soft cloth. His appetite grew, as Shakespeare says, with what it fed on, and when he had eaten quite as far as he could reach with comfort he gave the remnant a tug and pulled it down from the bell-knob.

Mrs. Travis, attracted to the door by a gentle jingle of her bell, appeared sad and tearful, expecting to greet a sympathizing friend. It was only natural that after a shock of surprise her feelings should undergo a change as she saw Mr. Walsh’s bill-goat calmly chewing the remnant of the crape on her doorstep.

She endeavored to chase the audacious goat away and save the rest of the crape. But though the goat hopped away gaily enough, he carried the crape with him and swallowed the last shreds just as a little girl shied out of a gateway and gave him a whack on the back with a broom-handle.

Mrs. Travis thinks that the crape was worth at least $5, and her lawyer in entering suit will feel justifiedd in adding several hundred dollars more for the shock to Mrs. Travis’ feelings. The defense of the claim will raise an interesting question. Mr. Walsh holds that the crape, having already fulfilled its purpose as a sign of mourning, has no appreciable value, except perhaps considered as food for the billy-goat. Besides, it will be contended the crape did not belong to Mrs. Travis at all, but was borrowed from a neighbor, and, therefore, Mrs. Travis has no claim on the billy-goat’s owner.


Mr. Walsh was not at home yesterday when the reporter called, but Mrs. Walsh said that she was sorry for what the billy-goat had done. “He is really a good goat,” said she, “and wouldn’t harm any body, although some people have taken a prejudice against him. But, then, it is hard for a goat to please everybody. I am very sorry for what has occurred and I have done all I could to alleviate Mrs. Travis’ distress by attempting to buy her some new crape. I tried half a dozen stores, but could not get the material. Then my husband, who has been out of work for a long time, tried to square things by offering Mrs. Travis fifty cents. What more could we do? Besides, anyhow, Mrs. Schenk, 1103 Snyder avenue, owned the crape, and Mrs. Travis borrowed it from her.”

Mrs. Schenk said that the crape did not belong to her either. She had borrowed it from a friend, whose name she could not recall, and had lent it to Mrs. Travis. Mrs. Travis herself did not have any thing more to say.

The goat which has made so much trouble was bought some two years ago by Mrs. Walsh’s little boy Johnny from Farmer Isaac Brown, who has a tuck farm down on Long Lane. It coast $2. It was a refractory creature from the beginning , and the only way that little Johnny could get it home was by carrying it. Mrs. Walsh does not intend to give up the billy-goat, and if a suit is brought she and her husband will fight it to the bitter end.

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 17 July 1887: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: “Crape on the door knob” unequivocally signified death to the 19th-century audience. Those who saw it moderated their behaviour, knowing that the streamers marked a House of Mourning. There are stories of persons who dreamed of crape on the door, only to suffer a bereavement; and, in the sad case below, it is said that the sight of crape on the family door so shocked a young man that he died.


Shocked Coppinger and He Died a Week After His Father’s Demise

Alton, Ill., December 15. William H. Coppinger, the twenty-one-year-old son of the late Senator John W. Coppinger, died here to-day, one week after his father’s death, from shock, caused by the sudden realization of his parent’s demise.

Young Coppinger was studying for the Catholic priesthood at Niagara University, Buffalo, N.Y. While home on a visit he took a trip to St. Louis, and was summoned to Alton by telegraph. On arriving, and seeing crepe on the door, he fell into a swoon. The shock caused cerebral meningitis, from which he died.

The Coppinger family is one of the most prominent in the Mississippi Valley

The Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 16 December 1900: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil is sceptical; perhaps he was sickening on his journey home and the crape merely furnished the final blow. Mrs Daffodil is not aware of any causative link between crape and cerebral meningitis, although perhaps that is why superstition dictated the removal of all crape from the home after the end of mourning.

Both of these stories are found in The Victorian Book of the Dead, now available for purchase.

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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