A New Mourning Racket: “Cadging”: 1887

weeping widow SF Call 3 Oct 1897 p. 18


“Cadging” as It Has Been Introduced by the Tramp Fraternity

How Recently-Bereaved Chicago Widows Are “Worked” for Old Clo’.

“I have heard with deep regrets of your bereavement, madame, and knowing that you are charitably inclined, I have called to see if you would aid me in procuring employment. I have a wife and three children dependent upon me for a living. I am promised work in ten different stores if I can make myself presentable. You have no further use for them—they will only tend to call up painful recollections. I mean the clothes of Mr. ___.” The lady, in deep mourning, and eyes bedimmed with tears, readily assented, and in a few moments a servant appeared with a good-sized bundle of clothes, the door closed, the petitioner left a house on Washington Boulevard, where death had visited the night before, turned the next corner, met a confederate, delivered the bundle to him, and the latest Eastern racket had worked to a nicety.

Curious to get a more thorough insight into the business, a reporter for The Inter Ocean yesterday morning visited a well-known resort of the apostles of “cadging” on Washington Street, near Franklin. The place is a low, dingy, and filthy groggery, denominated by the genus tramp, whose headquarters it has been for years, the “Sewer.” A dozen or more of the fraternity were collected about the stove, smoking, chewing, expectorating, and narrating fables. Presently.


Was occasioned by the appearance of a comparatively well-dressed man. “Poys,” quoth he, handing three of them a slip each, “de goots are goot to-day. All big fellers up in der avenues. Gome ‘round to der sthore und wash yer mugs und fins.”

The reporter recognized the speaker as a well-known Madison Street pawnbroker. The trio accompanied him to the sign of the three golden spheres, and a moment later emerged with clean faces and somber looks. Each was accompanied by a confederate. They were armed with the residences and names of the men who had died the previous night, copied form the death notices contained in the morning papers. The reporter singled out a pair and followed them down to Clark Street. There the two boarded a north-bound street car, riding as far as Lincoln Park. Following them, the reporter was carried down Garfield Avenue. The pair were in advance of the scribe about 100 yards. Suddenly the “unwashed” party turned a corner. The other kept on until a house was reached, in front of which he halted. There had been a death in the house, as was evidenced by a long piece of crape pendant from the door knob.


The bell, and a domestic answered the summons. The caller desired to see the lady of the house. The lady could not be seen. A great bereavement—the loss of her husband—had so worked upon her that she was confined to her room. The caller was not to be put off in this way. He insisted mildly, yet emphatically, and the lady of whom he was in quest soon came to the door. The same story as was poured into the sympathetic ear of the Washington boulevard widow was given here, and was equally successful, for, as before, a bundle was the outcome of the conversation. As before, too, the clothes were handed to the man around the corner. Three other houses were visited, only one of which, however, any clothes were gotten from. And so, with the bundles, the pair returned the way they had come, obtained the ready cash for the fruits of their labors, and returned to the “Sewer,” where they spent the money obtained in this manner.

“Cadging” is a comparatively new institution in Chicago. A good strike is very often productive of an entire outfit of suits, including broadcloths and fine linen underwear. “Johnny” Dugan, “smooth-tongued Johnny,” brought the practice West some months ago, and it will soon assume the proportions it holds in New York and Philadelphia.

Daily Inter Ocean [Chicago, IL] 10 April 1887: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A deplorable “scam,” but the ways to impose on the newly-widowed are, alas, legion. Mrs Daffodil recalls the drummers who would call upon a widow with some piece of merchandise—perhaps a Bible stamped in gilt with her name—and the claim that her husband ordered said merchandise before his untimely demise. There were also pawnbrokers who would claim that jewelled articles were merely paste and advance only a pittance to the desperate widow. The mustache-twisting banker holding the mortgage, ready to foreclose in the depths of winter, is celebrated in legend and melodrama. And there were cads, like this utter bounder:

He Cheated the Widow.

Louisville, Oc. 23. F.M. Hoyt, a fine-looking middle-aged stranger, was arrested this afternoon charged with obtaining money by false pretense. The warrant was sworn out by Mrs. Julia Hunt, a widow, from DeFuniak, Fla. He went there two months ago, and presenting himself as a detective and by promising to marry her, he got possession of her entire estate, which he sold and came to Louisville. He also secured $815 in cash from her.

Philadelphia [PA] Inquirer 24 October 1889: p. 1

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. For daily posts on mourning, please visit The Victorian Book of the Dead’s FB page.

Other pieces about mourning appear in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, also available in a Kindle edition.

See this link for an introduction to The Victorian Book of the Dead, a collection about the popular culture of Victorian mourning, featuring primary-source materials about corpses, crypts, and crape. 

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

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