The Fatal Envelope: 1904

viewing corpse in coffin The Spectre of the Hall, author of Varney the Vampire 1848

DEATH SCENE IN PLACE OF MONEY

Waiting Wife Across Sea to Get Picture of Husband in Coffin.

Friends in the New World Were Kinder Than Fortune.

A picture of her husband lying in his coffin will be received by the wife of Peter Weber of No. 89 1-2 Davenport street, in faraway Germany, instead of a long expected epistle containing money which would bring her to him. The photograph was taken yesterday in the rooms of a local undertaking establishment and will be forwarded to the wife.

The story of Weber is one of expectations which death with a relentless hand destroyed. Five months ago he came to this country, after vainly toiling for success in his native land. He had by economy gathered together sufficient funds to pay his expenses, but scrape as he would, eh could not gather sufficient to bring his faithful wife with him. At last she told him to go to the land of promise alone, and said that she would follow when he was able to send for her.

Weber came alone on his journey, he forfeited all his pleasure, and bought nothing but the sheer necessities of life. Each economy which Weber practiced instead of a hardship was a delight to him.

One day, his journey over, he reached Cleveland, and set about finding work at his trade of furrier. But the long journey and the few hours of relaxation had told upon Weber. The next morning when he attempted to rise from his bed, he fell back. The strange weakness which had seized him during the past few days, had him securely in its grasp. He was taken to lakeside hospital where the physicians diagnosed his illness as a severe attack of typhoid fever.

Repeatedly in his delirious moments, he raved of the sorrow which would come to his wife if he died and he spoke of the happy future which he had planned. But the end came Tuesday.

A few foreigners, little known to Weber, heard of the illness and had sent him to the hospital at their own expense, they too met the expenses of his funeral. A modest casket was purchased and the preparations completed for a simple burial. They also decided to send a picture of the casket, the flowers and her husband to Mrs. Weber. Yesterday a photographer was hired to go to the undertaking rooms.

The top of the casket was opened, the flowers placed at the foot and the friends gathered about the coffin. A flashlight was lit. The coffin was again closed and the photographer and the friends took their departure.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 7 April 1904: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Photographing the dead was, of course, a common practice in the nineteenth and early twentieth century.  It was a chance for one last look at the loved one; a chance to “secure the shadow, ere the substance fade.”

Mrs Daffodil understands the thoughtful impulse of Weber’s friends to show the bereaved wife that her husband did not die alone and friendless in a strange land. It was, no doubt, kindly meant. But Mrs Daffodil would not care to have been at the widow’s side when she opened the fatal envelope.

More on post-mortem photography may be found in The Victorian Book of the Dead.

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

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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