Tag Archives: post-mortem photograph

The Bride in a Coffin–Her Dreadful Revenge: 1896

Bridal post-mortem photograph

Bridal post-mortem photograph


Of His Discarded Bride

Lying in a Coffin in Her Wedding Costume,

Made James Cocroft a Hopeless, Raving Maniac

Ghastly and Awful Revenge of a Deserted Girl.

Unique Romance of Two Ardent Lovers Separated By Cruel Accusations of “Friends.”

New York, April 4. The recent confinement in an insane asylum of a young accountant, named James Cocroft, has revealed one of the most original dramas of real life ever plotted by human ingenuity. It is the unique romance of an unusually moral youth, a fair enchantress of the sparkling metropolitan music halls, rapturous love at first sight, a betrothal that caused domestic delight at Cocroft’s home, and then cruel accusations from “loving friends” that brought about a chain of mental discord with a frightful result.

Cocroft comes from a highly respectable old American family, much reduced in circumstances since the death of his father, who was an expert accountant. The elder Cocroft made his money easily examining the books of several large dry goods firms in the commercial district, and was at one time confidential clerk in the employ of A. T. Stewart. He spent his money lavishly entertaining many friends in a handsome brown stone front on Madison Avenue, and died suddenly of heart failure eight years ago, leaving a small income to his widow and some real estate in trust; the interest from which his son was to receive on coming of age. He also left a daughter, who is now the wife of a wealthy St. Louis merchant. Mrs. Cocroft’s allowance was insufficient to retain the almost princely splendor of the Madison Avenue residents, and she


At Locust Valley, Long Island. One evening, while his sister’s betrothed was visiting New York, about a month previous to their marriage, young Cocroft spent an evening with him in the metropolis, and Cocroft was shown the sights for the first time. The exhibition of gayety and vulgarity he saw had little impression on his mind either one way or the other, but a certain young siren, who sang sentimental songs to an unappreciative audience at the Imperial Music Hall, interested him seriously. Later in the evening, at a popular dance hall, since closed by the police, Cocroft’s companion pointed out the same young woman. He was seized with a desire to make her acquaintance, being impressed by the apparent innocence of the pretty face. Her sympathetic voice not only charmed his ear, but also her graceful manner bewitched his eye, completely captivating him.

In the course of their conversation, Cocroft obtained her name and address, and discovered that she had an aunt who was the wife of a Long Island farmer living near Locust Valley, where she frequently spent her Sundays. On returning home James showed himself a rapturous candidate for matrimony, and so his mother and sister noted the change in his manner with increasing regret. He no longer seemed to find pleasure in their society, and when unable to visit the mistress of his heart


His mother and sister made fun of him and exhorted him to listen to reason, but all to no purpose; and then, bowing to fate, consented to make the acquaintance of the fair enchantress.

The first impression was truly favorable. In fact she finished her introduction at his home by weaving around mother and daughter a spell as potent as that cast over the son. So Etta, although only a shop girl, as she had chosen to call herself, was formally recognized as the bride-elect, and the date of the wedding was fixed in the near future.

Miss Marmon left her boarding house in the city, and came to live with her aunt on the outskirts of Locust Valley. She laid new plans for the future, resolving to resign all connection with the music halls, and forget much in her life that had led in an erring direction through a necessity that her betrothal to Cocroft had obliterated. She is an orphan, and had to earn her own livelihood or eke out a miserable existence on a farm with her aunt. She had been given a musical education, and her more cultivated tastes rebelled against such a life. What she had been forced to do in the metropolis, in order to support herself according to her desire, was far from being satisfactory, but it was naturally her choice of the two paths fate had opened before her.

Young Cocroft was madly infatuated with his attractive betrothed, and she—as much enamored.

Mrs. Cocroft was Puritanical in her ideas of right and wrong, and so she determined to separate James from his adored one. This was not so difficult to accomplish as might be assumed, as the young man had been brought up to worship his mother’s principles, and accordingly.


He was prevailed upon to renounce his fair betrothed. At his mother’s request he also resigned his position, it being a matter of only a couple of months’ time from his twenty-first birthday when he could claim his inheritance, and she wanted to make sure that he should not see Etta again until his infatuation had passed away.

In the meantime Etta wrote letter after letter, pleading for an opportunity of defending her wretched position. She did not deny that she had been mixed in with a fast set, but emphatically asserted her innocence of blame. That she was heartbroken and almost despondent her letters plainly told. In the most pleading tones the English language supplies she begged and implored her estranged lover to overlook what bitterness there may have been in her career for the sake of the happiness the future held for them—would he but say the word, and she warned him that every day that passed without such a reconciliation took their souls farther apart on the sea of life. But as she lost courage her letters became less and less frequent, and more and more melancholy in tone, until they ceased to disturb the Cocroft household. Finally Etta’s feelings changed. She began to reproach herself forever having loved such a man of self-conviction and wished to hate him. Her lover’s indifference to all the heartbreaking appeals she made, the several long, unanswered explanatory epistles she penned in the gloom of his cruel neglect, and her growing desire to transform her tender anxiety into malignant hatred, soon triumphed, bearing


A craving for vengeance arose in her breast, and she conceived a ghastly plot for bringing remorse to her former lover. It was to send him a photograph of herself artistically arrayed in her bridal costume with her shapely figure laid out for dead in a handsome casket.

She had the deceptive photograph taken. Then the question arose as to the best means of assuring his seeing it. She had begun to doubt whether James had received her letters. She decided to send the photograph to Mrs. Cocroft, instead of to her son, and to send it in her aunt’s name. Next day Mrs. Cocroft received a registered letter with a deep black border. The handwriting was not that of any of her friends or acquaintances. She nervously tore the seal and drew out—not a missive as she had expected the contents of the envelope to be, but a photograph, a picture far more eloquent than any letter could have been. It was the portrait of Etta attired in her bridal finery, and lying lifeless in a handsome casket. She rushed into the library, where her son was reading, and laid the fatal photo before the unhappy Romeo with a significant air of triumph. Her silence was more expressive than any word she could have employed. It plainly bespoke of her satisfaction that the crisis of her beloved son’s threatened destruction had passed, and that thereafter he would never give a thought to Etta. She thanked God that her good influence had save him from wrecking his life.

For a few moments the young man gazed intently at the gruesome likeness in silent horror,


Its pallid face, the awful recognition of the features, hypnotized him. For a moment the fierce contraction of his muscles stood still, then twitched violently again, and with a loud, piercing cry he threw himself on the floor, beating his breast in terror. In his frenzy he seemed to see Etta in death and called to her in bating whisperings.

In awful language Cocroft reproached himself as the murderer of his martyred love. He raved and tore, and madly smashed everything within his reach to pieces, exclaiming:

“Oh, Etta—Etta! Oh, I know—God will demand my life at thy hands! I am branded forever—a murderer!”

The paroxysm of wild despair continued and inspired the sufferer’s relatives with fear for his life. The family physician was called from the city, and his diagnosis proved even more terrible than death—confirmed insanity, with very little hope of ultimate recovery. When the physician arrived James had sunk exhausted in a comatose state, but before he left the victim of Etta’s morbid act revived his strength and went into another fit of raving. It is impossible to describe the grief of the broken-hearted mother on hearing the truth of her son’s state.  On the physician’s advice James was placed under the personal treatment of a famous expert on insanity in the specialist’s private sanitarium. After what passed in her cozy little cottage Mrs. Cocroft could not remain there alone, and so when her daughter and son-in-law were compelled to return to St. Louise, she accompanied them. She is said to have developed symptoms of dementia, and to be under the care of a St. Louis specialist.

The life of Etta Marmon is strikingly interesting in itself. She was first employed in the stage work of J. M. Hill in the Marie Tempest production of “The Fencing Master,” as a member of the chorus. Etta was then only 17 years old, and the most doll-like of the beauties of that much complimented flock, when the opera was presented at the New York Casino. She partook of late suppers with her companions and their friends, and was considered the angel of the company. She was not engaged by Mr. Whitney, when he bought the opera, the manager declaring such work not suitable for her, and so she drifted into the demoralizing music hall circle. At present she is on the road with a traveling company of burlesquers. 

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 5 April 1896: p. 17

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The article draws a veil over Mrs. Cocroft’s ease in persuading her son to drop the young woman he supposedly loved. It is frustratingly silent about those “friends.” Did the mother enlist them to whisper  hints to her son about the entertainments available at those “late suppers?” The article also does not divulge whether his mother withheld the girl’s letters. In this distressing case it does not appear that a Boy’s Best Friend was His Mother.

The photograph below is of Marie Tempest in “The Fencing Master.”  The play offered much scope for the display of charming limbs in tights. One wonders what ultimately happened to Miss Marmon and if that traveling company of burlesquers was yet one more step towards her final ruin.

Marie Tempest in "The Fencing Master."

Marie Tempest in “The Fencing Master.”

The photograph at the head of the post is of the so-called “Italian Bride,” whose incorrupt body was found in Chicago’s Mount Carmel Cemetery.


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.


Funeral Flowers for Young Helen: c. 1880


Just as the dead were photographed post-mortem, funerary flower arrangements, such as this poignant floral offering to the memory of a young girl named Helen, were also documented by the photographer and cherished by families.

Mrs Daffodil, despite her eponymous name, is not a gardener. She relies on the staff to provide cut flowers for the House and vegetables for the kitchen without any tiresome discussion of loams, mulches, or insects. And despite growing up in the country, she never had the leisure to make a study of decorative botany, complete with those albums of pressed ferns and watercolor studies of wildflowers which seem to form so necessary a part of the education of young ladies. Handicapped as she is by her lack of botanical knowledge, Mrs Daffodil can only hazard a guess as to some of the species of flowers included in this display and whether they are real or artificial. This is of interest because frequently the “language of flowers” was used to reinforce the sentiments of the bereaved. Forget-me-nots are an obvious example. Pansies/pensees for “thoughts,” are another. It would be an interesting exercise to unravel the puzzle, if puzzle there is: rather like working a funereal-themed crossword or acrostic.

Mrs Daffodil does recognize carnations, lilies, forget-me-nots, and pansies in the photograph. It is possible there are dahlias and anemones as well.  The garland of white roses and leaves, bleeding hearts, and ivy seems obviously artificial.  If any gardeners among her readers can identify these blossoms, Mrs Daffodil would be delighted to bow to their superior knowledge.  A click on the photograph will enlarge it. The back of the photograph is marked S.P. Tresize, Photographer, Granville, Ohio. [Granville is a town in Licking County, Ohio, just over 30 miles from Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A. ]

While Mrs. Daffodil has seen photographs of floral arrangements in symbolic and sentimental shapes such as anchors and crosses, sometimes labeled with a word (“MAMA”) or a motto (“AT REST”) spelled out in flowers, this is the first time she has seen the entire name written in foliage. Mrs Daffodil will not make the expected and vulgar pun about corpses being “planted.”

This is a traditional weekend for the dressing of graves. Mrs Daffodil will post more comments on floral matters on her “Facebook” page and in tomorrow’s Saturday Snippets.

This photograph is included in The Victorian Book of the Dead, by Chris Woodyard, a collection of primary sources about the popular culture of Victorian death and mourning, also available in for “Kindle,” which Mrs Daffodil understands is an “electronic book,” (whatever that may be) but which suggests tearing pages from an antiquated novel to light the stove.

Two other posts on funereal floral tributes may be found at No Flowers and Bad Taste in Funeral Flowers.

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.


Saturday Snippets 11 May 2013 Mother’s Day Week-end Edition

A floral post-mortem photograph for someone's dear Mama.

A floral post-mortem photograph for someone’s dear Mama.

A selection of items on motherhood and babies in honour of the Mother’s Day Week-end.

“This baby will kill us all,” was the exclamation of a young mother, as she vainly tried to quiet the screams of her six weeks old son. And then came the question, “What do you do when a baby just cries incessantly? My nurse is sleeping now, for she was awake the entire night. Mamma is also completely exhausted, as night before last she volunteered to take charge of him, so as to give nurse and myself opportunity to sleep; and she told me for a fact she was unable to close her eyes until after five o’clock this morning. He is no better during the day. We three are busy our entire time, walking, jolting, rocking, feeding. One takes care of him until she is worn out, and the next, most rested, takes him, and as soon as my husband comes home, he takes his turn; even papa, with his gray hairs and mature age, has become baby tender, and does his best to rest our arms and see what his powers may be to soothe him. But it seems all to no purpose. This baby cries on and on, and is killing himself and killing us all. Hear him now. What do you suppose causes such constant cries? and what would you do to quiet him?”

“I would give him a little catnip tea,” was the calm response.

“We tried that, and it kept him still just one-half hour. To be sure, that was some relief, but there must be a cause.”

“Yes, I think the cause is colic pains. A little wind is probably swallowed with his food, and before this wind is gotten rid of more follows, and thus the poor child is in constant agony. I do not believe that crying causes wind, but wind causes crying, and the indigestion which precedes may be the cause of both. And not only is crying extremely wearisome, both to mother and child, but in the case of male children it is more or less injurious, owing to the peculiarities of the groin canals. Sometimes a teaspoonful of sweetened aniseed tea will start the wind, and soon this will be followed by complete relief. It is a simple remedy, and you need not fear any ill consequence arising from it. Or try a little sweetened gin and water, not too strong, or the child will strangle.”

“Well, I’ll give him that now,” said the mother.

She gave it to him, and in less than fifteen minutes the tired child was in a sound, healthful sleep, which, she afterwards told me, he did not awake from for four hours. Godey’s Lady’s Book, August 1890  [One immediately thinks of Edward Gorey’s unfortunate Zillah, who drank too much gin.]

THE EUREKA DIAPER.— This simple invention we desire to call attention to from the fact that it is, in our opinion, one that is going to create a revolution in the nursery. It is an article that will be of great benefit to those mothers and nurses who wish to pay proper attention to a child’s health. One of the causes that make a crying child is the use of pins in fastening its covering. Now, this article not only does away with the use of pins, but it protects the bedding and clothing. It is highly recommended by physicians. Sold by all the principal dry-goods stores in the United States. Godey’s Lady’s Book October, 1870 

Students of Dr. Moses M. Pallen, a member of an old Virginia family, who came to St. Louis in 1842, were given an impression of professional obligation which was far more than scientific. Dr. Pallen held the professorship of obstetrics for more than twenty years. He taught thousands of students “that the doctor when at the bedside of the woman in labor almost meets his God, and that duty, the stern daughter of God, must be evoked every moment and hour in her travail. Give your strength to the laboring mother. Fill her with hope: it may be light diet but it will be very stimulating; it awakens courage. If the doctor ever is at the service of any one he must be at the absolute service of the lying-in woman. Be thoughtful of her in her agony of pain. Encouragement is everything. It well becomes God’s most exalted creature. To relieve distress is not only human but it is Godlike; and thrice blessed is that man who relieves a single maternal pain.” That was the character of Dr. Pallen’s teaching as one of his pupils. Dr. Warren B. Outten, described it long years after his own graduation. ST. LOUIS: The Fourth City 1764-1909, Walter B. Stevens, 1909  

Mrs. J.B. McCrum, residing at Kalamazoo, Mich., is the mother of twins so small that they are a marvel of humanity, putting in the shade all stories of Lilliputians ever heard of. One is a boy and the other is a girl, and weigh, together, three pounds and four ounces. They are perfect, and seem to be in good health. Their bed is a little paper box, filled with cotton, and they are dressed in dolls’ clothes. The mother and children were doing well at last accounts. These twins are the smallest living children ever heard of. They take food naturally, and make a noise like very young kittens. A teacup will cover the head of either. Their hands are about the size of the bowl of a teaspoon, and their bodies less than six inches long— the boy a trifle the larger. Godey’s Lady’s Book, April 1874

Latest Fashion in Clothes and Children.

The small woman who fervently prayed that there might be no “best clothes” in heaven certainly ought not to be unhappy now, for even the best clothes are simple, and are made so that she can move and be happy in them. Silks, satins, laces and flummery on children are only evidences of the folly of their mothers, for the wisest and wealthiest women dress their children in the simplest and plainest manner. You see, babies who quote Shakespeare at five, or who are looking for microbes at seven, are counted bad form, while those who dig in the sands for precious stones, or build houses that are washed away by the incoming waves, are the ones who are going to be healthy and wise. New York Sun. Repository [Canton, OH] 5 June 1891: p. 3  [plus ça change….]

Strange Occurrence At A Funeral.-— One of the strangest occurrences happened at the funeral of Michael Guthrie, who was accidentally killed the day previous on the Northwestern Railway, which we have ever been called upon to chronicle. The family of Mr. Guthrie, consisting of a wife and three children, had made extensive arrangements for the accommodation of the friends of the deceased at the funeral. A large number of carriages and a numerous assembly of mourners were present when the undertaker, Mr. Berry, arrived with the hearse. About the same time another carriage, containing a woman richly and fashionably dressed, was driven to the door. The woman alighted, and entered the house. To the astonishment of the assembly, to all of whom she was a total stranger, she greeted the children of Guthrie as her own, and they in turn addressed her as their mother, manifesting the greatest joy, mingled with surprise, at seeing her. The wife, on the other hand, was confounded. She knew not what to say or what to think of this sudden and strange appearance of one who claimed also to be the wife of the deceased and who was addressed by his children as their mother. She knew herself to be their stepmother, having been married to their father in due legal form and in the full confidence that his first wife was dead. This supposition being now overthrown by the sudden appearance of one claiming to be that deceased wife, the other wife began to upbraid the children for not telling her that their mother was living. The real mother (for such the stranger was) assured her that the children were not to blame, as they, as well as their father, had reason to believe her dead. She had deserted her husband in the city of St. Louis, where they lived, and shortly afterwards caused an announcement of her death to be published in the newspapers of that city. But she was not dead. Leaving St. Louis, she had lived in Chicago, not knowing that her husband was here until she saw the account of his death published in the papers yesterday morning. She had come to reclaim her children, and to behold for the last time on earth the form of their father.—Chicago Times. Francis Vincent Semi Annual Register 1860, January 12 

Baby’s Tooth Set in a Ring.

Among the most exclusive of New York’s smart young matrons it is at present quite the proper thing to wear a ring fashioned as indicated in the above headline. The woman who first wore on these mysterious rings told all about it the other day to a girl friend, who was admiring it and wanted to copy it. She said:

“Why the little white stone wouldn’t be considered a gem to any one but me. It is only one of my baby girl’s pearly white teeth. She knocked out a little front tooth not long ago, and, as it was too precious for me to throw away, I took it to my jeweler and asked him if it couldn’t be set in a ring. And here is the result. I told him to surmount the tooth with diamonds and turquoises, alternating with one another, as I think just the touch of blue adds much to the beauty of the ring. The baby tooth encircled with diamonds looks too white. A number of my friends who have copied my idea have taken one of their baby’s teeth to the jeweler’s and had it surrounded with the child’s birth stones.”  Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 9 April 1899: p. 7


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.