Tag Archives: suicide

Property of a Dead Man: The Coroner’s Auction: 1920

The Country Auction, William Geddes

The Country Auction, William Geddes

A slice-of-death account from a 1920s coroner’s auction.


Coroner Disposes of Pitiful Fragments of Property Left By Unknown


St. Paul, Minn., Feb. 23. The estates of dead men sold for pennies here. Behind a marble table in the county morgue the coroner disposed by auction last week of the pitiful fragments of property left by St. Paul’s unknown dead in 1919.

When relatives or near friends of those whose bodies are brought to the morgue make no claim to their “estates” the law requires public sale.

Some Jazzy Comment.

“This watch,” said the coroner, and held it up, battered, worth $1 once, “stopped when its owner died. It says 10 minutes to 10.”

“Maybe that was his zero hour,” commented a woman in black, “I bid 25 cents.” Then came the razor an old man used to slit his throat. The bidding was high, but the woman in black, confirmed auction fiend, bought it for 76 cents.

There Was a Knife.

“A little rusty,” said the coroner. “I think we found this fellow in the river.” Postcards, bits of cloth, a bottle opener, keys, a locket with a broken back—all the things that meant in their own private way much—maybe all—to someone once, were heaped on the marble slab and pawed over by the woman in black and her rival bidders, then sold by the state for copper and silver.

Discharge Paper Sold.

“Two estates left, announced the “auctioneer,” “I don’t suppose anybody wants this.”

He held up the soiled, blood-stained discharge paper of James Alton, one-time soldier of the land.

“I’ll take that. Here’s a dime,” snapped a bidder with two gold stripes on his sleeve. My American Legion post’ll try to find his folks.”

“And this,” continued the coroner and carried to view a bedraggled Bible, its imitation leather, puffed and swollen by moisture.

“Gimme,” barked the woman in black. “I want that! I bid 15 cents.”

She carried away the Bible that once was Ole Johnson’s. “He gave his heart to God at the Union Gospel Mission, Dec. 2 1914,” was the fading legend on the fly-leaf.

Wilkes-Barre [PA] Times-Leader 23 February 1920: p. 13

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: One is undertain if the woman in black, “confirmed auction fiend” was just a ghoul who could not say no, or if she was a collector of murderabilia, as expanded to include all categories of goods associated with  untimely death.

Mrs Daffodil has noted in the United States press instances of the county coroner and auctioneer posts being held by the same man. This is undoubtedly economical for the county, but perhaps a conflict of interest.

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.


The Ensign Sees a Horror: c. 1860

The voice of the tempter.

The voice of the tempter.

A regiment was passing through Derbyshire on its way to fresh quarters in the North. The Colonel, as they stayed for the night in one of the country towns, was invited to dine at a country-house in the neighbourhood, and to bring any one he liked with him. Consequently he took with him a young ensign for whom he had taken a great fancy. They arrived, and it was a large party, but the lady of the house did not appear till just as they were going in to dinner, and, when she appeared, was so strangely distraite and preoccupied that she scarcely attended to anything that was said to her.

At dinner, the Colonel observed that his young companion scarcely ever took his eyes off the lady of the house, staring at her in a way that seemed at once rude and unaccountable. It made him observe the lady herself, and he saw that she scarcely seemed to attend to anything said by her neighbours on either side of her, but rather seemed, in a manner quite unaccountable, to be listening to some one or something behind her.

As soon as dinner was over, the young ensign came to the Colonel and said, ‘Oh, do take me away: I entreat you to take me away from this place.’

The Colonel said, ‘Indeed your conduct is so very extraordinary and unpleasant, that I quite agree with you that the best thing we can do is to go away;’ and he made the excuse of his young friend being ill, and ordered their carriage.

When they had driven some distance the Colonel asked the ensign for an explanation of his conduct. He said that he could not help it: during the whole of the dinner he had seen a terrible black shadowy figure standing behind the chair of the lady of the house, and it had seemed to whisper to her, and she to listen to it. He had scarcely told this, when a man on horseback rode rapidly past the carriage, and the Colonel, recognising one of the servants of the house they had just left, called out to know if anything was the matter. ‘Oh, don’t stop me, sir,’ he shouted; ‘I am going for the doctor: my lady has just cut her throat.’

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Another ghastly tale from the pen of Mr Augustus Hare, author and raconteur, whom we previously met recounting a gentleman’s extreme coolness in the face of danger.

Mrs Daffodil knows of a family whose members claim a gift similar to that of the ensign’s: the ability to know when people are about to die. One of them told of seeing a skull face superimposed over the face of an apparently healthy young man, only to be informed that he was dying of cancer. In fact, he died a few months later. Such Second Sight is a most dubious “gift.”

Saturday Snippets: 15 June 2013: A voice from the grave, indulgent papas, the Vendor of Paternity, fathers’ ghosts


Mrs Daffodil has scoured the papers for items for Father’s Day week-end, finding tales of fathers good, bad, and ghostly.


How a Young Woman Heard Her Father’s Speech in a Phonograph

A pathetic story is that told in connection with the phonograph. A judge in a southern state came to Cincinnati not long ago, says a writer in the Commercial. He had never heard the phonograph. When he visited an office he spoke into the funnel and was amazed and amused to hear his own voice repeated afterward through the tubes of the machine.

Two days after he returned home he died suddenly. His daughter came to Cincinnati on business, and while here a friend took her to hear a phonograph. It was a curious coincidence that she should have been escorted to the very office her father had visited but a short time before. The young woman, who was in deep mourning, was very much entertained by some of the musical selections the phonograph repeated.

The operator afterward picked up a cylinder from a pile, placed it in the phonograph and said: “listen to this.” The young woman placed the tubes again to her ear, the bar was pulled out, and the cylinder began to revolve. Before a dozen words had been repeated the woman in black swooned. Not until she recovered was the cause of her fainting known.

The voice that had come to her ears from the phonograph was that of her dead father. It was as a voice from the grave. She afterward purchased a phonograph and the cylinder containing her father’s speech was given to her. It is carefully cherished in her southern home. Chicago Herald (Chicago, IL) 25 February 1891: p. 6 

IDENTITY ASCERTAINED.— The identity of the dead soldier who was found on the bloody field of Gettysburg, with the picture of his three pretty little children tightly clasped in his hands, has been ascertained within a day or two. The wide publicity given to the touching circumstances through the medium of the press produced the desired result. The name of the deceased was Hummiston, and his widow and three children reside at Portville, Cattaraugus County, New York. Large numbers of photographic copies of the picture upon which the dying eyes of the warrior-father closed have been sold, and the profits realized from their sale will be appropriated to the benefit of the children. It is hoped that a sufficient sum may be realized in this way, and by future sales, to aid materially in the education of the little ones who were made orphans at Gettysburg. Godey’s Lady’s Book [Philadelphia, PA] March 1864 

An Unnatural Father.

“My dear,” she said, as he finally laid down his paper, “how did your last deal in wheat come out?”

“Lost about $20,000,” he growled.

“Why you said you were sure of making $50,000.”

“So I was, but I didn’t.”

“That’s a downright shame. You know that Nellie is to marry the Count Italiani, and that he wants $50,000 for his title.”

“Can’t help that.”

“Well, it’s awful mean. Nellie is waiting for her count, and the count is waiting for his money, and here you drop $20,000 as if your daughter’s happiness was the last thing to be thought of. I don’t think you have a father’s heart in you.”

Evening News [San Jose, CA] 12 January 1886: p. 4

For a curious profession, and one which is little known, commend us to the Parisian Vendor of Paternity. He appears to be an individual who takes upon himself the risk of severe punishment if detected in the carrying out of his business, which is to stand in the place of a father to young men who wish to marry and cannot get the sanction of their parents. The Vendor of Paternity here steps in and goes through all the formalities at the Mayor’s office. Marion [OH] Daily Star 13 May 1901 

In one of our sleeping-cars in American there was an old bachelor who was annoyed by the continued crying of a child and the ineffectual attempts of the father to quiet it. Pulling aside the curtain and putting out his head, he said: “Where is the mother of that child? Why doesn’t she stop that nuisance?” The father said very quietly: “The mother is in the baggage-car in her coffin; I am traveling home with the baby. This is the second night I have been with the child, and the little creature is worrying for its mother. I am sorry if its plaintive cries disturb any one in this car.” Wait a minute,” said the old bachelor. The old man got up and dressed himself, and compelled the father to lie down and sleep, while he took the babe himself. The old bachelor stilling the cry of that babe all night was a hero. And the man who for the sake of others, gives up a lawful gratification in his own house in the social circle, is as great a hero as though he stood upon the battlefield. J.B. Gough. Elkhart [IN] Weekly Review 22 January 1880: p. 6

Equal to the Occasion.

She is a cute little Detroit girl of 7, and the proprietor of the store at which she called is a great friend of the family, says The Free Press.

“How much for one of these picture books?” she inquired of him.

“Just two kisses,” for he wanted to make her a present.

“I’ll take six,” she said in a cool, businesslike way as she tucked them under her arm and started for the door. “Papa will call and settle.”

The proprietor would like to have discharged have a dozen clerks that appreciated the scene, but it was the busy season. Sandusky [OH] Star 22 February 1899: p. 2


New York, July 13. Mrs. Ida Shaper of Brooklyn told a magistrate her father’s ghost had appeared and whispered that Mrs. Clara Steiner had stolen her diamond ring. Mrs. Steiner was held. Trenton [NJ] Evening Times 12 July 1913: p. 3 

What Van Left Off

Van is 4 years old and very proud of the fact that he can dress himself in the morning, all but the buttons “that run up and down ahind.”

Van isn’t enough of an acrobat yet to make his small fingers thus do duty between his shoulder blades. So he backs up to papa and gets a bit of help.

  One morning Van was in a great hurry to get on to some important work he had on hand—the marshaling of an army or something of the sort. So he hurried to get into his clothes, and of course they bothered him, because he was in a hurry and didn’t take as much pains as usual. Things would get upside down, “hind side ‘fore,” while the way the arms and legs of these same things got mixed was dreadful to contemplate. So I am afraid it was not a very pleasant face that came to papa for the finishing touches.

“There, everything is on now,” shouted Van.

“Why, no, Van,” said papa soberly. “You haven’t put everything on yet.”

Van carefully inspected all his clothes, from the tips of his small toes up to the broad collar about his neck. He could find nothing wanting.

  ‘You haven’t put your smile on yet,” said papa, with the tiny wrinkles beginning to creep about his own eyes. “Put it on, Van, and I’ll button it up for you.”

  And if you will believe me Van began to put it on then and there. After that he almost always remembered that he couldn’t really call himself dressed for the day until he had put a sunny face atop the white collar and the necktie. Sandusky [OH] Star February 22, 1899 p. 2 

A Hungarian boy, believing his father’s ghost was stoning the home at night, dug up and burned the corpse. Denver [CO] Post 7 November 1902: p. 12 


Muncie, April 5. Terrorized, as he said, by the nightly visits of his father’s ghost to his bedside, the father having committed suicide three years ago, Edward Wilson, 11, drank a quantity of laudanum, and was found apparently dying, but his life may be saved. He fought those who tried to save him. The boy complained that his father’s spirit has been coming to his bedside and laying its icy hand upon his brow. Cincinnati [OH] Post 5 April 1909: p. 2 

The Apparition in the Elevator

Some years ago a young man came to Chicago from Germany. His father had cut him off from his annuity. He lived in the same house where I lived. He finally obtained a place in one of the big grain elevators here. I do not know what the place was except that he had something to do on the top floor, away up under the roof.  Several men were employed with him in the same place. One day while he was dusting he suddenly stopped and asked his assistants who that nicely dressed old man was that was standing back there by the shaft. Strangers are never allowed in these big elevators, and to see one there well dressed was enough to excite comment. His companions looked in the direction indicated and said they saw no one. He insisted, and when they laughed at him he went to the place where he saw the figure standing. On his approach it vanished.

The young man fainted. He recovered and then asked his companions to make a note of the occurrence, the date and the time of day. He said the figure he saw was that of his father. In twelve days he received a letter from the old country telling him of his father’s death. The date and time agreed with the date and time of the occurrence I have described. The letter informed him that his father had forgiven him and remembered him in his will. He returned to the fatherland, got his portion of the estate and is living there now. You may say what you please, but I have never felt like scoffing from the time I heard this story. The spirit of that boy’s father appeared to him on the top floor of that elevator. Eugene Field in Chicago News. Idaho Statesman [Boise, ID] 25 December 1891: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: For a story of the mysterious image of a father and his favourite child who appeared in the window-glass of a house of mourning, please visit the Haunted Ohio blog for today. Mrs Daffodil wishes for her readers the fondest and most indulgent of Papas and extends the compliments of the day to all such gentlemen.

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.


The Girl with the Tell-All Tattoo: 1861

An Edwardian Tattooed Lady, c. 1907

The art of tattoo has an ancient history: Otzi the Iceman, frozen Scythian warriors, possibly the bog-buried Lindow Man. It was also not uncommon for respectable Victorian women to get tattoos:

In London there is a man who follows the business of tattooing. The majority of his patrons are men who have designs of a naval character pricked into their skin, but there are also a great many women who employ his art, if it may be termed such. With women the decoration is usually a bee, a butterfly, a spray of flowers, or a monogram. These ornaments are worn inside the wrist, so that they can be hidden by the glove in necessary. Mr. Macdonald also produces beauty spots. A short time ago he put two on the face of a lady well known in society. Whether they are really “beauty spots” is a moot question. They resemble a mole more than anything. Malvern [IA] Leader 25 December 1890: p. 7

Lovers’ initials were always a popular choice at the tattoo parlor. A story from 1886 relates how a blushing young woman first had her fiancé’s initial ”P” tattooed on her shoulder. A few months later, she came back and had the initial altered to a “B” for her new fiancé. And a few months after that, she requested a change to an “M,” for the man whom she would be marrying in a week. The tattoo artist  could only cover it over with some other design, which worried her because her fiancé didn’t know of his predecessors. The ingenious bride-to-be thought and drew up a design of a scroll and the first two bars of Beethoven’s sonata in A minor to surround the “B,” explaining coyly, “I just dote on Beethoven.”

An 1879 article tells of tattoos in a more intimate location:

The custom is said to have lately grownup among young ladies of good social position in England of having various devices tattooed indelibly on one or other of their legs. This peculiar freak of the aristocracy of Great Britain has been made public through an advertisement announcing the mysterious disappearance of a well-connected young lady. But in this very advertisement is displayed a comical want of knowledge of the customs of this country. The friends of the missing girl evidently believe she has fled to America, and they tell us she can be identified by a cross in tattoo on her right leg. This is doubtless an infallible sign [In hoc signo vinces?] but who is to make the investigation which shall reveal the fair runaway? If aboriginal styles of dress prevailed here, as our British cousins evidently think they do, all would be easy enough, but when the very clocking of a damsel’s hose is largely a matter of conjecture to the most assiduous of lookers on, how could even a Paul Pry among fashion writers get at the cuticular ornamentation beneath the silk?  San Francisco [CA] Bulletin 27 August 1879: p. 1

Unsurprisingly, disreputable Victorian ladies went under the needle also, but none to more memorable and novel effect than a Grand Horizontal named only as Euphemie L.

Suicide in Paris

The Paris correspondent of the Boston Atlas gives the following account of a strange suicide that recently took place in that city:

Euphemie L___, too, had seen and remembers a great deal. In 1837 she was the reigning beauty of Paris. Her favors were the object of general ambition. She rolled in that superfluity of wealth none but the Lais and the Phyrnes know. Her palace of the Rue de la Chaussee d’Antin, (it was twenty steps below me, a new street now occupies its site) exceed any of Louis Phillipe’s, and Col. Thorn’s was the only equipage which could vie with hers at the Promenade de Longchamps. Soon excesses of all sorts ruined Euphemie’s health; with her health fled her beauty, and her fortune. The prodigal girl descended even more rapidly than she had mounted fortune’s tide; the quick ebb soon abandoned her, steeped to the lips in misery. She could never forget the gilded days she had spent in the street. It embittered her misery; it became greater than she could bear. Day before yesterday,’ say this morning’s papers. ‘The body of a woman about forty years old, was taken out of the Canal St. Martin. The absence of all trace of violence instantly removed suspicion that a crime had been committed. Subsequent investigation proved the death to have been the result of a suicide. A strange spectacle presented itself to the magistrate and physician whose duty led them to inspect the body. The corpse was entirely covered with tattooing, from which, except the face and feet, no portion of the body was exempt. In midst of emblems and erotic [this was given as “erratic” in the original—misprint or censorship?] legends were the names of all the lovers the woman had had, with the date of the commencement and end of each amour. Nothing could be more painful to the sight than this album of debauchery upon a hideous corpse.

The ‘hideous corpse’ was the body of Euphemie L____.

La Crosse [WI] Democrat 17 May 1853: p. 1

Here is what purports to be the original from le Droit: Journal des Tribunaux de Paris, a paper devoted to sensational crimes and their appearance in the courts.

Il y a quelques années, le Droit, journal des tribunaux de Paris, contenait le récit suivant:

On a retiré hier du canal Saint-Martin le corps d’une femme d’environ quarante ans. L’absence de toute trace de violence a éloigné tout d’abord la supposition d’un crime, et il a été, plus tard, constaté que la mort était le résultat d’un suicide.
Cette femme a été reconnue pour la nommée Euphémie ^L…, qui a eu, il y a une quinzaine d’années, une grande réputation de beauté.
Grâce aux libéralités de ses amants, Euphémie avait, dans la Chaussée-d’Antin, une maison montée avec un luxe princier, et son équipage effaçait par sa splendeur celui de bien des grandes dames.
Mais bientôt les excès de tout genre détruisirent la santé d’Euphémie. Avec la beauté s’éclipsèrent les adorateurs et les écus.
La fille prodigue descendit plus rapidement encore qu’elle ne l’avait gravie l’échelle de la fortune, et, quand elle eut quitté le dernier échelon, elle se trouva les deux pieds dans la fange.
Là vinrent l’assaillir les souvenirs et les regrets. Ellene put résister à leur perpétuelle obsession, et cette existence misérable se termina par le suicide.
Un spectacle étrange s’offrit au magistrat et au médecin, à l’inspection desquels dut être soumis le cadavre. Le corps d’Euphémie était entièrement couvert de tatouages, dont, à l’exception du visage et des extrémités, aucune place  n’était exempte. Au milieu d’emblèmes et de légendes érotiques, figuraient les noms de tous les amants qu’avait eus l’Hétaïre, avec la date du commencement et celle de la fin de chaque amour. Rien n’était plus triste à voir que cet album de débauche sur un cadavre hideux  

Quoted in Dictionnaire d’anecdotes: Historiettes, bons mots, aventures, process extraordinaries, etc. sur Les Femmes, Le Mariage et la  Galanterie, Louis-Julien Larcher 1861

Naturally one finds one’s mind wandering to how the lady kept track of those légendes érotiques and the many dates of commencement and fin: double-entry bookkeeping?

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:

The courtesans of Paris were known for their whims and eccentricities: la Païva, who shot a horse who had thrown her; Lee d’Asco, famed for a nude balloon ascension and a pet bear; the jewel duels of Liane de Pougy and La Belle Otero, but this account seems to veer towards a roman by Balzac or de Maupassant. Does anyone know if this story of a human scandal sheet came from a work of fiction?

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.