No. 643
Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America.
February 29, 2024

An Undertaker’s Assistant’s Mistake.

August 26, 2014
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Via Newspapers.comPhantom stagecoaches are always fun (especially when they generate manic headlines.)  The “San Bernardino News,” December 7, 1914:Have you seen the phantom coach that dashes madly, silently, down the steep, rugged mountain trail near Pilot Rock? It is a weird story, this. It deals with the apparently supernatural. Possibly it isn't that at all, maybe it is simply some
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Strange Company - 2/28/2024
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HE DUEL IN ELLEN'S HONOR. Soapy Smith’s grandmotherOn Wednesday, August 9, 1820, an argument between 17-year-old, James Bowe Boisseau (1802-1820) and Robert C. Adams (unknown-1820) vying for the attention of 18-year-old Ellen Stimpson Peniston (1802-1860), took a terrible turn. The happy party in her honor took a tragic turn when the competition for Ellen’s affections ended in a deadly duel,
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Soapy Smith's Soap Box - 1/10/2024
There’s nothing wrong with the MTA’s usual subway signage: the directions are clear, the design is simple. But when a contemporary sign happens to be stuck underneath original signage made with decorative tile and an unusual typeface—as it is inside the Sixth Avenue F and M station at 14th Street—the old-school sign wins hands-down. Subway.org […]
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Ephemeral New York - 2/26/2024
An article I recently wrote for the British online magazine, New Politic, is now available online. The article, “The Criminal Origins of the United States of America,” is about British convict transportation to America, which took place between the years 1718 and 1775, and is the subject of my book, Bound with an Iron Chain: […]
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Early American Crime - 12/17/2021
 Alice Hoyle last saw her sister, Lillie, the night of September 1, 1887, in the room they shared in Webster, Massachusetts. Lillie left to use the outhouse, and Alice fell asleep. Lillie never returned. The next morning, Alice went out, thinking Lillie had already left for work. That is the story Alice told the police— as the investigation progressed, she would change it several times.Read
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Murder By Gaslight - 2/24/2024
Included in yesterday’s trip to Fall River was a stop at Miss Lizzie’s Coffee shop and a visit to the cellar to see the scene of the tragic demise of the second Mrs. Lawdwick Borden and two of the three little children in 1848. I have been writing about this sad tale since 2010 and had made a previous trip to the cellar some years ago but was unable to get to the spot where the incident occured to get a clear photograph.  The tale of Eliza Borden is a very sad, but not uncommon story of post partum depression with a heartrending end. You feel this as you stand in the dark space behind the chimney where Eliza ended her life with a straight razor after dropping 6 month old Holder and his 3 year old sister Eliza Ann into the cellar cistern. Over the years I have found other similar cases, often involving wells and cisterns, and drownings of children followed by suicides of the mothers. These photos show the chimney, cistern pipe, back wall, dirt and brick floor, original floorboards forming the cellar ceiling and what appears to be an original door. To be in the place where this happened is a sobering experience. My thanks to Joe Pereira for allowing us to see and record the place where this sad occurrence unfolded in 1848. R.I.P. Holder, Eliza and Eliza Ann Borden. Visit our Articles section above for more on this story. The coffee shop has won its suit to retain its name and has plans to expand into the shop next door and extend its menu in the near future.
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Lizzie Borden: Warps and Wefts - 2/12/2024
Youth With Executioner by Nuremberg native Albrecht Dürer … although it’s dated to 1493, which was during a period of several years when Dürer worked abroad. November 13 [1617]. Burnt alive here a miller of Manberna, who however was lately … Continue reading
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Executed Today - 11/13/2020
The Drama of Life, | The Girls Have a New Game.

An Undertaker’s Assistant’s Mistake.

She wasn't the corpse.

She Wasn’t the Corpse.

The Queer blunder made by the assistant of an undertaker in a house of mourning, Bridgeport, Conn. [more]

In a town near Bridgewater, Conn., death entered an estimable household at midnight, and an undertaker from the city was summoned by telegraph. On arriving at the house the undertaker sent his assistant to an upper chamber to prepare the corpse. Taking her box of bandages, sponges, &c., the assistant went, as she thought, to the room indicated, but instead she entered the room of a young lady, a member of the bereaved family, who had fallen sound asleep from exhaustion caused by her constant attention at the sick bed. The attendant had an old-fashioned tallow dip, which she set on the stand, and depositing her box on the bed by the side of the sleeping beauty she began operations. Takin a soft sponged she carefully washed the face observing, what was not unusual, that the flesh was still warm. The young lady slept on, but when a fine-toothed comb was drawn through some tangled crimps of her hair she awoke with a suddenness that upset bot the attendant and the box of implements. Both ladies gave a shriek that could have been heard blocks away, and as soon as a match could be struck, for the candle had been overturned and extinguished, explanations followed. The attendant believed the corpse had come to life, and the awakened damsel thought she had been disturbed by a burglar. The household below was aroused, and they followed the undertaker in quick succession to the scene of the disturbance. Although the death had cast a gloom over the household there was a quiet laugh when the situation was explained.


Reprinted from The National Police Gazette, October 9, 1886.