In recent years, vintage post-mortem photos have taken on a new, uh, life on the internet as perhaps the ultimate in Victorian Weird. Strange and macabre as they are, I know of only one of these photos that inspired a libel suit. Throw in a complainant with the delightful name of "Cleopatra Saladee," and this blog is off to the races. From the "Bedford Weekly Mail," May 31, 1901:
A criminal libel case was set for trial Wednesday before Judge Stephenson. The complaint is as follows:
"Cleopatra Saladee, being duly sworn upon her oath says: that Newton E. Ennis on the 14th day of February, 1901, was a photographer engaged in the business of photography in the city of Bedford, Lawrence county, Indiana. That on the 12th day of February, 1909, one George Saladee, a minor son of William Saladee and this affiant departed this life. That after the death of said deceased his said father and mother, who are husband and wife, procured the services of said Newton E. Ennis, photographer, aforesaid, to take a picture of said deceased, to wit: a photograph, for them, the said parents, and the said Newton E. Ennis did then and there make a photograph of said deceased. That said photograph was unsatisfactory, inaccurate and untrue, for which reason and other lawful reasons, the said parents failed to accept said photograph from said photographer and pay for the same: that said Ennis on the 25th day of April 1901 at the county of Lawrence and state of Indiana, then and there contriving and unlawfully, wickedly and maliciously intending to injure, vilify and prejudice said William Saladee and this affiant and to deprive them of their good name, credit and reputation and to bring them into great contempt, scandal, infamy and disgrace and with intent in like manner to blacken and vilify the memory of said deceased and to scandalize and disgrace his relatives and friends, did then and there unlawfully and maliciously write and publish and cause to be written and published a false, scandalous, malicious and defamatory libel of and concerning said parents and concerning the relatives and friends of said deceased in the words following, to wit: "Deadbeat," which said false, scandalous, malicious and defamatory words, the said Ennis then and there unlawfully and maliciously did write over and upon said photograph of said deceased person and did then and there unlawfully and maliciously place and post said photograph, upon which said words then and there appeared in a public place to wit: on a certain building on J street in said city, where the same was conspicuous and open to view by all persons pass and repassing on said street where the same was seen by divers persons passing and repassing on said street. That said libelous words were then and there unlawfully intended to charge and be understood as charging and were then and there by the divers persons who saw the same, understood to charge and mean, that said William Saladee and this affiant and other relatives of said deceased were irresponsible, dishonorable, dishonest deadbeats and not worthy of trust or confidence."
Prosecutor Zaring represents the State, J.H. Underwood the defendant. The matter was to come up Wednesday at 2 p.m., in Court house, before Judge Stephenson. The penalty, if guilty, is a fine of $5 to $1,000, and imprisonment not to exceed six months.
An account of the trial later given by the same paper reported that the State "was unable to establish the fact that a photo of the dead boy Saladee had been exhibited with an offensive charge written on it, as alleged by Mrs. Saladee in her complaint. Three witnesses who saw a photo on the front of the Ennis gallery with writing on it were unable to identify it as the picture of Saladee, and a fourth witness who saw Saladee's photo on the same building saw no writing on it at all. On motion of the State a verdict of acquittal was rendered by the jury."
I'd love to know if that photo is still extant, but I suppose that's too much to hope for.