Many people have curious superstitions about certain photos, but it’s hard to top the following tale from the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch,” August 17, 1898:
Mrs. Elizabeth Dellbregge of 1301 Ohio avenue applied to the Health Department Wednesday morning for a permit to exhume the body of her sister, Mrs. Minnie Schauber, who was buried in Concordia Cemetery Dec. 2, last year.
In explaining her request, Mrs. Dellbregge related a story of superstition that surprised the Health Department officers and reminded them of the witchcraft that early historians tell about. Mrs. Dellbregge’s belief is that something interred with her dead sister is a hoodoo--that she is causing the Dellbregge family death, mysterious disappearance and general ill luck.
“A picture of my daughter Annie was buried in the coffin with my sister,” said Mrs. Dellbregge, “and I want to take it out. A fortune teller says that picture is causing all of the trouble.”
When Mrs. Dellbregge visited the Health Office she was clad in deep mourning, for she buried her daughter Anna but two weeks ago. The death of her child set her to thinking that some ill luck attended the burial of the picture, and when she suggested that idea to a fortune teller, it was promptly confirmed. To add to Mrs. Dellbregge’s troubles her son John, 25 years old, has disappeared from his home, and she has no information as to his whereabouts. Her husband is also missing, but she thinks she knows where to find him.
Two sons, Henry and Gerhart, are still at home and have not yet become victims of the hoodoo, but Mrs. Dellbregge says she doesn’t know what day they will fall under the baneful influence.
“I didn’t know they were going to bury Anna’s picture with my sister, or I would never have consented to it,” the woman explained. “I did not get along well with my sister, and I believe the burial of that picture in her coffin was the work of some enemy of mine. The picture was laid right over my sister’s heart, so the fortune tellers say, and that is the most dangerous place it could have been put. My daughter died of convulsions.”
Added to this weird theory of Mrs. Dellbregge’s is a story she tells about a dream. “Just a little while before Anna died,” she related, “I dreamed that she would live but a short time. The dream troubled me. I told Anna about it and she said she believed my dream would come true, and sure enough it did. The poor girl died in agony, and it all might have been avoided but for that picture.
“I have permission of my dead sister’s husband for the disinterment of the body, and I propose to have that picture taken out. If it stays in there I will lose my whole family and then I will have to go too.”
Dr. Karges, mortuary clerk, informed Mrs. Dellbregge that the rules of the Board of Health do not allow the disinterment of bodies at this season, and she was told to wait until September. Then, if she still maintains that the picture is a haunt, the grave will be opened and the picture will be removed.
While Mrs. Dellbregge’s story discloses superstition rarely encountered these days, she appears perfectly rational. That she is determined and firmly set in her belief, there is no doubt. Mrs. Dellbregge is a member of the Lutheran Church at Grand avenue and Caroline street. She consulted her pastor, Rev. Schiller, about the disinterment of the body, and although she is a devout churchwoman, the pastor was unable to discourage her.
When she learned that she must wait until September for the removal of the picture she became despondent and tears dropped from her eyes as she trudged away from the city dispensary.I found nothing more about this story, so I have no idea if poor Mrs. Dellbregge made it to September without any further calamities. In any case, this story teaches a valuable lesson: be very careful about what you put into a coffin besides the dearly departed.
As a side note, fortune tellers have a lot to answer for.