|Illustrated Police News, 1893 via British Newspaper Archive|
We tend to think of funerals as a place to say goodbye to corpses, not to create a fresh batch of them. However, anyone who has done even the quickest browse through old newspapers soon realizes that your typical funeral service is more like a war zone.
Don't believe me? Here is a mere sample of what I mean:
|San Francisco Call, November 16, 1899|
From the "Western Morning News," Oct. 27, 1948:
Five people were killed at a funeral yesterday when a thunderbolt struck a church near Venice. They were standing near the coffin. The church was badly damaged.
|Western Australian, February 22, 1950|
Yet another case of a funeral rudely interrupted by a death was reported in the "Davenport Leader" on November 27, 1900:
New Haven, Conn., Nov. 26.--With hands uplifted as she was about to deliver a prayer at the grave of Mrs. Emily Parker, a dead sister, Mrs. Sarah Grumley, Chaplain of Meriden Chapter, Order of the Eastern Star, was stricken dead.
Mrs. Grumley was seventy years old and a charter member of the chapter. She was apparently in good health when she started for the grave.
When she tottered and fell with the words of the ritual upon her lips there was consternation among the chapter members at the grave. Several fainted and the funeral service was left unfinished. At the funeral of Mrs. Grumley the members of the chapter will complete the service interrupted at Mrs. Parker's grave.
From the "Derby Telegraph," July 15, 1887:
On Monday the funeral of a negress was being conducted in a graveyard at Mount Pleasant, sixty miles south of Nashville, Tennessee, when a storm came on and the crowd ran for shelter under the trees. Nine persons stood under a large oak, which the lightning struck, killing every one instantly, including three clergymen and two sisters of the girl who had been buried.
If the lightning and the grenades don't get you, the church floor will. The "Manchester Courier," March 1, 1905:
Eleven persons were killed and forty injured by the collapse of a floor at Fleet-street African Methodist Church at Brooklyn.
They had assembled to attend a funeral of the late organist. The body and chief mourners had just arrived, and were about to enter the building when the accident occurred. It was due to rotten beams.
The church was built sixty years ago.
Some of the injured jumped out of the windows.
Sometimes, rather than Acts of God or the like, what you need to watch out for is a good old-fashioned riot. From the "Argyle Liberal and District Recorder" for March 13, 1906:
Then there was this story from the "Evening Telegraph," July 18, 1936:
Three persons were killed and many seriously wounded in a quarrel which broke out over the dead body of a woman at Pernambuco, Brazil.
Just before the body was to be buried the doctor announced that he proposed to perform an autopsy.
Members of the woman's family strongly opposed this proposal, and the parties came to blows.
Gotta watch out for those Sextons:
|Los Angeles Herald, March 28, 1890|
And your fellow mourners:
The "Evening Telegraph," August 15, 1866:
Baltimore, August 15.--A terrible tragedy occurred last Sunday, in Queen Anne's county, Maryland, at a place called "Hatton's When and Where." It seems that a man named Cooper, a Rebel, shot and killed two men, named James F. Johnson and Josiah Ellingsworth. Both died instantly.
The affair took place at a funeral, and jealousy is the alleged cause. All of the young men named were of the aristocracy of the region, and all were Seccessionists.
And the undertakers!
|Launceston Examiner, August 8, 1927|
Tombstones really need to be reclassified as dangerous deadly weapons.
|Queensland Times, October 27, 1904|
From the "Democratic Watchman," November 15, 1866:
The Kingston "News" tells of a singular death which occurred in Belleville, on Friday. A little girl, aged ten, daughter of a widow Brennan, while in a grave-yard, was killed by a gravestone falling over upon her.The "Edinburgh News," May 9, 1911:
The Central News Appleby correspondent telegraphs: The lad, Arthur Holmes, who pulled a headstone upon himself while climbing for a bird's nest in Longmarton Churchyard on Sunday, died this morning at his parents' residence at Longmarton. His skull was broken right across the base.
The "Evening Telegraph," June 3, 1913:
While an interment was taking place in Greenside Cemetery, Alloa, a boy, eight years of age, named Allan Henney, the adopted son of William Henney, wool-sorter, was standing upon the plinth of a grave, when the stone collapsed and fell upon him, Several of the mourners assisted in extricating the boy from beneath the stone, and it was found that in addition to his left leg having been broken in two places he was internally injured. He was removed to the County Accidents Hospital, where he succumbed to his injuries.
From the "Manchester Courier," October 5, 1901:
The death of an unknown boy was reported to the Manchester City Coroner, yesterday, which was discovered on Thursday under queer circumstances. About five o'clock a scullery-maid, employed at St. Patrick's Convent, Livesey-street, Oldham-road, noticed a tombstone had fallen down in the old cemetery. She went to ascertain the cause, and was horrified to find it resting on the right arm, shoulder, and right side of the face of a boy aged about 12 years, who was quite dead. It is presumed that the boy was climbing over the wall into the cemetery--a common practice--and caught hold of the tombstone, which is near the wall, and which must have collapsed.
However, if you really want to talk death traps--both figuratively and literally--let's talk coffins. This following image from the November 9, 1872 "Illustrated Police News" depicting the sad-but-ludicrous death of a man named Henry Taylor who attended just one funeral too many has become justly famous on the internet. However, his tragic fate was just one of many. Go too near a coffin, and you may well wind up in one:
The "Anaconda Standard," April 5, 1912:
San Francisco. April 4--Whether a pallbearer who was fatally crushed beneath the coffin at a funeral service died accidentally within the meaning of the terms of an insurance policy is the question to be solved by the superior court here in a suit filed today. The suit was brought by Mrs. Rose Rock, widow of Joseph F. Rock, who died shortly after he had been crushed beneath the falling coffin of his friend, James Murphy, June 30 last.
The "Columbus Herald," February 7, 1894:
Birmingham, Ala., Feb. 7.--Tuesday afternoon at Double Springs, near here, the body of Mrs. Amanda Harris was being lowered into the grave, Geo. Gillas, one of the pallbearers, had hold of a strap when it broke, throwing him into the grave. As he fell his head was pinioned between the head of the coffin and the grave wall. The coffin box and corpse was heavy and before he could be extricated his head was crushed and death was almost instantaneous.
|Billings Gazette, November 3, 1905|
|Sacramento Union, November 23, 1896|
Raleigh, N.C., Nov. 19.--Caught in the collapse of a casket display case, George Newton, aged 70, was killed yesterday in a local undertaking establishment, to which he had gone to buy a coffin for the burial of his wife, who had died a few hours before.
From the "Medicine Hat News," January 11, 1934:
The victim of a falling coffin, the French aviation pilot Sergeant Girardin is dead at Boulay, near Metz. He was riding uphill in a hearse, with the corpse of an old man. The hearse hit a tree, the rear door flew open and the coffin fell out, landing on the flier.
The "Oakland Tribune," August 17, 1934:
A coffin killed Daniel Kilbury, 61, of Alhambra. He died last night of injuries suffered when a casket he was unloading from a truck slipped and crushed him to the pavement.
The "Stevens Point Journal," September 7, 1928:
It was a coffin that killed Stanley Gates.
Driving a truck for an undertakers' supply company, Gates was thrown to the ground when his machine and another collided yesterday. A cement coffin box, jarred from his truck, crushed him to death.
By this point in our post, you're thinking: "All right, I'll skip the funeral and simply say farewell to the dearly departed at their wake. No problem!"
Allow me a derisive snort while I present an item from the "Illustrated Police News," June 29,1867:
A Dublin paper states that a sad accident has occurred in Youghal, involving the loss of three lives and the entire destruction of the dead body of a woman, which was burned to ashes. A man who, in company with two neighbouring women, had sat for two nights by the corpse of his sister, "waking" it, on the third night sat up to a late hour, but he appears with them to have succumbed to weariness, and fallen into a deep sleep. From that slumber they never awakened, at least one would hope so, for if the sleep were broken it was only to find death imminent, and after a brief but fearful anguish to close their eyes again in death. Wayfarers returning late saw lights burning in the cottage at an advanced hour of the night. In the morning the neighbours came for the funeral, and found the house a heap of smouldering ruins. At some time in the night fire had broken out, and clasping the quick and the dead in a fiery embrace, had reduced the dwelling and all it contained to smoking ashes.
It seems that the words heard most often at a wake are not, "Rest in peace," but "Look out below!" From the "Sheffield Independent," August 15, 1874:
An accident at a wake in Dublin again demonstrates the dangerous folly of these grim festivities, which are still popular among the lower classes in Ireland. The floor of a room fell, in which thirty persons were assembled round the body of a child only two months old, and ten persons were so seriously injured in consequence that they were removed to the hospital, where they lie, some with broken legs and arms. There has been no death.
The "Western Mail," February 26, 1877:
An unusual event took place in Cardiff at about twelve o'clock on Sunday night. A front room in Ellen-street, Newtown, was the scene of a wake, the corpse being that of a little boy, whose parents resided on the premises. At the time just mentioned the room was full of a number of sympathetic friends, who, agreeably with the custom on such occasions, were occupying themselves with story-telling. Suddenly, just as the father of the deceased had given expression to the words "I'll tell the next tale," an inexplicable noise, such as might be produced by the cracking of joists, was heard, and without further warning the entire company found themselves precipitated into a cellar beneath, the candles, coffin, and corpse being tumbled together among the people. The confusion was something extraordinary, and it took some time for the melancholy party to grope their way to the upper part of the building fortunately none were hurt, and the corpse having been removed to another room, it was decided to adjourn the wake.
The "Worcester Journal," September 27, 1856:
On Friday night an accident occurred at a wake in Killalala, which was very nearly ended fatally. During the night the floor of an upper room in which the body was laid out and the people assembled, gave way, and fell with its living weight into a cellar beneath. A scene of terrible confusion ensued.
The "Dundee Courier," September 25, 1869:
An accident of most alarming occurred in a dwelling house in Salford on Wednesday evening. The house is of a construction similar to the greater number of the houses in back streets, which are known as single houses, consisting only of a ground floor with a large cellar underneath, and an apartment above. The ground floor in the house in question was occupied by Mrs. Rosannah Murray. Wednesday evening sixteen or seventeen people (men, women, and children) met in this house between seven and eight o'clock, for the purpose of "waking the body" of Mrs Murray's daughter, who had died some time previous. The people had not been long in the house when the floor, which consisted of stone flags, supported by couplings, or bars of timber, suddenly gave way, and fell with a tremendous crash into the cellar, a distance of seven or eight feet. The corpse, the people in the house, and all the furniture were precipitated with it. The furniture, of course, was much damaged, but, fortunately, though many of the people, especially the women, were greatly frightened and put into a state of great excitement, no bodily injuries of a serious nature were sustained. The cause assigned for the accident is that the bars which supported the floor were completely rotten.
The "Edinburgh Evening News," November 23, 1883:
While a wake was proceeding in a cottage in Dublin on the bodies a woman and a child, the flooring gave way and the assembled party were precipitated into a disused well. The people and the bodies were extricated with considerable difficulty, but fortunately no person was seriously injured.
Well, there you have it. If, after reading all this, you still persist in paying your last respects in person, don't blame me if you wind up electrocuted, shot, crushed, incinerated or beaten for your pains.
On the bright side: If you think these stories were horrifying, just wait until I chronicle what happens at those grim sinkholes of death and devastation known as wedding parties.