17th and 18th century coffin burial in america

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Transcript 17th and 18th century coffin burial in america

• The Egyptians 5000 years ago buried their
dead in simple graves at the east end of their
villages. Thousand of years later they used
most of their energies up in the care,
preservation and disposal of the dead.
• The mere passage of time or the geographic
location guarantees nothing about the burial
customs of certain cultures or people.
• In society today we as Americans spend more
money on funerals than do most of our
neighboring countries.
• It is interesting to note that our neighboring
cultures spend more time observing morning
customs and ceremonies than we in America
• It must be admitted that the precise nature of
ceremonies, goods and equipment
incorporated into behavior toward the dead is
always subject to the circumstances of a
particular culture.
Natural Resources
National Disasters
• It is highly doubtful that coffins were imported
at any time during the colonial period. Why?
Ocean voyage was costly and slow and the length of
time was to long in a society that did not practice
embalming. They couldn’t wait for the order to be
filled abroad and shipped to them.
• During this time the colonist did not stockpile
coffins. Why?
Because there were coffinmakers available locally who
could make the coffins on demand and they turned
out pretty respectable coffins.
• Coffin furniture- trimmings and fittings- were
imported during the 18th century.
• Coffin furniture began to take hold in America
after the 1800’s.
• Early American coffins were made of wood.
• The different varieties of wood revealed the
economic status of the person buried.
• The shape was nearly always octagonal with
all the sides flat.
• When the trade of coffin making became a
full-time occupation, coffin-shops emerged
followed by coffin warehouses and furnishings
undertakers.(remember from the previous
• Following the war of 1812, there was rapid
growth and spread of coffin shops. Why?
• With the productive enterprise of coffin
making, the emphasis in funerals began to
shift in the direction of the coffin, especially
with regard to price, quality and diversity of
• In 1825 John Dillon made a “Mahogany
Coffin”, lined, trimmed, hinged, and mounted
for $24.
• Remember (from chapter 4) that in 1678
David Porter’s casket was only 12s, which was
less than 1/4 of the total cost of the liquor
alone. In 1825 the casket was almost 2/3 of
the funeral bill.
• The most significant development in funeral
business in the 19th century was the growth
of coffin shops and the increased attention to
the casket as a major item in the burial.
• Throughout the 19th century in America, by
means of experimentation carried out by a
considerable number of people, the old
fashioned coffin slowly became transformed
into the modern casket.
• Around 1800 there was a determined effort to
improve the function, style, and composition
of the coffin.
• They wanted to improve by:
– increasing utility
– better indicate the importance of the deceased
and their family
– provide protection against grave robbers
– protect against the elements
– should be more artistic and beautiful in order to
influence an aesthetic movement in burials.
• Lead lined coffins were used to help prevent
decay of the body.
– The American Naval hero of the Revolutionary
War, John Paul Jones was buried in 1792 in a
lead coffin and his limbs wrapped in tin foil.
– In 1905 his body was recovered and was still
recognizable because of the preservation ability of
the lead and tin foil.
• That being said, why do you think we don’t
just wrap people in tin foil and bury them
– With the growth of medical science in England
and the increased need for cadavers to be
used in anatomical studies the practice of
graverobbing and body snatching became
common enough to cause alarm over the
safety of the dead.
– British trade undertakers were the first to
utilize coffins made of iron that were
advertised as ghoul-proof. (improved coffins
pg. 162)
• Before 1850 the primary claim of caskets was
that is was beautiful and therefore suitable for
use in a public funeral. This started the
gradual drift in mood of the funeral to from
gloomy to beautiful.
• A corresponding development is to be found in
the current emphasis on restorative art as one
of the most valued aspects of the embalming
• Five major themes in defining and fulfilling the
proper function of the coffin.
– Utility
– Status indication
– Preservation of the body
– Protection
– Aesthetic representation
• Coffins of material other than wood made
their appearance in the first half of the 19th
• In 1836 patents were granted for coffins made
of stone or marble and hydraulic cement.
– These patents were allowed to expire in 1849
because the coffins were hard to manufacture and
or too heavy to be handled and were not very nice
• By 1860 coffin patents included iron, cement,
marble and artificial stone, potter’s clay…
• Cement and wood, zinc, iron and glass.
• Before the turn of the century the list was
extended to include elastic material including:
vulcanized rubber, fabricated metals, papiermache, aluminum, cloth and wood, wood and
glass, and coffins with inner-coffins.
Fisk Metallic Coffin
• It was perhaps the most remarkable coffin
ever patented and put into widespread use in
Fisk Metallic Coffin
• “An Air-tight Coffin of Cast or Raised Metal.”
• It resembled an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus
with a glass plate to allow the face to be
visible (like a divers helmet).
• It was made by Almond D. Fisk.
• It claimed to be air-tight, used the least
amount of metal possible, so it was
• It could either take all of the air out of the
casket or if you wanted to you could add any
gas or fluid you wanted.
– What could they have filled the coffin with?
• They sold for $7.00 to $40.00.
• During the Civil War advertisements, the Fisk
coffins were sold by other manufacturing
companies so we could believe the patent
expired or Almond D. Fisk had died.
• Advertisement pg. 165
– In the burial of The Honorable John C. Calhoun at
the Congressional Cemetery the other
congressmen were impressed to write- “…We
witnessed the utility of your ornamental burial
case. It impressed us with the belief that it is the
best article known by us for transporting the dead
to their final resting place.”
– President James K. Polk was buried in a
similar case after being wrapped in a silk
winding sheet, his coffin was lined in copper
and sealed. (Titanic unknown baby boy)
Large Scale Manufacture of Metallic Burial
• By the mid-1800’s the small coffin shops were
no longer dominating the market.
• Stove manufacturers began to make burial
cases out of metal.
• Their advantages were:
– protection from plagues and epidemics
– protection against water seepage and vermin
– easy to move for re-burial
– Re-burial was important because it was not
uncommon for urban cemetery’s to be moved
frequently. Also, bodies could be transported easily
with the steamboat and the rail in the metal coffins.
– The large scale shipment of bodies back to family
homesteads or family vaults no doubt received its
greatest impetus with the mass return of the Civil
War soldiers killed in battle.
• In 1854 the wholesale price of a six foot
“Ornamental Bronzed Case” was $20.50.
• In 1854 a “Cloth Covered Case” was an
additional $21.00
• The cloth covered casket were a European
design…they constituted the luxury level of
burial receptacles.
How do we now view cloth covered caskets?
Metallic Burial Casket
• In 1859, A.C. Barstow of Rhode Island
developed the “ogee” design, a system of
overlapping ribs.
Metallic Burial Casket
• The curves of the “ogee” design served a
specific purpose, what do you thing the
purpose was?
To remove as much of the excess material as
possible. It goes without saying the less
material used the lighter the casket becomes
and the less material wasted therefore the
lower the cost of the casket.
Metallic Burial Casket
• The term casket suggests a jewel box or a
container for something valuable (a Cask).
• Iron Casketts on the import list of articles in
the Colonies referenced an iron box or
container not a burial receptacle.
Therefore the term evolved as an American term
from the two origins.
Metallic Burial Casket
• In 1862 there was a change in the burial cases.
The advertisements spoke of its advantages:
– it was simple in design
– not ornate
– air-tight
– it claimed it would stop the spread of contagion
and for a time would arrest the process of
• The most radical change was that they were
now building the casket so it consisted of two
large sections of plate glass.
Why do you think they wanted to start using
plate glass?
• The decision was based on the presentation of
the dead in a receptacle designed to provide
an aesthetically pleasing setting for the
visually prominent and dramatically centered
object of attention.
• In the early 1870’s the first true sheet metal
caskets were made by Crane, Breed, and Co.
• This was the beginning of the lighter sheet
metal caskets gradually replacing the heavier
cast iron caskets.
• In the 1890’s the term casket was starting to
be use more frequently than coffin.
• The caskets were square in form and the
octagonal coffin was no longer used.
• Still today the wedge shaped octagonal
“coffin,” rarely appears in America, and the
American “casket” has yet to be popularly
accepted in England and Europe.
Why do you think that is?
Cloth Burial Cases
• An actual line of cloth covered caskets began
in 1871 with the Samuel Stein Patent Burial
• They were made of wood with metal
reinforcements and were cloth covered.
• It was his idea to make a casket that was light
strong and aesthetically pleasing.
Cloth Burial Cases
• Stein was a showcase builder and tried to
carry his “showcase” idea over to the casket
design with a casket that was built with all
glass sides and showcase in style.
• It was later determined that it was too
“innovational for the time.”
• Stein first triumph was his securing of the
order for a casket to be used for the funeral of
James Gordon Bennett…proprietor and editor
of the New York Herald. (pg. 174)
• Stein merged with National Casket Co. in 1890
and they made 600 cloth covered caskets a
• His second triumph was his display at the
Philadelphia Centennial in 1876. His
permission to show his caskets was revoked
and he built a building finishing only hours
before the Exposition opened.
• This success put Stein Manufacturing
Company on the map and …
• Reinforced the fashion of placing coffins and
caskets on display in coffin shops and in
undertaking establishments where such
receptacles were.
• His third milestone was the order received for
the Ex-President Ulysses S. Grant.
• In 1855 Stein made the casket for President
Grant. It was called the “Style E State Casket”
• Made with the finest black broadcloth, heavy
silver metal mountings, flat top, with full
French plate glass. Its inner metallic case was
especially finished on the interior and set off
by a pillow on which the General’s initials
were embroidered. The result, claimed by a
company brochure, was a “real triumph.”
Also rans
• The 3 types of burial receptacles commonly
used during the 19th century were:
– the metallic “mummy case”
– the cloth-covered metal reinforced burial case
– the traditional wooden coffin
– All were gradually modified in an effort to improve
their appearances.
– Many other receptacles were dreamed up, but
never gained popular acceptance…The Also Rans.
Also Rans
• Two influences were at cross purposes in the
experimentation of the The Also Rans:
– Potential market for more artistic or more
serviceable funeral recepticle.
– Second was the “hard facts” of production and
distribution. Many of the inventors and the
innovators never managed to get their proposals
beyond the idea stage.
Money, Patents, Limited Manufacturing Ability
• The also rans were:
– terra cotta
– wood and cement
– glass and iron
– cross shaped
• The designs were box like, long and narrow,
and octagon
Also Rans
• Terra Cotta Coffin, 1855:
– David Sholl, 1855
– Composed of Terra Cotta or pottery ware
– Lighter than the earlier cement types
Also Rans
• Wood and Cement, 1839:
– William H. Bachtel of Canton, Ohio
– An Intermediate step between the cement coffin
and its eventual form as a burial vault
– Became to heavy to transport efficiently
Also Rans
• Coffin of Glass Plates and Iron Bands, 1859:
– John R. Cannon of New Albany, Indiana.
– Long and narrow, hexagonal, with all sides made
in sections of glass.
– Cement was used to keep unit air tight with iron
bands to hold the lid secure.
– Removed a portion of the air inside. Thought to
make the body look more life-like.
Also Rans
• Glass Coffin, Air Tight, with Rib-Flange, 1860:
– George W. Scollay of St. Louis, Missouri
– More along rectangle casket lines
– Not to be filled with “poisonous liquor” to destroy
the animalcula, but remove the air for same effect
Also Rans
• “Showcase-cakset:”
– Samuel Stein, about 1870
– Built to display the body in its physical entirety
– To enhance the handsome setting part of which
was comprised by the casket
Also Rans
• Cruciform or Cross-shaped Casket:
– Oswego Cruciform Casket Co. Oswego, N.Y., 1877
– Shaped like the crucifix
– Marketed to the Christian minded
– “the Common Sense Casket”
Life Signals
• Purpose- fear of live burial and grave robbers.
• What were the grave robbers nicknamed?
Resurrectionists (body snatchers)
They stole bodies from graves to sell to
Life Signals
• Christian Eisenbrandt, Baltimore, MD, 1843
– A new and useful improvements to coffins
– Life preserving coffins in case of doubtful death
– Designed with wires and pins and a spring lid to
enable the occupant of the coffin, by the slightest
movement of the hand or head to have the coffin
lid spring open.
How would that work if it were buried?
Life Signals
Life Signals
• The next life preserving coffins were designed
to operate after burial.
• Franz Vester of Newark, NJ
– Square tube, containing a ladder and a cord, one
end of which was to be placed in the hand of the
person laid in the coffin, while the other extended
up to a bell on the top of the tube which was
attached to the head end of the coffin
Life Signals
Life Signals
• Theodore Schroeder and Herman Wuest of
Hoboken, NJ in 1871
– A narrow round tube , similar to a speaking tube,
attached to the head end of the coffin in such a
manner that a rope within might be pulled by the
buried person, releasing an air opening in the
mouth of the tube and simultaneously setting off
an electrical alarm.
Life Signals
Life Signals
• Albert Fearnaught, Indianapolis, Indiana in
– Contraption that released a flag through the end
of a tube which projected up from the foot of the
grave, if its occupant were to move a hand.
Life Signals
Life Signals
• John Krichbaum of Youngstown, Ohio in 1882
– Consisted of pipes, bars, tubes and cross-pins,
which would upon movement of the hands of
“persons buried in a trance,” open an air vent and
at the same time give indication that there was life
in the coffin below.
Life Signals
Life Signals
• Another creation of the inventive mind
applied to the problem of protecting the
graves from the ressurectionists– The coffin Torpedo-a device, made of iron, about
an inch in diameter and six inches long, contained
a charge of explosive and a mechanism set to go
off with the tampering of any coffin which had
properly been prepared.
What other problems would have been brought
about by the torpedo?
Burial Vaults and Outside Boxes
• The idea started from the desire of permanent
protection of the body from ghouls and the
• Original material used during the 19th century
were grave liners of rock, stone, and brick.
Later concrete slabs were used in sectionals
sealed with sand-cement mortar.
• The were called burial safes and mort-safes.
• The concrete vault as we know it today was
not common until after 1900.
• During 1900-1920 the number of vault patents
granted were the greatest in history.
• People started wanting protection for the
casket because it was so beautiful.
• The terminology starting in the late 1840’s
– mummy-case
– burial-case
– coffin-case
– casket-burial case
– grave vault (1870’s)
• George Boyd made the metal grave vault
which is used today in the same form and
– He developed the burglar proof vault unknowingly
however, the principal of the vault was the air
seal. Thus the Boyd vault was originally made to
sell for protection against grave robbing, but
developed into the present air sealed burial vault.
• The Champion Company and the Springfield
Metallic Casket Company made most of the
vaults in the 1890’s.
• By 1915, 5% to 10% of all funerals included a
vault, nearly all metal.
• They became used for protection of the casket
and the remains.
Furnished Outside Boxes
• The Stein Manufacturing Company made
boxes of cedar, chestnut, oak, and mahogany.
• They were $25 to $23 for adult sizes.
What is another reason that we use vaults
Outer Burial Containers/Vaults
Outer Burial Containers/Vaults
• Protection of
Casket &
• Protect
Continuity of