March 10, 2014

Josephus Spooks- My Life as an Undertaker

written by Rosa Morgan

I live a lonely life as an undertaker, ostracized in my town by folks who consider me strange or unclean for my profession. But it does not stop them from calling upon me when their loved ones are dead. 
I cannot make my living solely as an undertaker, but it is that occupation which brings me the most gratification. I have always been fascinated by death; watching as life seeps out of the body with the last breath. The heart may continue beating for several minutes, but eventually that too stops. Their face transforms, the mouth gapes, the eyes glaze, the tongue darkens. The once vibrant and unique person transforms into a carcass with blood pooling in its limbs. 
There are few families who still prepare the body to lay in their front parlor. Most are all too relieved for me to appear at their threshold though it is still terribly hard for the bereaved to let go of the body. Death is staring them in the face and yet their is a disbelief that their loved one will never come home again.

To transport the corpse, I have built an ice refrigeration casket based on Ebenezer Holmes of Saratogo's design, who embalmed our President Grant.

Keeping the body cool to delay deterioration is vital, so at my mortuary, the body is placed on a cooling table with blocks of ice beneath. I disinfect the body with careful attention to eyes, nose and mouth. A light coating of petroleum jelly keeps the lids shut. 

Closing the mouth requires sewing a ligature through the gums, nostrils, septum and chin, while maintaining a natural look to the lips. I have never been asked to place a Charon's obol in the mouth like the ancient Greeks did to pay the ferryman over the River Styx, but I have concealed the Eucharist in the mouth to protect a soul heavenward. 

Shaving the corpse is generally required and with the use of post-mortem shaving powder, this process has been simplified with less discoloration to the skin.

The embalming is next wherein lies the technical astuteness of a physician. Using a gravity jar and cannula, bodily fluids are removed and replaced with arsenic and lead
through the jugular vein and carotid artery.  

Starting at the feet, I massage the fluids through the body moving toward the heart. I stuff sawdust in the incision to soak up excess moisture before sewing it up.

The adroit touch of an artist is required next with a wide variety of tinted powders and liquids to bring back the blush of life. At all times the same respect given to a living individual is offered to the dead.  

An oak coffin is often chosen though a more expensive mahogany or cypress box will withstand the ravages of time far better. Plentiful sprays of flowers are a nice touch and will help mask any unpleasant odors.

I always encourage family members to take photos of their loved one's as a way of remembrance.

I instruct the pall-bearers, usually male members of the family to carry the casket by the handles at waist height, though in England it is carried on the shoulders.

It is in that final hour when the body is laid in its final resting place that I can give a sigh of relief. My job has been done to the best of my abilities for the living and the dead. 
It has been a privilege and I undertake it humbly.  

February 14, 2014

Victorian Valentine Gifts

written by: Rosa Morgan Valentine's Day is upon us and woe is the lover who has not considered procuring a gift to express their affection. A card is always appreciated and one cannot go amiss with cupids and lace.Consider the Love Token. Ready at hand is a coin to smooth flat and hand engrave. The Liberty Seated dine is a popular denomination as the silver is a softer metal than a nickle or copper cent. Engrave your initials and that of your beloved.Hair is not only for mourning jewellery. Verily, brooches in gold with pearls or precious stones are apropos to hold a lock from you or your loved one. Hair is the perfect medium to represent enduring love as it does not rot away.

For sailors far away at sea, crafting a Valentine from shells with a loving sentiment would be greatly appreciated. But if you are too busy holystoning the decks then you can acquire while on shore-leave on the island of Barbados where their creation is a cottage industry.

Prince Albert was especially generous to his dear wife, Queen Victoria. This gold and enamel necklace contained 44 teeth from stags hunted on the royal estate at Balmoral. A bit gruesome for some tastes, but Victoria cherished it.

 Do not despair if you have not the funds for any of these gifts, for the most precious of Valentines is your own heartfelt words. A letter describing the attributes of your loved one will be cherished and most certain to bring a tear of joy to her eye.


January 25, 2014

Annie's Victorian Bedchamber

written by Rosa Morgan 
Annie had come from humble beginnings in a home of eight, with four to a bed. And when she went into service at the manor house, she again shared a bed with two other scullery maids. 

Marriage to Cornelius, a publisher of a wildly popular penny dreadful, brought her good fortune and prideful ownership of a West Street terraced house. 

When Cornelius handed over her weekly pin money, she set it aside instead of indulging in yards of pretty ribbon or a new hat.  
Her dream was to
fit out her own bedchamber in similar fashion to her previous employers. She no longer scrubbed the grates and emptied the slops; she was respectable now and wanted everyone to know it. Besides, the bedchamber was sacrosanct to the home where she would give birth to her children and most likely be laid out at her death.

With her Sears Roebuck Catalog in hand, she studied the items necessary to create an atmosphere of luxury and good taste. A bare room was considered to be in poor taste, so every surface was to be filled with an excess of ornament to display her new-found wealth.

Every element was thoughtfully considered, beginning with the ceiling. She was limited in paint colors because there were only so many organic pigments available. White of course was not available and though rich dark colors would disguise soot and grime of gas and charcoal lighting, she instead chose a dove grey. For wallpaper, she chose "Pickfair" and it's accompanying frieze to run above the picture rail.
She happened upon a well-priced Chamber set including an oaken bureau, a counterpane stand, two chairs, which would would create a cozy sitting by the fire, and a washbasin stand. 

As for the wooden bed; she would use it, but having recently heard Florence Nightingale speak of germs causing disease, she would have preferred a more hygienic brass bed. And she would still open windows each day to rid the chamber of noxious air.

Adoring pattern, she found an Oriental rug to cover the drafty floorboards and a crazy quilt for the bed. She had a long list of bibelots for the mantle: a stuffed peacock, Dresden figurines, an ivory fan, a daguerreotype of themselves, and a clock. She had a delightful chamberpot for underneath the bed, which her thoughtful mother-in-law had given them upon their marriage.

She needed a wardrobe to store their clothes, a standing screen in the corner for disrobing, and a vanity for her toiletries.

Most importantly, she wanted to create a reading nook with a damask covered fainting couch for herself, a leather club chair for her husband with a footstool, in case he suffered gout, and a reading lamp.
After adding up all the costs for creating her bedchamber, she realized she had been living a fool's dream and that never would her pin money obtain her lofty goal. So hiding away her dogeared catalog, she let go of her dream and carried on with her chores.

Annie's yearnings had not gone unnoticed, verily, Cornelius had studied each of her marked pages and when he received a bonus at work, he ordered every item and had it delivered posthaste. Tears of joy flowed as did kisses of gratitude when Annie saw her bedchamber completed, for it exceeded her vision and no better husband could she have asked for.