Monday, June 11, 2012

A corpse in Catty

I haven't delved into the history of Catasauqua for a while, so I decided to surf around on the web.   I came across an e-book that is free called A History of Catasauqua in Lehigh County written in 1914.  As I perused the chapters one was marked "Corpse" so,  I just had to read it.

 1914 Cadillac Hearse, not local, but I didn't know what picture to use 
It talks about Owen Fredericks who began directing funerals in 1848, it starts out by saying that "In ye good and olden times" loved ones did not understand the art of preparing and laying out a corpse so as to conceal the horror of death.  It goes on further to describe how Mr. Fredericks prepared bodies in those days.  They would put a board between two chairs, cover the board with wet sod and then place the body of the wet sod (grass side up of course) and then cover the body with a sheet.  Later the undertaker bought a metal box 2 feet by 7 feet and 6 inches deep where you could put the body in and pack it with ice.   He upgraded to a metal box which was 24 inches deep where the body would lay in the bottom,  wrapped in a sheet with a tray on top that would be filled with ice and had a lid.   There was a little spout so the water could drain into a bucket.  Catasauqua was introduced to embalming in 1884.

Another interest fact was there were no caretakers for the cemeteries back then.  The pall bearers would also be the grave diggers or grave makers, as they were called.  When a person died, 4 men would be sought out.  These four men would fill a "stuetze" (I can't find a translation of this, you guess is as good as mine) with water or cider and go out to the cemetery and dig the grave.  When they were done they would go to the "house of mourning" where they would have a dinner prepared by the neighbor ladies.  The neighbors also prepared the food for the out of town mourners.   When a prominent person would die several beef roasts, a whole veal calf and 2 to 3 dozen chickens were used as a base for a funeral dinner.  It was said that Frederick Biery introduced this tradition to our area. (He must of had a large appetite)

After the actual funeral the pall bearers, would then put on their overalls and fill in the grave, and then they were released from their duty

In a different book, "Early History and Reminiscences of Catasauqua, Pennsylvania" written by William Glace (also in 1914, must of been a busy year)  described the first funeral in Catasauqua.
 
"FIRST FUNERAL— After the completion of the first furnace, a young man named John Thomas
(a relative of the superintendent) fell from its top and was killed. Samuel Thomas, the
 son of the superintendent, told me a few years prior to his decease, that he saw the young man drop. The body was buried in the grave-yard at the rear of the Presbyterian Church on 5th street, in Allentown. (wow, that was a hike)  It was carried on a bier, on the shoulders of relays of fellow-employees, who wore high hats from which hung long streamers of black crepe, after the custom at that time prevalent in Wales."

There is a lot of interesting reading in these two books and some obscure facts, and you know I love the obscure so look for more from .....Another day in Catasauqua