Several weeks ago, while rummaging through hundreds of old newspaper columns, I came across several late 1800s photo postcards inside an old envelope printed by Harry Fischer Studios on Front Street, Marietta, showing different poses and different dates of family members lying in state in the parlor of their home on Franklin Street. I acquired these photos inside the home after buying the house and all of its contents in the late 1970s.
In just about every older home in Washington County, someone has died at one time or another, most from natural causes, old age, or from some other kind of sickness for which a cure didn't exist in the early part of the century.
In the early 1800s, there weren't that many funeral homes in Marietta. Even if there were, most people couldn't afford the added expense. Most funerals in Marietta during this time period were held at home, usually in the parlor. Dealing with dead was a real part of life. Back then, according to Ohio law, if the body of the deceased was not embalmed, the dearly departed had to be buried within 48 hours.
Preparing the body for burial in a local cemetery in Washington County in the early part of the century usually involved four items - a wash rag, a bucket of water, a razor, and a comb. In some cases, the cavities of the dead person were stuffed with herbs containing myrrh, sandalwood, and cedar.
They were most effective antibacterial agents used to preserve the corpse until burial. Once the body was prepared at home it would usually be displayed by an open window. Family and friends would grace the casket with flowers and cedar not so much as offerings. but more to conceal the odor.
Before embalming returned in the early 1900s, the original purpose for sitting up all night with the dead in the parlor was to watch for any signs of life. It has been known for a fact in medical history that many bodies buried during this time without being embalmed were later dug up for relocation to another cemetery or some other purpose. Sometimes it was discovered that at the time of burial, the deceased wasn't really dead after all. It would have been horrifying for anyone to have to go through such an ordeal. Science today will tell you it happened when the body was not embalmed.
A few years ago there was a story on national television about a woman rising up out of her casket at a funeral home in Canton. It was said she lived for a few weeks and died again.
Caskets used for burial in Washington County in the 1800s were usually homemade. Hardware for the caskets could be purchased at Nyes Hardware in Marietta or any other mercantile. Some hardware stores in Marietta would offer to bring a cooling table to your home and embalm the body for you.
While they were there, they would offer additional services, such as selling you a casket which could run as high as $100 for the fancy units.
They might offer you transportation to the cemetery or church on a buckboard and even take care of digging the grave for an additional fee. For an extra fee, the body of the departed could be driven down his or her street and past their home one last time.
Some of the early graves in Marietta were marked with bricks, stones, or boards. During the late 1800s, it became fashionable to use headstones sold by local dealers.
In the 1880s, many headstones were purchased through the catalogs of Sears & Roebuck. The standard 12x12x4 were $5.10. Larger ones, 16x16x6, cost $26.70 ... a lot of money in 1880.
Larry Koon is the author of several price guide books on antiques and collectibles. His column appears every Monday on Life. Send letters to Treasure in the Attic, c/o The Marietta Times, 700 Channel Lane, Marietta 45750; or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. When writing, send a complete description of the item, along with size, color, any markings on the item along with condition the item is in, and how the item was obtained, and any other information. If possible, send a photograph. Letters will be answered through this column.