This is not meant to be a macabre post, but an instructive one on coffins from past years. It is not often we find information on coffins used 160 years ago. This solid cast iron coffin must have been very expensive in 1858 when it was manufactured. In the article the words ‘coffin’ and ‘casket’ are used interchangeably, but in my research, I’ve found that the word coffin should be used for this particular burial instrument. A coffin was, as is mentioned in the article, more the ‘Egyptian’ type – an eight-sided box that tapers down from the widest part to the feet. A casket is a rectangular box.
I found this post while researching George Helm of Fulton County, as he is the person who knew who was buried in this coffin.
The Hickman Courier, Fulton County, Kentucky
Thursday, May 25, 1922
Iron Coffin Found In Edge of River
Said to Contain Body of Child Which Was Buried Before Civil War
On last Thursday afternoon, while examining the river bank below the Mengel Company, Colonel C. L. Walker and W. C. Vance found a coffin in the edge of the river. The coffin was found to be cast iron and such a curiosity that men were gotten to bring it up on the banks. The coffin was found to be two-thirds full of black water, the accumulation, possibly of half a century, as the casket was air tight and the only seepage being where one of the screws went through in the head plate, and this had rusted over. The coffin was five feet and three inches long, very narrow at the head, and tapered down to ten and one-half inches at the foot, and inside measurement of only seven inches, the type of the Egyptian coffin, the widest part being only 17 inches outside measure and 15 inches inside measurement. The coffin had been cast in two equal parts – the top and bottom – and were bolted together. There were three handles on each side, and the bolts clamping the halves were put through these handles and the coffin sealed. There was a plate at the head, which, when removed, disclosed a heavy glass plate beneath, but the contents were obscured by the black water. The glass plate was removed and the water poured out, showing a skeleton, the bones all apart. Those who first saw the casket said they had never seen one of its style. Later, marks were found on the coffin, showing the figures ‘48’ and the words ‘Manufactured by Fiske Brothers of New York, N.Y.’ The coffin was solid cast iron and, in its day, had, no doubt, been an expensive one. It bore the ravages of time wonderfully. With the river bank caving at that point the coffin was left in the water’s edge, uncovered. After a number of inquiries, George Helm state he knew the identity of the person – a child – who was a first cousin of his wife, and buried there before the Civil War. The date of the coffin showed it was manufacture seventy-four years ago. The coffin was buried Friday, after being viewed by hundreds of people.
Categories: Newspaper Articles
My first thought is how and why was the coffin at the edge of the water? Now, that is macabre.
The Mississippi River gives and takes land according to flooding. In 1860 the cemetery was probably further from the river, but through the years land eroded and eventually the casket was found at the edge.