Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Luck of the Irishman

     Standing in the Old Catholic Cemetery on Broadway in Galveston is the lovely white tombstone of Jeremiah Buckley, who was born across the ocean.

     An immigrant from Larka, County Cork, Ireland, Buckley was a resourceful merchant whose obituary tells the story of a respected man who worked hard for his success.

Galveston Daily News, March 13, 1881, page 4

Death of Jeremiah Buckley

     "On March 1, 1881, at Fort Bend. In this State, Jeremiah Buckley breathed his last, aged fifty-five years. He was born in Cork, Ireland, in the year 1826 and came to the United States in 1849. After a residence of five years in Mobile, Alabama he removed to Galveston, were he laid the basis for a career of prosperity, which was only checked by the war of the States. Prior to its breaking out, Mr. Buckley had sailed for Europe to lay in a stock of foreign goods, suitable for the Southern market, intending on his return to supplement this stock with selections from Northern and Eastern marts of trade. But the cloud of war, at first no bigger than a man’s hand, spread over the whole country; ports were blockaded; commerce crushed; and Mr. Buckley’s assets were buried in the general ruin. 
With the recuperative faculties natural to his countrymen, he emerged from these financial misfortunes and re-established his business in Galveston, which he conducted successfully until 1873, when he became attracted by the pastoral life, and purchased a large farm in fort Bend County, where, as stated, his eventful life ended in the presence of his wife and other friends on the 1st instant. He had no children. His brother, to which he was much devoted, resides at Corpus Christi and is known as one of the largest wool-buyers in Western Texas, being also a large owner of sheep and lands in that section of the Empire State. Deceased, though right and exacting in business, had a warm, generous nature. His friendships, slowly made, were lasting. If the tide of adversity swept over any one to whom he felt kindly, his purse-strings at once flew open and material help was ungrudgingly and freely given, without solicitation. He was a many of marked individuality, and won his position in the battle of life by a fair but ferocious fight. His death is deeply regretted by the community in which he was so widely known and his remains were laid away by gentle hands and sorrowing hearts, which throbbed in unison with his during life. He has passed from earth to put on a purer, finer mold."

     It's a thoughtfully written, beautiful obituary.

     I haven't found the name of his widow, and with no children I wonder how long his name was remembered in the community. At least his beautiful marker certainly keeps his name alive to whomever wanders the rows of the Broadway cemeteries.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Casket vs. Coffin: What's the Difference?

     While I was at a museum the other day, one of the archivists asked me a question that I hear often: "What is the difference between a coffin and a casket…or is there one?"

     I was glad I had the answer to share with her.

     Yes, there is a difference although we tend to use the two terms interchangeably.


     Wooden coffins, which came into use around the early part of the 16th century in the western world, typically have six sides, and the lid lifts off completely. Once the deceased was placed inside, the lid was nailed shut. Think about the classic Halloween decoration or old black-and-white vampire movies, and you have the idea.

     The silhouette is wider at the shoulders and narrows toward the feet. The only handles, if any at all, would have been functional loops of rope to carry it to the graveyard.


     You may be surprised that this was a term originally used for jewelry boxes. When the Victorian sensibilities of proper mourning and tribute came into fashion, the word "casket" began being used for the burial receptacles as well. It makes sense I suppose, since it would hold something precious and certainly sound kinder to the ears of those left behind.

     The casket is different in shape as well, being elongated and four-sided.

     Some caskets feature a split lid to allow for easier viewing of the deceased. This would have been impractical with wooden coffins. The lid of a casket is also hinged, so it is hover entirely detached from the lower portion.

     Lined with metal on the interior, unlike coffins, caskets also usually feature six metal handles for pallbearers. 

Bits of Related Trivia:

     The Greek word "kophinos," meaning basket, refers to the fact that wicker baskets were used in days gone by. There is a new interest in utilizing them for "green burials."

     Ancient Greeks often buried their dead in a sitting position in clay pottery.

     "Fittings" or "coffin furniture" were/are external details such as crucifixes, handles and name plates. The local mortician would often offer "rental" of such adornments which would then be removed immediately before burial. 

     "Trim" was a term used to refer to fabric used to line the interior of coffins.

     When a coffin is used to transport a deceased person it is called a "pall," hence the term "pallbearer" for those that carry it. The word can also refer to a cloth used to drape over the coffin.

     I hope that you found this posting interesting…and not too morbid.

     What bit of trivia do you have to share about the subject?