If you guessed that the item was a coffin, you’re close….but not quite correct. It’s a corpse preserver, used in the days before embalming to preserve a body during the mourning period.
This item came to CHS in 1994 from a donor in Middletown who owned a funeral parlor. According to the donor, dad found the corpse preserver in a house in Litchfield in the 1920s. A page in an 1876 catalog of C. Rogers & Brothers in West Meriden (shown above) advertised these devices, patented and manufactured by the firm of Disbrow & Van Cleve in New Jersey. They were available in a variety of sizes and finishes. Our example, at more than six feet in length, was the largest. It even incorporated a kind of ratcheted elevator mechanism that allowed the body to be raised inside the compartment for better viewing of the deceased’s face!
How common are surviving examples of these “corpse preservers” today? Not very. Interested in seeing it for yourself? After all, October is the month for all things macabre. So join us on Saturday, October 20 for “CHS Gets Creepy”, a behind-the-scenes look at some of our most ghoulish collections. Click here to learn more!