Panic! At the Funeral

The majority of funerals that I’ve attended have been somber, solemn events that thankfully went as smoothly as could be expected without chaos and destruction. (Well, there was that one time I walked into a nest of baby ticks, but I didn’t make a big deal out of that.) In most situations, I always imagine the worst case scenario. For example, what if the casket fell over during the service? Here are some examples of send-offs gone array that are much worse than a toppled corpse (even though that would be very, very traumatic.)

Evening Public Ledger [Philadelphia] 26 Feb. 1916
In Chalfonte, Pennsylvania, the floor underneath a crowd of funeral attendees collapsed. Mrs. Abram Garges in the casket with about 100 guests fell, barely escaping a descent to the cellar. “A panic followed. Women and children cried. One woman was temporarily deranged.”
Somehow no one was hurt.
Bemidji Daily Pioneer [Minn.] 20 Dec. 1909
Joseph Prefontaine’s mother was being viewed at his home in 1909 when a candle’s flame caught some funeral hangings on fire. Joseph’s son, George, was severely burned trying to keep his grandmother’s body from catching fire and a seven-year-old who was asleep amidst the panic, died in the fire.
The St. Paul Globe 20 Jan. 1902
A “scene of wild disorder at the United Brethern church near Humbolt” broke out as “flames burst through the floor beneath the casket” during the preacher’s eulogy. As the air inside the church blackened, mourners departed through windows in a most chaotic scene. Some men gathered their composure and put out the fire, saving the church. The reverend finished his sermon at the cemetery. The cause of the fire wasn’t a supernatural entity’s final remarks on Mrs. Edward Obenbaugh, but rather a stove downstairs that had overheated.
The Citizen [KY] 28 Nov. 1907
At a double-funeral for Pennsylvania homicide victims in 1907, a rumor circulated that the church was collapsing. As mourners raced for the exits, the heater was knocked over, making the situation even more chaotic. One man was killed and eight others were injured as the “frenzied” crowd stampeded the doors.
Pullman Herald [Wash.] 9 Jan. 1904

Carrie Sayres (also spelled as “Sayre”) was a schoolteacher at the Myra Bradwell School and one of the many people who perished in the Iroquois Theater Fire on December 30, 1903. 572 people died (including over 200 children) during a holiday performance of an Eddie Foy show. (I’m finding many interesting clippings about this tragedy that I’ll be posting eventually.)

The disaster left Chicago on high alert, as tragedies often do.

During Carrie’s highly-attended Jan. 4 funeral, a fire started several doors down from the church. At the first cry of “fire” from outside, people began to panic. Even though police asked the mourners to remain inside the church because they weren’t in any danger, the scent of smoke wafting through the air caused the crowd to scramble towards the open street. Pallbearers rushed to the side of Carrie’s casket in case they had to run with it amidst the chaos.

When the people realized that they were safe, many of them went back inside the church where Carrie’s funeral continued.