Sunday, August 31, 2008

UPDATE on Mrs. Jane Pitcock Coming to Life at her Funeral

Sandi Goren, a well-known South Central Kentucky historian wrote that “This story was a joke started by the editor of a Monroe Co newspaper. Mrs. Pitcock was deceased the first time. She was reported to have been extremely arthritic and it was difficult placing the remains in the coffin. The coffin lid was tacked shut but no one told the pastor. When he had the lid opened, the body sprang upward. This information from current day citizens whose parents were at the funeral.”

I found another account of the event from the Glasgow Times: "One of the oldest ladies of the Gamaliel section died Jan. 24th 1911. Monroe County. After funeral sermon, the undertaker removed lid from coffin to allow her many friends to take a last look before placing her in tomb. The old lady raised both hands above her head and sat up in the coffin. In just two minutes the house was empty. She was taken home and again reported dead on Friday. At last reports she has not been buried." I’ve also learned that this story was picked up by the Associated Press and appeared in newspapers across the country. I now have copies of the article from 10 different newspapers. Two accounts are pictured above, from the Portsmouth NH Herald and the Washington Post. (I also love the cut-off headline "Girl Loses Her Scalp" - Good Lord - and people think depressing articles in the media are something new?) The story seems to have been embellished a little along the way, as one account has her "murmuring of wonderful visions". Also, there seems to be confusion as to whether her funeral was being held at home or in a church.

I suppose we have to accept Ms. Goren’s explanation, as newspaper editors frequently did not check facts and it was common for them to “play jokes” on their readers back in this era. It does seem strange, though, that the pastor was not informed of the situation, especially with the casket being “tacked shut” but then opened, presumably by him or under his direction. And if it was tacked shut, wouldn't it be a little difficult to open? It does occur to me that the explanation could be a way to account for an event that appeared inexplicable - especially an event that spooked a lot of good, solid, no-nonsense Kentucky folks.

I also understand that there are documented cases of people being taken for dead and “coming to life” days later, sometimes above ground and (shudder) sometimes below. In fact, the fear of being buried alive was widespread in the 1800s and various “tests” for death were performed to prevent it, such as pricking the toe deeply with a needle or holding a mirror to the nose as a means to detect respiration. It just so happens that I have a church cookbook - and it’s not all that old either, it's from about 1950 - that has a page called Tests of Death with a lot of these old methods in it, right next to the part that gives tips on polishing silver and whitening linens. Can you believe that? I’ll look that up and post it, now that I think of it.

Anyway, I’m still not sure how Mrs. Jane Pitcock fits into the family tree – I’m awaiting a response from a fellow Pitcock researcher in Indiana who will surely know.

© 2008, copyright Stephen Mills


Denise Levenick, The Family Curator said...

This posting and the articles are a treasure, Stephen. Something especially good to relay on Halloween! I am glad to find your Blog.

Stephen said...

Thanks, Denise, I love this story, too! Also, I did a previous post on this topic, with a similar article from the Dallas Morning News, in case you didn't see it. Stephen

Eric Harston said...

Just based on the comment that Jane Pitcock was an octogenarian these articles may pertain to Perlina Economy Brown Pitcock. I have no idea if she was also known as Jane, however she was born Oct 17, 1830 and died Jan 21, 1911 in Monroe Co., Ky which certainly would make her an octagenarian. Perlina was the wife of John Fisher Pitcock II.
I might add that her undertaker was from Gamaliel and she was buried in Gamaliel Cemetery as well.

Stephen said...

Thanks, Eric, when I saw Perlina's death certificate I wondered if Jane was her nickname. I'm thinking it must be her, as the Jane Pitcock that another researcher pointed me to died earlier than 1911, and I find no other 80+ year old Pitcock woman who died in that year. Thanks for reading and commenting!