Cumberland Times-News

September 2, 2012

Looking Back 1896: Where was the casket that went with the handle?

James Rada Jr., Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— In 1896, Frostburg residents seemed to be worried that a grave robber was on the loose. The Frostburg Mining Journal ran an article April 30 under the headline “A Suspicious Find” that explained that a silver-plated casket handle had been found on Maple Street in front of former Justice L. J. Parker’s home.

“It is slightly rusted but otherwise well-preserved, indicating that it had not been long underground. Evidences that it had very lately been wrenched from a casket are seen in the fresh breaks,” the newspaper reported.

Members of the Parker family had heard a wagon and team of horses pass by the house around 2 a.m., which was unusual, “and now believed to have some connection with a grave robbing somewhere,” according to the Frostburg Mining Journal.

The handle had been shown to all of the undertakers in Frostburg in the hopes that one of them would recognize it. None of them did. In fact, they said that the style of handle wasn’t used in the city.

The story took on a life of its own and spread beyond Allegany County, even as far as Spain “where it was published as conclusive evidence of American depravity as a nation of resurrectionists,” the Frostburg Mining Journal noted.

The following week, the newspaper ran another article proclaiming that a reporter from the paper had solved the mystery.

“The Journal is proud to own that it has upon its staff of unapproachable reportorial and editorial artistes a man who combines with his versatility in both respects a distinct forte for detective work. Nothing mysterious baffles him, and, so far, he has not failed in probing apparently inexplicable things to the bottom,” the Frostburg Mining Journal reported.

In February, a coffin and casket salesman had stopped overnight at the St. Cloud Hotel in Frostburg. After making his sales calls in town, he had been packing up his samples and found one that was badly broken. Since it was useless as a sales aid, he had simply tossed it under a table at the hotel.

It remained there for several weeks until it was thrown out on the trash heap. One of J.W. Craig’s children found the handle in the trash and decided to use it as a toy. When he finally tired of it, he threw it in the street where it was found and the ensuing panic began.