Friday, December 28, 2012

A Corpse Going to a Ball

Let's end the year with a cautionary tale. Don't forget to dress warmly when you travel to a ball.

From the New York Observer.

Those who read the thrilling "passages from the diary of a London Physician," that were published a few years since, will remember one tale under the title of "Death at the Toilet." Although it was asserted by the writer that those narratives were the records of facts, few, I presume, were willing to believe that real life could furnish matter of such romantic interest. Especially did the one alluded to strike my own mind as quite unnatural and I read it, as others, admiring the genius more than the veracity of the writer.

Perhaps some who have seen the words at the head of this article may imagine that they are about to be treated to a passage from the dreams of fancy; but they are mistaken. I have a sad and solemn tale of truth to relate, and when it has been read, there will be no hestation in believing that "truth is stranger than fiction.' No coloring shall be laid on the story: no art of embellishment shall heighten its interest: it shall be told to others as it was told to me, and you shall be convinced that there is nothing more than truth in the story of a corpse that went to a ball.

You recollect the first day of January, 1840. It was a bitter cold day. It was cold as far south as the city of New York, and up here in the country, where I am writing, it was terribly severe. You could not ride far against the wind without being exposed to freezing. I have heard of two cases of death by cold on that day in this region, and of another case in which the sufferer was saved by great exertion, when at the point of perishing.

The night of that day was to be observed, as is usual here, by a New Year's ball. Invitations had been extended for many miles around, and a great gathering of the young, and gay, and thoughtless, was expected.— Extensive preparations had been made for an evening of merriment and glee, and merry hearts beat quickly in anticipation of the pleasures of the scene. None was happier in the thought of coming joy than Miss — who took her seat in the sleigh, by the side of her partner for the evening, and set our for a ride of some twenty miles, to join the dance.

She was young and gay, and her charms of youth and beauty never were lovelier than when dressed for that New Year's ball. Of course too thinly clad for the season, and especially for that dreadful day, she had not gone far before she complained of being cold, very cold; but their anxiety to reach the end of their ride in time to be present at the opening of the dance, induced them to hurry onward without stopping by the way. Not long after this complaining, she said that she felt perfectly comfortable, was now quite warm and that there was no necessity of delay on her account. They reached, at length, the house where the company were gathering ; the young man leaped from the sleigh, and extended his hand to assist her out, but she did not offer hers; he spoke to her, but she answered not; she was dead—stone dead—frozen stiff—a corpse on the way to a ball.

But the most shocking part of the tale is yet to be told; The Ball Went On!!! The dance was as merry, and the music was as sweet, as if one of the invited guests had not been called into eternity.

Is this last statement doubted? I remember reading of a ball in New Hampshire, a few years since, at which four young men retired to play cards, and while at their game, one of the number fell in a fit and expired. The rest rolled his body under the table, and covered it up with cloaks, and said nothing about it till the ball was over.

In the village in which I lived for many years there was a ball but a few steps from my house, and one of the young ladies who was to be there died suddenly on the very day of the ball. It was proposed by one of the managers to postpone the dance, but the others would not consent, and on it went, although the corpse lay in a house directly in front of the ball-room, and the dim light could be seen by every dancer, and the sound of the music and dancing disturbed the melancholy watchers.

W. (Supplements to the Connecticut Courant, for the years 1840 and 1841. Vol 6,  Hartford: John L. Boswell. p. 31 (vol.6, No. 4, Saturday, February 15, 1840.))

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