DEATH IN EARLY AMERICA: History and Folklore of Customs and Superstitions of Medicine, Funerals, Burial and Mourning by Margaret Coffin

DEATH IN EARLY AMERICA: History and Folklore of Customs and Superstitions of Medicine, Funerals, Burial and Mourning

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This started out as folklore research and ended as a collection of curiosities, with no organizing theory or viewpoint, about early ailments, remedies, funeral customs, superstitions and hardware--the latter described in whole chapters about cemeteries, gravestones, coffins and hearses. For openers, Coffin reports on a few bizarre accidents (one befell Franklin Pierce's teenaged son) and lists hanging, Indian wars, dueling and bloodletting as other causes of early death. Browsers will learn that Paul Revere practiced dentistry and will hear John Adams petulantly regretting the death from smallpox of a fellow Revolutionary who refused vaccination. "". . . Numbers who have been inoculated have gone through the distemper without any danger. . . but nothing would do; he must take it in the natural way and die."" CofFin quotes also from the letters of a doctor's family (and from doctors' and coffin makers' account books), resurrects a few epitaphs (there are even a couple for severed limbs--""Here lies the leg of Captain Samuel Jones which was amputated July, 1807""), and takes a fast look at the practice of body snatching (the Vermont medical school refused any cadavers that had been disinterred locally). Odds and ends.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1976
Publisher: Nelson