The Leichenkapelchen–Corpse House

Photo with the caption: A small stone structure stands on the east side of the Moravian Education Building. Although it has no prime purpose at the present time, it was formerly used as a corpse house where bodies of the deceased congregation members were kept the night before and during the funeral service.

There was no double about it. When the gravedigger had partly filled in Thomas Utley’s grave he heard three distinct knocks coming from the coffin below. He quickly called a number of the brethren to the spot. They decided to reopen the coffin for if they failed to do so an unfounded “talk” would be the result. After it was taken up and reopened and a careful inspection made they found no sign of vitality in brother Utley and decided he was very dead. The coffin was again lowered, but as the grave was filled in thy all again heard the knocking. After agreeing that Claus Collyn must have used green lumber in making the coffin and that the ground pressure caused the knocking, it was considered a closed subject. However, this was in 1771 and in those days of much superstition it is safe to surmise that the ghost of Thomas would be around for a long time. Should anyone care to check on this some dark night, it is grave No. 24. Simply count eleven rows from the entrance to the old Moravian cemetery and then six to the right, and that is Thomas Utley’s resting place.

Even in those early days there were men that made a good living supplying dead bodies to medical schools. Joe Sturgis, Jr. was the night watchman for Lititz and when the Collegium asked Joe to look in the Corpse House frequently at night to guard against these “corpse snatchers” he protested violently. He was a brave man but not that brave. However he had to agree or lose his job. How well he did it is not known, but we can be certain he did it very quickly.

The church paid for the coffins and Collyn charged $1.62 for them. When he suggested making rough boxes to be first put into the graves the Church Fathers decided against this as being a needless expense. Probably Collyn wanted to make sure there would be no more coffin rapping. It was necessary for him to carry a variety of sizes on hand as bodies at that time were only kept in the Corpse House one night with the funeral the following day, except in very cold weather.

The grave digger had to use a system that was not too popular with some folks. By checking daily with the local physician as to the status of his critical patients he would have the grave ready in advance. From Dr. Horne’s memories comes the rare case of a Mrs. Philip Conn who lived in the Worley House. She was on the critical list and from her bedroom window she had a clear view of the graveyard between the Sister’s House and the Parsonage. There was Joe Sturgis digging her grave. So infuriated was she that for spite she decided she would not die. And sure enough she lived for two more years.

By the 1850’s when the Economy was no longer profitable because of Warwick competition, the coffin business was one of those that suffered. Lititz had two cabinetmakers then and they not only supplied the Church but the rural area as well. From the Kling family file in the archives of the Historical Foundation we find that George Adam Kling, a Lutheran, brought his family to Warwick from Germany in 1854. He was an expert cabinet maker and since coffins here were then bringing a good price, he decided to go into competition. However he used a new angle. While his product was probably at the market price of $2.40, he had a special price of $1.60 for the poor.

Kling did not have to stock a large quantity of children’s coffins for by this time Lititz had learned how to control many of the epidemics that had swept through the village for at least fifty years. Smallpox, Diphtheria, scarlet fever, and other contagious diseases had taken unchecked a devastating toll of the young. This was the reason why the population was slow in growing and that only a few of the original names are heard in the town today.

Kling was also an undertaker and the customs of his day can still be seen by attending an Amish funeral. What is not generally known is that his family set a record for patriotism. Three of his sons, a son-in-law and the sweetheart of a daughter served in the Union army – most of them buried in the Moravian cemetery.


Table of Contents