Life & Letters

Correspondence

About this Item

Title: William Ingram to Walt Whitman, 10 August 1888

Date: August 10, 1888

Source: Transcribed from digital images or a microfilm reproduction of the original item. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the correspondence, see our statement of editorial policy.

Location: The Bayley-Whitman Collection, Ohio Wesleyan University, Delaware, OH

Whitman Archive ID: owu.00022

Contributors to digital file: Jeannette Schollaert, Alex Ashland, Ian Faith, and Stephanie Blalock



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8.10.1888

Walt Whitman
Dear Friend

When I left you I went straight to the prison and gave that book to Rush1 in his cell with your respects, and how the poor fellow's eyes shone out with joy for your remembrance of him in prison. He says his spirit will be in your back yard in Camden all the time he will be reading it. His mind is well occupied in his cell as he has a good many scientific books to read. I had given him when there before a copy of Jean Paul Richter2 and he was delighted beyond measure in reading it and he thought Germany could hardly prouce such a great mind.

Wm Cooper of this city (the free thinker, that I took over to see you some years ago) sent to the country for me to come as he was near the end with lung trouble, he wanted me to lay him quietly away with the least trouble and expense possible and no priest to come near him and he would like to be cremated, so I found the President of that Society and made all the arrangements and returned and told him all about it which pleased him very much, he put his arms around my neck in a fatherly way, and said he would now die in peace and thought he would not last till morning this was friday night, he passed away the next morning saturday at ½ past 6 without a struggle, his mind was as clear as it was 20 years ago when I first heard him lecturing on Darwin's3 theory. Twenty four hours after his death the retort fires were started on Sunday morning and at 4 in the afternoon the oven was at white heat. 2800 degrees all ready and he was put in a white sheet which was soaked in alum and laid on a sheet of thin iron, the centre of it about 6 inches lower than the edges, and this was suspended on a scienfitic machine which had a long rod in front of it something like a fishing pole and the iron pan was suspended from this rod, and then it was moved or wheeled into another room and when it got close to the wall an oven door opened and in went the rod and pan with my friend Cooper, no hands touched it, no fizzing or blaze, no smell or smoke of any kind whatever, the rod came out of itself, and left the pan behind, the door closed without noise and every thing was as quiet and orderly as a Quaker Meeting, nothing to jar or hurt the feelings of any one, the most perfect work I ever saw. Thanks to science for doing such good, clean, fine, work. There is a small aperture of glass about two inches round to look into this oven so that you can see the process of what is going on inside. As the gasses from the body arise they are conveyed down into a furnace underneath the oven and all the gasses are burned as fast as made nothing whatever to go up the chimney no smell inside or outside the building. it was a new experience for me, as I looked through the little glass door and saw my friend vanishing away like a snow flake before my eyes. that thought then as well as now crowded into my brain when I looked on him whom I had known for 20 years, a man that had read all about the Religion and Philosophy of India, China, Egypt, Greece, Rome and Europe and how often we had talked over these people and their Philosophy, and I standing outside that oven was left to think, had his thinking come to an end before my eyes there. What a selfish race we are, how we fight with law as well as no law to grasp and accumulate and steal of the poor all for what. The millionaire, beggar, priest, lawyer doctor and philosopher all have to come to this as soon as the doctor says that that is the last breath he has to breathe and he then can be removed legally into a hot oven and in 2 hours nothing is left of him except 5 lbs of bone dust which I pay 2 cts a lb for, to enrich my farm. so man after all his knowledge and boasting of the millions that he owns is just worth 10 cents what a self conceited thing man is, and it was well said of old, Earth to Earth, ashes to ashes, and dust to dust.

These are part of what thoughts were crowding in my brain as I stood watching for one hour till my friend Cooper vanished away before my eyes. so I felt I must tell you that there is a new Crematory built in Philadelphia between Germantown and Chestnut Hill and they have 30 acres of land round the Building which cost them $75,000 to put up, and it is the finest one in the world. my friend Cooper was 66 years old, and he was the Sixth person that had been cremated there and the cost is $50. I did all he wished me to do in this matter and I know well he would have been pleased to know that his remains were returned so quickly to the elements from whence they came.

Just write me if able or send me one word, say better or worse

From Your Friend
Wm Ingram

Telford
Bucks Co,
Pa,

I would like you when you have read this, to send it to Mrs Johnston4

150 Bowery
New York


Correspondent:
William Ingram, a Quaker, kept a tea store in Philadelphia. Of Ingram, Whitman observed to Horace Traubel: "He is a man of the Thomas Paine stripe—full of benevolent impulses, of radicalism, of the desire to alleviate the sufferings of the world—especially the sufferings of prisoners in jails, who are his protégés" (Horace Traubel, With Walt Whitman in Camden, Sunday, May 20, 1888).

Notes:

1. Whitman records in his Commonplace Book (Charles E. Feinberg Collection of the Papers of Walt Whitman, 1839–1919, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.) that he gave Ingram a copy of Specimen Days to take to George Rush, Jr., a prisoner in the Bucks County (Pennsylvania) Prison. [back]

2. Jean Paul (Johann Paul Friedrich) Richter (1763–1825) was a German Romantic author, best known for his humor and political satire. For more on Richter, see Paul Fleming, The Pleasures of Abandonment: Jean Paul and the Life of Humor (Würzburg, Germany: Königshausen & Neumann, 2005). [back]

3. Charles Robert Darwin (1809–1882) was an English naturalist and geologist, best known for his contributions to the theory of evolution and natural selection, first published in On The Origin of Species (1859). For more on Darwin, see Sandra Herbert, Charles Dawin, Geologist (New York: Cornell University Press, 2005).  [back]

4. Alma Calder Johnston was an author and the second wife of John H. Johnston. Her family owned a home and property in Equinunk, Pennsylvania. For more on the Johnstons, see Susan L. Roberson, "Johnston, John H. (1837–1919) and Alma Calder" (Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia, ed. J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998). [back]


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