I’m not sure I would ever know what to write about when it came to the bizarre, fantastic and extremely interesting things that I have on occasion chosen to write about if not for the great research that our good friend Bryan Prince (part of the fantastic super heroes pair known as Shannon and Bryan Prince from Buxton).
It’s this far-reaching research that he brought to my attention for this week that got me pondering a great mystery from Morpeth, in the 1860s, that I have no definitive answer for but I find endlessly fascinating.
Our story starts in Morpeth, a community in the 1860s that was bustling and exciting. It all started with a lawyer named W. H. Wittrock.
It would appear that Wittrock had been ill for several months and, in an effort to seek a cure or to lessen his pain, took a large number of morphine pills and died from an apparent overdose.
However, our story gets more interesting. Wittrock was laid out in the local church for all of the citizens of Morpeth to pay their final respects to a lawyer that many of the people knew and possibly dealt with over the years.
The corpse appeared in his coffin dressed in a fine suit of black broadcloth with gloves on his hands and boots on his feet. More than one person reported touching the corpse and speculating that the body … “when touched imported a peculiar sensation not derived usually from the bodies of a dead person.”
Why would a casual mourner have reason to touch the body?
At any rate, the coffin was eventually closed and taken to the pleasant burial ground connected with the Church of England near Morpeth where it was buried.
You might think that to be the end of the story, but it was only the beginning.
Stories began that Wittrock, who was a Dane, had been in discussion with the Cartier-Macdonald government for the position of “Immigrant Agent for Denmark and Germany”.
He failed in his bid and was apparently despondent.
He was described by townspeople in Morpeth as a “tough, wiry, healthy man and somewhat of a bon vivant.”
When the townspeople put all of these various facts together there was a rumour started that he was just possibly not dead but has faked his death to start another life under an assumed name.
And has the newspaper of the day put it, “the vital spark had never fled from his body.”
Now when the insurance company that had given $10,000 to Mrs. Wittrock on her husband’s death heard the rumour, they apparently, according to some reports taken from the local newspaper, went out to the Morpeth Cemetery, dug up Wittrock’s coffin and found that it was filled with “cordwood and stones”.
Now to lend further evidence to support this forgery, Mrs. Wittrock wasted little time after the accounts of her husband had been liquidated, and left town without a proper send off. They didn’t say that she left “in the middle of the night” but…that was the unsaid meaning!
Further stories surfaced that Mr. Whittrock had been seen alive and well in New York and then later in Buffalo where his wife, the story goes, had “fled to”!
We will never know what the true story is and whether things in the newspaper had been surmised or simply made up to sell their papers.
The next time we hear of Mrs. Wittrock, she is living in Leavenworth, Kansas and she is claimed to be at her death at 89 years of age one of the oldest and earliest citizens of that town.
Apparently she never married again (assuming her husband was really dead) and whatever the truth was she took it to her grave.
Another interesting story from the early days of Morpeth, a village that never ceases to amaze me.