Fisk Metallic Burial Case
South Carolina Genealogy Trails

The first patent for a cast iron coffin was awarded in 1848 to Almond J. Fisk from New York. He produced three models before 1854,  with four different styles and six sizes, and came from dated contexts ranging from 1858 to 1865.  The first two models that Fisk manufactured were in the shape of a sarcophagus, ornamented with faux drapery, and often displayed floral designs.

In 1854, the Fisk Model 3 was introduced.  An improved form of it was patented in March of 1858.  This new cast iron burial case was torpedo-shaped, expanding to permit an increase in width from the head to the arms and narrowing again to the feet.  It had straight, smooth sides. It was entirely devoid of the appearance of folded drapery and lacked ornamentation and one version was covered with an imitation rosewood finish that was applied to the surface like a decal or wallpaper. 

The Model 3 remained in production well into the post-Civil War period. It was available in 17 sizes, from 29.5 inches long by 9.5 inches at the widest point, to 80 inches long by 21 inches wide. The upper and lower portions were fastened together by screws passing through flanges that bordered the line of intersection. A cement of a putty-Iike consistency (composed of equal portions of ground white lead and dry red lead mixed with pure, boiled linseed oil) was deposited in a groove running around the flange. Lamp-black was sometimes added to the cement to darken the color. The upper shell was then pressed into the lower and screwed down by degrees until the screws were tight. The cement hardened within a few hours.

Other dealers, such as W.M. Raymond and Company of New York and Chicago, and the Crane, Breed, and Co. of Cincinnati, obtained licenses to produce Fisk coffins early in the 1850s and introduced several modified versions. 

The Fisk Company was sold to the Cincinnati stove and hollow ware manufacturer, Crane, Breed & Co. in 1853.  The new company started a large scale production of coffins, some priced at $100 or more.

The undertaking profession is evident in advertisements of that period. In Nashville, Tennessee, R.H. Groomes and Company was established as a cabinet company during the mid-1840s. But by 1859, they were advertising as an undertaking establishment offering a wide range of burial services and coffins and by 1868, they described themselves as dealers in metallic burial cases. The cost of a typical coffin during this time ranged between $20 and $170, with the average cost being $33.

Extant copies of Fisk and Crane's 1858 catalog are held by the Cincinnati Historical Society  and Crane’s 1867 catalog is held by the Columbus Historical Society. Those catalogs and price lists suggest that Fisk's and Crane’s Patent Metallic Burial Cases preserved the body.  They were advertised as with luxurious silk lining materials, having individualized nameplates, a new system of locks and keys, coming in eighteen different sizes and varying in length from 22 inches to 6 1/2 feet.  These burial cases 'preserved and glorified the body lain inside.'  'Thorouglhly enameled inside and out' and 'impervious to air, indestructible' were the key selling points for the product.  They were warranted not to rust or decay.  When properly sealed with cement, a Fisk metallic coffin was 'perfectly air tight and free from the exhalation of offensive oders, protected it against water, against vermin, and safeguarded against contagion.'  These features were important when it was desired to transport the deceased by train or steambboat to another location.

During the summer of 2002,  Archaeologists relocating the Mason Cemetery in Giles County, Tennessee near the Alabama state line , excavated thirty-nine human interments including four adults and two children within cast iron coffins or metallic burial cases.

In January 2001, with the re-interment of the Buzzard family, there was a discovery in Newberry County, South Carolina of three metal caskets from Fisk Metallic Burial Case Co. of Providence Rhode Island. 

The Smithsonian did some research on an excavated coffin in Pulaski, Tennessee in 2002 during the relocation of a family cemetery.  The burial contained the only unmarked cast iron coffin, thus an investigation to reveal the identity of the individual was desired prior to its reburial.  It was found to be Isaac Newton Mason (1828-1862) a private in the 1st Tennessee Cavalry Regiment during the Civil War.

On April 1, 2005, construction workers dig beneath a gas line outside an 80-year-old apartment building at 1465 Columbia Rd. NW, Accomack County, Virginia, stumbled on the elegant coffin.  It turns out (after a lengthy search) that he was 15 year old William T. White.

The Tattnall Journal out of Reidsville, GA writes a four part serious about "The McIntosh Mummy...Rare cast iron mummy coffin discovered on Sapelo River".  A lot of research went into finding out who was encased within this Fisk Coffin.  Very interesting reading.....

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