HomeHistoryHistory: 5 Funerals of Historical Figures That No-One Showed Up To

History: 5 Funerals of Historical Figures That No-One Showed Up To

In The Beatles’ ‘Eleanor Rigby’, written by Paul McCartney, the eponymous character is said to have: “Died in the church and was buried along with her name/Nobody came”. The act of people dying alone with no mourners or visitors or family symbolises lonesomeness and grizzliness. Even those now of historic importance have had a funeral as such. Whether they were infamous at the time or yet to be widely known, these are those men that died with very few occupants to witness their putting to rest. 


Charles Babbage

Whilst he was not exactly programming Pong, English polymath Charles Babbage created is referred to as “The Father Of The Computing”.  

Remembering Charles Babbage: 10 quotes by the father of computers -  Education Today News
(Photo courtesy of India Today)

In 1822, Babbage started to invent the first computerised machine, the difference engine. How it works is too complicated for me to explain competently so allow me to copy and paste from the official Wikipedia page: “Some of the most common mathematical functions used in engineering, science and navigation, were, and still are computable with the use of the difference engine’s capability of computing logarithmic and trigonometric functions, which can be approximated by polynomials, so a difference engine can compute many useful tables of numbers.” 

This calculator could produce useful numbers tables, which capture the attention of the British government, who gave Babbage a £1700 gift (£215,000 today). Although spending £17,000 on the production (over £2,000,000), the project never quite panned out.  

File:Charles Babbage by Samuel Laurence.jpg - Wikimedia Commons
Babbage in his younger years (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Babbage had a fallout with designer Joseph Clement over the prices of the high prices of the large precision tools. The duo’s falling out occurred in 1831 so only a prototype was saved, meaning Babbage could not get his name out into the world in his day. 

Declining a knighthood and a baronetcy, Babbage died in 1871, aged 79, “of renal inadequacy, secondary to cystitis.” 

The National Library of Medicine notes that “Charles Babbage was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, London in 1871, the funeral attracting just one carriage.” The Open University adds: “When he died of kidney failure in 1871, Charles Babbage was practically unknown to the public. The funeral attracted only one carriage and three mourners. He did not even receive an obituary.” 

The man’s genius has only been noted in more recent years, where he has gotten the deserved recognition. 


Karl Marx

No matter your view on the political spectrum, the ideas of German philosopher Karl Marx changed history. Planting the seeds of Marxism, although his ideals have never accurately been used as written, dictators such as Stalin, Mao, and Mussolini have all used (flawed iterations of) Karl’s teachings to rule a nation. 

Marx’s economic situation, as you might expect was never a strong one. As his own mother reportedly claimed: “I wish you were more interested in accumulating capital instead of just writing about it.” 

Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion by Gareth Stedman Jones – review |  Biography books | The Guardian
(Photo courtesy of The Guardian)

Karl was constantly kicked out of countries, making him a man without citizenship. As FEE Stories puts it, “He was run out of Prussia in 1842, expelled from France in 1845, rejected from Belgium in 1848, and was forced to leave Prussia—once again—in 1848. He then moved to England in 1849, but Britain denied him citizenship and Prussia refused to re-naturalize him.” Marx even had to pawn off his trousers to put food on the table.  Good thing he had Frederich Engels to constantly top up his piggy bank.  

In this situation, Marx garnered little attention besides that of devoted followers before his death in 1883. 

Having not attended his own father’s funeral, Marx’s resting on March 17th attracted few mourners. 

The number is up for debate. The People magazine noted 25-30 people. “About twenty people were present” is listed in Asa Briggs and John Callow’s Marx In London from 2008. 11 is the figure listed by authors such as Francis Wheen, who claimed: “only eleven mourners attended the funeral”. Tristram Hunt and Rachel Holmes’s books list the same figure. Nine is the amount recorded in first-hand (and illegal) socialist newspaper Der Sozialdemokrat. 

Karl Marx's renowned resting place Highgate Cemetery under threat from  climate crisis | The Independent
Marx’s resting place in Highgate Cemetery (Photo courtesy of The Independent)

The most reliable and accepted number is 13 however. Using contemporary records, 13 names have been strung together as mourners at the funeral. The author adds “how the notion that there were eleven at the funeral became established is not at all clear. No contemporary account I have found mentions that number.” Attendees included Engels, youngest daughter Eleanor, and his sons-in-law as well as a few friends and devotees.  


Oscar Wilde

The downfall of Oscar Wilde caused one of the most popular playwrights of the late 19th century to have nearly no one at all at his funeral. 

The witty Irish writer is seen as the personification of many things: celebrity, overindulgence, idleness, charm – the list goes on. Wilde was a revered playwright, the most famous of his plays being The Importance Of Being Earnest. 

Despite reaching heights as one of the first true ‘celebrities’, it all came crashing down in 1895. 

Oscar Wilde: From Dublin to Paris – Travel by Art
(Photo courtesy of Travel By Art)

In that year, Wilde was sent to prison for two years to do hard labour for gross indecency, effectively homosexuality. Wilde’s case was described by the judge as “the worst case I have ever tried” before cries of “Shame!” rang out in the courtroom. The clues for such were always in plain sight. Wilde often wore bombastic and audacious colours and suits, titled one of his plays An Ideal Husband and his only novel, The Picture Of Dorian Gray, having strong homosexual overtones over the perceived beauty of a painting. Wilde was actually married however and had two children. 

His prison sentence, especially walking on the treadmill for six hours a day at Pentonville Prison, is documented in his last non-posthumous work, The Ballad Of Reading Gaol. After leaving prison in 1898, not only was his reputation in tatters but his wife died.  

Staying oddly reclusive for a man such as himself, Wilde lived out a downtrodden existence until his death, not by syphilis as often stated, in 1900. A particularly gruesome account recalls: “At 5:30 am on November 30th…Foam and blood came from his mouth. He died at 1:50 pm. He had barely breathed his last breath when his body exploded with fluids from the ear, nose, mouth and other orifices.” 

Adventures in Gay History With Oscar Wilde
(Photo courtesy of The Daily Beast)

According to one source, “His funeral mass was read by Fr. Cuthbert Dunne at the church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in the presence of fifty-six people, among them ‘five ladies in deep mourning.” That same account paints a chaotic scene at the funeral: “While Wilde’s coffin was being lowered, Douglas almost fell into the grave. as Wilde’s coffin was being lowered into the grave, it slipped the ropes, crashed to the bottom, and Wilde’s body fell out, leaving his face half-twisted into the mud, much to the horror of those present.” 

Lord Alfred Douglas, the man Wilde had relations with, attended and is said to have thought of the whole thing as cheap. FindADeath.com comments that “The hearse (bearing the number 13) made its way to Bagneux Cemetery, followed by four carriages, Ross and Bosie in the first. As the fourteen mourners pushed for a better view, Bosie almost fell into the grave.” “Bosie” is Douglas, whose near-plunge into the ground is corroborated by another source. Also, note the 14 and only 14 mourners at the funeral of someone who less than a decade earlier was one of the most revered people in London. 

In 1909, Wilde was relocated to the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, France, with a large tomb tribute that took 10 months to build. This site is visited by many per year who try to kiss the monolith. Wilde lays in the same cemetery as the likes of The Doors’ Jim Morrison and Chopin.  


F. Scott Fitzgerald

In what is now his best-known work, The Great Gatsby, Fitzgerald describes the death of the eponymous character as being one that no one showed up to, commenting: “How could a man of such status have such a pathetic and depressing last farewell?” The author’s death would not be too far away from Gatsby’s. 

The Great Gatsby garnered little success in his lifetime selling just over 20,000 copies in its debut year. In fact, in his lifetime his novel The Beautiful And Damned was likely his most famous. That said, Fitzgerald failed to capture permanent success perhaps down to other factors such as his unstable marriage, alcoholism, and the Great Depression. 

F. Scott Fitzgerald Biography - Facts, Childhood, Family Life & Achievements
(Photo courtesy of Famous People)

He died aged 44 in 1940. 

The funeral was held two days after Christmas. His daughter Scottie dissuaded friend and companion Sheila Graham from coming, with famous writer Dorothy Parker taking her place. Parker remarked “the poor son of a bitch” after seeing the 20-30 people who had bothered to show up, a reference to Gatsby. 

His corpse, poorly embalmed, arrived to rest in Maryland. The Roman Catholic Church declined a request for the non-practising Catholic Fitzgerald to be buried in Saint Mary’s Cemetery so was instead buried with a Protestant service. 

Those present included only child Scottie, lifelong editor Maxwell Perkins, and agent Harold Ober. Notably not however, his wife Zelda. 

The odd couple: John Keats and F. Scott Fitzgerald - The Spectator World
(Photo courtesy of The Spectator World)

A different source explains: “Only 25 people, including Scottie, attended the funeral on a cold, wet winter’s day and his editor had to pay for six pallbearers to carry the body.” It is said that “the Protestant minister who performed the ceremony allegedly had never…heard of him.” 

Slowly, his legacy faded away, with many dismissing him as a nostalgic, sentimental, failed jazz age writer. Some were harsher with poet Edna St Vincent Millay referring to him as “a stupid old woman with whom someone has left a diamond; she is extremely proud of the diamond and shows it to everyone who comes by, and everyone is surprised that such an ignorant old woman should possess so valuable a jewel.” 

Only in more recent decades since his death has his legacy grown. 


Edgar Allan Poe

Your son’s goth girlfriend’s favourite writer, Poe has created a legacy that is commonly described using a single word: macabre. Most synonymous with his poem The Raven, Poe has caved an image of a man shrouded in black, with an eerie sense of unknowing. 

In his lifetime, despite writing works like his only full novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, The Tell-Tale Heart, and The Murders in the Rue Morgue – the most successful book in Poe’s lifetime was a shellfish manual. Yes, The Conchologist’s First Book was Poe’s only true commercial success, selling out in two months and the worst part – he never even got any royalties for the work. 

Edgar Allan Poe Netflix Series "House of Usher" Begins Production
(Photo courtesy of Bloody Disgusting)

Poe garnered many enemies in his time, being highly critical of others’ work. An alcoholic, constantly in money troubles (due to his gambling) and marrying his 13-year-old cousin, Poe was certainly a divisive figure at the time to those who knew him. 

Perhaps the most famous thing about Poe and why he has become such an ominous figure is his bizarre death. 

Leaving his home in Richmond, Poe had unrecorded activity for a week before he was found in ill-fitting clothes in a state of delirium in a gutter. Incoherent, he is thought to have repeatedly uttered the name Reynolds. That is all we know as to his state as he died shortly thereafter. His cause of death has been up for debate ever since his death over 170 years ago, with endless theories thrown up. 

It is widely reported that only seven people showed up to the funeral of a man whose public image was that of a slovenly drunk. Of those who turned up, it was select family members like uncle Henry Herring and allies such as physician Joseph Snodgrass. 

Physician John Moran also claims Poe was “visited by some of the first individuals of the city, many of them anxious to have a lock of his hair.” Even worse, Edgar Allan’s tombstone was destroyed before installation when a derailed train crashed into a stonecutter’s yard. Poe’s tombstone was destroyed before it could be installed when a train derailed and crashed into a stonecutter’s yard. 

What’s more, the ceremony lasted a grant time of three minutes according to The News Record “because of the cold, damp weather.”

Denis O'Hare Talks 'Edgar Allan Poe: Buried Alive' on PBS — Interview |  IndieWire
Denis O’Hare played Poe in PBS’ Buried Alive (Photo courtesy of IndieWire)

 

After this terrible send-off for a man who spent years writing about death, his legacy was further tarnished by Rufus Wilmot Griswold. Under the pseudonym Ludwig, he wrote an obituary for Poe which was heavily sprinkled with negativity. He comments “few will be grieved by it [Poe’s death]” and that that he had “few or no friends.” A memoir by Griswold further assassinated the character of Poe, which has left such an impression that the crazed, incestual death-obsessive maniac is quite wrongly what is associated today. 

 “Quoth the raven, ‘Nevermore!’” 

Epilogue

Whenever someone so prominent dies, a large procession in tribute is usually held. Despite being some of the most important figures in their fields, these are the heroes who never quite got the send-off they deserved. 

Although now celebrated, it is sad to hear that their put-to-rest was a glum experience with very few present to remember those who have had so much influence for the work they have done. It is only right they deserved more of a curtain call to signal their end with a greater appreciation from those who would watch in tribute as they are seen for the last time before becoming worm’s meat. 

So with that, I say, that the world now honours their body of work, even if that was not the perception at the time. Hopefully, still, they can truly rest in peace. 

Griffin Kaye
Griffin Kaye
Griffin Kaye is a contributing writer for TWM. He is a life-long pro wrestling, comedy and music fan. He can be reached by e-mail at GriffinKaye1@hotmail.com, on Twitter @GriffinKaye1, as well as on Instagram at @TheGriffinKaye, @NoContextQI, @NoContextHaveIGotNewsForYou, @NoContextMilesJupp and @WrestlingInTheYears.
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