I am at it again!
Posted by Lesley on May 03, 1998 at 01:12:17:
I found another unusual quote. The quote is from the book The Choking Doberman and Other "New" Urban Legands by Jan Harold Brunvand.
The authentic historical background for "The Corpse in the Cask" legend is that in the days before refridgeration or other effective meat preservation techniques, persons who died far away from home were either buried where they perished, or else they had to be preserved in the only way available- usually immersed in a barrel of alcohol- for shipment back home. This became standard procedure for Europeans who were trading, exploring, or waging war abroad, provided that the deceased was a prominent enough person to merit such special efforts. Inevitably then, rumors arose that somewhere along the way some of the preserving fluid was inadvertently drunk. Hence, the legend of "The Corpse in the Cask."
Probably the most famous occurance of this story is the one that became attached to the British naval hero of all British naval heros, Admiral Horatio Nelson. After Lord Nelson fell at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, his body was placed in a barrel of brandy (not rum as folklore sometimes has it) for shipment home. At Gibraltar the fluid was replaced with wine. But, according to hearsay, when the barrel was opened in England, it was noted that it was considerable less than full; and thus the story arose that sailors aboard the ship Victory had sipped off some of the preserving medium.
From that incident, the phrase "tapping the admiral" arose, although it is not a phrase that you are not very likely to hear nowadays. Brtish sailors formerly said "tapping the admiral" for drinking rum, against regulations, out of a coconut from which the milk had been drained; later the phrase was used for drinking surreptitiously from a cask by means of a straw inserted through a small hole.
Many wandering Englishmen actually did end up being shipped home inside barrels of spirits after they died abraod, and in numerous instances, the barrels were supposedly (who can say?) tapped, presumable always unwittingly. The specifics of the stories varied, as befits folklore. For example, the barrel of wine containing the remains of General Edward Packenham, who fell in the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, was said to have been accidently diverted to South Carolina, where it was served at a party.
Rodney Dale repeats a recent English version of "The Corpse in the Cask" that brings the aftermath of the old custom down to the present. A family has bought a huge old Georgian/Regency house, and in one of its many cellar rooms they discover a dozen large barrels. They begin to cut them in half to use as planters, and one of them is found to contain Jamaican rum. After a year or so of enjoying various rum drinks and desserts, the family has finally emptied the barrel and starts again to cut it in half. Inside they find the well preserved body of a late colonial from a century of so earlier who had been shipped home immersed in the spirits but had never been buried. (This is one of the urban legends rendered as a fully developed story by "an English poet and critic, who... wishes to remain anonymous"; see "Frances Grieg," Heads You Lose in the Bibliography.)
Brunvand goes on to state that in all the stories the corpse always outranks the drinkers. ;-) The earliest version of this story dates from the Rennaisance where a Jewish person is preserved in spices and honey for illegal shipmant home to Italy.
- What great stories! Thanks for sharing! nfm Laura W 21:23:37 5/03/98 (0)
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