The Ear in the Wall HTML version
21. The Morgue
There had come a lull in the activities which never entirely cease, night or day, in the
dingy building at the foot of East Twenty-sixth Street. Across the street in the municipal
lodging- house the city's homeless were housed for the night. Even ever wakeful
Bellevue Hospital nearby was comparatively quiet.
The last "dead boat" which carries the city's unclaimed corpses away for burial had long
ago left, when we arrived. The anxious callers who pass all day through the portals of the
mortuary chamber seeking lost friends and relatives had disappeared. Except for the night
keeper and one or two assistants, the Morgue was empty save of the overcrowded dead.
Years before, as a cub reporter on the Star, I had had the gruesome assignment once of
the Morgue. It was the same old place after all these years and it gave me the same
creepy sensations now as it did then. Even the taxicab driver seemed glad to set down his
fares and speed away.
It was ghoulish. I felt then and I did still that instead of contributing to the amelioration of
conditions that could not be otherwise than harrowing, everything about the old Morgue
lent itself to the increase of the horror of the surroundings.
As Kennedy, Carton, and I entered, we found that the principal chamber in the place was
circular. Its walls were lined with the ends of caskets, which, fitting close into drawer-
like apertures were constantly enveloped in the refrigerated air.
It seemed, even at that hour, that if these receptacles were even adequate to contain all of
the daily tenants of the Morgue, much of the anguish and distress inseparable from such a
place might be spared those who of necessity must visit the place seeking their dead. As
it was, even for those bound by no blood ties to the unfortunates who found their way to
the city Morgue, the room was a veritable chamber of horror.
We stood in horrified amazement at what we saw. On the floor, which should be kept
clear, lay the overflow of the day's intake. Bodies for which there was no room in the
cooling boxes, others which were yet awaiting claimants, and still more awaiting transfer
to the public burying ground, lay about in their rough coffins, many of them brutally
It seemed, too, that if ever there was a time when conditions might have been expected to
have halfway adjusted themselves to the pressure which by day brought out all too clearly
the hopeless inadequacy of the facilities provided by the city to perform one of its most
important and inevitable functions, it was at that early morning hour of our visit.
Presumably preparation had been completed for the busy day about to open by setting all
into some semblance of respectful order. But such was not the case. It was impossible.