The Fisk Metallic Case

On 12 July 1849, at the age of 81, Dolley Madison died at her home on Lafayette Square in Washington, D.C.  A few close friends and relatives attended her at the end, including her nephew James Madison Cutts, who wrote: “Mrs Madison expire[d] at half past 10 O’Clock…July 12th 1849. without apparent pain in peace with all the world & with her god, as there every reason to believe.”

Dolley’s body was prepared at home and remained there for mourners to pay their respects from Friday through Monday the 16th, when she was moved to St. John’s Episcopal Church. The business of government was postponed during her state funeral that day—the largest to date—attended by President Zachary Taylor, members of the cabinet, members of both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court, in addition to the general public. The Washington correspondent for The Weekly Herald (New York) wrote:

“The body of this distinguished lady, was, on Saturday, placed in one of Messrs. Fisk and Raymond’s patent metallic coffins, bronzed, with a glass inserted, through which could be seen the face of the deceased…On Sunday, young and old, of both sexes, visited the late residence of Mrs. Madison, to behold the face over which the veil was soon to be closed forever. To-day, the case was opened, with a view to an embalming process; and the corpse, at eleven o’clock, was conveyed to St. John’s Church, in the same neighborhood, and there placed on a pedestal, in front of the rector’s desk, within the altar. Hundreds of ladies and gentlemen, who desired to see the rigid features, were disappointed, and they contented themselves with gazing on the silver plate which concealed the face, on which was an inscription of her name…[after the service] the coffin was conveyed to the hearse by eight marines…dressed in white…There were forty-eight carriages, public and private…The body of the deceased was deposited in a vault at the Congressional Burying Ground, where it will remain until autumn, and then be removed to Montpelier, to be deposited close to the sleeping dust of her husband…Peace, peace, to ‘the great relic of a great age, and great generation!’”

Dolley Madison’s burial in a newly-patented Fisk & Raymond Metallic Coffin was mentioned often in newspaper advertisements for the cases. In his 1848 patent, Almond D. Fisk wrote that from these coffins, “the air may be exhausted so completely as entirely to prevent the decay of the contained body on principals well understood.”