In 1969, workers were digging in an effort to install a septic tank in a garden at Egypt Plantation near Cruger, Mississippi. Suddenly they hit something solid. Upon unearthing the hard mass, they discovered a cast iron casket. Cast iron caskets appeared in the first half of the nineteenth century and were a unique commodity. Within the casket lay a woman long dead, though completely preserved, from her auburn hair to her red velvet brocade dress, gloves, and slippers.
Given the cast iron casket, the fashion of her dress, and the mode of embalmment, experts were able to deduce that The Lady in Red died some time in the mid-1830's. How was she so amazingly well-preserved after having been dead over a hundred years? The answer lies in the following newspaper account of the incident:
(Jackson, MS) Clarion-Ledger, 29 August 1969:
"The method of preservation used for the Lady In Red was common prior to the Civil War, when custom-made caskets, shaped to the body, were ordered as one would order a dress.
"The glass that sealed the coffin was placed over the body, and alcohol was poured inside until it was level full, and then sealed with a castiron tip.
"When the back hoe machine hit the coffin, alcohol spilled from the casket and spots of the liquid were seen on the folds of the woman's dress."
Caskets such as the one in which The Lady in Red was found were very expensive. It is assumed that the casket was custom made to fit her petite size. She was obviously a woman from an elite background. Buried only three feet under the earth, it can be supposed that the burial was either unintentional or done in haste. So how did the lady in red come to be there?
Several hypotheses exist. Perhaps she was a member of the Ricks family, the owners of the plantation? However, at the time of her death, Egypt Plantation was run by absentee owners. The owner's family did not reside on the property, and the garden was not located on a site that used to be a cemetery. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that she was at all related to the owner of the plantation. Could she have died of yellow fever while traveling via steamboat, necessitating her immediate burial? Given the elaborate coffin and embalming technique employed, I feel this is highly unlikely. My best guest, which can only be a guess given the mysterious nature of this story, is that The Lady in Red died somewhere far from home. She was placed in cast iron and preserved in alcohol to facilitate her transport to her burial site. Something went amiss during her lugubrious journey, and she either fell out of the riverboat or was mistakenly unloaded. Those are my thoughts. I could be quite far from the truth.
Who was The Lady in Red? We will never know. She lies in her final resting place, the pauper's side of Odd Fellows Cemetery in Lexington, Mississippi.
Photo copyright Natalie Maynor.