in Paris to English and Irish parents in 1841, Coghlan took to the stage in 1860
and became a well-regarded actor and playwrite especially noted for his Shakespearian
roles. He came to the United States in 1876 and never left. While no stranger
to Broadway, he travelled widely with theatrical troupes. In 1898, he produced
a play called “The Royal Box” and took it on the road with himself as one of its
On Oct. 30, 1899 the company came to Galveston,
but the show went on with Coghlan’s understudy in the limelight. When the actor
reached the island city and booked a room at the Tremont
Hotel, he was too sick to perform and got no better, dying on Nov. 27 of heart
failure triggered by the stress of chronic gastritis. The actor’s death made headlines
across the nation and in Europe.
The next day, the Galveston Daily News
reported that Coghlan’s body would be shipped to Prince Edward’s Island in Canada,
his summer home, for burial. On the 29th, the newspaper ran a followup saying
his grieving widow intended to have the body cremated, as had been his wish. But
none of Galveston’s
funeral homes could provide that service, so Mrs. Coghlan would have her late
husband’s remains shipped to New York.
In the meantime, Mrs. Coghlan got
word that her daughter had taken seriously ill in Montreal. Fearing she might
be about to lose another loved one, Mrs. Coghlan rushed to her daughter’s bedside,
leaving her husband’s body in a stout metal casket temporarily held in a “receiving
vault” at Galveston’s
Lakeview Cemetery. There he remained until the hurricane struck nine months later.
weeks after the catastrophic tropical cyclone devastated Galveston,
newspapers reported that the actor’s body had been swept away by high water. “It
is the supposition of those who have been making every effort to locate the missing
casket that it was carried out to sea,” one article noted. The intention had been
for the body to be shipped that winter, but the hurricane had intervened, the
“To Mr. Coghlan’s friends this is the cause of much
worry,” a Connecticut newspaper said. “A force of men searched the cemetery and
the surrounding country…hoping to find some trace of the casket but their search
More than a year later, newspapers said the actor’s casket
had still not been found, despite “a scare head and half-column article” in the
New York Sunday Telegraph reporting it had been.
In 1904, newspapers reported
Coghlan’s coffin had finally turned up on the Texas
mainland, but the occupant of the casket must have been someone else, because
three years later the New York Times carried a story on Jan. 15, 1907 that a hunter
had found Coghlan’s casket partially buried in a marsh in an “out-of-the-way place”
about 18 miles inland from Galveston.
If that really was Coghlan’s casket, newspapers remained silent on the ultimate
disposition of the noted actor’s remains.
Well, at least until 1929. That
year, “Believe it or Not” newspaper columnist Robert L. Ripley came out with a
widely published column claiming that in 1908 Coghlan’s coffin had washed ashore
on Prince Edward’s Island, 2,000 miles by sea from Galveston.
Ripley cited as sources two memoirs written by actors who had worked with Coghlan,
but it seems more plausible that the tale morphed from the supposed finding of
the casket in Texas in 1907.
the actor’s reputed after-life journey to Prince Edwards Island is generally accepted
as a “fakelore,” the basic question remains: What happened to Charles Francis
September 2, 2010