Thirty-three-year-old Eliza Gale died this date, November 12th, in 1853 and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. Dr. Samuel Tucker assigned Ms. Gale’s cause of death as “Sudden Death.” It appears that the doctor did not take the time nor the care to investigate her medical history with her family. Dr. Tucker had a prestigious address at 212 Walnut Street and likely volunteered at the Southern Dispensary, a clinic for the poor. It could be that Tucker never saw Ms. Gale and simply signed a vague death certificate.
There is very little information on the Gales. The 1853 City Directory reports an Edward Gale living at the same address as Eliza Gale. He was employed as a drayman. A drayman was historically the driver of a dray, a flat-bed wagon pulled by horses or mules, that was used for transport of all kinds of goods. There is no information on any employment for Ms. Gale. It appears that the Gales may have been recent residents of the city. They lived on Duponceau Street – an infamous location.
Duponceau Street was located between Spruce and Walnut Streets and 8th and 9th Streets, very near Washington Square. For decades, the street was home to numerous bordellos or houses of prostitution. In addition to the local clientele, it was popular with traveling merchants, salesmen, and freight wagon drivers. (1) The previous name of the narrow thoroughfare was Blackberry Alley. In 1849, the city fathers thought that, by the act of changing the name, the Alley would somehow magically erase the problem. This was not the first nor the last time that this was attempted. It never worked and certainly did not work this time.
The police were always being called to Duponceau Street the “shame and disgrace of the city.”(2) At all times of the day and night, there were screaming, drunken brawls that spilled out on to the street from the brothels at #3, #4, #5, #6, #8, and #24 Duponceau Street. The Gales lived at #2 Duponceau! With the disturbances, the police would come and arrest a couple of the participants and leave the street to business as usual.
According to the Philadelphia Board of Health records, there were 214 deaths in 1853 attributed to “Sudden Death” or cause of death “Unknown.” Forty out of the 2, 486 so far identified at BBG have the cause of death as “Unknown” or “Sudden Death.”
Eliza Gale died on a cold, wet day in November and was buried at Bethel Burying Ground. I could not locate any further information on Mr. Gale.
(1) Philadelphia Inquirer, 7 April 1852.
(2) Philadelphia Inquirer, 6 September 1854, p.1.
For further reading, please go to – Ill-Fame on Blackberry Alley