In 1867 Jedediah Ray Stone arrived in Saint Augustine shortly after the end of the civil war. It seems Jedediah had traveled the short distance from Green Cove Springs Florida in search of a new area to establish his business of coffin building and undertaking! It was here he met an established furniture maker from Saint Augustine, by the name of Mortimer K. Pratt. It seems that Mr. Pratt plied his furniture trade in an old livery stable that he also owned. The livery and furniture shop was located near, what is now the Cuna and Spanish street area. After much discussion, the two men decided to join forces to form the Pratt and Stone Furniture, Coffin and Undertaking Emporium. The livery was sold off and moved out of its former headquarters.
Undertaking and Coffin building was a new concept, since the business of building coffins had previously been done by either family or friends of the deceased upon death. As for undertaking, and specifically embalming itself this was almost unheard of in the south. It seems Jedediah had learned the art of preservation of the dead or what was and is referred to as embalming in the southern army. He was taught on the battlefield to care for the fallen soldiers who had died in battle. The process involved draining the blood from the deceased and replacing it with a form of grain alcohol in order to slow the decomposition process. This was mainly confined to officers in the confederate army since regular enlisted personal were not valued to that much of a degree. Jedediah, learned directly from medical personnel , both physicians and medics alike that had been doing the morbid practice prior to training of battlefield embalmers. These embalmers became known as embalming surgeons. The practice was bloody and primitive to say the least. Makeshift tents and old barns were used to perform the preparation of the bodies. The blood would curdle in the stifling heat and smell. It would draw flies, as well as wildlife, as the strong odor of decomposition would fill the air and could be smelled for miles. Maggots would fill the preparation area and it was a repulsive sight to everyone who came in contact with it.
It was a common practice in St Augustine and throughout the southern states for the dead to be taken home and a wake to be conducted in the deceased former place of residence. The new Pratt and Stone undertaking business would soon add a new dimension to those families who sought out their services. Although , most of the wakes were still conducted at home, this new business model took the additional stress of the preparation of the body off the deceased family as well as the coffin building since the coffin was included with the embalming service. An ornate hearse wagon pulled by a team of black stallions with ostrich feathers adorning their heads became a common sight as the deceased was paraded thru town with the funeral procession of family and friends walking behind. A pair of white ponies pulling a much smaller hearse wagon was used if the death involved a child. What a grand sight it must have been when the funeral procession passed by on the way to the cemetery.
All seemed well for the new combined business involving both Stone and Pratt. They stayed very busy with the funeral side of the business since death itself came calling many times and often on multiple occasions throughout a given day. With many sicknesses and plagues that were common in the 1800’s, they literally had more work than they needed or even wanted for that matter ! It wasn’t long before the furniture side of the business took a backseat to the building of coffins and the business of undertaking itself. Jebediah taught his partner the practice of embalming while additional carpenters were hired to keep up with the coffin building.
It was in the winter of 1868 Mortimer Pratt succumbed to what was believed to be the black death or black plague that was so common at the time. No one even questioned his untimely death since embalming was a practice that exposed the embalming surgeons to various diseases and plagues since the undertakers came in direct contact with diseased corpses. Little did anyone know that Jedediah might have been hiding a dark secret!!!
The beginning of the end
Jedediah, it seems had a gambling problem. His weakness was poker and for all the success he had in business, his failure as a gambler outweighed every success he had achieved in life. It seems that Mortimer Pratt had an agreement with Jedediah that whomever died first would inherit the business they shared. This left nothing to any of Pratts family members and Jedediah became the sole heir of the business. It didn’t take long for the townsfolk to raise an eyebrow as Jedediah’s secret life of gambling was eventually exposed. Although no one was ever able to prove any foul play involving the death of his late partner, a cloud of suspicion remained over Jedediah. Shortly thereafter, Jedediah married a local lady named Sarah, whom bore them a son almost a year after their marriage, and they named him Malachi. Malachi worked in the family business as soon as he was old enough. He became quite the business man, yet was feared by many who became aware of his bloody and gory embalming practices.
In the late summer of 1890, a fire broke out at the Pratt and Stone coffin works and undertaking. It seems the fire began in the wee hours of the morning. It was rumored to have started in the embalming area where the fire came into contact with the flammable embalming fluids and spread throughout the building. It seems that both Jedediah and Malachi were working that early morning and after the fire destroyed the building the body of Jedediah was found among the rubble. Malachi Stones body was never located even though according to witnesses he called out for help, and it would have been impossible for him to escape the intense flames.
So Today the mystery continues in the form of a present day ghost tour.
” Warning an intense Tour But be forewarned that this is not a tour for the timid or faint of heart! On this tour you will hear the doctor describe ghastly tales of the dead, the undead, and the bloody details of why St Augustine is such a haunted city! If you are easily offended by graphic descriptions of the dead, tales of death and dying , and the details of how people suffered prior to their demise; then please Don’t take this tour! Take another tour that is toned down for the tourists! This tour is offered on select nights only !