The above is excerpted from the New York Times of September 16, 1885. To the non-Chinese residents of San Francisco and New York City it appears to describe an unspeakably ghoulish enterprise that was robbing graves and shipping the remains to China. Of course, China had no economic use for the bones of expatriots who had perished in North America. The San Francisco government had put a stop to the time-honored Chinese practise of taking the remains of Chinese whose families could afford it and returning them to their homeland and appropriate burial. The boiling away of flesh allowed the bones to be packed discretely and shipped to China. Had they been paying attention, readers of the New York Times in the Empire State might have been aware that the Chinese living in that state were engaged in the same activities. Those who could not afford the return to China were placed in burial places in Greenwood, the Evergreens (Long Island), and New York Bay Cemetery.
The workers involved in preparing bodies for shipping clearly had a most difficult job. Working conditions were hot, required physical strength and an iron constitution. On top of that the workers clearly were treated as grave-robbing ghouls subject to the heavy hands of local law enforcement. Below is a similar case from Chicago printed in the Public Ledger in November of 1893. The sensational story was reprinted in over a dozen newspapers across the nation in late 1893 and early 1894. Whenever you feel the urge to complain about your job think about the unheralded, berated, and ultimately forgotten faces of the Chinese funerary industry. Then, think again.