In 1895 Jacob Leslie built what is known as the Leslie Block on Bridge Street in Carleton Place, ON. to house his furniture and undertaking business. The ground floor was strictly a showroom for furniture, but samples of coffins were on the second floor with a preparation room at the back. The deceased were embalmed and made ready for presentation in the building and the funerals took place at private homes or inside the white frame house on Beckwith Street. In 1915, the business was run by W.H. Matthews, and was taken over later by Alan R. Barker.
Emma Myers had been a very young nurse on various Civil War battlefields, and after the war she emmigrated to Canada with what was left of her family. Emma had survived the hardships of war and had become addicted to morphine, as it was given as a pain killer to the officers. Almost all addictions at the turn of the century were accidental. People became involved with drugs they had no idea what they were taking and ignorant of the impact associated with them.
During the Civil War, President Lincoln requested the Army physicians to develop a method of embalming soldiers who had died so their bodies could be returned to their families. Dr. Thomas Holmes was notable for perfecting embalming during this time and Emma was chosen to work with him.
When preparing deceased soldiers, physicians first buried the soldier, then notified family, then disinterred and embalmed the soldier with a hand pump, and then shipped him home. It was soon discovered that relatives would pay well for the return of officers, so the procurement of officers’ bodies became an issue of conflict between the good doctors.
Most people would not know how to get access to this substance, let alone fully understand the embalming process. We know that embalming fluid is very popular among the dead; I am just having a hard time understanding why the living insist on smoking it– because that is what Emma was doing while she worked there. Smoking a cigarette with a touch of embalming fluid is similar to an egg exploding in a microwave and can cause a person to become extremely high for up to 3 days, depending on the amount smoked. Emma did not last long working in the Leslie Block building, as exactly 30 days after she began work, she fell into a coma on the second floor and died later that day.
For 10 years a used furniture shop in that same building was run by Joyce Murray and she sensed a lot of odd noises and motions. Murray often felt cold pockets of air on the second floor, and doors would slam shut for no reason. Many times some would complain of feeling uneasy and seeing shadows out of the corner of their eyes. Many a person would get “locked” in the bathroom on the 2nd. level so Murray decided to stop using it. Murray’s dogs, who spent their days at the store, absolutely refused to go up the stairs. The furniture dealer’s son-in-law set up a surveillance camera to monitor activity, and one day the camera showed a long-skirted figure quite prominently. When someone went up to check, there was no one there.
The entire back (east) side of the building suddenly collapsed in 1953 and an overpowering smell of formaldehyde wafted through the town. Buildings all along Beckwith Street were evacuated, including the Bell Telephone exchange at the corner of Albert Street – the only time in their history they stopped work! It seems that the embalming fluid had been slowly leaking down the back wall, eating away the mortar and stone, until the entire wall collapsed. Could it have been young Emma who was still a ‘wet-user’ even in death? Was she still siphoning off the embalming fluid and forgetting to shut off the valve? After all, invincibility and forgetfulness are also common side effects of smoking the fluid — or was she just one overly happy phantom that was tub-thumping and no one was ever going to keep her down.
Dr. Watson: [as he watches Sherlock drinking Formaldehyde] You’re drinking embalming fluid?
Sherlock Holmes: [exhales] Yes. Care for a drop?
Dr. John Watson: You do seem…
Sherlock Holmes: Excited?
Dr. John Watson: Manic.
Sherlock Holmes: I am.
Dr. John Watson: Verging on…
Sherlock Holmes: Ecstatic?
Dr. John Watson: Psychotic. [Pauses] I should’ve brought you a sedative.
Photos-Linda Seccaspina– Colour photo- Murray Family
Emma Meyers would have been age 14 at the time of the Civil War and in her 50’s when she died.
Dr. Thomas Homes– The Embalming King
The back wall of the Leslie Block building did indeed fall down due to rotting walls from leaking embalming fluid.
Carleton Place fact–The Alan R. Barker Funeral Home is part of a Carleton Place and area tradition with roots dating back to 1875. In 1875 Jacob Leslie started a funeral business on Bridge Street beside the present day St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church. The Leslie business was continued by Jacob’s son George Leslie in 1892 until its sale to W.H. Matthews in 1919.