The Dead House at the Old Church of St. Nicholas
In the basement of the church is a Dead House,
like the Morgue in Paris, where the bodies of the drowned are exposed until claimed by their friends,
or till buried at the public charge.
From the multitudes employed about the shipping,
this dead-house has always more or less occupants. Whenever I passed up Chapel-street, I used to see
a crowd gazing through the grim iron grating of the door
upon the faces of the drowned within.
And once, when the door was opened, I saw
a sailor stretched out, stark and stiff, with the sleeve
of his frock rolled up, and showing his name and date
of birth tattooed upon his arm.
It was a sight full of suggestions;
he seemed his own headstone.
By Herman Melville