Urban Legends

Coghlan’s Traveling Coffin Urban Legend

Many of us have heard the term “traveling pants” via the movie or novel, but maybe not the Traveling Coffin. As far as Urban Legends go, it’s more of a head scratcher than creepy pasta. And like many Urban Legends, details are sketchy and perhaps fabricated.

The Facts

Coghlan as Orlando in the 1876 production of As You Like it.

Charles Coghlan was a popular Irish actor and playwright, born in 1842 in Paris, France. He died in Galveston, Texas in 1899.

He made his stage debut in 1859 in London.

Augustine Daly, an influential icon in American theatre, brought Coghlan to American in 1876. Coghlan, 34, was a stage success and spent the major portion of his acting career in American.

An American critic said of Coghlan’s acting:

It is to the complete and perfect forgetting of self in his performance that the high esteem in which Mr. Coghlan is held by the thinking audience is due. He never descends to the cheap creating of effects; he plays his part for all it is worth; he does not play Charles Coghlan, with the kind assistance of somebody’s text, for the amusement of his friends and admirers.

When he was fifty-one, Coghlan married nineteen-year-old Kühne Beveridge, an American sculptor. Coghlan had a common-law wife of twenty-five years. When Beveridge found out, she divorced him a year later.

In 1890, Coghlan declared bankruptcy.

He last appeared on stage in Houston, Texas on October 28, 1899, in his performance as Clarence in play The Royal Box.

A month later, Coghlan was to appear on stage in Galveston with his acting company, but illness prevented him from performing.

He died on November 27, 1899.

Coghlan had purchased a summer home on Prince Edward Island in Canada for his retirement. His dying-wish was to be buried there.

Missing Body

After his death, the director of a local funeral home arranged for his body to be placed in a metal casket and stored in a vault until Coghlan’s family could make arrangements to return his remains to his summer home. Some versions say his wife did this, which would probably be his common-law wife, since he returned to her after his young wife divorced him.

But, a year later, Coghlan’s body remained in the vault. The Galveston hurricane of 1900 flooded the cemetery and swept his coffin, with his remains, into the Gulf of Mexico. Supposedly buried in the depths of the ocean.

However, according to the Urban Legend, the coffin journeyed all the way to Prince Edward Island. Canadian fishermen found the Traveling Coffin seven years after Coghlan’s death. At home at last.

The Urban Legend

When a young man, Coghlan visited a fortune-teller. The diviner told him he would become famous, but would die at the height of his career. And that he would not find peace until he returned home.

The prophecy haunted him. He told friends and family about the prediction many times over the years.

Stranger Things

Gertrude Coghlan, his daughter with his common-law wife, was also an actress, and joined her father’s acting company. She visited Prince Edward Island in 1980. She reported that her father’s remains had not been found, and they were not in a Galveston cemetery. Which is strange, because, according to records, Gertrude died in 1952.

A Prince Edward Island’s small church cemetery report—considered reliable—reveals no funeral for Coghlan and no gravestone.

Robert Ripley, creator of Ripley’s Believe It or Not, made the story of the Coghlan’s Traveling Coffin famous when he wrote about it in 1927. His information was based on the words of Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson (1853-1937). Forbes-Robertson was a close friend of Coghlan’s and also an actor. In his memoir, Forbes-Robertson mentions Coghlan’s Traveling Coffin.

Shortly after his burial there a great storm came up from the Gulf which swept his [Coghlan’s] coffin with others into the sea. The Gulf Stream bore him round Florida, up the coast about fifteen hundred miles to Prince Edward Island, and he came ashore close to his home. —Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson

The Questions

Two questions surface for me. (1) Where is Coghlan’s coffin, now? (2) And, can a fortune-teller really predict someone’s future?

My best guess. Coghlan’s family and friends don’t want the public to know the location of his true resting place. Perhaps, for fear of vandalism.

As someone who has never been brave enough to visit a fortune-teller, I have nothing on which to base an accurate opinion. However, my closest connection to a fortune-teller was my friend, Carolina. (RIP, my dear friend. She was the first supporter of my writing endeavors.) Though she never told me my fortune, she taught me much and made me a believer in the unseen. And myself. She often made predictions which came true.

For me, it’s very possible the fortune-teller accurately predicted Coghlan’s death and his ultimate place of peace. What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them.

Are you wanting more Urban Legends? If so check out two of my latest here:

Richmond Vampire Urban Legend


Lick Lick Urban Legend

Clara Bush
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